A Gracious and Merciful God

“Now, if you are afraid to go to the Sacrament, and your conscience frightens you, as if you were unworthy, put this verse into your heart and on your lips.  Then you must hear and feel how sincerely He calls and invites you.  He is here and is waiting for you with hands and heart wide open, for you to take and receive grace and mercy.  He does not want you to flee and shy away from Him but to flee to Him and with full confidence go to Him.  Here he is called nothing but this: the gracious and merciful Lord.” Martin Luther, “Commentary on Psalm 111:4,” Luther’s Works 13:374.  (Italics in original)      Lucas Cranach-Lord's Supper-Reformationaltar

Here Dr. Luther is explaining these words: “He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;  the Lord is gracious and merciful.” (Psalm 111:4)  In this commentary he focuses on the nature and proper reception of the Lord’s Supper.  Luther exhorts believers to consider Christ in this manner when approaching the table of the Lord.  When sinners fail to recognize Christ as merciful they make Him a liar and believe their deceitful hearts more than God.  This leads to idolatry.  For this reason Dr. Luther explained: 

“Whoever is inclined to put pictures on the altar ought to have the Lord’s Supper of Christ painted, with these two verses written around it in golden letters: ‘The gracious and merciful Lord has instituted a remembrance of His wonderful works.’  Then they would stand before our eyes for our heart to contemplate them, and even our eyes, in reading, would have to thank and praise God.  Since the altar is designated for the administration of the Sacrament, one could not find a better painting for it.  Other pictures of God or Christ can be painted somewhere else.” (LW 13:375.)

Dr. Luther understood the role of Christian art in reinforcing the central message of the Gospel: the forgiveness of sins.  The image above comes from the Altarpiece placed in St Mary’s Church in Wittenberg.

About Dr. Matthew Phillips

My name is C. Matthew Phillips and I am Professor of History at Concordia University, Nebraska. I completed my Ph.D. in medieval European history at Saint Louis University in 2006. My research has focused on medieval monasticism, preaching, devotion to the True Cross, and the Crusades. Additionally, I have interests in medieval and early modern European education and the writings and life of Martin Luther.

At Concordia I teach World Civilization I, World Civilization II, Europe Since 1914, Early and Medieval Christianity, Renaissance and Reformation, The Medieval Crusades, The History of Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union, and The Modern Middle East.


A Gracious and Merciful God — 10 Comments

  1. Sn someone please help. I’m very afraid i have comitted the unpardonable sin and am one of those whim hebrews says is “impossible to renew to repentance. ” I had been really struggling with my faith–I think I have a form of OCD, or some form of anxiety disorder (just made an appointment)–and my fears got the better of me so I resolved in my mind to reject christisnity yesterday snd I even told a friend about it. I tried to convince myself that none of it was true. Now today I felt so guilty and despairing about it all I couldn’t take it and went to the Lord and begged Him with as much as I had to forgive me for Jesus sake. I never want to do anything like that again! How terrible! Can I be forgiven? Hebrews 6:4-8 is really troubling me.

  2. @Joe #1

    I don’t have too much time to respond and have asked some of our other authors to chime in. Joe, the promise that God made to you in baptism still stands. Repent. It is still a washing of rebirth and regeneration by the Holy Spirit for you. It still saves you.

  3. Thanks pastor. What really troubles me is that I was for the space of a day TRYING to make myself not believe–trying and purposing to be done with christianity, even though it made me feel awful. Then I read that passage in hebrews and it made my blood run cold.

  4. @Joe #1

    Dear Joe,

    I can assure you that you haven’t committed the unpardonable sin. I was an atheist for 18 years after turning my back on God and our Lord forgives me. I know others who blasphemed God, as I did, and they have repented of their sins. Repentance is a gift from God. The fact that you are repentant demonstrates that the Holy Spirit is still at work in you. So don’t despair brother! You are Christ’s!

    Also keep in mind what the Apostle Paul wrote, “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10 ESV).

    Paul had Christians murdered. Yet, the grace of our Lord was greater than the evil works of Paul and God gave Paul repentance and faith to receive the forgiveness of sins.

    Joe, I think you need to go talk with your pastor and make sure you attend church this Sunday, and every Sunday. Go and receive the forgiveness of sins. Partake in the body and blood of Christ and have your faith strengthened.

    Your sins are truly forgiven you!

  5. @Joe #5

    You will find Peter’s pure prayer useful in instances like this. Doubting, after stepping out on the water in faith, he cried, “Lord, save me!” Luther recited a similar prayer in times of doubt and satanic assault. “Jesus, I’m yours. Save me.” Do not be so alarmed, Brother. I doubt if you would even care about it, if you really did commit the unpardonable sin. Think about it. That kind of blasphemy is committed only by those who are completely depraved in their attitude towards God, ascribing to God what is evil. I doubt that anyone who felt that way would even care if they had committed the unpardonable sin. What you are experiencing is a temptation from Satan to put God to the test. As you can see, God is true to His word, and you may entreat the Devil to go back to hell, whence he came, and where he belongs. Blessings to you!

  6. Thanks jeff! I was reading a bunch of atheist blog pages yesterday and many of them were about the wickedness of God creating hell snd allowing all this pain in the world. I’m not sure if if I really gave it my assent or not but I did entertain the idea. Anyway, I have repented and I do trust the Lord has forgiven me. What you said about the unpardonable sin–that one who comitted it would be so hard hearted as to not want to repent–struck a chord with me. Thank you,


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