Home > Christian Life > Jesus Only: Reflections on Bo Giertz’ “Hammer of God” and the Issue of Sanctification

Jesus Only: Reflections on Bo Giertz’ “Hammer of God” and the Issue of Sanctification

February 22nd, 2009
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First, let me advise you, dear reader, that if you do not know who Bo Giertz is, you must get to know him. And the best way to do that is to read his masterpiece, called in English translation, The Hammer of God. I have read it several times over the years, the first time being during my first year of being a pastor. And today I just finished it again. It is a quick read. It is surprising to me that Augsburg-Fortress still publishes the book still, since Giertz' novel is a devastating rebuttal of the deep theological error that has overtaken the ELCA.

In Hammer of God, Giertz takes on the issue of women's ordination and liberal theology. The book is, fundamentally, a devastating preaching of Law for all us who would dare approach God on our terms, instead of His. That is the message of the book, and today, as most of us have celebrated Transfiguration Sunday, I am particularly struck by the second part of Giertz' book titled, simply, "Jesus only," referring to the words of the Transfiguration account that when Moses and Elijah left, the disciples were left with Jesus only.

The second of three novellas in Hammer, tells the story of an eager young pastor who comes storming into a new parish assignment, with an older senior pastor whom he looks down upon as one who has not been "truly converted." The young man experiences a crisis of faith when he realizes that even Christians are sinful people, prone to the pettiness of spirit and poverty of soul that any other humans are. The pastor abandons the confidence he had placed in his own works of piety, and in his trust that only those who pray freely and free themselves from the "constraints" of the cobwebby forms of the Church's historic worship, can truly know and experience Christ. It all comes crashing down around him as he realizes that all his attention to his own interior life and works has robbed him of the vision of Jesus only. Christ, and Christ alone, must be his sure and certain defense, against the devil, the world and the sinful flesh: his own sinful flesh, which, in spite of his many efforts, he can never quiet and still. But then, he realizes what he most needs, the one thing needful is Jesus, only.

The pastor comes to understand that "that which once and for all and immediately is reckoned as yours in justification, will be worked in you little by little in sanctification." Reflecting on this reality, the young pastor realized that he was "privileged to believe all, appropriate the whole inheritance at the beginning of the road, that afterward through the long years he might draw upon it and invest it amidst the reality of the everyday life." (Giertz, 174-175).

The reality of sanctification in our lives is one that some pastors wish to side-step by preaching against sin, then announcing forgiveness, then leaving it at that. Frankly, they act and speak as if there only the first seven chapters in the Book of Romans, but not the rest.

Recently a pastor friend of mine opined on his blog that too many Lutheran pastors think that they can increase sanctification by preaching the Law. He is of course correct in his concern but ultimately goes wrong in that he fails adequately to understand that it is our task to teach and preach sanctification, the ongoing struggle against sin and the life of good works, in light of justification. Too many of our pastors think that by preaching against sin and preaching justification, they have preached sufficiently about Christ. But they have not. Preaching Good Friday and Easter, without the preaching of Pentecost is to offer a truncated Gospel.

Merely and only repeating the doctrine of justification, without preaching sanctification, is to offer only half the story of life in Christ. In both cases, both the matter of justification and sanctification, it is all about Jesus only. Sanctification is about growing into Christ, and growing up in Christ.

We must therefore speak about what Jesus does in our life and what He permits us to do as a result of our justification. As our Lutheran Confessions put it: "After a man has been justified through faith, then a true living faith works by love. Good works always follow justifying faith and are surely found with it—if it is true and living faith. Faith is never alone, but always has love and hope with it." (FC Ep. III.11).

In a desire to make sure we keep Jesus only in view there are some who have fallen into the trap of neglecting to speak clearly about the work of Jesus in our lives, as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, precisely because of Jesus only, to do good works. Our Confessions are very clear about this reality when they assert:

In these last times it is certainly no less needful to encourage people to Christian discipline [to the way of right and godly living] and to do good works. We need to remind them of how necessary it is that they exercise themselves in good works as a declaration of their faith and gratitude to God." (FC Ep. IV.18).

Why? Not to merit God's favor, or to earn his love, but…as in justification, also in sanctification, because of Jesus only. To Him be the glory.

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Categories: Christian Life
  1. February 23rd, 2009 at 08:25 | #1

    In cataloging this book recently, I was amused to note that the original Swedish title is “Stengrunden,” which means “Stony Ground.” In other words, working in a Scandinavian Lutheran parish is seen as the equivalent of farming the stony ground to which Jesus referred in His parable.

  2. Tony Pittenger
    February 23rd, 2009 at 09:14 | #2

    The Hammer of God. My dear homiletics professor, Dr. Wilhem Petersen, used “The Hammer” as a textbook for our senior year. (E.L.S.) I suspect he did that for two reasons: 1) To comfort himself that the Church would not only survive the gates of hell, but also the bumbling fools who were training to be Her pastors, and 2) that like Savonius, those fools would eventually come to be of some small benefit to the Church.
    Buy it before Augsburg realizes what antiquated and seditious material it is peddling!

  3. February 23rd, 2009 at 16:49 | #3

    For anyone who has not read this book recently, or who has only older editions, it is worth while to point out that the most current edition includes the final chapter of the book, which, for whatever reason, the original English translation omitted.
    I will not give any spoilers, but it contains a wonderful example of the application of the Law and Gospel, as it breaks and heals, and is directly targets what happens when a Christian fails to continue to apply the Law to himself. It truly does round out and complete the book, which otherwise ends rather abruptly.

  4. Mike Rose
    February 24th, 2009 at 07:40 | #4

    The impression that I am left with by some pastors is that sanctification is so completely outside of us that it is literally none of our business. So…the law is there to slay the old Adam weekly, the gospel is there to announce forgiveness…but nothing in the way of guidance for the new creation. Without the exhortation of the “new-man” I am left with the impression that there isn’t one, that the Christian is still rotten to the core, but should rejoice in his forgiveness. I am also led to believe that if I make any conscious effort to order my life in a Godly manner then I am a pietist, which is even worse than being a non-believer. Yet Paul’s letters state that I am a new creation, and that I should run the race with endurance.

  5. Rev. Peter Bauernfeind
    February 24th, 2009 at 17:59 | #5

    Lutheran Visuals (www.lutheranvisuals.com) sells a DVD made in Sweden. The 50-minute movie covers chapter one of Giertz’s book. It is in Swedish, but has English subtitles. It is a great movie that is faithful to the book.

  6. Mikael Palmblad
    March 21st, 2009 at 05:18 | #6

    “Stengrunden” as the Swedish title is should be translated to “foundation of stone” which is what we should build our lives on, i.e. Jesus only. (Mt 7:24-27)
    However, Lars Walker’s likeness between the stone-ridden farms and a Swedish parish is still valid.

  7. March 21st, 2009 at 08:44 | #7

    1) Giertz’s reference to “stengrunden” is undoubtedly to the sinful “heart of stone,” as it is translated in the title of chapter 8: “A Heart of Stone and a Rock of Salvation.” A more literal translation of this chapter’s title (“Stengrunden och försoningsklippan”) would be “The stony ground and the rock of atonement.” The word “stengrunden” appears in Giertz’s own translation of the NT at the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:5; Mark 4:5 – different forms of the Greek lexeme “petra”), where it’s meaning is obvious and explained by Christ himself.
    See also my father’s discussion in his introduction to the 2005 edition (Hans Andrae, pp. xxi-xxii), where he quotes Pastor Bengtsson: “The stone foundation [stengrunden] of the heart and the Rock of Atonement [försoningsklippan] on Golgotha are the two mountains on which a man’s destiny is determined” (269).
    Indeed, on the cover of the newer Swedish editions of the book, a man is shown digging away at the rock-solid ground, with a church behind him in the distance (see 265).
    2) The entire first novella (the first three chapters) has now been made into a feature-length film, for which my father and I supplied the sub-titles for the 2nd and 3rd parts. For more information, contact Anna Malmberg of the production team in Sweden at anna@malmberg.org. Tell her I sent you. : )
    3) The International Giertz Society (English Language Section) has just been formed. IGS is a nonprofit scholarly organization which, by promoting, studying, discussing, translating, and publishing the work of Bo H. Giertz, strives to preserve the memory and enhance the knowledge of this bishop confessor and his legacy. For more information or to join, contact me at EricAndrae@gmail.com.

  8. jonnyola
    March 21st, 2009 at 11:26 | #8

    Hello. Some weeks ago there came a student and his family to Sweden to learn swedish for one year. Only because he wanted to read more of Giertz and to read him in Giertz language, swedish. I will show him your blog.

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