Quote of the Week – Rubbing God’s Ears

Philipp Melanchthon traveled to a colloquy in Hagenau after Philip of Hesse’s bigamy became known and was causing a scandal for the Lutherans. (Luther had actually recommended this bigamy for pastoral reasons—definitely not his finest moment.) The sensitive Melanchthon was so troubled by the scandal that by the time he reached Weimar he had already become so sick that he could not continue the trip. He contracted a bad fever and was bedridden.

Luther personally went to see him and arrived in Weimar on June 23, 1540. He found Melanchthon deathly ill, unrecognizable, and unable to hear or speak. Luther later said in one of his table talks that Melanchthon’s eyes had already dimmed like a dead person’s. After Luther expressed his shock, Matthaeus Ratzeberger, court physician for Duke John Frederick I of Saxony and eyewitness to what happened, says that Luther went to the window in the room and prayed an especially bold and earnest prayer. Luther himself seems to have felt the need to explain the boldness of the prayer afterwards either to everyone in the room or privately to Ratzeberger:

Our Lord God had to stand there and take it from me there, for I threw the sack at his door and rubbed his ears with all the promises to hear and answer prayers that I could recount from Holy Scripture, so that he had to hear and answer me if I was going to trust his promises in other matters too.

Luther then took Philipp by the hand and said, “Cheer up, Philipp, you are not going to die.” He then gave him a short address.

Philipp seemed to regain his breath at this. When Luther ran to get him something to eat, Philipp refused it, so Luther threatened him: “Listen here, Philipp, here’s how it is: You are going to eat for me or I am going to put you under the ban.”

Melanchthon gave in, and from then on he began to recover.

Sources
Christian Gotthold Neudecker, ed., Die handschriftliche Geschichte Ratzeberger’s über Luther und seine Zeit (Jena: Druck und Verlag von Friedrich Mauke, 1850), pp. 103,104

Weimarer Ausgabe, Tischreden 5:129, no. 5407

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Quote of the Week – Commands and Promises

The following is taken from Martin Luther’s closing reflections in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (October 1520). Note that after suggesting here that prayer, the Word, and the Christian’s cross might “seemingly be numbered with the sacraments,” Luther does go on to say that, properly speaking, sacrament is a label best reserved for “promises that have signs attached to them,” namely baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The quote is shared here not so much for Luther’s reflections on the sacraments, but for his reflection on law and gospel as the two main and thoroughgoing doctrines of Holy Scripture.

There are several other things, besides these, that can seemingly be numbered with the sacraments, namely all those things for which a divine promise has been made, like prayer, the Word, and the cross. For in many places Christ has promised those who pray that he will hear and answer them, especially in Luke 11, where he invites us to pray with many parables [11:5-13], and says concerning the Word, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and preserve it” [11:28]. And who can count up how many times he promises help and glory to the afflicted, the suffering, and the humbled? Yes, who can enumerate all the promises of God, since all of Scripture has the purpose of inciting us to faith, driving with commands and threats in this place and alluring with promises and consolations in that one? For indeed everything written in Scripture is either command or promise; the commands humble the proud with their demands, and the promises lift up the humbled with their remissions.

Source
Weimarer Ausgabe 6:571,572