Steadfast Luther — Ten Works of Dr. Luther that Every Pastor Should Read, Mark, learn, and Inwardly Digest.

Dr. Martin Luther of blessed and holy memory penned one of the most vast theological libraries in history. However, most parish Pastors don’t have time to read through the entirety of Luther’s Works. Here is a list of ten works that every Pastor amd layman should know and love.

The first work, published in 1535, is A Simple Way to Pray: For Master Peter the Barber. This is a short little treatise that Luther wrote after being asked by his barber how he should pray. Luther, using the first three chief parts of the catechism, guides Peter through a life of Christian devotion and prayer. A pastor prays for the flock, but more importantly, he teaches the flock how to pray. Rather than reading a 20th century evangelical instrument of piety, use this tool from Luther in order to educate yourself and the sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd in a healthy prayer life.

The second work by Luther that is vital for any Pastor is Luther’s Letters of Spiritual Counsel. The pastor is not a therapist or guidance counselor, but a Father Confessor. He is the earpiece of Jesus Christ and the very messenger of absolution. When guiding and delivering comfort to the terrified consciences of the parish, it is very easy to slip into secular comfort or condolences. This volume by Luther delivers one thing for comfort; Jesus Christ. With many different letters, the pastor and the layman can use this tool for daily devotion and guidance amongst the consolation of the brethren.

The third work which every Pastor and layman should read is Luther’s House Postils. Luther preached these sermons in his home, the Black Cloister, for every Sunday of the church year. These sermons proclaim Christ crucified for the sinners salvation more clearly than any other sermons. Luther’s objective is to help the pastor in forming a theme for the Gospel text. This tool will benefit the preacher, but more importantly, it will educate the laity in what the pastor should be proclaiming.

The fourth work is Luther’s commentary on Psalm 51. This penitential Psalm, which the Holy Spirit inspired David to write, asserts the central article of the Faith. The Justifying God, justifying sinners, is the central article of the Faith. Anything taught, preached, or believed outside of this article is nothing but poison.  The only solution to the problem of sin is not exhortation by means of the law, but rather it is the proclamation of the Gospel that Jesus died in the stead of sinful men and He Himself has borne the burden of the law for His beloved creation. The commentary on Psalm 51 is a clear and concise confession of the Christian life as one of daily repentance by means of the proclamation of the law and the gospel.

The fifth work is Luther’s commentary on Psalm 90. This commentary on the Psalm of Moses asserts with great lucidity the wrath of God and Jesus Christ as the refuge in which man finds protection under the Father’s wrath. The pastor must not rip out the Father’s teeth, but preach the full severity of the Father’s wrath against sin. Only in the fullness of this proclamation can the completeness of Christ Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross be preached. This commentary exemplifies Luther’s ability to preach Jesus as the only answer to the Father’s eternal wrath.

The sixth work is Luther’s Greater Galatians Lectures of 1535.  In this work, Luther works verse by verse through St. Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia. It is in this work where Luther most clearly illustrates the Christian passive righteousness in the doctrine of Justification by faith in Christ Jesus alone. These lectures are true gems and will enable the pastor to preach the blessed exchange in the fullness of its comfort.

The seventh work is, according to Luther himself, one of his greatest works, The Bondage of the Will. This work, written in reaction to Desiderius Erasmus’ assertion of the freedom of the will, was written in 1525, the same year in which Luther was married and dealt with the Peasant’s Revolts. In this work, Luther goes to work against the assertion that fallen man has the free will to make the choice in believing and therefore in living the Christian life. Especially in our current environment surrounded by the evangelical camps, this gift from Luther’s iron pen is essential for every Pastor in the Lutheran Church. No matter how many times you read this book, it still offers something new and comforting.

The eighth work is, The Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper. This work was written in 1528 amidst Luther’s battles with the likes of Ulrich Zwingli and Adreas Carlstadt. Luther noticeably asserts rather clearly the Lutheran confession of the Bodily presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in the bread and the wine. If any Lutheran pastor struggles in explaining the Lutheran understanding of the Lord’s Supper let him read this treatise. Also, this work ends with a short confession in which Luther asserts his beliefs on the doctrine of the Church. This last section is similar to the Smalcald Articles written in 1537.  Luther wrote this little confession lest his teachings be misunderstood and therefore falsely taught after his death.

The ninth work is Luther’s lectures on the Book of Genesis. This is a six-volume section of the American Edition of Luther’s Works. This work is encouraged because of the richness and the depth that it offers. Luther teaches on topics ranging from creation to the sacraments. It may take a while to read them, but if they are used for a bible study on Genesis at the church, then it will benefit both the pastor and the laity.

The tenth and final work are the three treatises that Luther wrote in reaction to the Peasant’s Revolts of 1525. Luther wrote three treatises. One was in support of the peasant’s. One encouraged the actions of the nobility. One was a compromise or a peace offer between the two parties. These treatises are entitled, Admonition to Peace: A Reply to the Twelve Articles of the Peasants in Swabia; Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants; An Open Letter on the Harsh Book Against the Peasants.  These works reveal Luther using not just the Scriptures, but natural reason to guide a nation in turmoil and chaos. These treatises are tremendous tools for any pastor, or layman, in a tumultuous congregational setting. These works reveal the articulation, which guided a nation through turbulent times, by means of both Holy Scripture and God-given reason.

These ten works of Luther do not summarize all of Luther’s teaching. I did not cite the Catechism’s or the Smalcald Articles with the assumption that every Pastor should read these because He swore by the grace of God to uphold these documents and to preach and teach according to them. Let us not lose the precious works of Dr. Luther to our gluttonous and idle vanity nor make them a cliché by misquoting them. Take time to read at least these ten works by Luther and may they enrich the proclamation and the hearing of the gospel for you.

Associate Editor’s Note:  With this post we introduce our newest writer Pastor Chris Hull for “Steadfast Luther” in which he will be bringing Luther’s Works forward to us today an letting the good Doctor’s voice be heard.  Here is some more about Pastor Hull:

Chris Hull is the Senior Pastor of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Normal, Illinois. He was married to Allison Desiree Monk on June 3rd, 2006. They have been blessed with two boys, Lochlann Richard Patrick and Eamonn Julius Luther. Their third son is due in July. Pastor Hull graduated from Concordia University in River Forest, Il in 2006. He received his Master of Divinity from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 2010. Presently he is under the supervision of Dr. James Nestingen in the Master Of Theology program through the Wittenberg Institute. Pastor Hull has been at Christ Lutheran since July of 2010 where he was called as the Associate Pastor in July of 2010 and then called as the Senior Pastor in March of 2011. He posts his sermons, based on the historic lectionary, online and hosts Tuesdays With Luther which can be viewed on his youtube page.

 

About Pastor Chris Hull

Chris Hull is the Senior Pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tomball,Texas. He was married to Allison Desiree Monk on June 3rd, 2006. They have been blessed with four boys, Lochlann Richard Patrick, Eamonn Julius Luther, Tiernann Thomas Walther, and Jamesonn Frederick Flacius. Pastor Hull graduated from Concordia University in River Forest, Il in 2006. He received his Master of Divinity from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 2010. He is currently in the STM program at CTSFW.

Comments

Steadfast Luther — Ten Works of Dr. Luther that Every Pastor Should Read, Mark, learn, and Inwardly Digest. — 22 Comments

  1. Good list. I would recommend a few more:

    11) “That These Words, ‘This is My Body’, Still Stand against the Fanatics” – Read this one in conjunction with Luther’s Great Confession. It has some excellent arguments and rebuttals against the symbolic understanding of the Supper that the Great Confession doesn’t.

    12) Commentary on Habakkuk – In my opinion, one of Luther’s greatest writings on the theology of the cross.

    13) Commentary on Zechariah – A great read for pastors under the cross. Much of what Luther says are beneficial and helpful for times of affliction.

    14) On the Councils and the Churches – I understand this to be beneficial to how the blessed Reformer saw the Lutheran church in connection to the orthodox Christian church in history.

    In Christ,
    Rev. Robert Mayes
    Beemer, NE

  2. Thank you for the additional writings. I am using On the Councils and the Churches for the next post concerning church authority and the authority of Holy Scripture. Should have that done in the next couple of weeks.

  3. I guess I thought these works would be part of the required reading at the Sems. I personally know several laymen who have read these on their own. These along with our Confessions seem so elementary to understanding and committing to our Confessional orthodoxy. If the sems would spend less time on CG and other “relevant” matter perhaps we could turn out Pastors that work their buns off in Word and Sacrament distribution and let God gain the growth.

  4. Many of these works are read at the Seminary. However, to know these works and benefit from them is different than reading them once or even twice. Inevitably, these works should be read continuously in order that they become a part of every Pastor’s vocation. I have read Bondage of the Will many times, but each time it offers something different and beneficial for both the Holy Ministry and the justified life. Repetition produces appreciation and the ability to apply the text properly concerning the right application of law and gospel. The vital aspect to all of these works is that they teach justification clearly and soundly in order that the Pastor and the layman may know what to preach and hear.

  5. Thank you for a helpful article. C.F.W. Walther would often say: “The closer to Luther, the better the theologian.”

    The older I get, and the more of Luther I read, the more I realize how wise Walther was on this point!

  6. Another basic and essential Luther reading is his 1525 sermon “How Christians Should Regard Moses,” AE 35:161-174 or here:

    http://www.wordofhisgrace.org/LutherMoses.htm

    A pervasive idea within Protestantism is the false dichotomy that, although we no longer have to follow the ceremonial law, we must follow the rest of the law of Moses. It is a gross misunderstanding within Lutheranism as well. Luther’s sermon puts to rest such flummery:

    “We must therefore silence the mouths of those factious spirits who say, ‘Thus says Moses,’ etc. Here you simply reply: Moses has nothing to do with us. If I were to accept Moses in one commandment, I would have to accept the entire Moses. Thus the consequence would be that if I accept Moses as master, then I must have myself circumcised, wash my clothes in the Jewish way, eat and drink and dress thus and so, and observe all that stuff. So, then, we will neither observe nor accept Moses. Moses is dead. His rule ended when Christ came. He is of no further service.”

  7. @Pr. Don Kirchner #6
    I agree with you. That is one of the reasons why I put the Genesis lectures in the readings. Luther’s grasp of the Christian life in light of Adam prior to the fall clarifies the Christian life we have in Christ. Adam lived in the law naturally because it was a delight for him to work and tend to what God gave him, even though there was no written law. A misunderstanding of the law in the Christian life leads to a false application of the Gospel. Good stuff.

  8. I’ve never heard anyone in the Lutheran Church say that we must follow all the laws of Moses that are not ceremonial, Pastor K.

    Can you elaborate just a bit?

    Thanks.

  9. Sorry, Paul, can’t help you out. You see, I am among those who have been McBlocked. A great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.

  10. Pr. K #6, you have made a very serious accusation against Lutheranism, and I for one would like to hear precisely what you are talking about.

    Again, I have never heard any Lutheran say that we must follow all non-ceremonial laws of Moses.

    Your assertion stands therefore as a false accusation, or, at the very least, a highly misleading one.

  11. @Pr. Don Kirchner #10

    @Rev. Paul T. McCain #11

    Gentlemen, I would encourage civility.

    Also, Pr. Kirchner, you make correct me if I am wrong, but your excellent suggestion to read the sermon on how a Christian should regard Moses is in regard to those who think we follow the Ten Commandments because they are the ones given to Israel, but you are trying to emphasize that we follow them because they are written on man’s heart (natural law).

    We have talked about this before and I think I remember that is what this sermon teaches. Is it not?

  12. Exactly, Pr. Scheer. Luther was contending with the “Thus says Moses” crowd. I simply encourage all to read the sermon.

    I recall attending a symposium at Sem StL some years ago. During a panel discussion, Prof. Reed Lessing was talking about how some of the OT law we need not follow but some we do, etc. Prof. James Voelz simply replied, “I don’t think any of the law of Moses applies to us.” I recall Lessing pausing with a bit of an incredulous look on his face. Then they went on.

    Later, at a reception, I saw Voelz and simply said, “Vol. 35. ‘How Chriistians Should Regard Moses.'” Voelz responded, “That’s right. It’s got to be that way.”

    I also recall taking a Confession class with Nestingen and talking about the sermon. He said basically the same thing: “It’s got to be that way. If not, we’re dead.”

    A similar type of discussion took place in our 4th year pastoral theology class with Gibbs. Some of the 4th year guys were talking about the 10 commandments of Ex 20 and Deut 5. I don’t recall the context, but at some point Gibbs looked at them and stated, “Guys, we don’t derive our 10 commandments from Ex 20 and Deut 5. We don’t follow the law of Moses. We derive our 10 commandments from the natural law.”

    Finally, when I was in St. Louis I recall calling in to Tom Baker’s Law-Gospel radio program on KFUO. He had been going on about how the OT ceremonial law no longer applies to us but that the rest of it does, citing the OT 10 Commandments. I called in and paraphrased some of Luther’s more provocative comments from his sermon: “We don’t follow the law of Moses. We’re not Jews. Moses is dead.” Rev. Baker became apoplectic. I gave him the citation to the sermon, he went home and read it, and he came back onto his radio program the next day and went on and on about how he doesn’t always agree with Luther, sometimes Luther is wrong, we don’t confess Luther, and generally went on and on about how Luther’s sermon “How Christians Should Regard Moses” is wrong.

    Perhaps other Lutherans agree with Rev. Baker.

  13. Note, for example, this answer:

    http://archive.wels.net/cgi-bin/site.pl?1712&cxDatabase_databaseID=1&id=608&magazine=Forward%20in%20Christ

    A very common Lutheran response- that the Sabbath Day command is ceremonial law, and that’s why we don’t have to follow it.

    No, as his sermon shows, Luther didn’t feel obliged to change the 3rd commandment to “Thou shalt sanctify the Holy Day” simply because it was ceremonial law. He did it because the law of Moses does not apply to us. The law of Moses of Ex 20 and Deut 5 was given to the Israelites. We are not Jews, and Moses is dead.

  14. Pastors Scheer and Kirchner,

    Chemnitz writes, “…with regard to transgression or obedience, there is a great difference between the parts or kinds of divine law. For the ceremonial and political laws of Moses have so been abrogated that we are not obligated to obey them. For it is not sin now when we fail to keep those laws either by omission or by transgression; in fact, he that wants to obeserve them out of a feeling of necessity has lost Christ. Gal. 2:21; 4:10-11; 5:2,4. But all men are bound to obey the commandments of the Decalog and their transgression is in all men at all times accused and condemned, unless there is remission. And Christ bestows His Holy Spirit on the believers, so that in them and obedience according to the commandments of the Decalog is begun; Paul bears witness to this everywhere in his writings” (The Enchiridion p. 51 of Vol. 5 of Chemnitz’s Works.).

    Does Chemnitz here speak of the Decalog as the law written on our hearts, or is he speaking of the Decalog written by the finger of God on the stone tablets given to Moses? Or both? I am asking because I don’t understand what is being discussed around the decalog as not given to us by Moses and being natural law, and I am sure other laymen might be scratching their heads with me.

    If I could indulge one other question… does the Decalog predate Moses? Here I am thinking of instances where, for example, stealing and murder are considered immoral even before Moses. So would instances of prohibitions against murder and stealing prior to Moses be examples of the Decalog as natural law given prior to Moses?

  15. Luther wrote that sermon around the same time that Bondage of the Will was published, late 1525. Looking at Luther’s assertions of the 3rd commandment we see that Luther says the outward meaning no longer applies to us, (Large Catechism 3rd commandment paragraphs 80-82 Kolb-Wengert 397). However, Luther gives the simple meaning of the commandment saying, “Because we observe holidays anyhow, we should use them to learn God’s Word. The teal business of this day should be preaching for the benefit of young people and the poor common folk. However, the observance of rest should not be so restrictive as to forbid incidental and unavoidable work” (Kolb-Wengert 398).

    Again Luther declares that this law applies to us in that God sets aside time in order that we may hear His Word and therefore be declared Holy and righteous in His sight.
    Another place in the Large Catechism where we see Luther using the Law of Moses is in the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer where Luther exhorts the reader to pray because God commands prayer in the 2nd commandment (Kolb-Wengert 441ff).

    Furthermore, the Formula of Concord Solid Declaration VI.5-7 confesses that the Christian delights in the law of God in his inner person, but according to the outward man, he still needs the punishments and chastisement of the law. You can see this theology in Luther’s Antinomian disputations.
    The law of Moses, the Decalogue, always applies to the Christian because the Christian is never without sin.
    Concerning natural law, ‘What does it look like.” We don’t have our catechumens memorize the natural law. We have them recite the ten commandments as Luther asserted them from Exodus 20. We know the law of God because God used His servant Moses to give us the law. Nestingen was right, we are dead. That’s what the law does. It kills you. Praise be to God, because if you aren’t dead, then Jesus can’t live within you.

    Thank you for this post on Luther’s sermon concerning Moses. It made me go back and read it again.

  16. Let’s take a bit of care here.

    Martin Luther did use the Ten Commandments, as the perfect summary of God’s will for us. So before we get too carried away here, let’s be careful we not overstate our case here.

    Or, let’s have everyone tear up their Small and Large Catechisms.

    What makes for seminary lecture quips often doesn’t necessarily make for good theology or parish practice.

  17. And, the Law of God does not *only* kill us, it is the only way we know how and what we are to do in order to “serve and obey” God.

    The Law is a good thing, not a bad thing.

  18. I will completely agree that the works cited by the OP are good for a pastor to read. To this list of his works I could add “Two Kinds of Righteousness”, and “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church”. And there is one final suggestion, Its not a short read, and I wouldn’t even try to recommend it in a short time. There’s just too much to absorb, and so much useful matterial for the pulpit. Baker Books published an 8 volume set of Luther’s sermons. These are just absolutely the most precious reference I have, appart from the Bible. Read them, I promise you will grow, be entertained, and be greatly blessed.

  19. I agree, Rev. Zell. Luther’s 8 volume sermons are very good and helpful, and should be consulted often. But personally, I prefer a lot of later Luther to his works in the early to mid 1520’s. For that reason, Babylonian Captivity never really captivated me.

    Paul McCain – It’s been a while since I looked at the list of what’s coming out in the new Luther works from CPH. Are there going to be a lot of later Luther works, say, from the 1530’s to the 1540’s? Some of those looked really good to me. (But it’s been awhile and I don’t remember all of what was coming out).

    In Christ,
    Rev. Robert Mayes
    Beemer, NE

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