The Four Luther Tracts

Today I had the privilege of viewing and holding in my hands the 4 Luther tracts in the possession of Washington and Lee’s Leyburn Library, Special Collections.  I have never had a selfie with a piece of Reformation history! I got my geek on today and I have goosebumps. You can read about these tracts, discovered in W and L’s Special Collections only four years ago(!) here. 

This tract is entitled “An Order of Worship for the Community” (1523) and it’s artwork has been authenticated as executed by Lucas Cranach the Elder.  The blog’s header is a close-up of this tract:

IMG_0114Here are all four of the tracts:

Luther tract

Text: St. Matthew 25: 1-13

A marriage, as at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry and in many cultures, was a contract between two families.  Once the families agreed, the couple was considered married.  But the couple would go to their respective homes and the groom would build a house, or add to his parents’ house.  After that the consummation of the betrothal would occur:  the wedding Day!  The groom and his friends would go to the bride’s home.  She waited with her wedding party (today’s parable, the ten virgins) and she would not know when he would arrive: morning, noon or even midnight!  Back then, the groom could not text about his ETA. The cry would come forth, the Bridegroom is arriving!  Make haste!  Sheer joy!  Contrary to the usual conception of our Lord’s coming as only a dread event, this Gospel is joy, sheer joy, joy, as in blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.  These wedding customs are the backdrop for this verse, John 14:

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

The couple would come together under the chuppah, wedding canopy. The couple and their families would sign the marriage contract.  The couple would drink from a cup of wine, sealing their marriage signifying the joy of their new life together.  The wedding feast would last a week and may the wine not run out!  See Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana!  Marriage is until death do us part and the wedding feast of the Lamb is until death us do  unite eternally and as the death and resurrection of the Bridegroom unites us and washes his bride pure.  St. John Chrysostom:  “(In marriage) you  are sacrificing yourself for  someone  to whom you are already joined, but He offered Himself  up for the one who turned her back on Him and  hated  Him.” 

The bridal wedding party were to wait for the arrival of the bridegroom. The foolish virgins knew the groom was coming at any time, even at midnight.  Why oh why did they not have extra oil, for light in the darkness?  We trust all too often lesser lights for the darkness, but against the darkness of sin, death and the power of the devil, human flashlights of worldly wisdom will not do.  Foolish people have no self-control as they look to what they want right now.  We do not know how to wait. We are not prepared as maybe we once were for the bridegroom to come. For instance government passing all the gun laws in the world will not stop unspeakable murders.  The root problem is not gun control but self-control.  Looking at our bulletin cover (see picture above), a painting by William Blake of “The Parable of the 10 Virgins”, he depicts the foolish virgins as out of control, in a panic for they have no oil and such is the world.  The five wise virgins are in harmony, for as the lead woman points her sisters and us to the arrival of Christ for which our whole lives are pointed, as John the Baptist did as well.  Our hearts are empty until they are filled with the oil of faith, hope and love in Christ and He is leaven in this world.

But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians

  • He taught this parable that we may  watch for His coming. He taught this parable that we be the wise Church, not the foolish church.  The foolish church puts human opinions, theologies and the like center.  The wise Church knows Who is the Center of the Church:  Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom.  

  • He taught this parable for hope.   For in this hope we were saved(Romans 8: 24).  Hope is for us individually and together as His Body the Church.  Our Lord’s parable is not for some eternal stat that 50% will be saved, 50% damned, in some sort of non-Biblical double  predestination.

  • He taught the parable of the virgins for us, His teaching is the Word of God, the Scriptures, “…which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.’ (2 Timothy 3: 15).  He taught the parable that we be wise for salvation in Him, carrying the oil of faith in His Word of promise to us all. 

  • He taught this for hope in Him, who soon after He taught this parable in the Temple would be cast out of Jerusalem to bear the hopelessness of sin and death, yours and mine upon the Cross.  Paul wrote we Christians grieve but as those who have hope.  The hope is His salvation for the soul and the body, that when He comes all the living and the dead, judged and saved in Him, will be caught up with Him as He leads us home, the new heavens and the new earth.

The foolish virgins went out into the darkness, at midnight to buy more oil!  The dealers in the darkness and of the darkness, do not have the oil of God’s Word and with his word, faith, hope and love. The oil would have been given already!  You cannot buy God’s Word, you cannot buy salvation.  And then out in the darkness, the bridegroom says to the foolish virgins:

 “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.”

“Harsh. But that’s the way it is. When our Lord returns, we know not. When our soul is required of us, we know not. And so, the key is to be prepared. It’s a lesson we take to heart in other areas of our life. A nation must be militarily prepared to defend itself. We should plan for our retirements. Whether it’s sports or business, preparation is key. A student will likewise fail apart from preparation. Why then are we so thoughtless about things eternal? So lackadaisical?”*

How might we prepare? For number one, two, and three on the list, I’d say, go to church, go to church, go to church. And make it a good one. Not a self-help church but a church that preaches Christ Crucified. Oh, and yes, one where you actually confess your sins, and receive absolution. One that treasures Baptism, which is your wedding garment. (See Matthew 22:11) One that proclaims Christ’s death by partaking of his Supper.”*

The oil was there for the taking by all ten virgins, the bridal party. The 10 virgins symbolize the Church. Someone amply supplied the oil for the virgins to meet the Bridegroom who came at an hour no one suspected. The oil was given for that purpose. In that time, oil was used for three purposes

  • for lamps, as in today’s Gospel

  • for medicine, as we read that the Samaritan took care of the man robbed and beaten on the Jericho road by pouring wine and oil upon his  wounds

  • for the face to make it shine, as it is written, Psalm 104: 15 , the Lord gives to us,

“…wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

Oil was used for lamps, for medicine, for the face, that is,  for light, healing and joy.  And oil was used for special and unique purpose:  the anointing with oil marked the investiture of the Kings of Israel, as Samuel anointed Saul and David as the Kings of Israel. Oil was administered by anointing. Remember that the title “Christ” means “anointed one”.  Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew, Messiah. Behold, One is here who is greater than the prophets!  

  1. God’s Word is light:  His Law a light unto our path that may know His way and as Jesus is the Way, the only  Way, we are led by Jesus the Anointed, the pioneer and perfector of our faith. 

  2. His Word is healing and the balm of healing for broken and contrite hearts, which O Lord, you will not despise. 

  3. His Word is the joy, of not only knowing the truth, but knowing He who knows us better than we do ourselves.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.  Ephesians 3:  20-21

*From a Facebook posting by Prof. Peter Scaer, Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN


wise virgins | THE ROOT PROBLEM IS NOT GUN CONTROL BUT SELF-CONTROL | image tagged in holy bible | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

This day is united in thanksgiving for our freedoms, political and spiritual, and for all those who have fought the good fight.  

Concordia and Koinonia


Three seemingly disparate events are associated together on this date:  

1. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the armistice was signed ending World War I and this date became Veteran’s Day.  We remember all military, soldiers and sailors, who have defended our nation in war.  We thank them for their service and the best way to do that is, as is rightly encouraged in the media: THANK A VETERAN TODAY!

2. On this date, Martin of Tours, Pastor and Bishop was buried in the city of Tours, France:

Born into a pagan family in what is now Hungary around the year A.D. 316, Martin grew up in Lombardy (Italy). 

When he was  fifteen, being the son of a soldier, he was drafted to serve in the army. He was apparently a good soldier and popular with his comrades. One winter night when he…

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Aside from Martin Luther, Martin Chemnitz(1522-86) is regarded as the most important theologian in the history of the Lutheran Church. Chemnitz combined a penetrating intellect and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture and the Church Fathers with a genuine love for the Church. When various doctrinal disagreements broke out after Luther’s death in 1546, Chemnitz determined to give himself fully to the restoration of unity in the Lutheran Church. He became the leading spirit and principal author of the 1577 Formula of Concord, which settled the doctrinal disputes on the basis of Scripture and largely succeeded in restoring unity among Lutherans. Chemnitz also authored the four-volume Examination of the Council of Trent (1565-73), in which he rigorously subjected the teachings of this Roman Catholic Council to the judgment of Scripture and the ancient Church Fathers. The Examination became the definitive Lutheran answer to the Council of Trent, as well as a thorough exposition of the faith of the Augsburg Confession. A theologian and a churchman, Chemnitz was truly a gift of God to the Church. (The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

Pastor Martin Chemnitz has been called “The Second Martin”, in terms of his importance in the Evangelical Lutheran Church.  He is the principal author of The Formula of Concord, the last of the Confessions in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of Lutheran Church.  The Formula has two parts the Epitome and the Solid Declaration.  The Epitome is like that word, it is the epitome,the summation, kind of a Reader’s Digest of the confession.  The Solid Declaration is the unedited document. 8,188 theologians, ministers and teachers signed the Solid Declaration.  On June 25, 1580, the complete Book of Concord was put on sale:  exactly 50 years after the Presentation and reading  of the Augsburg Confession to Emperor Charles V. The Book of Concord was complete and it is still the complete and correct exposition of the Word of God.

A Lutheran pastor vows to teach, preach and administer in accordance with The Confessions as they are the true exposition of the Scriptures, the Word of God.  A repeated phrase throughout the Formula is:  “We believe, teach and confess…”   This begins the affirmative theses.  Then there are the negative theses in which the Confessors condemn false doctrine. Post-moderns do not like this.  Post-moderns base their understanding of truth on what they experience and feel, our ‘free’ will…and such is a slippery slope, a Gadarene slide into the abyss ( Matthew 8:  28-31).  Saving faith is based upon sound doctrine.  “This doctrine is founded upon the Word of God…” (Solid Declaration , Article II, Free Will, paragraph 28, Tappert).

An example from the Formula by Martin Chemnitz on the ‘we believe, teach and confess” is on Holy Communion based upon the Word of God. I have heard  many a person and have read many a book asserting  that they teach is “Biblical, nondenominational, non-sectarian Christianity” and then go on to  deny the Sacraments, such as Holy Communion as mere memorial, the Sacrament of the ‘divine absence’, not Presence.  His Body and Blood is for the weak and the trembling in faith to be strengthened as we repent, and turn toward the Lord and not ourselves!  Here is Chemnitz showing us pure doctrine and pure pastoral care for sinners as we come to the Blessed Sacrament.  Here is a quote from  The Formula of Concord, authored by Pr. Chemnitz on the Lord’s Supper for the strengthening of the true Faith:

“…it must [also] be carefully explained who are the unworthy guests of this Supper, namely, those who go to this Sacrament without true repentance and sorrow for their sins, and without true faith and the good intention of amending their lives, and by their unworthy oral eating of the body of Christ load themselves with damnation, that is, with temporal and eternal punishments, and become guilty of the body and blood of Christ.

For Christians who are of weak faith, diffident (see below for a definition)*, troubled, and heartily terrified because of the greatness and number of their sins, and think that in this their great impurity they are not worthy of this precious treasure and the benefits of Christ, and who feel and lament their weakness of faith, and from their hearts desire that they may serve God with stronger, more joyful faith and pure obedience, they are the truly worthy guests for whom this highly venerable Sacrament [and sacred feast] has been especially instituted and appointed;  as Christ says, Matt. 11:28: Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Also Matt. 9:12: They that be whole need not a physician, but they that be sick. Also [ 2 Cor. 12:9 ]: God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. Also [ Rom. 14:1 ]: Him that is weak in the faith receive ye [ Rom 14:3 ], for God hath received him. For whosoever believeth in the Son of God, be it with a strong or with a weak faith, has eternal life [ John 3:15f. ].

And worthiness does not depend upon great or small weakness or strength of faith, but upon the merit of Christ, which the distressed father of little faith [ Mark 9:24 ] enjoyed as well as Abraham, Paul, and others who have a joyful and strong faith.”

dif·fi·dent/ adjective:  modest or shy because of a lack of self-confidence. As we survey mega-church, tele-evangelized Christianity this is not a word that has much place, but in most Christians’ lives it is apt.  As the first Martin taught about Holy Communion that the Lord’s Words, “for you” are key for the diffident Christian burdened by sin and daily living.  The Lord’s ardent desire is to make us one with Him.  When we are filled with ourselves and our own self-made spirituality, then we can not be filled with the Lord.  These two Scripture verses could be called the Sacrament of the Altar beatitudes;

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied

Let us pray…

Lord, God heavenly Father, through the teaching of Martin Chemnitz, You prepare us for the coming of Your Son to lead home His Bride, the Church, that with all the company of the redeemed we may finally enter in to His eternal wedding feast; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


Johann von Staupitz (ca. 1469–1524), was vicar-general of the Augustinian Order in Germany and friend of Martin Luther, was born in Saxony. He studied at the universities in Leipzig and Cologne and served on the faculty at Cologne. In 1503 he was called by Frederick the Wise to serve as dean of the theological faculty at the newly founded University of Wittenberg. There he encouraged Luther to attain a doctorate in theology and appointed Luther as his successor to professor of Bible. During Luther’s early struggles to understand God’s grace, it was Staupitz who counseled Luther to focus on Christ and not on himself. (The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

Reflection:  When the publication of the 95 Theses spread throughout Europe, then Luther was in middle of a raging storm.  He corresponded with his father confessor.

On the twenty-fifth of November he sent word to Staupitz:

I am expecting the curses of Rome any day. I have everything in readiness. When they come, I am girded like Abraham to go I know not where, but sure of this, that God is everywhere.

Staupitz wrote Luther from  Austria:

The world hates the truth. By such hate Christ was crucified, and what there is in store for you today if not the cross I do not know. You have few friends, and would that they were not hidden for fear of the adversary. Leave Wittenberg and come to me that we may live and die together. The prince [Frederick] is in accord. Deserted let us follow the deserted Christ. (From Here I Stand by Roland Bainton)

Up until his death, Fr. von Staupitz, wrote to Luther and he to him.  We do not know if Luther’s dear father superior ever accepted the evangelical doctrine but he sure seems to have known them and lived them.  

It is written in Proverbs 17: 17:

A friend loves at all times,   and a brother is born for adversity.

And from Proverbs, 18: 24:

A man of many companions may come to ruin,
   but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Fr. Staupitz epitomized those Scripture passages.  In The Smalcald Articles, of the Lutheran Confessions, Part III, Article IV, “Of the Gospel”, Father Luther confesses the 4 ways the Lord gives us the Gospel:

We will now return to the Gospel, which not merely in one way gives us counsel and aid against sin; for God is superabundantly rich and libera] in His grace [and goodness].

First, through the spoken Word by which the forgiveness of sins is preached [He commands to be preached] in the whole world; which is the peculiar office of the Gospel.

Secondly, through Baptism.

Thirdly, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar.

Fourthly, through the power of the keys, and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren, Matt. 18, 20: Where two or three are gathered together, etc.

The power of the keys, or absolution, are linked with “the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren” and rightly so, as the Lord did, recorded in Matthew 18.  I can only opine that Luther was taught this in the school of Holy Spirit, partly at least, because of his Father confessor.  Staupitz was obviously Luther’s mentor and with that Luther’s  friend and brother in Christ.

As it says in the bio above that Fr. Staupitz encouraged Martin not to look to himself, but Christ Jesus.  This encouragement is so needed in our selfie, narcissistic age.  The Reformers used a Latin phrase to describe sin:  incurvatus in se, curved in upon oneself. When salvation is  dependent on what the self does and it’s own good works, then the eyes are not on  the prize of upward call in Christ Jesus.  Luther needed a brother in Christ so he could look to him and from a redeemed sinner, and brother,hear the Lord’s forgiveness. As Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together, about the necessity of a father confessor like Johannes von Staupitz:

A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person.


The Christian brother knows when I come to him: here is a sinner like myself, a godless man who wants to confess and yearns for God’s forgiveness. 

Fr. Johannes von Staupitz was such a brother to Martin.

This is a good commemoration to thank and remember mentors in our lives, who have been closer than a brother and a brother born for adversity and hung in there with you.  A brother who has heard your soul’s confession and offered Christ’s absolution as did von Staupitz. All the Facebook friends in the world do not one dear brother in Christ Jesus make.  Between Martin and Johannes stood Jesus Christ and the dear Father Johannes showed Martin Jesus Christ so that Martin could see Him in the clear Word of Scripture.  “Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word”, penned and sang Luther.  He probably knew he was kept steadfast by his dear father confessor as a mentor has so done for you.  Fr. Staupitz knew the Word as he had been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Almighty, everlasting God, for our many sins we justly deserve eternal condemnation.  In Your mercy, You sent Your dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who won for us forgiveness of sins and everlasting salvation.  Grant us a true confession so that dead to sin we may hear  the sweet  words of Absolution from our confessor as Luther heard them from his pastor, Johannes von Staupitz, and be released from all our sin;  through Jesus Christ, our lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Meme of the Day

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