Received this from a brother in Christ (and in the ministry) this morning. Thought it would be a good read for all of you folks as well. Thanks to Don for the sermon and prayer.
A REFORMATION SERMON AND PRAYER
BY C.F.W, WALTHER
“CONTEND FOR THE FAITH!”
On Reformation Day, 1876
Jude 3:3 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.
Beloved Lutheran partners in faith, confession and struggle! The history of the Reformation, which we commemorate today, is the history of a war. This war lasted almost thirty years, from the year 1517 when Luther openly posted his ninety-five theses until the year 1546 when Luther died. This, however, was not a physical war, but a spiritual war. On the one side stood Luther, a defenseless monk, with no weapon in his hand except the Bible. On the other side stood the well-armed Pope. In his hand he held the temporal and spiritual sword, that is, the power over both Church and State; and he was supported by him who held the highest worldly authority of that day, the Emperor. On the one side stood error, on the other side the truth; on the one side stood man’s word, on the other side God’s Word.
In the year 1521, Luther was at last cited to appear at Worms to stand trial before the Emperor and the Empire. Luther declared: “And although there were as many devils in Worms as tiles on the rooftops, yet I will go there….. to confess Christ, and leave the outcome to him.” Now began a hot battle. But behold! just as Daniel came forth unharmed from the lions den, so did Luther go forth unconquered from Worms; for his final declaration was, and still remains, I will not recant! Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, may God help me. Amen.”
The history of the Reformation, however, is not only the history of a war against foreign enemies, but it is also the history of a spiritual civil war. The Swiss preacher Zwingli had in the beginning been united with Luther, and with Luther had valiantly contended for God’s Word against the popish teachings of men. But soon Zwingli fell away and declared: it is contrary to reason to believe that the body and blood of Christ are truly present in the Lord’s Supper. Luther realized with alarm, that Zwingli wished to set human reason in the place of the Pope.
After a fruitless exchange of many writings between Luther and Zwingli, it came to meeting in the year 1529 at Marburg, and thus, just as at Worms, to another decisive battle. Whether the words of the almighty Son of God, “This is My body, This is My blood” should still stand, thus whether God’s Word must give way to human reason, or human reason to God’s Word, this was the second great cause of war, the second great battle question, and at Marburg it was to be decided. And God be praised! Luther did not give way here either. As at Worms he had preserved God’s Word f the Church against the authority of the Pope, so did he at Marburg defend the same Word of God, against the, authority of human reason.
What then? Has the victory of the Reformation brought a final end to the Church’s struggle? No! Only in heaven will the Church celebrate final victory: here we must strive, until the sounding of the last trumpet. God’s Word witnesses to this on every page, and also the apostle Jude writes in our text: “Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3) Permit me then today, on the basis of these words, to answer for you the question: Why should and can we never cease contending for the pure teaching of our church? 1. Because the pure teaching of our church is not our possession but God’s, entrusted to us for faithful stewardship; 2. Because the loss of this jewel would be something more terrible than any contention and discord among men, and finally 3. Because this struggle is commanded us by God, and therefore it is also surely blessed by God, in time and in eternity.
The first reason why some think that it is high time for the struggle for the pure teaching of our Church to be ended is that this eternal quarreling and fighting, as they call it, is against love. But as true as it is, beloved, that brotherly love is the indispensable mark of a true Christian, nevertheless it in no way follows that the time has now come for us to cease contending for the pure teaching of our Church. For the holy apostle Jude writes in our text, as we have already heard: “Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”
The holy apostle says of the true faith that it was “once for all delivered to the saints.” The true faith, or what is the same thing, the pure teaching, has therefore not been given to us, but only “delivered,” that is, not made over to us, but only committed to our charge. It has not been made our own possession, over which we are the masters to do with as we please, but it has only been entrusted to us as the property and possession of Another, that is, God, so that we as servants and stewards should faithfully keep and administer it.
Now ask yourself: does love perhaps demand of a steward that he give away some of the goods entrusted to him? Or that he allow the treasures of his master, which have been entrusted to him for safekeeping, to be taken away from him without a struggle?
Would it be love, if a general, in order to avoid war and battle, allowed even the smallest opening for the enemy in the wall of a fortress which he was charged with defending? Would such a general not rather be called to account and punished as a traitor? And finally, would it have been love if Luther had silenced his confession of the clear truth as soon as strife arose on its account?
Therefore judge for yourselves: Would it therefore be love if we Lutherans would now cease contending for the pure teaching of our Church which has been “delivered” to us, that is, committed to us for faithful stewardship? Would it be love if we, in order to make men our friends and to be regarded as love-filled and peace-loving men, were to cast it away? No, this would not be brotherly love or love of our neighbor, much less love of God, but love of self. It would not be faithful stewardship of the great treasure entrusted to us by God, but rather disgraceful breach of trust, yes, before God nothing other than robbery and theft.
O my beloved Lutheran partners in faith, confession and struggle, do not allow yourselves to be misled when on every side those are accused of lovelessness who refuse to abandon the struggle to retain the pure teaching of our Church. Keep in mind that this teaching is, as our text says, the faith “which was once for all delivered to the saints. “It is therefore not our possession, which we have authority and license to give away. It is rather God’s possession, of which we, are only stewards, so that we should preserve it, not only for ourselves, but for all of Christendom, yes, for the whole world, and hand it down in its purity to 1he generations to come. On the Last Day God will therefore say to us in regard to the pure teaching of His Word, which has been entrusted to us Lutherans, “Give an account of your stewardship!”
Let us, then, richly show our love in all earthly things, so that the world may see that love truly does dwell in us Lutherans. In those things which belong to God, however, in the pure teaching of His Word which was “once for all delivered to the saints,” let the saying of Christ be our motto and guiding star: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:37)
Yet, my brothers and sisters in the Lord, we can also never give up contending for the pure teaching of our Church because the loss of this jewel would be something more terrible than any contention and discord among men. It is true, my beloved: the contention and strife which goes on continually in all of Christianity between the various Christian denominations is so great a calamity that it can never be sufficiently expressed with words and never be enough lamented, yes, wept over with bloody tears! Is it not a calamity that those who would be children of one and the same heavenly Father, servants of one and the same Savior, and temples of one and the same Spirit, fight with one another? Is it not a calamity that those who should, together as one man, oppose the numberless and powerful foes of Christianity instead turn their swords against each other? How must Satan rejoice when he sees this disunity among Christians!
What then? Many therefore ask, “Is it not high time that we Lutherans cease contending for the pure teaching of our Church, conclude peace at last with all denominations, and join with them in one great Peace Church?” Certainly, if we Lutherans could purchase a God-pleasing unity among the churches with our blood, no Lutheran, let alone Lutheran pastor, should regard his0 blood as so -dear that he would not spill it for this cause with the greatest joy. And yet, my brothers, we cannot cease contending for the pure teaching of our Church. The Word of God teaches us this on every page; it teaches us this also in our text, when it says: “Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”‘
Notice: because the apostle wished to write to Christians “of our common salvation,” he therefore found it necessary first to exhort them that they should “contend for the faith.” According to the apostolic declaration, therefore, contending for the faith involves not something insignificant, but rather “our common salvation.”
What then? Can we, should we, therefore cease contending for the pure Bible teaching of our Church? Never! Indeed, if we should contend for money or property, reputation, the comforts of life, in short, over earthly things, woe to us then, if we do not first ask ourselves whether thereby the peace of the world or of the Church will be disturbed. But it is another matter when we “contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Then we contend not for things temporal, but for things eternal; then we contend not for the honor of men, but for the honor of God; then we contend not concerning this life but concerning eternal life. In a word, then we contend, according to our text, concerning “our common salvation.” Were it the case that no one falsified God’s Word, it would certainly not be necessary to contend; yes, it would be a grave, dreadful sin. But the flesh, the world and the devil continually arise to try to adulterate God’s Word or the pure teaching. May we, can we, therefore, in order to avoid contention in this world, simply keep silent?
Suppose that in the fourth century when the Biblical teaching of the Deity of Christ was attacked by Arius, neither Athanasius nor anyone else had contended against the error? Suppose that in the fifth century when the Scriptural teaching that man is saved solely by grace was attacked by Pelagius, neither Augustine nor anyone else had contended against it?
Suppose that in the sixteenth century, when the whole teaching of Christ was corrupted, neither Luther nor anyone else had contended against it? Indeed, there would have been much less contention and strife in the world, but where would the teaching of the entire Word of God now be? Where now would be the correct teaching of the way to salvation? O my beloved, let us indeed lament the fact that false teachers constantly arise to attack the pure teachings of God’s Word, and thereby cause contention and strife in the Church; yet let us not lament, but give thanks and praise to God, that He always -raises up men to contend against those false teachers, for, I repeat it, it concerns here “our common salvation.”
Yet the most important, most irrefutable, reason why we never may nor can cease contending for the pure teaching of our Church is this: because this struggle is commanded us by God, and therefore also certainly blessed by God. For who is it, who in our text through the apostle Jude so earnestly summons all Christians, to “contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints”? It is the great God himself. For all Scripture came about when “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” What more do we need? What man, yes, what angel will venture when God says “Contend!” to say, “No, do not contend!”? And when we now contend at the orders of the great God, need we ever fear that our struggle will be a useless one? Never! What God does or commands to be done, that cannot be anything other than blessed in time and eternity.
God’s command, “Contend for the faith!” applies for all times, also for our time. Therefore let our hearts be kindled with the same burning zeal with which Luther and his faithful, co-workers once contended. What they once won through hot battles, and with word, pen, blood and tears, let us not in cowardice give up without a struggle, but let us faithfully guard and courageously defend it against all attacks, even unto death. Let us contend faithfully, knowing that, when our blessed struggle is over, the Last Day will for Christ’s sake the day of our crowning, and all eternity our eternal celebration of victory and peace. Amen.
A REFORMATION PRAYER
O Lord our God, help us to faithfully use the gift of Thy pure Word, and give Thee heartfelt thanks for the same by word and deed. Grant us grace to hold fast the treasure delivered to us, and never to part with it for the sake of any earthly good, whether money, power, pleasure, honor, or favor with men, but faithfully to contend for this treasure until death. And since all struggle for purity of doctrine is useless without struggle also for purity of life, help us who have the true faith to live truly Christian lives, that our light may shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify Thee, our Father in heaven. Hear us for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
For anyone interested in more of C.F.W. Walther’s works, check out CPH’s collection, but also don’t forget about Mark V Publications which has a great amount of resources recently translated by Rev. Joel Baseley.