The Fall of Western Civilization

"Read today, Spengler's forebodings have an uncanny and chilling association with our present predicaments. He was not saying Western civilization would vanish overnight in a puff of smoke. It would erode more slowly, as did some ancient civilizations—not to vanish forever but with symbols of their power and influence surviving (the Pyramids, the Aztec temples, the Parthenon), with the potential to re-emerge as civilizations many centuries later."
So we read in The Danger of a Global Double Dip Recession Is Real, a November 29 opinion piece in U.S. News and World Report by Mortimer B. Zuckerman, the 73-year-old publisher and owner of the New York Daily News, editor-in-chief of U.S. News & World Report, and the 147th wealthiest man in America (at least as of 2008).1

Zuckerman's excellent (and I believe very true) opinion piece draws upon the intellectual work of Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), a brilliant German philosopher whom I have quoted before on this blog.

What truly amazes me (and apparently Zuckerman) is the seemingly prophetic accuracy of Spengler, who wrote The Decline of the West at the time when the total fertility rate was still well above replacement level worldwide. Spengler knew that the same fate awaits all great civilizations if they last long enough to witness the ultimate triumph of materialism:
"When the ordinary thought of a highly cultivated people begins to regard 'having children' as a question of pro's and con's, the great turning point has come."
Spengler understood that a selfish attitude toward the gift of procreation not only signals the irreversible decline of civilization, but also becomes a primary cause.
At this level all Civilizations enter upon a stage, which lasts for centuries, of appalling depopulation. The whole pyramid of cultural man vanishes. It crumbles from the summit, first the world-cities, then the provincial forms, and finally the land itself, whose best blood has incontinently poured into the towns, merely to bolster them up awhile. At the last, only the primitive blood remains, alive, but robbed of its strongest and most promising elements.

Worldview at the Heart

While the following link does not exclusively address the issues of procreation, this week Rev. Jonathan Fisk does a fine job articultating a Biblical stance for the procreation of children and their natural flow from a Christian marriage. Often times, Rev. Fisk points to the culture we live in and recognizes that our current popular worldview is indeed at odds with the Biblical worldview. The real recognition of sin, its profound effects on the world, and the emphasis on personhood and most importantly that Christ cares so much for you that he suffered, died, and rose to give you forgiveness, life, and salvation. In this video Rev. Fisk gets to this topic stemmed from the question of homosexuality. He is absolutely right in speaking that this topic as well as the many other sexual sins that are prevalent in our world today are against the same commandment. Yet, for these sins has Christ died and redeemed.
If you have yet to discover this site, I highly recommend it for some comedic and yet very confessional Lutheran discussions. www.worldvieweverlasting.com


Billionaire club in bid to curb overpopulation

HT: Rev. Hoppe's "Meditations of my heart":


Vatican clarifies pope's comments re: condoms

From an AP article:

Monsignor Jacques Suaudeau, an expert on the Vatican's bioethics advisory board, said the pope was articulating the theological idea that there are degrees of evil.

"Contraception is not the worst evil. The church does not see it as good, but the church does not see it as the worst," he told the AP. "Abortion is far worse. Passing on HIV is criminal. That is absolute irresponsibility."

He said the pope broached the topic because questions about condoms and AIDS persisted, and the church's teaching hadn't been clear. There is no official Vatican policy about condoms and HIV, and Vatican officials in the past have insisted that condoms not only don't help fight HIV transmission but make it worse because it gives users a false sense of security.

"This pope gave this interview. He was not foolish. It was intentional," Suaudeau said. "He thought that this was a way of bringing up many questions. Why? Because it's true that the church sometimes has not been too clear."

Lombardi said the pope didn't use the technical terminology "lesser evil" in his comments because he wanted his words to be understood by the general public. Vatican officials, however, said that was what he meant.

"The contribution the pope wanted to give is not a technical discussion with scientific language on moral problems," Lombardi said. "This is not the job of a book of this type."


The Problem is Not Too Many People

An article by Thomas Storck at The Distributist Review.

Reducing Human Life to a Popularity Contest in Which Your Vote Counts

On ongoing poll at Birth or Not? will determine whether Pete and Alisha keep or kill their child in the womb. From their blog:

You can vote and choose whether we abort or keep our unborn child. For the first time, your vote on the topic of abortion can make a difference.
This is their child, from a seventeen-week ultrasound:


Vote and comment here. The deadline (what an unfortunate word) is December 7. At last check, the baby was loosing by about 200,000 votes.

Kyrie, eleison.


A Lutheran Reappraisal of Natural Law

Be sure to check out this new CPH book due out January 7, 2011: Natural Law: A Lutheran Reappraisal. Pre-order your copy today!
Natural Law: A Lutheran Reappraisal presents engaging essays from contemporary Lutheran scholars, teachers, and pastors, each offering a fresh reappraisal of natural law within the context of historic Lutheran teaching and practice. Thought-provoking questions following each essay will help readers apply key Bible texts associated with natural law to their daily lives.

Why the Natural Law Is Necessary
No contemporary thinker is interested in a wooden repristination of the natural law that is tied necessarily to the particular metaphysical foundations in the Thomistic–Aristotelian synthesis. The history of natural law shows a wide variety of interpretations and applications. But they all have some elements in common. They all oppose cultural relativism, the notion that laws are mere moral conventions that vary among societies, with no transcendent ontological claim to being universally valid and binding. To the contrary; those who hold to the natural law believe that for a law to be just, it must conform to the structure of reality itself and not depend on the oscillating opinions and preferences of human beings. The law must be the same for all human beings and at all times, so that if murder is morally wrong in America, it is equally so in Asia and Africa. If torture is to be condemned as evil in Jerusalem, it must be equally so in London and Tehran. The United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights formulates rules with respect to freedom and equality that are binding on all nations and peoples, not because of any majority vote, but because of an inherent correspondence between reason and nature. That is what is meant by saying that the Law is “written on the hearts” (Romans 2:25) of all human beings.
- Carl Braaten -

Rev. Robert C. Baker (LCMS)
Rev. Dr. Carl E. Braaten (ELCA)
Mr. Matthew E. Cochran (LCMS)
Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III (LCMS)
Mr. Jacob Corzine (LCMS)
Dr. Adam S. Francisco (LCMS)
Rev. Gifford A. Grobien (LCMS)
Rev. Dr. Korey D. Maas (LCMS)
Dr. Ryan C. MacPherson (ELS)
Dr. Thomas D. Pearson (ELCA)
Rev. Prof. John T. Pless (LCMS)
Rev. Dr. Carl E. Rockrohr (LCMS)
Rev. Dr. Armin Wenz (SELK)
Rev. Dr. J. Larry Yoder, STS (NALC)
Prof. Marianne Howard Yoder (NALC)
Rev. Prof. Roland Ziegler (LCMS)

What Others Are Saying

Natural law was a common idea among the Reformers and their heirs. There has been some fledgling reconsideration of this heritage in recent years in my own Reformed tradition, and it is very encouraging to see similar discussions taking place among Lutherans. Natural Law: A Lutheran Reappraisal helpfully wrestles with natural law from various historical and theological angles and also explores its relevance for several important social and ecclesiastical controversies of the present day. These essays on natural law—some enthusiastic, some cautious, others skeptical—are a wonderful contribution to the literature and should help to stimulate important conversations about this perennial issue for years to come.
David VanDrunen
Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic
Theology and Christian Ethics
Westminster Seminary California

As a Catholic, I found it fascinating to read these fine essays and “listen in” on a conversation about natural law conducted by an outstanding group of Lutheran scholars. The authors consider such topics as whether there really is a natural human capacity to identify and affirm valid moral norms, and whether belief in a moral law accessible to unaided reason is compatible with an acknowledgment of the devastating impact of sin on the human intellect as well as the human will. Lutherans will benefit from reading these essays, but so will everybody else.
Robert P. George
McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence
Princeton University

God's law is written in two ways and two places: Not only in the words of revelation, but in our being, for we are made in God's image. For a long time, many Christians neglected or even denied this insight because of the mistaken idea that if the image of God can be obscured by sin, then for all practical purposes there is no natural law. How ironic, and how deadly to our common witness, that this common ground among all human beings, this universal prologue to the gospel, should have become a battle ground among Christians themselves. Catholic myself, I rejoice to see the rekindling of reflection on natural law among Lutherans, and I look forward to many interesting conversations.
J. Budziszewski
Professor of Government and Philosophy
University of Texas at Austin


Pope approves condoms?


There seem to be some reports that indicate that the Pope was speaking specifically of homosexual condom use (e.g. "a male prostitute"), where conception is already impossible. The media seems determined to blow this up into a major change in Roman Catholic teaching on contraception.


Actual quoted text:


His [the Pope's] comments came in a series of interviews given to a German Catholic journalist, Peter Seewald, which are published in a question and answer format in a book to be launched on Tuesday.

Here is an extract of the book - entitled Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times - in which the Pope refers to the use of condoms in preventing the spread of Aids:

Peter Seewald: On the occasion of your trip to Africa in March 2009, the Vatican's policy on Aids once again became the target of media criticism. Twenty-five percent of all Aids victims around the world today are treated in Catholic facilities. In some countries, such as Lesotho, for example, the statistic is 40 percent. In Africa you stated that the Church's traditional teaching has proven to be the only sure way to stop the spread of HIV. Critics, including critics from the Church's own ranks, object that it is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms.

Pope Benedict: The media coverage completely ignored the rest of the trip to Africa on account of a single statement. Someone had asked me why the Catholic Church adopts an unrealistic and ineffective position on Aids. At that point, I really felt that I was being provoked, because the Church does more than anyone else. And I stand by that claim.

Because she is the only institution that assists people up close and concretely, with prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment. And because she is second to none in treating so many Aids victims, especially children with Aids.

I had the chance to visit one of these wards and to speak with the patients. That was the real answer: The Church does more than anyone else, because she does not speak from the tribunal of the newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually suffering.

In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.

As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work.

This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man's being.

There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection.

That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

Peter Seewald: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

Pope Benedict: She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

Light of the World is to be published in English on Tuesday and available for general release from Wednesday. To order a copy of the book, or for more information, please contact the Catholic Truth Society.


Worldwide vigil for all nascent human life 11/27

I recommend we join with Christians throughout the world in beginning this Advent penitential season with a solemn “Vigil for all nascent human life” on Saturday, November 27.


Pope Benedict XVI has issued what Catholic pro-life advocates are calling an unprecedented request for prayers worldwide from all pro-life people. The call is not limited to Catholics as the Pope is asking that “all Diocesan Bishops (and their equivalent) of every particular church preside in analogous celebrations involving the faithful in their respective parishes, religious communities, associations and movements.” The head of the Catholic Church will begin Advent by celebrating a solemn “Vigil for all nascent human life” at St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday, November 27.

Mary McClusky, the Special Projects Coordinator at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, says the call is especially important at a time when attacks on the dignity and worth of human life seem to be at an all-time high. “At this moment in history, when societies are now endorsing the killing of humans as a perceived solution to social, economic, and environmental problems, the Holy Father is reminding us of the necessity and power of prayer to protect human life,” she said. “Despite the challenge of these events being held on Thanksgiving weekend in the United States, Catholics should not miss this opportunity to pray for unborn life.” She said the Pope’s call “may help increase awareness among family and friends about abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and other threats to children in their earliest days and weeks of life” while women who have had abortions “may be inspired to learn more, or to begin a much-needed conversation about healing from a past abortion.”


The Wrongs of Women's Rights

The Wrongs of Women’s Rights
by Thomas Fleming

(More by this author, and along these lines, can be found here: http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/category/thomas-fleming/ )

The recent decision to deploy women on submarines has been hailed as a victory in the continuing struggle to liberate women from the oppression of the domineering male sex. Conservatives have generally deplored the move, citing the inevitable sexual tensions and lowering of morale that will result from putting young males and females in such close quarters for long periods of time. (And, think of all those poor male homosexuals who find the submarine service so attractive because of the lack of female competition!). Some conservatives even go so far as to declare their opposition to women serving in any military capacity, but they are a species on the endangered list: Even the great nemesis of women in uniform, James Webb, has backed off, proving once again, that no honest man can be a US senator.
What almost no decent conservative is willing to revive is the old argument that differences between men and women should be reflected in legal, social, and economic structures that encourage women to pursue their traditional role as wives and mothers under the protection and authority of the senior men in their life: fathers, husbands, or guardians. There is, it is true, a “men’s movement,” consisting mostly of disgruntled peripheral males who are forever whining about their manhood. But if we set such marginalized creatures aside, we can safely conclude that there are few defenders of what feminists like to call “the patriarchy.” Even conservative Republicans have largely adopted the feminist myth that one of the triumphs of civilization has been the liberation of women that has taken place in the past, roughly 150 years.
The “patriarchalist” counter-argument, which I have been making for over 30 years, denies the so-called facts in the case. Traditional sex roles, they say, are a function of natural differences—physical, emotional, intellectual—between the sexes. The authority of senior males over a woman is, then, a natural means of protecting her in her role as wife and mother, a role essential for the bearing and rearing of the next generation, which is, after all, the primary duty of each generation. To speak of the oppression of women is like speaking of the oppression of men whom gravity prevents from flying.
When we say that an institution or custom is “natural” (as I have indicated earlier), we mean that it is a response—sometimes quite imperfect—to natural needs. To determine the naturalness of an institution, we look first for a biological basis and then try to establish a base line by making a broad cross-cultural examination. Finally, since there can be quite a wild variation in cultural forms, we should look most closely at the highest traditions to which we are heirs—Christian, Greek, Roman, Medieval. If we determined that the subordination of women was natural, it would not follow that we should approve of clitorectomies, foot-binding, or brutality.
Then, in talking about the “liberation” of women, we shall have to be very careful about what we mean. Many people speak of women’s suffrage as a large part of the liberation movement, but the right to vote is clearly irrelevant. A French resident-alien female here in the United States cannot legally vote, but she is possessed of nearly every other civil and social right the feminist revolution has dreamed up. To make the discussion very precise, let us speak only of the liberation of married women from their husbands and look most carefully at the Anglo-American tradition.
But before beginning such an inquiry, we should also make up our minds about corporal punishment within the home. Do we think it is never to be permitted? (If so, on what grounds.) Is it permitted against children but not women? Are there limits that have been observed among civilized peoples? The most extreme case is killing an adulterous wife and/or her lover for honor. This was permitted in Italy and in several American states down into the second half of the 20th century. Are Italians and Texans simply brutes or are such customs—extremely common both in our own and in other traditions—a reasonable response under certain circumstances.
In any such discussion, we must set aside irrational convictions and all the misinformation we may have picked up in school or in popular books on either side, whether the pro-feminist inventions of modern social historians like Lawrence Stone or the simian fantasies of Lionel Tiger, followed by George Gilder.
Then let us start with some very simple propositions. To make the task easier I am going to insert a brief overview that summarizes my earlier work as a preparation for a discussion of the revolutions in English and American law that took place in the past 150 years:
“Feminists, looking back at the traditional sex roles of 19th and 20th century Europe and the Americas, have often written sneeringly of “the patriarchy,” as if the insertion of the definite article confers an academic anathema upon the word. Anti-feminists have responded by explicitly defending patriarchy or by discussing male dominance in terms of the rigid hierarchy of baboons. But human social life has little in common with that of the boorish baboon, and “patriarchy,” as the word suggests,[ refers properly not to the virtually universal human tendency toward male dominance but to societies in which the fathers and senior males rule over the family and tribal structure with sovereign authority.
Our image of patriarchy inevitably comes from Old Testament patriarchs like Abraham and Jacob, who exercised a regal authority over their wives, children, and extended kinfolk. This pattern of authority is not uncommon among other pastoral peoples, but, as societies grow and develop greater complexity, much of this authority is transferred to chieftains, kings, and representative bodies. Nonetheless, in every known society, men have occupied and continue to occupy most of the highest niches of power and prestige.
Why is this so? Anyone who has taken a look, however brief, at his fellow human beings, will have noticed that members of the male sex tend to be bigger and stronger than their nearest female relatives. The difference–on an order of roughly 10%–is not so great as in some species, but it is enough to ensure that most men can physically dominate most women. This disparity is partly a function of inherent physical differences but even more of the different roles played by men and women in society. Most women in history have had to spend a good deal of their time and energy on bearing and rearing children. In primitive societies, this burden, though it might be shared with female relatives, was a good deal heavier than it is in an era of daycare and electrical appliances.
Social roles are not, however, the whole story. Organized women’s athletics are, for the most part, a recent development, but they have existed long enough and, in recent decades, with a good deal of government encouragement without really eliminating the gap between the sexes. Even today women do not often compete with men in aggressive male sports such as boxing and football, and even in sprinting men maintain a significant advantage. The fastest official score for a man running 100 meters is Usain Bolt’s 9.58 seconds, about 9% faster than Florence Joyner’s record 10.48, about which questions have been raised. At the 2008 Olympics, gold medal winner Shelly-Ann Frazier’s 10.78 seconds was beaten by the number 8 male runner’s 10.00. We can begin to believe in sexual equality in the physical sense when there is no sexual distinction in sports, that is, when men and women compete in the same leagues.
It is only natural to assume—and scientific research has gone a long way to verify this assumption—that in the evolution of mammalian, specifically primate species, males and females developed specialized roles: Men became the experts in hunting large game and fighting the enemies of family and clan. Because these specialties are associated with certain attributes of mind and spirit as well as with bodily functions, the nervous and hormonal systems of males and females develop somewhat differently. The differences, in any individual cases, may be quite slight, but overall women are more verbal, men more analytical, women more inclined to what is now called “multi-tasking,” men more prone to concentrating on problems one at a time. For a detailed survey of evidence down to the early 1980’s, see my book, The Politics of Human Nature. As human societies have grown and developed—often in strange and wonderful ways–they have always been shaped by these fundamental facts of sexual dimorphism. In a near-universal pattern of dominance, younger humans defer to their elders and females to males.
But, given the creativity of the human race, the type and extent of that power varies greatly, from the easily familiarity of pygmy husbands and wives to the rigidity of Chinese men who (down into the early 20th century) bound women’s feet to make them more dependent. Then we have to distinguish between the basic principle, the sexual differentiation of political power, and, for example, the family practices of nomadic shepherds. Wherever our search may lead us, it will not be toward the reestablishment of a patriarchal theonomy based on Old Testament law.
It is dangerous to speak too broadly, but, in general, sexual distinctions have been more marked in developed civilizations than in primitive societies. At the same time, the civilizations of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome–and of Medieval Europe—developed traditions and rules that required respect for mothers and wives, sisters and daughters. Men controlled the government and the army, dominated the economy, and occupied most of the high status positions. Women who inherited power were often regarded, fairly or not, as weak rulers, and both the woman pharaoh Hatshepsut and Queen Elizabeth I were sometimes portrayed or described in terms that hinted at masculinity. Nonetheless, while men may have ruled (theoretically) their children as absolute monarchs, their authority over wives was, as Aristotle says, political rather than monarchical in the sense that it was limited by law, custom, and respect.
Ancient civilizations, as they developed more complex social, political, and liberal systems, increasingly took steps to protect wives from abusive husbands. The institutions of power were, nonetheless, dominated by men. This domination did not reduce women to slaves or chattel or even to the level of dependent children. While Athenian women were generally subject to the authority of a father, husband, or guardian, some of them were involved in commerce. Roman women were much freer to engage in business and to evade the control of a guardian. They could not, however, engage in public (that is, most legal and political) business, which must have restricted their sphere of operations. Nonetheless, Roman women had greater economic opportunities and a wider sphere of liberty than most European and American women had down to the late 19th century.”
So, to conclude this introductory argument, distinct sex roles are more or less universal in human societies and a natural adaptation of the human species to the needs of propagation and social order. Natural tendencies, however, can find almost infinite types of expression. Higher civilizations, while continuing to protect women, have also found ways of accommodating the needs of complex societies, for example by finding the ways of establishing contract rights for married women engaged in business. What the feminist movement has done is to destroy the institutional framework of marriage and society and reduced many men and women to a form of social organization more typical of non-human primates than of even the most primitive human societies.
More to come…


Newly-weds offered 'no baby' bonus

If they manage two years without having children, the government of India will pay them US$110 – a decent amount of cash in rural India.


Why Don't Lutherans Like Babies?

The "Blog of the week" picked by Jeff Schwartz (Issues, Etc. producer) featured this excellent post by Rev. Larry A. Peters of Grace-Clarksville, TN, on his blog, "Pastoral Meanderings".

HT: Rob Olson


Liberty and the Family

Note to the wise: If you are not a subscriber to The Family in America - The Quarterly Journal of the Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, you need to be! Every issue is jam-packed with absolutely great articles, book reviews, and new research. Subscribe today! Here's a sample from the current issue to whet your appetite:
The Limits of the American Founding: What Our Political Fathers Didn't Teach Us
by Peter Augustine Lawler, Ph.D.

A review of:
We Still Hold These Truths:
Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our Future
by Matthew Spalding
ISI Books, 2009; 267 pages, $26.95

The following excerpt is taken from Dr. Lawler's review, as printed in the Summer 2010 edition of The Family in America, pages 304-307.

Liberty and the Family

"The Founders did not write much about the family,” Spalding observes, and "it is not mentioned in the Constitution and the core documents of the era.” That was because we consent to government as free individuals and not as members of classes or groups and certainly not as husbands or wives or children. But this Lockean understanding of who we are was to be limited to the national government. The Founders also assumed that the family's "centrality could be taken for granted," and its protection was reserved to the states. "State and local laws," Spalding goes on, "recognized and supported marriage, family, and the authority of parents in the upbringing and education." But they did so, he neglects to add, in ways that most Americans now believe violate the rights of adults as free individuals.

The history of our country has certainly been about the liberation of marriage from sacred and traditional duties given to us by God and nature. If the idea of marriage still depended on the confinement of sexual relations to the marriage bed, lifelong fidelity, and the almost universal expectation of multiple children, same-sex marriage would not be an issue today. But free persons, it seems, have liberated marriage from biological imperatives, and those that sign a marriage license these days are consenting to a few new rights but to no new duties. Because marriage has become a duty-free entitlement between any two autonomous individuals, the homosexuals are right to wonder why they, at this point, should be excluded. It's the Lockeanization of marriage - the reconfiguration of the social institution in terms of individual rightsthat created the context in which Lawrence v. Texas became plausible. Most of that Lockeanization did not come from the Courts but was the product of an increasingly more consistent application of the idea of individual rights to state law from a variety of sources. We consent to all government, as we see more clearly than ever now, to secure our rights and for no other reason than that, while our duties are limited to respect for the rights of other persons.

Anyone who has read Locke on marriage and the family in his Second Treatise knows the problem here: Marriage is the right of free individuals to one another's bodies. The result will often be children, and Locke recognizes the duty parents have to them. But he also says the duties of parents to each other as spouses are limited to the time required to rear the children. Locke would be all for individuals inventing their way out of that seemingly natural duty-say, through contraceptive technology. More than anything, Locke's intention was to free individuals by emptying the marriage contract of anything genuinely sacred, honorable, or even enduring. His intention was also to depend as little as possible on love, because love turns free, calculating individuals into obsessive suckers. The central individualistic or autonomous principle is the reversibility of every personal commitment according to changing conceptions of one's own interests and "lifeplan." Marriage becomes just another form of individual self-fulfillment in which individuals can switch their partners freely in their personal pursuits.

That the Founders presupposed a more traditional view of marriage is obvious. They also intended Lockean principles to have a quite limited effect on transforming marriage. They lost lots of sleep over their denial of rights to the Africans they brought over as slaves but were not particularly bothered by a world where women could not act as free and equal citizens just like men. Even a small women's liberation movement, based on applying the principle of the Declaration equally to both men and women, did not appear until after the founding generation.

The key process of change was the gradual transformation of state law in the wake of the Fourteenth Amendment, the gradual Lockeanization of all areas of American public life. Sex, remember, was added to race in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at the eleventh hour by Southerners who hoped that it would seem much more controversial, even ridiculous. But whatever controversy there was evaporated quickly, and women quickly flooded the workforce. The Lockean idea of marriage as a contract between two equally free individuals has prevailed, as did the idea, expressed by the Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that women, just like men, are free to define themselves as they please. That means that they are free not to limit themselves by being stuck with having babies, even babies already living in their wombs. A generation of American women, the Court pointed out, has organized their lives counting on the inventions of contraception and abortion. The Court argued that even if it had erred on what liberty is in Roe, it is impossible to roll the clock back now.

I agree with Christopher Wolfe that a shortcoming of Lockean liberalism, the kind of liberty to which the Founders were primarily devoted, is its tendency to undermine the stability of the family over time. As the nation's elites become more devoted to such principled individualism, the family weakens. Well before the Progressives, Tocqueville noted the many factors that would exact a toll on the kind of devotion that produces lots of well-raised children: self-obsessive, petty materialism; the restless anxiety that accompanies democratic affluence; the theoretical denial that we're anything more than ephemeral, biological beings; and doubt that human beings share moral or social goods in common-doubt that we really are, deep down, social and relational beings. The modern democrat has more and more trouble, as he becomes both more principled and more narcissistic, thinking beyond his own, personal being toward generating biological replacements or finding loving personal compensation for his own natural finitude in his family, children, and personal accomplishments generally. From its beginning in 1776, one dimension of the nation's heritage is the thought of the Lockean individual in the state of nature that being starts and ends with me. If I don't endure, nothing endures. .

That's not to deny that modern, democratic liberty has in some ways improved family life. As Tocqueville says, the disappearance of cold aristocratic formalities has been good for love in America, maybe especially for the friendship of the father with both son and daughter. Because everyone is free to marry the one he or she loves, there 1111ell excuse than ever for the dangerous liaisons that inevitably accompany being stuck with marrying for money or property or social standing. Who can also deny that thinking of women more consistently as free, consenting individuals has done wonders in the eradication of unjust "double standards;' making us much more attentive to the various dimensions of spousal abuse, undermining arbitrary and otherwise excessive reliance on "gender roles" in excluding women from the worlds of work and politics, and even in leading fathers to share the ordinary duties of parenthood? In general, we should follow Tocqueville in resisting the temptation to romanticize what was better about even the recent past by making our nostalgia so selective that we forget the human misery and injustice people endured then and which we should be grateful not to have to endure now. Lockean progress, we have to admit, has in many ways been real progress. But that progress has not proven beneficial in every way, and it has not delivered personal benefits without imposing personal costs.

That means, as Wolfe says, that "natural law theorists should help people as well as we can to be more self-critical about aspects of our liberalism that are less attractive." Even the Founders' principled devotion to liberty points in the direction of both the noblest and the most disorienting and degrading features of American life today. So we are grateful that the Framers were more than Lockean. But we should not pretend that they had some kind of comprehensive theory that incorporated all their influences, a theory that could be the foundation of the development of only the advantages and not of the shortcomings of modern liberal democracy. Nor can we blame only or even mainly the Progressives for the way the shortcomings are displaying themselves today.

Bo Giertz on Love and Marriage

Cross-posted here from Rev. Johann Caauwe's blog, A Shepherd's Story:
The fact that we can fall in love is a gift from God, but it has to be handled according to God’s will. The natural avenue to a marriage is through falling in love deeply and seriously.

Love is more than falling in love, however. Falling in love can be very powerful and overcome many obstacles. As long as it lasts all one can see is the good points of the one he loves. However, that’s not a tenable basis for marriage. Falling in love seeks its own objectives. It expects happiness by owning the object of its love. It naturally expects that happiness exists when you own each other. Then the problems come, however. The romance cools down. That’s when true love shows its worth. You see a lasting marriage isn’t built on infatuation but on love. God’s intention isn’t that you should be happy by getting something for nothing, by and through another person. God’s intention is that you experience happiness by making somebody else happy. Marriage contains the greatest mission in life: to be useful, a blessing, to be supportive and helpful to someone else, with whom God Himself united you to be able to fulfill just that mission. The idea is that we two, who now are one, should grow together in a devotion to each other that doesn’t seek its own objectives, but instead finds its happiness in being able to give and to share troubles, obligations, responsibilities, and decisions.

To Live with Christ: Daily Devotions by Bo Giertz, devotion for the Monday after the 20th Sunday after Trinity. CPH, 2008.


America's One Child Policy

Highly suggested reading here. The best line was "When you meet couples with more than three children today, chances are they’re making a cultural and theological statement."


"Give us this day our daily bread"

In this Issues, Etc. episode, Pr. Peter Kolb and Pr. Bart Day discuss the Lord's Prayer petition "give us this day our daily bread", providing what I believe is the best explanation of why contraception is contrary to faith. Especially note approximately the last 15 minutes of the program.


This discussion dovetails perfectly with Luther's exposition of Psalm 127 posted below, as well as Luther's words here:

Luther's Work, Vol. 5, p. 332:
Although it is very easy to marry a wife, it is very difficult to support her along with the children and the household. Accordingly, no one notices this faith of Jacob. Indeed, many hate fertility in a wife for the sole reason that the offspring must be supported and brought up. For this is what they commonly say: "Why should I marry a wife when I am a pauper and a beggar? I would rather bear the burden of poverty alone and not load myself with misery and want." But his blame is unjustly fastened on marriage and fruitfulness. Indeed, you are indicting your unbelief by distrusting God's goodness, and you are bringing greater misery upon yourself by disparaging God's blessing. For if you had trust in God's grace and promises, you would undoubtedly be supported. But because you do not hope in the Lord, you will never prosper.


Proposition 8 Update: Marriage Is about Procreation

Supporters of California’s marriage amendment (Proposition 8) recently submitted more than two dozen briefs to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Several of these briefs highlight the importance of procreation to marriage.

  • The opening brief submitted by the attorneys representing the official Proposition 8 campaign stated, “Before the recent movement to redefine marriage to include same-sex relationships, it was commonly understood and acknowledged that the institution of marriage owed its very existence to society’s vital interest in responsible procreation and childrearing. Indeed, no other purpose can plausibly explain the ubiquity of the institution” (p. 20).
  • A “friend of the court” brief submitted by numerous religious groups, including the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, quoted from Kretzman’s Popular Commentary and also CPH’s new Lutheran Study Bible to highlight the importance of procreation to the marital union. From Kretzman (p. 28 of the brief): “The Bible indicates plainly what the purposes of marriage is … companion[ship] … [and] lawful procreation of children..” From the study Bible (also p. 28): “Marriage is the fundamental institution of all human society. It was established by God at creation, when God created the first human beings as ‘male and female’ (Gen. 1:27) and then said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’ (Gen. 1:28). … Both Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:5 view the ‘one flesh’ unity that occurs [i.e., consummation] as an essential part of the marriage.”
  • A “friend of the court,” or amicus curiae brief, from The Hausvater Project focused on parents’ rights to determine their children’s education and warned that state recognition of same-sex marriage would re-define not only marriage but also parenthood, thus weakening the legal claims of naturally procreative parents to make educational and other decisions for their biological children.
  • A Catholic woman named Margie Reilly, trained in the Theology of the Body, submitted another amicus brief, emphasizing that “Altering or watering down its [marriage’s] essential life-giving, self-donating nature would destroy the very fabric of our society” (p. 5).

Meanwhile, the LGBT segment of the blogosphere has criticized (apparently without actually reading) these briefs. If you compare the Box Turtle’s analysis with the briefs themselves, you’ll find that quotations are ripped out of context and misconstrued. But even sadder, the LGBT community does not hear what LCMS and other religious groups tried to say in their brief, namely, that the church loves them and wants, sincerely wants, to help them.

A recent series in Forward in Christ (WELS) illustrates how sound biblical teaching can make a positive difference. May Christ have mercy on us all, as we repent of our sins, rejoice in His forgiveness, and seek to guide others in the same.


Luther on Psalm 127

Translated by Walther I. Brandt

At the opening of the sixteenth century Livonia, the territory which in modern times includes the Baltic lands of Latvia, Lithuania, and Esthonia,1 was ruled by a branch of the Teutonic Order.2 Ecclesiastical authority was exercised by the archbishop of Riga and his suffragan bishops in Dorpat and Reval.3 Lutheran ideas began to seep into Livonia quite early,4 especially among the German burghers in the towns, who eagerly read Luther’s pamphlets. The impulse toward constructive reform work in Livonia came from Pomerania, indirectly through Johann Bugenhagen,5 and directly through his colleague, Andreas Knopken.6
When Knopken had to leave Pomerania for Riga in 1521, he began to preach reformed doctrines, and succeeded in winning the support of some influential citizens. Archbishop Linde, a mild and now elderly man, does not appear to have offered any strong opposition. On June 12, 1522, under the burgomaster’s protection, Knopken disputed with the Catholic clergy in St. Peter’s Church before the whole congregation;7 a few months later the Riga city council appointed him archdeacon of St. Peter’s where his inaugural sermon was preached on October 23, 1522.

Bishop Blankenfeld of Dorpat and Reval, younger and more aggressive than his ecclesiastical superior, had the Edict of Worms (1521) proclaimed in his territories. The city council of Reval protested against this, apparently on political grounds, for at that time none of the councilmen seems to have been a follower of Luther. At the Landtag in Wolmar in June, 1522, the prelates tried to persuade the assembly to condemn Luther’s doctrines, but the knighthood and burghers insisted that such legislation should await the pronouncement of a general council. They declared that they would tolerate no mandate or ban in this or any other matter, since Livonia had been won by the secular sword, not by the ban.8 The order maintained strict neutrality in the dispute between the people and the prelates.9

Johann Lohmüller,10 who as secretary to the Wolmar Landtag was influential in blocking the prelates’ effort to have Luther’s doctrines condemned, wrote Luther on August 20, 1522, saying that Livonia was a candidate for the word of faith, that a good many of Luther’s writings were known there and eagerly read, and that Riga was taking the lead. He concluded by requesting Luther to encourage the brethren in Livonia by sending them a letter, mentioning them in his writing, or dedicating to them some devotional treatise.11 Luther apparently delayed his reply, for Lohmüller wrote him again in the fall of 1523,12 stating that he had waited more than a year for a reply, and feared that his first letter must have failed to reach Luther; he therefore renewed his request for a “godly treatise.”

Luther’s long-delayed reply to Lohmüller’s first letter took the form of a brief address To the Christians in Riga, Reval, and Dorpat, 13 written probably in September of 1523, in which there is no mention of Lohmüller. It was sent to Riga in printed form as a sort of “open letter,” and was received on November 11. Luther speaks of having learned of affairs in Livonia “from letters and by word of mouth.” “Letters” presumably refers to Lohmüller’s first letter; “by word of mouth” may refer to the messenger who delivered that letter, or it may refer to two students from Livonia who are listed in the Wittenberg University records as being in attendance in the spring and summer of 1523.14 The burgomaster and the Riga council replied promptly on the same day, thanking Luther for his letter to the Livonian Christians, mentioning that Lohmüller had previously written to him, and repeating Lohmüller’s request.15

Luther received the letter of November 11 from the Riga council shortly before February 1, 1524, and he replied by dedicating to them the present treatise on the 127th Psalm, which was probably composed in the latter half of 1524, and came from the press before the end of the year. The choice of this particular psalm probably was not dictated by anything connected with the situation in Riga—at least nothing of that sort is mentioned in the treatise—but by Luther’s general concern about the covetousness which was everywhere manifesting itself in the inadequate support being given to schools and pastors, about which Luther was constantly complaining about this time.16

Luther had already dealt with Psalm 127 in his Dictata super Psalterium 1513–1516.17 In 1534 he published a more extensive and learned interpretation of it in Latin;18 this reawakened interest in the more popular treatise of 1524, for in that year a new edition appeared which included a new translation of the psalm based upon the complete German Bible published in 1534, and a hymn—probably by Lazarus Spengler19—based on the psalm, which we have here omitted though it is included in WA 15, 378–379. [note - I have reproduced this hymn at the end of this blog post]

The following translation, the first into English, is based on the original Wittenberg printing of Lucas Cranach, Der hundert und Sieben und zwentzigst psalm ausgelegt an die Christen zu Rigen ynn Liffland, as that has been reprinted with annotations in WA 15, (348) 360–378.


Martin Luther to all his dear friends in Christ at Riga and in Livonia.

Grace and peace from God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ. Some time ago, dear friends, I was asked to write you something in a Christian vein.2 I would gladly have done so, as was my duty, but all manner of distractions prevented me. Also, I knew of nothing special to write, since God our Father has so richly blessed you with his holy word that you yourselves can both teach and admonish, strengthen and comfort one another perhaps even better than we. However, since this has been asked of me, I have stolen time enough to quicken my own spirit and yours with a spiritual, godly song, and have undertaken an exposition of the 127th Psalm.

I selected this psalm because it so beautifully turns the heart away from covetousness and concern for temporal livelihood and possessions toward faith in God, and in a few words teaches us how Christians are to act with respect to the accumulation and ownership of this world’s goods. It is hardly to be expected that the gospel, which has now again come to the fore, will fare any better among us and among you than it did at the time of Christ and the apostles, indeed, since the beginning of the world. For not only the evangelists, but all the prophets as well, complain that covetousness and concern for this world’s goods hinder the gospel greatly from bearing fruit. Indeed, the precious word of God sometimes falls among thorns and is choked [Matt. 13:22] so that it proves unfruitful; sadly enough, our daily experience shows us this only too well. And Paul also complains that all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ [Phil. 2:21].

Now I have preached and written a great deal urging that good schools should be established in the cities3 in order that we might produce educated men and women, whence good Christian pastors and preachers might come forth so that the word of God might continue to flourish richly. But people take such an indifferent attitude toward the matter, pretending that it might cost them their whole livelihood and temporal possessions, that I fear the time will come when schoolmasters, pastors, and preachers alike will have to quit, let the word go, and turn to a trade or some other means of stilling the pangs of hunger; just as the Levites had to abandon the worship of God to till the fields, as Nehemiah writes [Neh. 13:10].

Isn’t it a crying shame? Up to now, a town with four or five hundred population could turn over to the mendicant monks4 alone the equivalent of five, six, or seven hundred gulden, besides what bishops, officials,5 and other bloodsuckers,6 together with beggars and relic hawkers,7 have already wrung from them. In addition, such a town will today probably be contributing annually five or six hundred gulden just for a biretta.8 I will not even mention the sums expended on spices, silks, gold, jewels, and similar vanities; yes, and what is squandered on beer and wine. When you lump all these together, such a town throws far more than a thousand gulden down the drain every year. Such is the miserable, wretched, hopeless state of affairs in the German lands today! But when they are asked to contribute one or two hundred gulden toward good schools and pulpits, they cry, “You would reduce us to rags and make beggars of us! We would have nothing left”; then covetousness and concern for livelihood take over, and the people think they will die of hunger.

But what will God finally say about this? He will say, “What the wicked dreads will come upon him” [Prov. 10:24]. We fear hunger; hunger will come upon us, and all our concern will not help. Like unbelieving heathen, we are so needlessly anxious that we fail to advance God’s word and work with the very means he has given us for that purpose. He will therefore allow a time to come in which we shall have plenty to worry about and our worry will nevertheless avail us nothing. Should this happen, as well it might, that there should be a terrible famine, it would serve us right; we’re asking for it.

Take those seducers, the priests and monks, who have disgraced our mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters, and made harlots of them;9 who have so oppressed us with their insolence and violence that we have to pant as if hounded by devils; who in addition have slain our bodies and souls with their poisonous doctrines, and herded them into hell. These are the very ones to whom we have in the past not only given more than enough, but we have even given them lands and people, cities and castles, and made of them greater lords than any among us.

Now that God is sending us upright, trustworthy, and learned men, who by word and deed encourage us toward self-discipline and chastity, who by godly marriage reduce the prevalence of fornication, and who in addition zealously serve us in body and soul and direct us on the right path to heaven, we simply ignore them. Those whom we should be securing at whatever expense even from the ends of the earth, we are supporting about as well as the rich man supported poor Lazarus [Luke 16:19–21]. Now we find it impossible to support three upright, learned, married preachers, where formerly we maintained in splendor a hundred of those whoremasters.

Very well; we shall soon find out how this pleases God. Nobody can tell us anything. So God in turn will stop up his ears too and refuse to listen. Just watch how things turn out once certain persons now living are gone. I can foresee nothing better than the establishment of another papacy worse than before which will do us even greater harm (if that were possible) than this one has. This must and undoubtedly will happen, unless the Last Day intervenes. After all, we want to be betrayed, seduced, disgraced, and despoiled. As Wisdom complains in Proverbs 1, “I called, and you refused to listen; I stretched out my hand, and no one heeded; you have ignored all my counsel, and would have none of my reproof. I will therefore laugh at your destruction, and mock when that which you feared comes upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not hear. Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and be sated with their own devices.”10

For this reason I want yet to sing one little song for the benefit of such covetousness, that some might still be roused to help us ward off the wrath of God a bit longer. And that shall be this psalm which carries the superscription, “A song of Solomon in alt.”11

Why this psalm and certain others are inscribed, “Songs in alt,” I do not know. Some think it is because the priests and Levites chanted these psalms while going up the steps or stairs into the temple; therefore, they refer to them as “Graduals” or “Songs of Ascent.”12 But that is not right, for Scripture contains no evidence or suggestion of this. Moreover, they did their singing within the temple, not on the stairs. If conjecture or opinion is worth anything, my guess is that these psalms were chanted in a higher pitch, just as children’s and women’s voices are pitched higher than male voices. The meaning is the same as where some psalms are called lamnazeah, that is, “chanted in high pitch,”13 etc. Since the Levites’ style of chanting no longer exists, however, anything we might say of it is tentative. It makes little difference anyway, so long as we have a proper understanding of the psalm.

Solomon composed this psalm.14 Not only was he enlightened by the Holy Spirit, but as he daily exercised his administrative functions and mingled with people, he learned from frequent experience how vainly unbelief burdens itself with worries about feeding the belly, when in fact everything depends on God’s blessing and protection. For where God withholds his blessing, we labor in vain; where God does not protect, our worry is futile. And he speaks thus:15

1a. Unless the Lord builder the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
1b. Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
2. It is vain that you rise up early,
sit up late,
and eat the bread of sorrow;
for to him who enjoys his favor,
he gives while he sleeps.
3. Lo, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb is a reward.16
4. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
so are the children of youth.
5. Happy is the man who has
his quiver full of them;
They shall not be put to shame
when they speak with their enemies in the gate.

First we must understand that “building the house” does not refer simply to the construction of walls and roof, rooms and chambers, out of wood and stone. It refers rather to everything that goes on inside the house, which in German we call “managing the household” [haushallten]; just as Aristotle writes, “Oeconomia, ”17 that, is pertaining to the household economy which comprises wife and child, servant and maid, livestock and fodder. The same term is used by Moses in Exodus 1[:20–21], where he writes that God dealt well with the two midwives and “built them houses”18 because they feared him and did not strangle the children of the Israelites; that is, he helped them to obtain husbands, sons and daughters, and enough of whatever goes along with keeping a family. Solomon’s purpose is to describe a Christian marriage; he is instructing everyone how to conduct himself as a Christian husband and head of a household.

Reason and the world think that married life and the making of a home ought to proceed as they intend; they try to determine things by their own decisions and actions, as if their work could take care of everything. To this Solomon says No! He points us instead to God, and teaches us with a firm faith to seek and expect all such things from God. We see this in experience too. Frequently two people will marry who have hardly a shirt to their name, and yet they support themselves so quietly and well that it is a pleasure to behold. On the other hand, some bring great wealth into their marriage; yet it slips out of their hands till they can barely get along.

Again, two people marry out of passionate love; their choice and desire are realized, yet their days together are not happy. Some are very eager and anxious to have children, but they do not conceive, while others who have given the matter little thought get a house full of children. Again, some try to run the house and its servants smoothly, and it turns out that they have nothing but misfortune. And so it goes in this world; the strangest things happen.

Who is it that so disrupts marriage and household management, and turns them so strangely topsy-turvy? It is he of whom Solomon says: Unless the Lord keeps the house, household management there is a lost cause. He wishes to buttress this passage [Ps. 127:1a] and confirm its truth. This is why he permits such situations to arise in this world, as an assault on unbelief, to bring to shame the arrogance of reason with all works and cleverness, and to constrain them to believe.

This passage alone should be enough to attract people to marriage, comfort all who are now married, and sap the strength of covetousness. Young people are scared away from marriage when they see how strangely it turns out. They say, “It takes a lot to make a home”;19 or, “You learn a lot living with a woman.” This is because they fail to see who does this, and why He does it; and since human ingenuity and strength know no recourse and can provide no help, they hesitate to marry. As a result they fall into unchastity if they do not marry, and into covetousness and worry if they do. But here is the needed consolation: Let the Lord build the house and keep it, and do not encroach upon his work; the concern for these matters is his, not yours. For whoever is the head of the house and maintains it should be allowed to bear the burden of care. Does it take a lot to make a house? So what! God is greater than any house. He who fills heaven and earth will surely also be able to supply a house, especially since he takes the responsibility upon himself and causes it to be sung to his praise.

Why should we think it strange that it takes so much to make a home where God is not the head of the house? Because you do not see Him who is supposed to fill the house, naturally every comer must seem empty. But if you look upon Him, you will never notice whether a comer is bare; everything will appear to you to be full, and will indeed be full. And if it is not full, it is your vision which is at fault; just as it is the blind man’s fault if he fails to see the sun. For him who sees rightly, God turns the saying around and says not, “It takes a lot to make a home,” but, “How much a home contributes!” So we see that the managing of a household should and must be done in faith—then there will be enough20—so that men come to acknowledge that everything depends not on our doing, but on God’s blessing and support.

We are not to understand from this that God forbids us to work. Man must and ought to work, ascribing his sustenance and the fullness of his house, however, not to his own labor but solely to the goodness and blessing of God. For where men ascribe these things to their own labor, there covetousness and anxiety quickly arise, and they hope by much labor to acquire much. But then there is this contradiction, namely, that some people labor prodigiously, yet scarcely have enough to eat, while others are slower and more relaxed in their work, and wealth pours in on them.21 All this is because God wants the glory, as the one who alone gives the growth [I Cor. 8:6–7]. For if you should till the soil faithfully for a hundred years and do all the work in the world, you couldn’t bring forth from the earth even a single stalk; but God without any of your labor, while you sleep, produces from that tiny kernel a stalk with as many kernels on it as he wills.

Solomon here wishes to sanction work, but to reject worry and covetousness. He does not say, “The Lord builds the house, so no one need labor at it.” He does say, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” [Ps. 127:1a]. This is as if he were to say: Man must work, but that work is in vain if it stands alone and thinks it can sustain itself. Work cannot do this; God must do it. Therefore work in such manner that your labor is not in vain. Your labor is in vain when you worry, and rely on your own efforts to sustain yourself. It behooves you to labor, but your sustenance and the maintenance of your household belong to God alone. Therefore, you must keep these two things far apart: “to labor,” and “to maintain a household” or “to sustain”; keep them as far apart from one another as heaven and earth, or God and man.

In the Proverbs of Solomon we often read how the lazy are punished because they will not work.22 Solomon says, “A slack hand causes poverty, but industrious hands bring riches” [Prov. 10:4]. This and similar sayings sound as if our sustenance depended on our labor; though he says in the same passage [Prov. 10:22], as also in this psalm [127:1], that it depends on God’s blessing; or, as we say in German, “God bestows, God provides.”23 Thus, the meaning is this: God commanded Adam to eat his bread in the sweat of his face [Gen. 8:19]. God wills that man should work, and without work He will give him nothing. Conversely, God will not give him anything because of his labor, but solely out of His own goodness and blessing. Man’s labor is to be his discipline in this life, by which he may keep his flesh in subjection. To him who is obedient in this matter, God will give plenty, and sustain him well.

God sustains man in the same way he sustains all other living creatures. As the psalm [147:9] says, “He gives to all flesh their food, and to the young ravens which cry unto him” Again, in Psalm 104, 24 “The eyes of all look to thee, O Lord, and thou givest them their food in due season. Thou openest thy hand, and fillest every living creature with blessings,” that is, with fullness and sufficiency. Now no animal works for its living, but each has its own task to perform, after which it seeks and finds its food. The little birds fly about and warble, make nests, and hatch their young. That is their task. But they do not gain their living from it. Oxen plow, horses carry their riders and have a share in battle; sheep furnish wool, milk, cheese, etc. That is their task. But they do not gain their living from it. It is the earth which produces grass and nourishes them through God’s blessing. Christ himself, in Matthew 6[:26], bids us look at the birds: how they neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns; yet they are fed by God. That is, they perform their tasks all right, but they do no work from which they gain sustenance.

Similarly, man must necessarily work and busy himself at something. At the same time, however, he must know that it is something other than his labor which furnishes him sustenance; it is the divine blessing. Because God gives him nothing unless he works, it may seem as if it is his labor which sustains him; just as the little birds neither sow nor reap, but they would certainly die of hunger if they did not fly about to seek their food. The fact that they find food, however, is not due to their own labor, but to God’s goodness. For who placed their food there where they can find it? Beyond all doubt it is God alone, as he says in Genesis 1[:29–30], “Behold, I have given to you and to all creatures every growing plant for food.” In short, even if Scripture did not teach this directly, experience would prove it to be so. For where God has not laid up a supply no one will find anything, even though they all work themselves to death searching. We can see this with our eyes, and grasp it with our hands; yet we will not believe. Again, where God does not uphold and preserve, nothing can last, even though a hundred thousand fortresses were thrown up to defend it; it will be shattered and ground to dust till no one knows what has become of it.

Tell me: who puts silver and gold in the mountains so that man might find them there? Who puts into the field that great wealth which issues in grain, wine, and all kinds of produce, from which all creatures live Does the labor of man do this? To be sure, labor no doubt finds it, but God has first to bestow it and put it there if labor is to find it. Who puts into the flesh the power to bring forth young and fill the earth with birds, beasts, fish, etc.? Is this accomplished by our labor and care? By no means. God is there first, secretly laying his blessing therein; then all things are brought forth in abundance. And so we find that all our labor is nothing more than the finding and collecting of God’s gifts; it is quite unable to create or preserve anything.

Here then we see how Solomon, in this one little verse [Ps. 127:1], has solved in short order the greatest of all problems among the children of men, about which so many books have been written, so many proverbs and approaches devised, namely, how to feed our poor stomachs. Solomon rejects them all in a body, wraps the whole matter up in faith, and says: You labor in vain when you labor for the purpose of sustaining yourself and building your own house. Indeed, you make for yourself a lot of worry, and trouble. At the same time by such arrogance and wicked unbelief you kindle God’s wrath, so that you only become all the poorer and are mined completely because you undertook to do what is his alone to do. And if with such unbelief you should succeed anyway in attaining wealth in all things, it would only bring greater ruin to you soul eternally when God lets you go blindly on in your unbelief.

If you want to earn your livelihood honorably, quietly, and well, and rightly maintain your household, give heed: Take up some occupation that will keep you busy in order that you can eat your bread in the sweat of your face [Gen. 3:19]. Then do not worry, about how you will be sustained and how such labor will build and maintain your house. Place everything in God’s keeping; let him do the worrying and the building. Entrust these things to him; he will lay before you richly and well the things which your labor is to find and bring to you. If he does not put them there, you will labor in vain and find nothing.

Thus, this wholly evangelical verse in masterful fashion sets forth faith, as against that accursed covetousness and concern for the belly which today, alas! everywhere hinders the fruit of the gospel. When this verse is fully understood, the rest of the psalm is easy. We will now briefly run through the other verses.

Unless the Lord keeps the city,
the watchman guards in vain.

In the first verse he rebuked covetousness, worry, and unbelief in every, household in particular. In this verse25 he does the same thing for a whole community. For a whole community is nothing other than many households combined. By this term we comprehend all manner of principalities, dominions, and kingdoms, or any other grouping of people.

Now the blind world, because it does not know God and his work, concludes that it is owing to its own cleverness, reason, and strength that a community or dominion endures and thrives. Accordingly, they gather together great treasures, stuff their coffers, construct mighty towers and walls, provide suits of armor and vast supplies of provisions, enact wise laws, and conduct their affairs with courage and prudence. They just go ahead in their arrogance without even consulting God about any of it, like those who built the Tower of Babel [Gen. 11:1–9].

Meanwhile, God sits above and watches how cleverly and boldly the children of men proceed, and he causes the psalmist to sing in his praise, “God brings the counsel of the nations to naught” [Ps. 33:10]. Again, “God knows the thoughts of man, that they are vain” [Ps. 94:11]. And yet again, “He takes away the spirit of princes, and deals strongly with the kings of the earth” [Ps. 76:12]. He allows such cities and dominions to arise and to gain the ascendancy, for a little while. But before they can look around he strikes them down; and in general the greater the kingdom, the sooner. Even though they flourish for a short time, that is in the sight of God little more than a beginning. Never does one of them arrive at the point it strives to reach.

If you will look at the history of the kingdoms of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome,26 and all the rest, you will find there exactly what this verse says. All their splendor is nothing more than God’s little puppet show. He has allowed them to rise for a time, but he has invariably overthrown them, one after the other. As they gained a brief ascendancy, through human wit and arrogance, so much the more quickly did they fall again; not because they lacked manpower, money, goods, and all manner of resources, but because the true watchman had ceased to uphold them, and caused them to see what human wit and power could accomplish without his watchful care and protection. So it turned out that their cause was nothing but vain counsel and a futile undertaking which they could neither uphold nor carry out.

They themselves have felt and acknowledged this. The pagan Vergil wrote of Troy that the slain Hector appeared before Aeneas in a dream and said, “If Troy could have been defended, it would have been defended by my hand.”27 And Lucan wrote, “Magnisque negatum Stare diu”; “It is not given great kingdoms to long endure.”28 So utterly apparent is God’s work; yet men will not acknowledge him even though they bump their heads against it. Soldiers, too. acknowledge that victory does not depend on the numbers or strength of the army, but, as they say, on luck. But Scripture says it depends on God, as Psalm 24[:8] reads, “The Lord mighty in battle.” And Psalm [147:10 and] 88[:17], “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, and the horse is a vain hope for victory and by its great might it cannot save,” etc. And Ecclesiastes 9[:11], “I saw that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong,” etc.

Thus, by this verse Solomon would briefly instruct all kings, princes, councilmen, and everyone in authority how to conduct and maintain a good, peaceful, and blessed government which functions well. In the first place, they should be watchful and diligent in the performance of their official duties. He does not say that they should not be watchful and diligent, just as in the preceding verse he does not forbid them to work (St. Paul, too, says in Romans 12:29 that those who are in authority over others should be careful or diligent). He wants rather that their watchfulness be not fruitless and in vain, but beneficial and worth while.

In the second place, he wants them in faith to entrust such watchful care to God and let him worry about how the watching is to be done, so they do not arrogantly presume that their own solicitude and diligence preserves the city, but are assured that God will preserve the city and protect land and people. Just take the arrogance and worry out of the watchfulness, and let it proceed in faith. For although God will preserve nothing unless we exercise diligence and care, still he does not want us to get the idea that it is our own solicitude and diligence which accomplishes that which is done by his goodness and mercy alone.

One of two things must necessarily follow when we rely on our own watchfulness: either arrogance or worry. If all goes well and is secure, we pride ourselves on our watchfulness; if things go wrong and are about to fail, we worry, lose heart, and become doubtful. Now God will tolerate neither of these, neither arrogance nor worry. We should neither worry when we are insecure, nor be proud when we are secure, but in free and true faith do our watching and perform the duties of our calling. We should no more be anxious when things go wrong than be proud when things go well.

Now none but a believing heart acts in this way. As David says when he speaks out against worry in Psalm 3[:6], “I will not be afraid though many thousands set themselves against me round about.” Again, in Psalm 27[:1, 3], “The Lord protects me; whom shall I fear? Though war arise against me, in him will I be confident.” He speaks again against arrogance in Psalm 44[:6], “I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me.”

Why, then, does he urge us to labor and watch, and want us to have walls, armor, and all manner of supplies, just as he commanded the children of Israel to put on their armor and fight against the Canaanites? Are we to provide no supplies, leave our gates and windows open, make no effort to defend ourselves but allow ourselves to be pierced through and become lifeless corpses as they did in the book of Maccabees? [I Macc. 2:34–38]. By no means. You have just heard that those in authority should be watchful and diligent, and perform all the duties of their office: bar the gates, defend the towers and walls, put on armor, and procure supplies. In general, they should proceed as if there were no God and they had to rescue themselves and manage their own affairs; just as the head of a household is supposed to work as if he were trying to sustain himself by his own labors.

But he must watch out that his heart does not come to rely on these deeds of his, and get arrogant when things go well or worried when things go wrong. He should regard all such preparation and equipment as being the work of our Lord God under a mask, as it were, beneath which he himself alone effects and accomplishes what we desire. He commands us so to equip ourselves for this reason also, that he might conceal his own work under this disguise, and allow those who boast to go their way, and strengthen those who are worried, so that men will not tempt him. In this way he conducted all the wars of King David and of the whole people of Israel in the Old Testament. He does the same thing today, wherever the authorities have such faith. In like manner, through their own labor he made Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob wealthy, etc. Indeed, one could very well say that the course of the world, and especially the doing of his saints, are God’s mask, under which he conceals himself and so marvelously exercises dominion and introduces disorder in the world.

It is vain that you rise up early
and go to bed late,
and eat the bread of sorrow;
for so he gives to his beloved in sleep.

This whole verse [Ps. 127:2] is directed against arrogance and anxiety, as if he were to say: It is futile for you to rise up early and go to bed late, and think that the more you labor the more you will have. For that is something that the blessing of God has to accomplish. And even if you do succeed in acquiring more than others who are not so concerned about getting things and keeping them, still your earnings will not go as far as those of the carefree, but will slip through your fingers and disappear, as Psalm 37[:16] says, “It is better for the righteous to have a little than to have the great riches of the wicked.” And Solomon says in the Proverbs, “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted ox and hatred with it” [Prov. 15:17].

That this is his meaning, and that it is not his intent to prohibit labor or diligence, is clear from his phrase, “and eat the bread of sorrow.” This says in effect: You are making your bread and sustenance harsh and bitter; and this is not the fault of your labor, but of your anxious and unbelieving heart. It refuses to believe that God will nourish you; instead, it is importunate and demanding, wanting to fill coffers, purses, cellars, and storehouses, and refusing to rest until it is assured of having more supplies on hand than it could consume in many years. He who has faith in God, however, is not anxious about tomorrow but is content with today. He does his work with joy and with a quiet heart, and lives in accord with Christ’s injunction in the gospel, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have its own troubles. It is enough that each day has its own evil.”30 Lo, the livelihood of such believers will not be harsh and bitter; for although they too eat their bread in the sweat of their faces outwardly [Gen. 3:19], they do it with faith and a joyful conscience inwardly.

Thereupon, he concludes by showing how God gives all such things, saying: Sic dabit dilectis suis somno; All such things (both the building of the house and the keeping of the city) he gives to his beloved as in their sleep [Ps. 127:2]. That is, he lets them work hard and be diligent, in such a way, however, that they are neither anxious nor arrogant, but go happily along, assuming no burden of care, and committing everything to Him. They live a calm and untroubled life with tranquil hearts, as one who sleeps sweetly and securely, letting nothing trouble him, and yet continues to live and be well cared for. They have enough; indeed, they must be well supplied and protected because they have committed all to God in accordance with Psalm 55[:22], “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you”; and I Peter 5[:7], “Cast all your anxieties on him, and know that he cares for you.” At issue is not the matter of work, but only the matter of pernicious worry, covetousness, and unbelief.

Lo, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.

All of this is spoken in typical Hebrew fashion. “Heritage from the Lord” and “reward” are one and the same thing, just as “children” and “fruit of the womb” are one and the same thing. Thus it means to say: What good does it do you to be so deeply concerned and anxious about how to procure and protect your possessions? Why even children, and whatever is born of woman, are not within your power; although they are a part of household and city alike, for if there were no children and “fruit of the womb” neither household nor city would endure. So the very reward and “heritage from the Lord,” about which you are so terribly anxious, are actually the gift and boon of God. (Even if all the whole world were to combine forces, they could not bring about the conception of a single child in any woman’s womb nor cause it to be born; that is wholly the work of God alone.) Why, then, are you concerned and anxious about acquiring and securing goods, when you do not even possess that for which you seek them? A lord, then, and the head of a household ought rightfully to say to himself: I will labor and perform my allotted tasks; but He who creates children in the home and inhabitants in the city (all of whom are “fruit of the womb”) will also sustain and preserve them. Lo, this one’s labor and that one’s watching would then not be bitter to him, but would proceed aright in faith.

Christ touched upon this (to which virtually the whole psalm is devoted) when he said in Matthew 8[:25], “Is not the body more than clothing, and the soul more than food.?” It is as if he were to say: Since children and “the fruit of the womb” are not for you to worry about, why then do you worry about the matter of securing and keeping possessions? For who can ever explain how it is that all the children of men are brought forth out of the flesh of women? Who has hidden such a multitude of men in that poor flesh, and who brings them forth in such marvelous fashion? None other than He alone, who gives children as a heritage and the fruit of the womb as a reward to his beloved [Ps. 127:3] as in sleep [Ps. 127:2]. God bestows his gifts overnight, they say; and that is literally true.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
so are the children of one’s youth.

Here he compares children and people with the arrows in the hand of a mighty hero, who shoots his arrows whenever and withersoever he wills. Thus, we also see how God deals with us. Just look at how amazingly he matches husband and wife, in a way no one would expect; and how they attain to extraordinary stations in life for which they have not striven, so that men marvel at it. Generally, things turn out quite differently from what father, and mother, and even the person himself, had envisioned. It is as if God would confess this verse [Ps. 127:4] in deeds and say: I will bring to naught all the counsels of men and deal with the children of men according to my own will, that they may be in my hand as the arrows of a powerful giant. Of what use is a lot of worrying and planning for our future when that future will be nothing other than what he wills? The best thing to do then is to work, and let him worry, about the future.

He mentions especially “the children of youth,” meaning those who are not yet householders or guardians of the city, those whom we regard as being committed solely to the care of our own cleverness. He still guides them in their homes and in the city as he wills, and does with them what he wills, to show us that he cares for all things, and never leaves anything to us but our labor, that we may not think God governs only infants in the cradle and allows grown-ups to use their reason and free will. Indeed, he directs the grown-ups (he says here31) just as much as he does the small children; they are arrows in his hand, and must come and go as and wherever he wills. To God they are all the same: rationality and irrationality, heaven and earth, the young and those who are old, wise, and experienced.

Indeed, he deals even more strangely with those who are wise and possessed of reason. He has much more to do with them in that he turns their counsels and reason into foolishness, and directs them otherwise than they intend. Therefore, according to this verse [Ps. 127:4] it is not the children and “the fruit of the womb”—whom he calls God’s heritage and gift32—but the children of youth, who have now grown up and reached the age of discretion, whom he holds in his hand as a giant holds his arrows; though to all appearances he seems to have these in his hand least of all, allowing their reason and wit to rule them while he devotes his attention to the little children. His whole purpose is to check and take from us the whole matter of our governing and caring for ourselves, in order that we may know it is he himself who alone rules over us and cares for us, and so lets33 us go about our business and do our work.

Happy is the man who has
his quiver full of them;
They shall not be put to shame
when they speak with their enemies in the gate.

He desires that such youth, given by God, and recognized as such, may be many, for then the world would be well off. That is very true. If all manner of problems are to be dealt with successfully, then the young people who are to live and govern on this earth after us must be trained and guided accordingly. Just as the giant who has his quiver full of arrows is well prepared and equipped, so the householder and the city to whom God has granted an abundance of such youth are well supplied. For there it is God himself who keeps the house and watches over the city.

Such a great blessing however, will not be without persecution, for where things go according to God’s will there must also be onslaughts of the devil. The unbelief and covetousness of this world cannot tolerate godly life and teaching; therefore, such householders and cities will not be without enemies to revile and abuse them. But over against such attacks there stands this comfort, that they will ultimately emerge with honor and put their enemies to shame in the gate (that is, publicly) [Ps. 127:5]. He mentions no armor or weapons but only the word, saying that “they will speak with their enemies in the gate,” as if to say: By their teaching they will stand, because it is true, no matter how sharply their opponents attack it.

I wanted to write this to you, my dear friends in Christ, for your encouragement, that your hearts and ours may be yet more diligent, in order that the gospel may become rich and fruitful among us all in all manner of understanding and of good works, against which covetousness, the fruit of pernicious unbelief, fights so vigorously. Our dear Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and help us. For if we are still so weak that we cannot leave off worrying about the needs of our bellies, how shall we be able to bear the world’s fury, death, opprobrium, and all other misfortune? Yes, how shall we stand firm when the false spirits come upon us, who just now are beginning to rise? May God, the Father of all mercy, who has introduced his word and begun his work among you, preserve your minds and hearts in the simple and pure knowledge of Jesus Christ our Savior, to whom be praise and thanks in all eternity. Amen.34

Luther, M. (1999, c1962). Vol. 45: Luther's works, vol. 45 : The Christian in Society II (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (45:311). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Here is a transcription of this hymn in common notation, created by Craig Sproat at the request of Rev. Mark Preus, per my request:

Here is my entirely unpoetic but literal translation of Spengler's hymn:

Lazarus Spengler hymn on Psalm 127 (transcribed from WA 15, pp 378-379)

*) LMNO haben noch folgenden Anhang (vgl. oben S. 350):
*) LMNO have the still following appendix (see above P. 350):

Folget der Psalm NISI DOMINUS EDIFICAVERIT DOMUM in ein schönes Lied verfasset.
The Psalm Nisi Dominus Aedificaverit Domum follows, composed into a beautiful hymn.

1. Vergebens ist all müh [mühe NO] und kost, wo nicht

    das haus Gott selber bawt. Den wo die

    Also ist auch der mensch troftlos, wo er

    sein eigen krefften trawt.

    stad Gott it seim rath nicht selbst erhelt

    und schützet [schützt NO], Man wach und hüt, an Got-

    tes güt, Fürwar das solchs nicht nützet.

In vain is all effort and eating, where God does not build the house. And man is also hopeless, where he in his own strength trusts. The city with its "rath" that God does not himself build and protect, man watches and guards, indeed such do not benefit from God's good.

2. Was hilffts, das wir vor tags auff stehen [stehn M],

    Und auff uns laden sorgen vil [viel NO]

    So doch all unser anschleg gehn, allein

    wie Gottes ordnung wil.

    Und ob dein brod gleich wird mit rad und komer uberkomen,

    Wenn Gott dir nit solchs segnet mit,

    Was reicht dir das zum fromen.

What help is it, that we get up before the day, and work ourselves up with much worry. Yet regardless of how all ours attempts go, God's will shall be done. And whether yours becomes alike "brod" with wheel and more comes overcome,  God blesses you with what is enough to keep you pious.

3.  Derhimlisch [himelisch NO] vater thuts allein, Das land

    und leut wird vol regirt [regiert NO].

    Wir sehens teglich, als ich mein.  Und wenn

    nicht hütet diser hirt,

    All regiment nem bald ein end, wers noch so fest erbawet.

    Wie elend leut sein wir denn heut,

    Das wir ihm [im MO] nicht [nit MN] vertrawen.

The heavenly Father does alone the country and people govern. We seeing daily, as I mine. And if He does not guard and shepherd them, all armies would soon be taken to their end, though they be firmly built. As the miserable people we are today, we do not credit him.

4.  Das Gott den menschen kindern bschert,

    Das ist allein sein gnad und güt,

    Er ists der sie erhelt und neert; wenn sich

    Der mensch am höchsten müht,

    So ists umb sonst [sonst fehlt N] on gottes gonst, Er kan ihr [jr NO] fussteig wenden,

    Gleich wie inn eil umbtreibt ein pfeil,

    ein starcker inn sein henden.

God brings people children, which alone are their grace and good, he is their preserver and "neert"; if humans strive themselves most highly, thus otherwise is around on God is missing favor, he can to it "fussteig" (footpath?) turn, directly as a rapidly carried arrow, strengthened in His hand.   

5.  Wie selig ist nu diese Stad,

    die von Gott selber wird regirt [regiert NO],

    Das haus, so ein vorsteher hat, den Gott

    inn seinen wegen fürt. 

    Darüm [Darumb N] so schaw, das dein vertraw auff ihn [jn NO] allein wird gestellet,

    Denn on sein hand ein ides [jedes NO] land

    gewis zu poden fellet.

As now this state is blessed, if by God oneself governs, the house such a chief has, then God in his way will come. In such a way therefore show that yours acquainted on Him alone is satisfied, because on His hand falls each country surely to stand.

And here is a proper poetic translation by Matthew Carver

IN VAIN is all thy toil and pain,
Unless thy house be built by God;
So, too, man’s hope is all in vain
When founded on his powers flawed.
Except thy place
By God’s good grace
Be propped up and protected,
No waking would
Do any good
For what thou hast erected.

2. What profits us ere dawn to rise,
And multiply our fruitless pains?
So all our efforts fail likewise,
And all must go as God ordains.
And though we might
Win bread despite,
And through much grief and trouble;
If God deign not
To bless this lot,
What use if it were double?

3. Alone our heav’nly Father’s might
Can bless the people, rule the plot,
This truth is daily in our sight,
For if this Shepherd kept us not,
All rule would fall
Though built so tall,
And seemingly abiding;
What misery
We people see,
For not in God confiding.

4. If God to man some children cedes
He gives them only out of grace,
He is the One who keeps and feeds,
Though much a man may sweat and pace.
Without God’s will
’Tis futile still,
All paths His pow’r may alter,
Just as by haste
The strong men waste
And make their arrows falter.

5. How blessed, then, that place must be
Which God Himself by rule sustains;
And such a house that man will see
Whom God upon his pathway trains.
Wherefore make sure
Thy trust be pure
And on Him solely grounded.
Without whose hand
The strongest land
Must surely be confounded.

Translation © Matthew Carver, 2010.


And here is a setting of the hymn by Senfl, if you like Renaissance choral music:


Footnote on the author of the hymn, Lazarus Spengler, the 9th of 21 children born to Georg and Ag­nes Spengler in Nuremberg on March 13, 1479. He died in Nuremberg on Sep­tem­ber 7, 1534.

He was a prominent supporter of Martin Luther and leader of the Protestant Reformation in Nuremberg, as well as a famous hymn writer.

His father was a clerk in the Imperial Court of Justice. Lazarus Spengler enrolled in the University of Leipzig in 1491. Upon the death of his father in 1496, Spengler returned to Nuremberg and obtained a position in the office of the Nuremberg town clerk (Raths Syn­di­kus). In 1507, he became the town clerk.

Spengler met Martin Luther in 1518, when Luther passed through Nuremberg. Spengler became an ardent supporter, publishing Schutzred supporting Luther in 1519. He was active in reforming the church in Nuremberg, which drew unfavorable attention from religious conservatives. Spengler was one of Luther's supporters mentioned by name in Pope Leo X's bull Exsurge Domine, issued on June 15, 1520, threatening to excommunicate Luther and his followers if they did not submit to the pope. With the support of the Nuremberg town council, Spengler refused to submit to the pope, and was subsequently excommunicated along with Luther by the pope on January 3, 1521, by the bull Decet Romanum Pontificem. In April 1521, Nuremberg sent Spengler as a delegate to the Diet of Worms.

Spengler and the Nuremberg town council continued to reform the church in Nuremberg throughout the 1520s, and in 1525, Spengler traveled to Wittenberg to consult Luther and Philipp Melanchthon about the possibility of converting the Benedictine Ägidienstift into a Protestant gymnasium. Luther and Melanchthon looked favorably on the proposal, and the gymnasium was opened by Melanchthon on May 23, 1526. In 1528, Spengler worked with the other reformers to convince the Elector of Saxony, John the Steadfast to authorize a canonical visitation, an activity that had previously been conducted exclusively by Roman Catholic bishops. Spengler participated in the negotiations at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, where he was a vocal defender of strict Lutheranism.

Spengler was largely responsible for the design of the Luther rose, adopted by Luther at the time of the Diet of Augusburg. He is also remembered as the author of several hymns, some of which remain in Lutheran hymn books to this day. One of these, "Durch Ad­ams Fall ist ganz ver­derbt" (All Mankind Fell In Adam's Fall), is quoted in the Book of Concord [Formula of Concord: Epitome, art. i, par. 8].