Thursday, January 22, 2009

Martin Luther on the Word of God

I’ve been reading John Piper’s book The Legacy of Sovereign Joy. I highly recommend it as an excellent read particularly for those interested in expository preaching. I found the following passage about Martin Luther to be particularly edifying. I hope you will be likewise encouraged.

One of the great rediscoveries of the Reformation—especially of Martin Luther—was that the Word of God comes to us in the form of a book. In other words, Luther grasped this powerful fact: God preserves the experience of salvation and holiness from generation to generation by means of a book of revelation, not a bishop in Rome, and not the ecstasies of Thomas Muenzer and the Zwickau prophets. The Word of God comes to us in a book. This rediscovery shaped Luther and the Reformation.

One of Luther’s arch-opponents in the Roman Church, Sylvester Prierias, wrote in response to Luther’s 95 theses (posted in 1517): “He who does not accept the doctrine of the Church of Rome and pontiff of Rome as an infallible rule of faith, from which the Holy Scriptures, too, draw their strength and authority, is a heretic.” In other words, the Church and the pope are the authoritative deposit of salvation and the Word of God; and the book—the Bible—is derivative and secondary. “What is new in Luther,” Heiko Oberman says, “is the notion of absolute obedience to the Scriptures against any authorities; be they popes or councils.” In other words, the saving, sanctifying, authoritative Word of God comes to us in a book. The implications of this simple observation are tremendous.

In 1539, commenting on Psalm 119, Luther wrote, “In this psalm David always says that he will speak, think, talk, hear, read, day and night and constantly—but about nothing else than God’s Word and Commandments. For God wants to give you His Spirit only through the external Word.” This phrase is extremely important. The “external Word” is the book. And the saving, sanctifying, illuminating Spirit of God, he says, comes to us through this “external Word.” Luther calls it the “external Word” to emphasize that it is objective, fixed, outside ourselves, and therefore unchanging. It is a book. Neither ecclesiastical hierarchy nor fanatical ecstasy can replace it or shape it. It is “external,” like God. You can take or leave it. But you can’t make it other than what it is. It is a book with fixed letters and words and sentences.
Luther said with resounding forcefulness in 1545, the year before he died, “Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scripture.” (Note: I wish I could say that I was clever enough to have come up with my blog title myself. joe)

Earlier he had said in his lectures on Genesis, “The Holy Spirit himself and God, the Creator of all things, is the Author of this book.” One of the implications of the fact that the Word of God comes to us in a book is that the theme of this chapter is “The Pastor and His Study,” not “The Pastor and His Seance” or “The Pastor and His Intuition” or “The Pastor and His Religious Multi-perspectivalism.” The Word of God that saves and sanctifies, from generation to generation, is preserved in a book. And therefore at the heart of every pastor’s work is bookwork. Call it reading, meditation, reflection, cogitation, study, exegesis, or whatever you will—a large and central part of our work is to wrestle God’s meaning from a book, and then to proclaim it in the power of the Holy Spirit.


L.L. Barkat said...

I love that image of wrestling meaning from a book.

Welcome, btw, to High Calling Blogs.

Joe Blackmon said...

I thought that was a pretty cool way to express it too. I'm not sure I like everything that John Piper writes or says but a lot of it is pretty good.

mrclm said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my blog!

Chris Meirose
Because I said so blog