Pulpit Review: Luther and Frederick

Luther, Martin. Edited by Benjamin T. G. Mayes and James L. Langebartels. Church Postil II (Luther's Works, Volume 76). St. Louis: Concordia, 2013. 484 Pages. Cloth. $49.99. https://www.cph.org/p-23633-luthers-works-volume-76-church-postil-ii.aspx (P)

Luther, Martin. Edited by Benjamin T. G. Mayes and James L. Langebartels. Church Postil III (Luther's Works 77). St. Louis: Concordia, 2014. 422 Pages. Cloth. $54.99. http://www.cph.org/p-23634-luthers-works-volume-77-church-postil-iii.aspx (LHP)

Luther, Martin. Edited by Benjamin T. G. Mayes. Christopher Boyd Brown, General Editor. Sermons on Matthew Chapters 19-24 (Luther's Works 68). St. Louis: Concordia, 2014. 364 Pages. Cloth. $54.99. http://www.cph.org/p-24854-luthers-works-volume-68-sermons-on-the-gospel-of-st-matthew-chapters-19-24.aspx  (LHP)

Wellman, Sam. Frederick the Wise: Seen and Unseen Lives of Martin Luther's Protector. St. Louis: Concordia, 2015. 321 Pages. Paper. $25.99. https://www.cph.org/p-26404-frederick-the-wise.aspx (LHP)

Trueman, Carl R. Foreword by Robert Kolb. Afterword by Martin E. Marty. Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom. Wheaton: Crossway, 2015. 214 Pages. Paper $17.99. http://www.crossway.org/books/luther-on-the-christian-life-tpb/ (LHP)


This review begins with three volumes of the works of the Great Reformer himself, continues with a book on Frederick the Wise, Luther's protector and concludes with Luther on the Christian Life.

In a previous review of Volume 75 of the American Edition of Luther's Works, I wrote:
According to the original CPH prospectus for the addition of volumes 56-75 to the American Edition of Luther's Works, there were to be twenty volumes.
I rejoice to report that there are now twenty-eight planned volumes (http://www.cph.org/p-22560-luthers-works-volume-75-church-postils-i.aspx)!
Church Postil I is numbered as Volume 75. With the addition of eight more volumes, we can surmise (and pray) that more than the previously-announced three volumes will feature Luther sermons. The back flap of the dust cover confirms this: "Volumes 75-79 of the American Edition of Luther's Works, for the first time in 300 years, provide readers with Luther's mature, final version of the Church Postil, along with footnotes identifying the great reformer's own changes." http://lhpqbr.blogspot.com/2014/06/lhp-review-luther.html
Here's the second volume of the American Edition version of Luther's Church Postil, Luther's Works Volume 76:

About this Volume
Luther’s collected sermons for the church year were originally published in two series: the Church Postil and the House Postil. These were among his most popular works. Aside from his catechisms, they did more to teach people the Reformation than any other book. The new translation of the Church Postil follows the last edition of Luther’s life, from 1540–1544, and includes Luther’s often-extensive revisions to his own work, with significant variant readings from earlier editions translated in the footnotes.

This volume includes the sermons on the Epistle and Gospel readings from New Year through Holy Week, plus “Meditation on the Holy Suffering of Christ” and “Sermon on Confession and the Sacrament.” The appendix contains Luther’s prefaces to earlier editions of the Church Postil. All the sermons include footnotes indicating Luther’s edits over the course of his life, all rendered in clear, lucid English.

Benefits of Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 76 (Church Postil II):
  • Accurate and clear translation. (An early 20th-century version of these sermons was inaccurate and stilted.)

  • Presents the Church Postil as the mature Luther wanted it to be:
    • Includes Luther’s often-extensive revisions to his own work, with significant variant readings from earlier editions translated in the footnotes.
    • Includes the version of the summer sermons that Luther approved (Cruciger's edition, not Roth's edition).
    • Epistles and Gospels are interspersed as they were originally printed, showing the progression of Luther’s teaching through the course of the church year. (The early 20th-century Lenker version followed the revisionist 1700 edition of Philipp Jakob Spener, not Luther's mature, final edition of 1540 and 1544.)

  • Includes the careful, explanatory introductions and footnotes that have become a hallmark of Luther’s Works: American Edition.

  • Includes cross-references and a table showing where Luther’s sermons can be found in the German originals.

  • Fully indexed.
Edited by Benjamin T.G. Mayes and James L. Langebartels.

About the Series
The 28 planned new volumes are intended to reflect both modern and sixteenth-century interests and to expand the coverage of genres underrepresented in the existing volumes, such as Luther's sermons and disputations. The primary basis for the translation is the comprehensive Weimar edition.

Become a Subscriber
Each volume is currently priced at $49.99 each, but as a subscriber you pay only $34.99 plus shipping, a 30% saving. Volumes will release once a year and will be shipped to you automatically. To become a subscriber, view prospectus, view table of contents, or read testimonials, visit cph.org/luthersworks.
(Publisher's website)
Subscribing is really the way to go. It helps the publisher expect demand and it helps the customer get a really good deal, especially with the new list price of $54.99 for future volumes.

Luther knew that some preachers were reusing his sermons so their congregations could get a better sermon than they would have otherwise. He was concerned that some would just get lazy and read his sermons to their congregations. Today, some lazy preachers find sermons online. I'd much prefer hearing a Luther sermon repeated by most TV and radio preachers today! The laziness of the 21st Century seems to be of a different kind. Many Lutheran preachers may be too lazy (busy?) to read good Lutheran sermons. 

Consider the work that went into Luther's sermon on the "Gospel for the Day of the Wise Men" (71-180). That's not a typo. Page 71 to page 80, sure, but 71-one hundred eighty? Yikes! Luther will teach you how to exegete, translate, structure a sermon, do theology, and preach interestingly if you read this one sermon. What a tour de force in catechesis, history, and pastoral care! He even corrects the false understanding of the wise men as three kings (71, 72, et al).

The English renderings of Luther's German Bible are often quite notable. Consider Luke 2:49: "'Why were you looking for Me? Do you not know that I must be in that which is My Father's?'" (199)

Footnotes are informative and enormously helpful, covering the doctrine of the two kingdoms (268), predestination (290), and Lutheran liturgical changes, like the change in date for the Transfiguration (305).

Appendix B has Luther at his pithy best with regard to poor editions of his sermons: "But now they print these [books] in such a hurry that, when they come back to me, I do not recognize my own books. Here something is left out; there something is transposed; here something is falsified; thee something was uncorrected..." (453)

This set of five volumes deserves a spot near every Lutheran pastor's desk. We just need to wait for them all to arrive in print.

Here's the next part, Volume 77, Church Postil III. 

Few other books communicate the Gospel to Luther’s contemporaries so powerfully as Luther’s Church Postil (sermons for the church year). Now for the first time, Luther’s authorized, final edition of the Church Postil, edited originally by Caspar Cruciger for the summer half of the year, is presented here in English. This volume brings forth Luther’s sermons on Epistle and Gospel texts from Easter through Pentecost.

In 1535, Luther wrote to a friend, “Concerning the [earlier version of the] postil, you have more respect for it than I do. I would like the whole book to be destroyed. And this is what I am doing: I am entrusting to Dr. Caspar Cruciger the work of re-editing the whole into a new and better form, which would be of benefit to the whole Church everywhere. He is the sort of man, unless love deceives me, who will correspond to Elisha, if I were Elijah (if one may compare small things with great), a man of peace and quiet, to whom I shall commend the church after [I depart]; Philip does this too.”

Benefits of Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 77 (Church Postil III):
  • Accurate and clear translation (An early 20th-century version of these sermons was inaccurate and stilted.)
  • Commentary on the chief biblical text for the seasons of Epiphany, Ascension, and Pentecost
  • Includes the careful, explanatory introductions and footnotes that have become a hallmark of Luther’s Works: American Edition
  • Fully indexed
Edited by Benjamin T. G. Mayes and James L. Langebartels (Publisher's Website)
Covering Easter Sunday through Pentecost Tuesday, III picks up where II left off.

I was noticeably struck by the German term behind the seemingly innocuous sentence, "Some act as if they are so completely pure* and blameless that what they do must not be called evil or wrong deeds" (108) from an Easter Wednesday sermon on Colossians 3:1-7. The * is a stand-in for footnote 7: "Katzenrein, that is, as if licked clean by a cat..." The footnote preserves Luther's German humor, which would be very "in" on YouTube.

I was also fascinated by a portion note 9 on page 374, explaining a reference to Bernard in a John 3:16-21 sermon for Pentecost Monday:
....Bernard speaks of the three miracles of Christmas, to which Luther refers in a Christmas sermon from 1520 (WA 7:188-89). The three miracles are (1) that God and man become one thing, (2) that Mary was and remained a virgin [Luther's pious opinion, PJC], and (3) that a human being can believe such things. Luther agrees with Bernard that while the third miracle is the easiest to believe, nevertheless 'in it there is the real miracle, that the Virgin Mary believes that these things would happen to hear. This is so great that we cannot be sufficiently astonished at it...'
I rejoiced at finding both of these gems in the same day. This is just a taste of Volume 77.

In addition, we rejoiced in this volume on Luther's Sermons on Matthew:

As a professor for Old Testament, Martin Luther never wrote out a full commentary on Matthew. He preached on it regularly, however, both in the traditional texts of the church year, and especially in his sermon series on Matthew 18–24 (begun in Luther's Works Volume 67 and continued here), preached to the people of Wittenberg over the course of four years (1537–1540).

In July 1537, Johann Bugenhagen (1485–1558), the pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Wittenberg, departed for Denmark to organize the reformation there, and Luther began preaching in Bugenhagen’s stead, on Sundays as well as on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Luther’s Wednesday sermons on Matthew’s Gospel, 56 in all, probably began on July 11, 1537. The last sermon in this series on Matthew was preached on September 19, 1540. Luther thus continued preaching even after Bugenhagen’s return in July 1539, though he moved his Matthew sermons to Sunday afternoons beginning in August.

Luther’s preaching here is joined closely with the events of 1537–1540. In his exposition of Matthew 18–24, Luther both explains the text and takes the occasion from it to warn his hearers of the dangers he sees threatening the Reformation, such as the temptation to engage in former superstitions, to compromise with the pope, to take advantages of one’s neighbor through usury and greed, and to neglect the role of the Law in the life of the believer. Amidst his teaching from Matthew on the forgiveness of sins, divorce, infant Baptism, repentance, the divinity of Christ, the marks of the church, the resurrection, and the end of the world, Luther also seeks to strengthen his hearers to endure persecution—from imperial troops loyal to the pope or from Turkish armies—which he sees approaching just over the horizon.

These are earnest sermons of biblical exposition, antithesis, and admonition, in the attempt to guard the people from the devil and all temptations that would snatch them away from Christ.

  • Commentary on Matthew 19–24
  • Detailed footnotes explaining historical and theological context
  • Fully indexed
  • Clear, accurate translation in modern American English
Edited by Benjamin T.G. Mayes and Translated by Kevin J. Walker
(Publisher's website)
Volume 68 continues Luther's Matthew Sermon "Commentary," last seen in Volume 67, covering chapters 1-18. I surmise that a separate volume on Matthew 25-28 is unnecessary because of extant Luther sermons on the Gospels of the Church Year, especially the end of the Church Year, Holy Week, and Easter and its season.
It is fascinating to me that these sermons give us the Gospel according to Matthew as Luther expounded between 1537-1540, four years. The footnotes will give the reader an appreciation for now-obscure contemporary references Luther uses in his preaching.

Let's consider one paragraph of his sermon on Matthew 21:42-44:

Therefore, we have to know who are true bishops and builders. It is not right to identify a bishop by the hat or crown on his head, and the staff in his hand, or the silk chasuble he wears. That is not what makes a bishop. For God does not care about the clothing one wears. Look instead at how St. Paul describes bishops in 1 Timothy 3 [:2-7]. A true bishop is described there as leading an honorable, blameless life and being able to teach, understanding the Scriptures and being able to interpret them. That is his foremost office. It is not the hat and staff that make a bishop, but knowledge and understanding of the divine Word and the ability to preach to others. As he says further in 1 Corinthians 4 [:1-2], he is to be found faithful, saying, 'Let everyone regard us as God's stewards.' Not stewards of pennies, silver coins, horses, cows, kitchens, or cellars--there are already treasurers in the world for that purpose and women who occupy themselves with that--but 'stewards of the mysteries of God,' so that people can learn and recognize god's desire and will concerning how things stand between Him and us and hear the preaching about God's Son. And he is saying, 'This shall be the praise and glory of preachers: that they teach God's Word purely and administer the Sacraments' (122-3).

With preaching like that, Luther really needs no advocate. 

What should we expect next in this set? 

Volume 78—Church Postil IV
Volume 57—Sermons IV

We continue with an unique CPH offering:

Frederick the Wise  unlocks German research to make available in English, for the first time, a full-length story of Frederick III of Saxony.  The fascinating biographical journey reveals why this noteworthy elector risked his realm of Saxony to protect the fiery monk Martin Luther and the developing reforms of the Church.   As one of the most powerful territorial princes of the Holy Roman Empire of his time, Frederick's "humanity and integrity were rare for someone of his elite status", notes Dr. Paul M. Bacon.  "Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony was much more than simply Martin Luther's noble protector."

A valuable resource for students of German history and the Reformation period.

  • Discusses how Frederick dominated other princes of the Holy Roman Empire for nearly 40 years
  • Tells why Frederick’s only “wife”—but not their children—had to be kept “secret”
  • Chronology of events relevant to Frederick the Wise
  • Index of persons and places

About the Author

Sam Wellman graduated from the University of Nebraska. After obtaining a doctorate from Princeton University, he worked in industry for several years. From 1987 to the present, Dr. Wellman has written many biographies in recent years, using his knowledge of German to delve into the Reformation and those stalwarts who made it happen. Dr. Wellman lives in Kansas with his wife, Ruth. They have two grown children and two grandchildren. (Publisher's Website)
I appreciated the opportunity to learn things I did not know about Frederick from my seminary studies. Therefore, I recommend careful reading of this book. Learn the cast of historical "characters" and don't mistake Friedrich III [1415-93], king/emperor (1452-93) of the Holy Roman Empire (xiii) for our Frederick III [the Wise] of Saxony.

Historical biography is not a genre appreciated by everyone. I quite enjoy them. For the casual reader, encouragement will come around page 157: "Headache: What to Do about Martin Luther". The Protector role of Frederick mentioned in the subtitle comes to the fore! Skip ahead to 221: "Yet if Frederick though Luther had mellowed into a docile scholar, he was mistaken." Luther's influence on Frederick is demonstrated prominently at the time of the Elector's "Decline and Death" (227ff).

Consider the Seen and Unseen Lives of Martin Luther's Protector as you read Concordia's Frederick the Wise by Sam Wellman.

Finally, we turn to a Crossway title with a Foreword by an LCMS professor (Robert Kolb) at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis: 

Martin Luther’s historical significance can hardly be overstated. Known as the father of the Protestant Reformation, Luther has had an enormous impact on Western Christianity and culture. In Luther on the Christian Life, historian Carl Trueman introduces readers to the lively Reformer, taking them on a tour of his historical context, theological system, and approach to the Christian life. Whether exploring Luther’s theology of protest, ever-present sense of humor, or misunderstood view of sanctification, this book will help modern readers go deeper in their spiritual walk by learning from one of the great teachers of the faith.
Part of the Theologians on the Christian Life series. 


Carl R. Trueman (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is the Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary and pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Ambler, Pennsylvania. He was editor of Themelios for nine years, has authored or edited more than a dozen books, and has contributed to multiple publications including the Dictionary of Historical Theology and The Cambridge Companion to Reformation Theology.

Table of Contents

Introduction: What Has Geneva to Do with Wittenberg?
  1. Martin Luther’s Christian Life
  2. Theologians, Priests, and Kings
  3. The Theology of the Word Preached
  4. The Liturgy of the Christian Life
  5. Living by the Word
  6. Freed from Babylon: Baptism and the Mass
  7. Luther and Christian Righteousness
  8. Life and Death in This Earthly Realm: Government, Calling,and Family
Conclusion: Life as Tragedy, Life as Comedy (Publisher's Website)
Books on Luther by non-Lutherans has always been a genre of curiosity for me. There is no Calvin-named major church body, yet Calvinism is widespread. "Baptist" theology and practice transcend the denomination so-named. Yet those who appreciate Luther beyond his historical stature, his example, and his table talk, strangely come under suspicion. 

I cast no aspersions on this author. I appreciate his approach and honest assessment (Introduction) of why there is a "current reluctance in American culture to relate positively to anyone with whom one has serious ideological differences. Sadly, this often means that one cannot learn from others: if we always re-create others in our own image, we can never be truly challenged by the ways in which they differ from us" (22). 

The next two paragraphs elaborate: 
"Luther was not a modern American Evangelical. Indeed, neither his thought world nor his physical world were those of American Evangelicalism... For Luther, however, the idea that private Bible study might be a universal stable of the Christian life would be bizarre... As to sacraments, Luther's understanding of justification is driven in large part by his changing view of baptism; 'I have been baptized' was his chosen defense against the temptations that the Devil whispered in his ear; and he was adamant that Huldrych Zwingli was of a 'different spirit,' thus calling into question his Christianity, precisely because the Swiss theologian argued that the Lord's Supper was symbolic..."

My goal in a review for this title is to intrigue you enough to seek out, purchase, read, and ponder this book. I personally found such motivation by page 22. 

Lutheran readers will find lines and lines of thought to critique and argue with. Crossway's general audience will find much to appreciate in Martin Luther and in this title in particular. The Christian life is freedom because of the cross of Christ. 

Might I suggest a future subject for this series? 
Hermann Sasse, a contemporary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

We've published a steady stream of new reviews for several days now. It's back to reading for us. Two books on our "reading completed" pile are awaiting companions for themed multi-book reviews. Two unsolicited titles are on the "to read" pile, ebooks are waiting for download in our email, two more are "in the mail" to us presently, and we've begun dreaming of titles to request. Read on!

Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School and Immanuel Academy, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, District Education Chairman and Editor of Lutheran Book Review. A graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Rev. Cain is a contributor to Lutheran Service Book, Lutheranism 101, the forthcoming LSB Hymnal Companion, and is the author of 5 Things You Can Do to Make Our Congregation a Caring Church. He has previously served Emmanuel, Green River, WY and Trinity, Morrill, NE. He is married to Ann and loves reading and listening to, composing, and making music.

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