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Reformation Day 2007

It is Reformation Day once again! There is much to celebrate and remember on this day commemorating the recovery of the gospel. This year I want to highlight two related points that I don’t think are thought of enough in connection with the Reformation. They are: suffering and missions.

The Reformation had a missionary impulse from the beginning. As people understood the gospel for the first time they instinctively sought ways to take this gospel to their neighbors and other countries around them. As they went with the gospel, then, many of these individuals were killed for their allegiance to this gospel. Through the years many have criticized the Reformation for not being missionary enough because there were no mission “boards” and little was done outside of Europe. However, this criticism of people who gave their lives for the gospel by people who suffer little for the gospel rings hollow. Europe it self was a dangerous mission field in the 16th century, and Calvin did support the first mission endeavor to the Americas. I have written elsewhere on Calvin’s missionary concern and a recent significant book has detailed Luther’s concern for missions.

At this time preaching the gospel of grace almost certainly brought persecution. So, I want to post here a hymn Luther wrote in response to the first martyrs for the evangelical cause. The background of the hymn is given by cyberhymnal:

On June 23, 1523, two young Augustinian monks, Heinrich Voes and Johann Esch, from Antwerp, had been, after examination by the Cologne Inquisitor, Jacob von Hogstraten, and at the instigation of the Louvain professors, condemned to death and burnt at the stake in Brussels. On receipt of the news of this first martyrdom for the Evangelical cause Luther’s spirit was fired, and he wrote this spirited narrative, ending with the prophetic words [translated by Richard Massie, 1854]:
Summer is even at our door,
The winter now hath vanished,
The tender flowerets spring once more,
And He, Who winter banished,
Will send a happy Summer.

Here is the hymn:

Flung to the heedless winds,
Or on the waters cast,
The martyrs’ ashes, watched,
Shall gathered be at last.

And from that scattered dust,
Around us and abroad,
Shall spring a plenteous seed,
Of witnesses for God.

The Father hath received,
Their latest living breath,
And vain is Satan’s boast,
Of victory in their death.

Still, still, though dead, they speak,
And, trumpet tongued, proclaim,
To many a wakening land,
The one availing Name.

[Words: Martin Luther, 1523 (Ein neues Lied wir heben an); translated from German to English by John A. Messenger.]

May we be so faithful with this glorious gospel.

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