Good for the Church

by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison

Rev. Matthew C. Harrison

Not long after Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes were burned at the stake in Brussels on July 1, 1523, the news came to Luther. It disturbed him greatly that these two young men, monks of his Augustinian order, who had confessed the Gospel of free forgiveness, were the first to die. Luther, after all, was responsible for the uproar. Why had the Lord not taken him?

Deeply moved, the incident loosed his pen, and he wrote his first hymn: “A New Song Shall Here Be Begun.” It’s never made it into our hymnals because it is a type of ballad that the town minstrels would use, long before there were such things as newspapers, to take the latest news from town to town in sung form.

The 20th century was the bloodiest in Christian history with the death of tens of millions at the hands of Communist regimes. Now we are continuously shocked by Islamic radicals persecuting and killing Christians daily in the Middle East and Africa. Meanwhile, our consciences vacillate as we sense the cultural shift in the U.S. that has produced an increasing avalanche of harassment and is likely to get much worse.

I was in Ethiopia a few months back. In 1979, the leader of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (now approaching seven million Lutherans) was murdered by the Communist government. I chatted at lunch with the current president and general secretary of the church. The topic of persecution came up. Mind you, each of these men had themselves been repeatedly jailed in the Communist period for their confession of Christ. I cannot begin to imagine the horror of an Ethiopian prison. President Wakseyoum Idosa leaned toward me across the table, raised his index finger and said with all gravity, “Persecution is always good for the Church. Always.”

Since Luther’s hymn of martyrs is so unknown, I offer it to you as a hymnic/devotional prelude as you consume this issue of the Witness. I bid you pray for the modern martyrs soon to face death in Nigeria and elsewhere today. I bid you consider that your own “light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). From Calvary itself, we know that God works the very greatest things through suffering and martyrdom–a “new song,” indeed.

A New Song Shall Here Be Begun

1 A new song now shall be begun,

Lord, help us raise the banner

Of praise for all that God has done,

For which we give Him honor.

At Brussels in the Netherlands

God proved Himself most truthful

And poured His gifts from open hands

On two lads, martyrs youthful

Through whom He showed His power.


5 Their cloister-garments off they tore,

Took off their consecrations;

All this the youths were ready for,

They said Amen with patience.

They gave to God the Father thanks

That He would them deliver

From Satan’s scoffing and the pranks

That make men quake and shiver

When he comes masked and raging.


7 A paper given them to sign—

And carefully they read it—

Spelled out their faith in ev’ry line

As they confessed and said it.

Their greatest fault was to be wise

And say, “We trust God solely,

For human wisdom is all lies,

We should distrust it wholly.”

This brought them to the burning.


12 Let men heap falsehoods all around,

Their sure defeat is spawning.

We thank our God the Word is found,

We stand in its bright dawning.

Our summer now is at the door,

The winter’s frost has ended,

Soft bud the flowers more and more,

By our dear Gard’ner tended

Until He reaps His harvest.

 Pastor Matthew Harrison

“Let’s go!” Mark 1:38


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Tr. F. Samuel Janzow, 1913–2001, setting by Carl Schalk, published by Concordia Publishing House, 1982. Order “Martin Luther: Hymns, Ballads, Chants, Truth” from Concordia Publishing House to read all 12 stanzas.

3 thoughts on “Good for the Church”

  1. Mr. Paul M Onder

    Let the Banner of FREEDOM in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Fly along with the Bells of FREEDOM ring aloud. The coming of our King, prepare and wait!

  2. It is easy to see the black and white of violence against Christians, the world condoning same-sex marriage and abortion, scientists seeking to use their gifts to undermine faith. Heavy-handed evil is easy to see. But many Christians eschew their daily lives of devotion and works of love in lieu of protesting and reasoned argument, for anger and offense against the world. But the Gospel is not delivered lovingly at high volume. Nor is it reasoned with or approached by reason. It is not an argument, it is a statement. Where it is not received, the disciple leaves, he does not resist evil, he does not stand and insist. Most of all, he does not judge, he loves.

    When we are drawn, by good intentions, by sincere desire to do right to join with fellows believing in a single-kingdom, who believe that can be persuasion, argument, and court decisions in support of God and His Church, our eyes are drawn away from the Cross of Christ and, instead, we judge and we condemn with a hollow “hate the sin, love the sinner.” This amounts to no more than a fig leaf on the underlying rage.

    Certainly we rely on the gifts he gives us but we look to enforce rather than let the Spirit work to call those who are lost if only because we insert our words, our ways, and our notions into the process. In this country, we speak in terms of rights, not gifts. We value our political freedoms to the detriment of our slavery to Christ if we would compromise our doctrine to have fellowship with Christians who claim that their faith is an act of personal will, not a creation of the Holy Spirit – that Christ’s atonement is not complete until the person chooses salvation. Our witness is tainted by our fellowship and the values we assert in protesting and arguing. We become focused on the sins of the world, their punishment, their condemnation and of legalistic conformity. This is a faith of the world, not a faith in the world.

    If our joy is in the Cross of Christ, then we see the need of our suffering neighbor to be forgiven for his sins. We see that he needs a change of life, a change of heart, not a change of earthly law or an enforced public morality. True freedom is joyful discipleship having been called to repentance the Law God gave us, forgiven by the unmerited Grace God gives us, justified by the Faith that God creates in us. All that God has given us, even the Law that shows us our sin is to free us from bondage of sin. The greatest threat to a Christian, the greatest lure away from Christ is the weight of the world’s sin and desire to take it on and defeat it on it on the world’s terms and not with the love and forgiveness that God has given us the authority to loose on the world in His name.

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