Departing words to the 1929-30 candidate class — Franz Pieper
From the August 1930 Concordia Theological Monthly
(Here shared at request) In the name and by the order of the supervising authorities and the theological faculty, your diplomas will now be presented to you. The diplomas testify that you have attained the necessary aptitude to administer the public preaching office, of the office that Christ has ordained for His Church until the Last Day.
What will you preach? That is certainly not in question. You will preach what Christ has appointed for all times in the words: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom of many [Mk. 10:45].” You will preach what the Apostle of Christ, St. Paul summed up in the words: “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” [1 Cor. 2:2]. You will not preach human moral and virtue, nor culture, nor social gospel; instead you will preach the in cruce salus, in sola cruce salus. Yes, that is what you will publicly and specially preach.
Yet, is it possible that precisely this content of your preaching could make you despondent and disheartened? The apostle himself says that the crucified Christ is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, 1 Cor. 1:23. The world, the entire human world, its disposition after the fall into sin, does not meet the preaching about the crucified Christ with favor but instead with repugnance; it does not meet it with love, but rather with enmity. This even applies in the cases where from human/ natural reasons the world shows us outward friendship. You, too, my young brothers, will soon experience that, as they preach the crucified Christ as something other than the only way to salvation.
Nevertheless you can be absolutely confident and undaunted. Your Lord and Savior is very much acquainted with the entire natural human world’s position of opposition. Thus He does not let you go out unaided into this world, but He Himself goes with you. For His promise that He gave in particular for the proclamation of His Word reads like this: “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” [Mt. 28:20]. It doesn’t matter where your call takes you—whether into foreign lands or into our own country, whether into the crowd of the large city or into the relative solitude of the small city and country—know one thing for absolutely certain: Your Lord and Savior never leaves you deserted and alone but He keeps His promise to you: “I am with you, always, even to the end of the age.” And that is a large “I”. It is the “I” who created and preserves the world, heaven and earth and what’s in it. That is more company and more protection than if every army and every navy of the whole world moved out with you and stood behind you.
But what about the inner hostility that the natural person brings against the preaching of the crucified Christ? Even here your cause is certainly not helpless. You have a promise of your Savior for this situation too. Of course, you will not convert all, just as Christ and His apostles did not convert all. But wherever the crucified Christ in His work of atonement is preached, there the Holy Spirit is active in this preaching and through this preaching. It will not be completely without fruit. The Savior certainly promises in John 16:14: á¼˜κεá¿–νος á¼μá½² δοξÎ¬σει, “He”—namely the Holy Spirit—“will glorify Me.” Out of people who say “no”, the Holy Spirit makes people who say “yes”; He makes consenting hearts out of dissenting hearts, so that those who previously found the Crucified One to be ugly, who saw no form or beauty in Him, now from their heart call Him the most Beautiful of the children of men.
My dear young brothers! What a precious work, καλá½¸ν á¼”ργον, it is then for which your Savior wants to use you. Thank Him daily that He valued you to serve Him in this work! May He also grant you true faithfulness and steadfastness in this work! In fact, may the Lord of the Church grant us all true, right, constant faithfulness in the call allotted to us so that one day we too may hear the word of grace from His mouth: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things Enter into the joy of your Lord” [Mt. 25:21]. Amen.
Dr. Franz Pieper As Preacher
(Translated from CTM, October 1931)
Dr. Pieper was above all a dogmatician. With a rare mastery he had command of the entire rich sphere of dogmatic theology. With unique clarity and sharpness he knew how to present the correct doctrine and to uncover and refute the opposing error. He did this in such a lucid, clear, simple language that one was almost forced to understand him. He could also have used another method of presentation. Whoever reads his dogmatic writings soon recognizes that he had also completely mastered the language of the modern theologians, as unclear and pretentious as it often is. He mastered it and understood the errors and derailments and deceptions that the modern theologians so often tried to hide under pompous language. He striped off their cover and placed it in its true form. He, who so thoroughly understood the language of modern theology, could have also used it. But by God’s grace he kept himself from expressing his clear, scriptural, theological thoughts in incomprehensible language. As a student of Luther, he spoke a popular language so that the profit and blessing, which a person has in reading his valuable, significant writings, is not impaired, hindered or made completely impossible by language that’s difficult to understand.
Dr. Pieper was also a preacher of God’s grace. Just like in all of his writings, so also in every one of his sermons, the center around which all his thoughts turned, the Holy of Holies to which he always pointed his hearers and into which he always led them was the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae, the doctrine of the justification of a sinner by grace alone, for Christ’s sake alone, through faith alone. After diligently searching and digging deeply in the mine of the divine word, he brought its thoughts to light and expressed them in a worthy fashion. His entire manner of preaching was clear and lucid; although his language was simple, it was still noble and pure, having an appropriate and often charming beauty. Therefore, it is a pleasure, in the best sense of the word, not only to listen to his sermons but also to read them.
Dr. Pieper preached often. He frequently preached from the pulpit of Immanuel Lutheran Church in St. Louis. Having served Immanuel for many years as assistant pastor, this pulpit was very dear to him. On various occasions he also preached from different pulpits. But whether he stood before his own or another congregation, whether he spoke before great gatherings or only before a few hearers, his sermons were like golden apples in silver skins. It will be of interest and profit to our readers if we bring two samples of Pieper’s style of preaching—first, a sermon for a congregation, a most beautiful Good Friday meditation; and second, a sermon at the dedication of an institutional building, in which he spoke a word worthy of us preachers to consider.
Christ, Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world. Have mercy on us and give us Your peace. Amen.
Hear a Good Friday text, as it is recorded in Luke 23:39-43
In Christ, beloved hearers!
This is a wonderful text. The Holy Spirit uses various texts with various people so that they may become certain of the Christian faith. That text then becomes that person’s favorite text. But thousands upon thousands have especially thanked God for this text, and, in fact, not just poor and lowly people, but especially great people in the world—kings and princes and famous scholars. Why? Because these words of Scripture so clearly and powerfully express the most comforting Gospel of Christ the Crucified so that every person who is worried and seeks comfort because of the guilt of his sins cannot help but be absolutely certain of God’s grace and so conquer all fear of death and judgment. What do we see in our text? This: Christ our Savior, hanging on the cross for the sins of the world, solemnly promises paradise to a criminal, who is justly condemned to death, but who in the anguish of his conscience, calls upon Him for help, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
From Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, the most terrible place in the world, the place where men crucify the Lord of Glory, the incarnate Son of God, from this place, the Son of God Himself now directs our gaze to the most beautiful and lovely place there ever was here on earth, to paradise. And He says that by His death on the cross, the way back to paradise stands open. Indeed! Golgotha and Paradise are closely connected. “The angel guards the gate no more, To God our thanks we pay.” (TLH #105,8) This is what our text teaches us. Let us consider this more closely.
Christ’s Cross, The Way Back To Paradise
We will see,
- how certain;
- how comforting this truth is.
1. Poets of the world sing moving songs about their earthly homeland. They speak of the beautiful homeland, the sweet homeland. The love of one’s homeland is innate in a person. We Christians now know from Holy Scripture that all humanity has a common homeland, an old, original home. It is paradise. This present earth, this thorn and thistle producing earth, this earth with its thousand-fold pains, with distress and death, is not the original homeland of the human race. When God created man in His image in holiness and righteousness, He did not place him in a desert between thorns and thistles, but, as Holy Scripture specifically reports, God planted a beautiful garden in Eden and placed the man whom He had made in it (Gn. 2:8).
We also know from Holy Scripture how we lost our old, beautiful home, Paradise. It happened by sin. When people transgressed God’s command, loaded themselves down with the guilt of sin, God drove them out of their beautiful homeland and before its gate stationed the angel with the flaming sword that turns every way. All misery of this earth, together with death, is solely the fruit and result of sin.
Now we hear that there is a way back into the homeland, into the sweet homeland, into blessed fellowship with God. Christ, hanging on the cross, sets the criminal into Paradise, the very criminal who was loaded down with guilt but who calls upon Him for grace. There can be no doubt. The criminal asks, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” The Lord answers, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” How does this happen?
Beloved hearer, how does this come about? It comes from our God’s great love and great mercy toward us miserable and lost people. We could not help ourselves. We could not reopen Paradise. It had been shut. The angel with the sword that turns in every direction, the holiness and righteousness of God, is not bribed either with money or with the so-called good works of men. What people call good works are before God’s holy face like straw is in fire. Scripture says: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse” (Gal. 3:10). “None of them can by any means redeem his brother” (Ps. 49:7), etc. But now look upon God’s love and mercy. God has laid that which has banished us from Paradise—the guilt of our sin—upon His incarnate Son and let Him pay for it. Behold, the Lamb of God who bears the sins of the world! Jn. 1:29
And what is the result of this sacrifice offered for us? The angel guarding the gate of Paradise steps back and grants free entrance. The curtain in the temple rips in two. The Most Holy Place, the fellowship with God, the heavenly Paradise, more beautiful and glorious than the Garden of Eden, stands completely open. So let us now approach the throne of grace with joy, the epistle to the Hebrews exhorts, so that we may obtain mercy and find grace. Thus, Christ’s cross is the way back into Paradise. Our Good Friday hymns, in which we devotionally examine the suffering and death of Christ, are at the same time voices from the homeland: Return to the blessed homeland! The brightness of the opened Paradise breaks through the darkness of Good Friday. What began at Christmas is now completely finished: “He opens us again the door of Paradise today” (TLH #105, 8). The matter is absolutely certain. The Savior Himself, the Son of God, says it. God the Father has directed us to His Son’s mouth and word when He said, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” Of course God the Father holds judgment. But at the same time He testifies by the ripping of the curtain that the judgment now has an end, His wrath over all humanity has been appeased. Even to the criminal the Most Holy Place stands open; through faith in Christ, in the Son of God, he goes from the place of execution into paradise.
2. And this is very comforting, comforting above all measure. We want to examine this a little more closely by looking at the individual particulars of our text.
First of all our text gives an exceedingly clear answer to the question “Whom does Christ receive?” A person still living in carnal security is insulted when, in his relationship with God, he is placed in the same class as the criminal. But when God’s Law opens a person’s eyes to see the guilt of his sin, then he certainly envies the criminal. He thinks or says: If only the Savior would say to me, too, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise,’ then I, too, would be certain of God’s grace.” Now, beloved, so that each person—let us note well, each person, whoever he may be—can be certain of God’s grace, Christ, on His High Priestly Throne, His cross, specifically chose the criminal to be an example of grace.
The criminal was neither a good man nor an honorable man, but rather a villain, and, in fact, a terrible villain. Since he was too dangerous to be left free, he was arrested. But even as a prisoner he was still too dangerous. He could have broken out of the prison. In order to make humanity safe from him, it was considered necessary to kill him, to take his life from him. The sentence of death was pronounced upon him. It was no judicial murder. He himself confessed that he received what his deeds were worth. There’s more: At first he too, hanging on the cross, blasphemed Christ with the other criminal. But then he came to the knowledge of his sin. The fear of God’s wrath and hell seized him, and in his anguish he turned to Christ with the prayer for grace: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Note that the Lord does not say to him, “That won’t do. You were too bad for too long. Everything has its limits. You, I cannot receive,” but He says to him instead, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
That is grace! That is the free and boundless grace, which exists for all people by the cross of Christ, which excludes no one. You, too, are not excluded, whoever you may be. Do you want to be in Paradise? Turn to Christ and say, “Lord, remember me.” And your request will be granted. Christ has never, never, refused one prayer for entrance into Paradise. When He walked on earth, Christ harshly, very harshly rebuked certain people. To be sure, He scolded the Pharisees who thought they had no need of the doctor, that is, that they could get into Paradise by their virtue. But we find no example in Scripture that He refused this request of the broken and humble hearts who called upon Him for grace. He did not refuse the repentant tax collector, or Mary Magdalene, or even the repentant criminal. Thus all troubled hearts are comforted by the grace shown to this criminal—even that of the Apostle Paul when he writes, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” It is also said that the astronomer Copernicus himself composed an epitaph that goes like this: he does not desire the grace that forgives a Paul and Peter; instead he asks only for the grace with which Christ received the criminal. Now, let all of us also be content with the grace shown to the criminal and thus we are absolutely certain of grace.
The word “today” is also comforting. It seems that the criminal was only thinking of a future consideration of grace when he asked, “Lord, remember me.” But the Lord instructed him: Not first later, no, no, even today, when your soul separates, you will be with Me in Paradise, that is, be in the blessed fellowship of God. We learn from this that the purgatory of the papal church is a human fabrication to torture souls and for the goal of monetary profit. No, the souls of those who die in faith in Christ never come into purgatory, but into Paradise, into the hand of God, into the blessed fellowship of God as the Lord assures the thief: Today, at once, you will be with Me in paradise, and as Paul says, I have “a desire to depart and be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23).
Finally, for our comfort, let us also especially pay attention to how the word about Paradise makes death sweet for the believers. Death is no child’s play. Death in itself, that is, death according to the natural emotion and according to the natural appearance is terrible. Now, Holy Scripture is full of comfort for all believers in the face of death. The Lord says for example, “I am the Resurrection and the Life…” (John 11:25-26). And again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life…” (John 5:24). And again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death” (John 8:51). But there is a particular comfort in the words that the Savior spoke to the dying criminal, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” According to this, what is the death of the believer? It is a going into Paradise. By death we do not go into judgment, or into a dark, sad or desolate place, but into Paradise. Who would be afraid of Paradise? Therefore, beloved hearer, when our end comes, be it today or tomorrow, may our eyes of faith be directed to paradise and may we then joyfully say:
O happy day and yet far happier hour,
When wilt thou come at last,
When fearless to my Father’s love and pow’r,
Whose promise standeth fast,
My soul I gladly render?
For surely will His hand
Lead her with guidance tender
To heav’n, her fatherland.
(TLH #619, 2)
Thus the cross of Christ is the certain way back into Paradise. May the Holy Spirit seal the word we heard in our hearts. Amen.
“For the love of Christ constrains us.” (2 Corinthians 5:14)
Dear fathers and brothers!
Today, in a public celebration, we add a new building to those which have housed our ______ Concordia. We are making this a public celebration also in order to remind us of what motivates us to establish and build our Christian institutions of higher learning. That motive is expressed in the words of the holy Apostle Paul in 2 Cor. 5:14: “For the love of Christ constrains us.” By God’s grace, we know the love of which the apostle speaks. It is the wondrous love that the eternal Son of God became man and died for us so that we must no longer fear dying under the wrath of God, a death that leads to eternal damnation. We had been under the wrath of God and thus under the sentence of eternal damnation. When we were in this misery, Christ appeared for us. He died in our place. Consequently God now looks upon it as if we ourselves had completely paid the penalty of our sins. “We judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died.” Through faith in the love that Christ showed us by His atoning death, we are absolutely certain that we have the forgiveness of our sin and an eternal home in heaven. Should it be God’s will that we live to see the Last Day, we will not be frightened on that day, but welcome it with joy. Should it be God’s will that we pass through death, we do not perish, but rather our soul is translated into Paradise and on the Last Day it will be united with our glorious radiant body to have an eternal home with God in the fellowship of the holy angels and all saints.
This is due to the love that Christ showed us. And this love that has been shown us has won our heart. It penetrates us that so that we no longer live our life here on earth for our own interests, but rather for the interest of the One who has so loved us that He did not refuse to give His life into death for us, as the apostle expressly states: “and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.”
Thus, we then ask, “Lord, dear Savior, what is Your will for us? What is it that we should do for You?” Now, our entire life belongs to Him because we are His purchased property. For His sake, we want to do all the works of our earthly calling that serve of our neighbor with great faithfulness so that our life before the world redounds to the glory of Him who loved us until death on the cross. But there is one work above all that He wants to have from us, that He especially urges. Because atonement was made not only for our sins, but also for those of the whole world, He wants us to bring this message of salvation into the world, so that, with us, they may believe and be saved. John 3:17. Thus His commission sounds to us and to all who believe on His Name: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” And again, when He opened the disciples’ understanding to the Scriptures, “Thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day. And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations.” For this Christian work, Christ still allows us to live here on earth. And our Christian schools should also serve this Christian work, both the elementary and the higher schools. The preaching of the Gospel and institutions of Christian education belong together. That’s how it was in the 16th Century at the time of the Reformation. When, after the darkness of the papacy, the light of the saving Gospel was rekindled, Luther wrote his powerful works in which he so heartily and urgently exhorted the Christians to establish Christian schools of elementary, secondary and higher education. These are exhortations that penetrate marrow and bone. By God’s grace, here in the United States, the Reformation repeated itself in the 19th Century, and, in fact, especially by the work of our Synodical fathers. Already in the fall of the year of their immigration, when our fathers were still extremely poor in earthly goods, when they still, for the most part, lacked floors in their poor dwellings, our fathers started a school of higher education in Perry County. It was a school to train teachers and pastors who would be capable of shining the light of the pure Gospel here into the land of their new homeland and to lead the inhabitants of this land to peace with God and out of this world into the eternal homeland. We, their descendants, have sought to follow the example of our fathers. By God’s we have been able to establish 18 schools of higher learning, 12 of them in the United States and six abroad. Their foremost goal is to furnish teachers and preachers of the saving Gospel. As Luther also reminds in his powerful writings about schools, we also serve the state and civil order by the preaching of the Gospel. We must not forget the reason why God still allows the world and the countries in the world to exist. It is not so that people may show what great things they can do, nor so that the mighty of this world may mutually overthrow each other. That is a completely incorrect worldview. Our Savior says very clearly and distinctly why the world still stands: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come,” that is, the end of the world, the Last Day. We learn here that the whole world and all civil orders exist in the world only for the sake of the Gospel. By their preaching of the Gospel, the Christians of a country are that country’s real wall of protection. Only for their sake does God still allow the civil order to exist. Even in our country, which is so richly blessed with earthly goods, the Gospel is rare and there is a truly terrible apostasy before our eyes. Here Rome, with its cursing of the Gospel, is active. And even from those who call themselves Protestant Christians, the so-called “social gospel,” the seeking after the goods of this world, for the most part replaces the Gospel of Christ, which alone rescues people out of hell and brings them to heaven. In God’s eyes this is a pollution of the land which calls down the wrath of God upon our country and sooner or later will cause its ruin. But when, by God’s grace, we together with others faithfully and diligently proclaim and spread the Gospel of the Savior of sinners in our nation, we are a protective wall for our nation against the threatening wrath of God, a wall that is stronger than a mighty army and a strong navy.
But is all that learning that we pursue, really necessary for the preaching of the Gospel? Here we not only teach more than five languages—not only contemporary languages and Latin, but also Greek and Hebrew. Why Greek and Hebrew? Here and there fanatics have appeared who think all Christians should learn Greek and Hebrew because they are the original languages of Holy Scripture. That is foolishness. From Scripture itself, in particular from the Pentecost account we see that it is our Lord’s will that the Gospel be proclaimed to the hearers in the language that they understand, or understand best. And it is certainly true that every Christian and also a pastor may well know and teach Christian doctrine from translations of Holy Scripture. But it is also true, however, that the enemies of the Gospel, when we refute them from translations, appeal to the original languages of Scripture, thus to Greek and Hebrew, for their false doctrines, Thus it serves the teaching of Christian truth that we have on our side and in our midst such people who know the original languages of Scripture. Even Luther confesses that he would not have been sufficiently equipped against the enemies of the truth without knowing these languages. Thus we find the following exhortation from Luther in his writing, An Open Letter to the Councilmen of all Cities of Germany, Urging Them to Establish and Maintain Christian Schools, “As precious as the Gospel now is to us, that is how much we should hold fast the languages. For it was not for nothing that God had His Scripture written in only two languages: the Old Testament in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek. God did not despise them but instead chose them above all others for His Word. We, too, should honor them above all others.” But—and Luther also reminds us of this—aren’t the people who have great knowledge, and especially those who have mastered knowledge of languages, in danger of being proud and arrogant, so that they do not live for Christ but for themselves? Yes, the danger exists, and many from all ages have succumbed to this danger. Therefore the proverb arose: The learned are the perverted. But learning is not at fault here, but instead, their evil, corrupt heart which they follow, and their misuse of such glorious natural gifts of God. Scripture instructs us in many examples. Scripture reports: “Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22). And yet Scripture also reports of Moses in Hebrews 11:24-26: “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.”
Paul was a very educated man. He not only went through the Jewish high school of Gamaliel, but he was familiar with the writings of the highly educated Greeks. We see this when he quotes passages from the writings of the Greeks. And yet, what faithfulness in service of his Savior Paul possessed! He writes in the Epistle to the Galatians (Gal. 2:20): “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
And Luther would not have been the Reformer of the Church, could not have translated the bible and conquered the papist theologians so triumphantly, if he did not know the original languages of Scripture and could have rightly said of himself that he knew all the tricks of his opponents very well and, in fact, better than they themselves. Yet, he was so faithful in the service of his Savior that he could say that by God’s grace he was ready to die a thousand deaths for the Gospel, if it pleased God.
Let us also look at the fathers of our synod. They could not have transplanted the Reformation of the 16th Century to American soil, as it happened, unless a number of them possessed the so-called scholarly education.
In short, knowledge of languages and all worldly learning cannot do anything in the Kingdom of God, unless the knowledge of the love of Christ dwells in the hearts of those endowed with them and consequently also the holy longing not to live for oneself, but instead to live for Him who for our sake died and rose. But if these spiritual gifts are present, then languages and other learning are not merely outward decoration but very useful and necessary gifts in the Kingdom of God.
Blessed Dr. Walther used to urge upon the students two things especially. First: Pray God that He would strengthen and keep the living knowledge of Christ as your Savior from the guilt of sin and death. We need a ministerium that believes from the heart. Second: Do not be satisfied with a minimum of knowledge in languages and other worldly things. Seek, instead, the maximum. There is hardly an area of worldly learning that cannot be used in the service of the Gospel.
Dear fathers and brothers, I am coming to the conclusion. We want, by God’s grace, to follow the example of our fathers. The founding and maintaining of Christian institutions of learning are joined together with much work and expense. But we do not want to perceive it as a burden. We have recognized the love of Christ in our own hearts. By that love we have the forgiveness of our sins and a homeland in heaven. This love of Christ all the more compels us as long as we live here on earth not to live for ourselves but for our dear Savior. The love of Christ compels all of us Christians to carry our Christian schools, both the lower and the higher ones, upon hearts of prayer and, according to our ability, offer them our earthly goods. The love of Christ compels all teachers in our schools to attend to their office of abundant work with an ever-new joy. The love of Christ also compels all students, for their part, to learn and study with all diligence. Help, dear Savior, let it turn out well. Yours, Yours alone be all glory. Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.