Kruiz edited
Too Much of the Gospel
Tuesday of Lent 2
27 February 2018
Luther famously or infamously tells the story of the drunken German who falls off his horse on the right-hand side only to climb back on the beast and immediately fall off on the left-hand side. So it happens when people either think that private absolution in the confessional is to be rejected because we have a public absolution in the divine service; or contrariwise, that because we want people to come to private confession and receive private absolution that we ought to abolish the public confession and absolution in our services. I heard of a pastor who did the latter. He thought he could force God's people into the confessional by refusing to allow them to use the public confession and absolution at the beginning of the service. This pastor was trying to force people to do what he thought was best for them. This did not have a very good outcome. It wasn't very long until this parish closed, although this clerical assassination of public confession and absolution wasn't the only reason the parish perished. Luther's drunken German seems to be alive and well and falling off all over the place.

We must be careful that we don't set up a faulty either/or dilemma, as though getting rid of public confession will support private absolution or vice versa. The remarkable thing about the Bible's delivery of the gospel is the incredibly overwhelming abundance with which God delivers these precious gifts. He knows how we are made. He recognizes how delicate our conscience is. He knows our desperate need for continual encouragement through the word of the gospel as it is delivered in holy absolution. We need not less but more of this proclamation; in whatever form it might be delivered; whether it be private or public, with the crowd of confessing Christians in divine service or individually and privately with our dear pastor alone. More of the gospel is always a good thing.

Some are concerned that pastors should not be giving a general absolution to hoi polloi, lest they pronounce forgiveness to some notorious sinner or secret sin-savoring hypocrite. However, this concern would keep us from preaching the gospel at any time. Because the gospel is by definition an absolution of sin; a pronouncement of "not guilty." We would be putting the church out of business entirely if we presumed our pastors could not absolve mixed company, which the church always will be until the holy angels separate the wheat from the weeds at the consummation of the age (Mt 13:24-30). I doubt that any hypocrite would take comfort in an absolution anyway, because they are certain they are not in need of God's mercy or his forgiveness. In any case, such distinctions are not open to the servants of the King. Only the Lord knows those who are his (2Ti 2:19). The servants of the King only have the King's command to fulfill the ministry of the Spirit by proclaiming His forgiveness to sinners.

This is why in confessional Lutheranism there is wonderful abundance of absolution; both in the public absolution in service and in private confession in the confessional. The confessional's door is open to those who are still troubled by a particular sin or specific depravity with which their conscience is burdened. How delightful to be free to throw off the sin that so easily besets us in the presence of our loving pastor, who will comfort us, encourage us with God's Word, and proclaim God's forgiveness as from Christ Himself in holy absolution. The more the gospel is proclaimed to us the better. You can't have too much of this good thing.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"The preaching of the holy gospel itself is principally and actually an absolution in which forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in general and in public to many persons, or publicly or privately to one person alone. Therefore, absolution may be used in public and in general, and in special cases also in private, just as the sermon may take place publicly or privately, and as one might comfort many people in public or someone individually in private. Even if not all believe, that is no reason to reject public absolution, for each absolution, whether administered publicly or privately, should be understood as demanding faith and as being an aid to those who believe in it, just as the gospel itself also proclaims forgiveness to all men in the whole world and exempts no one from this universal context. Nevertheless, the gospel certainly demands our faith and does not aid those who do not believe it; and yet the universal context of the gospel must remain.

"Regarding the idea that no one might desire private absolution if one has public absolution and keeps it in use, we say that this is a weighty issue, that consciences nevertheless are in need of this special comfort. For one has to instruct consciences that the comfort of the gospel is directed to each individual particularly. Therefore, as you people who understand these matters know, the gospel has to be applied through Word and sacrament to each individual particularly, so that each individual in his conscience is tossed about by the question whether this great grace, which Christ offers to all men, belongs to him too. Under these circumstances it can easily be understood that one is not to abolish private absolution in favor of public absolution. Also, this application makes clearer the meaning of the gospel and the power of the keys. For very few people know how to use public absolution or apply it to themselves, unless in addition this application reminds them that they also ought to apply the general absolution to themselves as if it belonged to each individually. For this is the true office and task of the gospel: definitely to forgive sins by grace.

"For these reasons we do not consider that general absolution is either to be rejected or to be abolished, but that nevertheless the personal application and private absolution should be maintained." 

 Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon, Letter to City of Nürnberg (1533)
James 5:13-20

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (ESV)
Father of mercies and God of all consolation, before You all hearts are laid bare and no secrets are concealed. Open the lips of Your children that they may not hide their iniquity and so waste away in deceit, but in truth acknowledge their sin and receive Your word of absolution. Guard the ears of those who hear what is divulged in confession and, by the word of pardon that You have placed on their lips, grant that those whose bones have been crushed by the weight of Your wrath might be restored with the forgiveness purchased by the blood of Your Son. Protect us all from the accusation of the evil one. Grant us peace because we have been justified by You. Save us from temptation and keep us in the company of Your holy Church to sing of Your saving righteousness forever; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

For Adelin Jean Haak, that she might be kept safe until the day when she is brought into the ark of the Christian Church in holy baptism

For those who till the land, that the God who makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust would grant seed to the sower and bread to the eater

For all the shut-ins members of Memorial Lutheran Church, especially Lois Vaughn, Gladys and Carl Ferm, Ed and Cathy Jutzi, Helen Weaver, Anita Markwardt, Rita Baker, and Marie Hoyer, that the Lord Jesus would remember them in His mercy and grant them every spiritual blessing in the midst of their patient waiting
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias  Isenheim Altarpiece (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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