A Strange Love

I found this quote recently:

“Luther, in one of his epistles, said that there was no wickedness, no cruelty, that Zwingli did not charge him with. And in another epistle he complained that Carlstadtius was more malicious against him than ever any of his enemies had been. And as for Oecolampadius, Luther was so provoked against him that he called him the black devil. We may see what strange corruptions are working sometimes in the hearts of godly men” (Burroughs, Irenicum, pp. 340-341).

“Strange corruptions” indeed. This Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) quote makes me think of how (supposed) “godly men” treat those professing Christians with whom they disagree doctrinally. So this Burroughs’ book is called “Irenicum” which is supposed to have something to do with peace.

And there is that famous quote attributed — some have argued, misattributed — to the unbelieving Augustine:

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all other things, charity.”

Apparently Martin Luther thought his heretical and idolatrous doctrine of the “real presence” was not a non-essential over which Christians could differ since

“Luther didn’t even think Zwingli was a Christian and said that Zwingli was now ‘seven times more dangerous than when he was a papist’ and that he would rather drink blood with papists than wine with Zwinglians! Luther was vehement for a variety of reasons: Zwingli was using the same arguments as Carlstadt, his understanding of ‘rightly discerning the body and blood of Jesus Christ’ (which meant Zwingli’s followers were eating and drinking judgment to themselves), and his own natural tendency to see everything in black-and-white terms.

However, the guilt still has to rest on Luther’s shoulders. According to legend, Zwingli saw two goats meeting on a narrow mountain path, where there was only room for one to pass. When they met, one goat lay down in front of the other, and the other walked over it. The story may not be true but Zwingli certainly was the more peaceful interlocutor; when Luther walked into the Marburg colloquy, he wrote ‘this is my body’ on the table with a piece of chalk, and from that point he would not budge. Zwingli begged, with tears in his eyes, that Luther would at least acknowledge them as Christians so they could united and join forces against the coming Catholics. Luther refused.” (SOURCE)

So here are Luther and Zwingli, two unbelievers, debating each other (and others) at the Marburg Colloquy. A very brief look at this piece of history reveals how some unregenerate religionists made their judgments concerning saved and lost; concerning who they considered believers or unbelievers. Evidently Zwingli deemed Luther a spiritual brother, but Luther did not think Zwingli was a brother.

If a person does not judge saved and lost by the gospel, then he will judge by something else. If he does not judge righteous judgment, then he will judge unrighteous judgment.

“Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:8-11).

Thomas Watson writes:

“When Luther had reviled Calvin, Calvin said, Etiamsi millies me diabolum vocet: ‘Though he call me a devil a thousand times, yet I will love and honour him as a precious servant of Christ’” (Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer, p. 255).

I am unaware of the precise chronology between Luther’s alleged treatment by Zwingli and Luther’s alleged treatment of Calvin, but here is an excerpt from Calvin’s correspondence, Letter CXXII to Heinrich (Henry) Bullinger, dated November 25, 1544. Calvin writes (paragraphing mine):

“I hear that Luther has at length broken forth in fierce invective, not so much against you as against the whole of us? On the present occasion, I dare scarce venture to ask you to keep silence, because it is neither just that innocent persons should thus be harassed, nor that they should be denied the opportunity of clearing themselves; neither, on the other hand, is it easy to determine whether it would be prudent for them to do so. But of this I do earnestly desire to put you in mind, in the first place, that you would consider how eminent a man Luther is, and the excellent endowments wherewith he is gifted, with what strength of mind and resolute constancy, with how great skill, with what efficiency and power of doctrinal statement, he hath hitherto devoted his whole energy to overthrow the reign of Antichrist, and at the same time to diffuse far and near the doctrine of salvation.

Often have I been wont to declare, that even although he were to call me a devil, I should still not the less hold him in such honour that I must acknowledge him to be an illustrious servant of God. But while he is endued with rare and excellent virtues, he labours at the same time under serious faults. Would that he had rather studied to curb this restless, uneasy temperament which is so apt to boil over in every direction.

I wish, moreover, that he had always bestowed the fruits of that vehemence of natural temperament upon the enemies of the truth, and that he had not flashed his lightning sometimes also upon the servants of the Lord.

Would that he had been more observant and careful in the acknowledgment of his own vices. Flatterers have done him much mischief, since he is naturally too prone to be over-indulgent to himself. It is our part, however, so to reprove whatsoever evil qualities may beset him as that we may make some allowance for him at the same time on the score of these remarkable endowments with which he has been gifted.

This, therefore, I would beseech you to consider first of all, along with your colleagues, that you have to do with a most distinguished servant of Christ, to whom we are all of us largely indebted. That, besides, you will do yourselves no good by quarrelling, except that you may afford some sport to the wicked, so that they may triumph not so much over us as over the Evangel. If they see us rending each other asunder, they then give full credit to what we say, but when with one consent and with one voice we preach Christ, they avail themselves unwarrantably of our inherent weakness to cast reproach upon our faith.

I wish, therefore, that you would consider and reflect on these things rather than on what Luther has deserved by his violence; lest that may happen to you which Paul threatens,that by biting and devouring one another, ye be consumed one of another. Even should he have provoked us, we ought rather to decline the contest than to increase the wound by the general shipwreck of the Church.

Adieu, my much honoured brother in the Lord, and my very dear friend. Salute reverently in my name all the brethren in the ministry. May the Lord preserve you, and more and more increase His own gifts in you. My colleagues very kindly salute you” (Letters of John Calvin).

At least one point of this post is for the true Christian to read through 1 John (especially the love-for-the-brethren passages) and note the stark contrast between the sacrificial love between true believers and the twisted and bizarre “love” between some of the aforementioned Reformers. What a precious and humbling thing to contemplate!

“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

“Behold, how good and how pleasant [it is] for brethren to dwell together in unity! [It is] like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, [even] Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, [and as the dew] that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, [even] life for evermore” (Psalm 133:1-3).