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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Pieper on Luther: His Mightiest Hymn? (on John 3:16 – 500th Anniversary Luther sermon)

      While continuing my project of presenting Pieper's Christliche Dogmatik online and adding hyperlinks to the many references he gives, I ran across the following statement by Pieper in an extended footnote (Christian Dogmatics 2, p. 8, n. 14; CDk2-7n19):
“Luther’s exposition of John 3:16 (“God so loved the world, etc.”) is perhaps the mightiest hymn on the love of God for all mankind ever sung by a teacher of the Church.” (St. L. XI: 1092 f.)
I could not just pass up this recommendation by Pieper and let it go unnoticed without highlighting it as a memorial for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.  Pieper was in the middle of drawing out the heart of the Reformation, listing all the individual synonyms of God's love.  And this recommendation by Pieper is for me one of the highest praises there is in the world today for a specific sermon of Luther.
     Because Pieper only references the St. Louis Edition of Luther's works, I had to do a little research.  What I discovered is that this sermon of Luther is available online in Google Books here from one of J.N. Lenker's old translations. (See HathiTrust Catalog Record here for The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther.) But a little research discovered that the New Series of the American Edition of Luther's Works has this same sermon re-translated and perhaps a little more readable.  In fact this new version of Luther's sermon is freely available to the public in CPH's "Look Inside" PDF preview file here.  It is in Volume 77 (Church Postil III).
      I have highlighted another "greatest" sermon of Luther elsewhere (on John 1:29).  And it would have no benefit to try to rank one sermon over the other.  But Pieper's praise of Luther in this sermon means this is indeed one of his greatest.  And so I want to present Lenker's full text in this blog post:

Full document available to view >> here <<.

At paragraph # 43, p. 366: Luther sums up the situation:
“Here is the verdict which makes the distinction between the saved and the damned. It does not depend upon how worthy or unworthy you are, for it has already been determined that all are sinners and deserve to be condemned; but it depends upon whether you believe in this Jesus Christ or not.”
And on the much misunderstood doctrine of "faith", Luther is the definitive teacher (para. 30):
“Of what benefit is the gift of faith if it is nothing more than such an empty vessel? Of what value unless one looks upon and comforts one's self in the thought of what is comprehended in it, and what alone makes it precious, so that one may say: Faith may be but a little and insignificant monstrance or box, but in it, nevertheless, there is so precious a gem that heaven and earth cannot contain it.”
And what is that "precious gem" that Luther speaks about?  It is the universal, objective truth that God has changed His heart, He has turned away from His wrath and declared all sinners justified and confirmed it on Easter morning.  Now He bids all people to believe this glorious Gospel.  --
      I thank God for Dr. Franz Pieper who brought the Reformation into such clear focus after 400 years and set the stage for our 500th Anniversary. -- Thank God for Luther's Reformation!

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