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Book Review

“The Second Martin the Life and Theology of Martin Chemnitz”

by J A O Preus

Concordia Publishing house, 411 pages $35

I last saw Jack Preus, former president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, at a Bach concert, where he told my son, “If you want to translate, get a regular job. Translating doesn’t pay very well.” Preus, who died in 1994 will be remembered for two things: 1) He was the only LCMS president since Pfotenhauer to move the Missouri Synod toward orthodox Lutheranism; no progress has been made since Preus left office. 2) He translated a considerable amount of Chemnitz’ works and capped his translating career with a fine biography of a little known Concordist.

Those who do not know the works of Martin Chemnitz should acquire them. They are easy to read, filled with Scriptural insight, witty, and eloquent in their presentation of the Gospel, the two natures of Christ, the Real Presence, and other essential doctrines. He deserves being called “the second Martin” because of his orthodoxy and sense of humor. Basic works are: Examination of the Council of Trent, a devastating refutation of Roman Catholic false doctrines; Enchiridion, a brief outline of doctrine; Loci Comunes a complete doctrinal textbook; The Lords Supper, a defense of the Real Presence against the Reformed; and The Two Natures of Christ a brilliant and devout treatise on Christology. Preus translated all of them except Examination and Enchiridion.

Chemnitz’ greatest achievement may be his role in drawing up the Formula of Concord and the Book of Concord at a time when Lutheranism was badly divided. As a student of Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon, Chemnitz had the training and God-given talents to draw together the lax followers of Philip and the overly zealous Gnesio (pure) Lutherans, who took certain doctrines to the extreme.

Preus’ biography offers a vivid background for an era which is almost totally neglected, the time after Luther died (1546). The Roman Catholic emperor stood over Luther’s grave and gloated. The Protestant revolt seemed to be ended, not only by political might, but also by internal strife.

Weaknesses of Philip Melanchthon, “The hamlet of the Reformation”, and George Major were translated into Lutheran treachery. The Wittenberg faculty became committed to anti-Lutheran doctrine while persecuting orthodox Lutherans, much like today’s “Lutheran” Church Growth Movement in the former Synodical Conference.

Luther battled the papists and also dealt with the Reformed. Chemnitz spent more of his time refuting insidious Reformed doctrines which invaded Lutheranism.

The son of a cloth merchant, Chemnitz enjoyed Latin much more than fabrics. He studied at Wittenberg as a child and later as an adult where his genius caught the attention of Melanchthon. In Koenigsberg, Chemnitz was paid to cast horoscopes for the duke, a position which allowed him to become an expert in the church fathers, using the dukes library. He later earned a doctorate at Rostock.

Chemnitz was mild mannered and an expert in Latin and Greek, like Melanchthon, but he never shied away from a doctrinal battle to enhance his theological career. He never compromised with the papists or the Reformed. Nor did a duke’s power sway him to ignore wrongdoing. When Duke Julius took part in a Roman Catholic mass, Chemnitz objected and lost everything in the process: position, money, and ducal support for the Formula of Concord. How few Lutheran leaders we have today with the courage of Chemnitz!

The Formula of Concord, largely the work of Chemnitz and Jacob Andreae, owes it clarity and Scriptural power to the pen of Chemnitz, who was tried and purified in the fires of doctrinal strife. The final words of the Book of Concord remind us why people during the Reformation gave up everything, even their lives for orthodoxy:

“We have no intention of yielding aught of the eternal, immutable truth of God for the sake of temporal peace, tranquillity, and unity (which, moreover, is not in our power to do). Nor would such peace and unity, since it is devised against the truth and for its suppression, have any permanency. Still less are we inclined to adorn and conceal a corruption of the pure doctrine and manifest, condemned errors. But we entertain heartfelt pleasure and love for, and are on our part sincerely inclined and anxious to advance that unity according to our utmost power, by which His glory remains to God uninjured, nothing of the divine truth of the Holy Gospel is surrendered, no room is given to the least error, poor sinners are brought to true, genuine repentance, raised up by faith, confirmed in new obedience, and thus justified and eternally saved alone through the sole merit of Christ” (Concordia Triglotta, p. 1095).

— Gregory L Jackson