ADVERTISING
 
Friday, January 18   Sign in or Register
 
Evangelical Focus
 

 
 
 
FOLLOW US ON
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google +
  • Instagram
  • Soundcloud
 

Newsletter
Newsletter, sign up to receive all our News by email.
 
 

POLL
Bible literacy
How often do you read the Bible?







SEE MORE POLLS
 

 
TOP 10 MOST VIEWED



Will Graham
 

Martin Luther and Biblical Perspicuity

How the German Reformer defended the clarity of Scripture.

FRESH BREEZE AUTHOR Will Graham 26 NOVEMBER 2016 10:10 h GMT+1

Luther’s masterpiece Bondage of the Will (1525) was not just a diatribe against Erasmus of Rotterdam’s views on free-will, but more fundamentally it had to do with the perspicuity of Scripture.



Erasmus’ airy-fairy approach to Christian doctrine was based upon his scepticism regarding the clarity of the Word of God. Hence his allergic reaction to anything that sounded even remotely dogmatic.



Such liberal cynicism really got up Luther’s nose. It was the clear assertions of Scripture –particularly Romans 1:17- that had delivered the German Reformer from his lack of assurance of salvation and turned the medieval monk into a Reformation theologian and preacher.



Luther was concerned that Erasmus’ wishy-washy manner was going to do away with the true source of Christian hope, namely, the truth and promises of God Almighty. How could a believer be strong in the faith without infallible Word of the Most High? This was no mere academic debate; Luther saw that the very essence of Christian faith, joy and peace was at stake.



Without explicit affirmations of truth, believers could have no certainty whatsoever with respect to their faith. From his own drawn-out personal experience of soul anguish, the Augustinian was well-qualified to ask Erasmus: “What is more miserable than uncertainty?”



Luther, therefore, launched an all-out attack against his freethinking counterpart in the name of the faithfulness of God and the welfare of the Lord’s people.



1.- Erasmus’ double-standards



Firstly, he hit out against Erasmus’ slimy tongue which revealed an out-an-out intellectual dishonesty. On the one hand Erasmus submitted (conservatively) to the Roman Catholic Church’s authority in matters of faith and practice but he also (very liberally) called the Scriptures into question. “Being ever like yourself,” complains Luther, “you take the most diligent care to be on every occasion slippery and pliant of speech; and while you wish to appear to assert nothing, and yet, at the same time, to assert something, more cautious than Ulysses, you seem to be steering your course between Scylla and Charybdis”.1



Luther could not stand how Erasmus was willing to brush over issues of truth in the quest for socio-political and ecclesiastical peace. “With you it matters not is believed by anyone anywhere if the peace of the world be but undisturbed”.



The truth of Luther’s Gospel was far too important to sacrifice for the purpose of a false peace. Erasmus’ flowery peace-loving literary style offered little substance. Luther warns his nemesis: “Fear the Spirit of God, who searches the reins of the heart, and who is not deceived by artfully contrived expressions”.



2.- Scripture over the Church



Secondly, Luther made clear that the church herself has no authority over Scripture. It was rather the Word of God that which was to govern over the church. “What can the church decree that is not decreed in the Scriptures?” As Luther-admirer John Calvin put it some years later, “A most pernicious error has very greatly prevailed, i.e. that Scripture is of importance only insofar as conceded to it by the suffrage of the church; as if the eternal and inviolable truth of God could depend on the will of men. […] What is to become of miserable consciences in quest of some solid assurance of eternal life, if all the promises with regard to it have no better support than man’s judgment? On being told so, will they cease to doubt and tremble?” (Institutes, 1.7.2).



As in the case of Luther, Calvin recognized that the authority and clarity of Scripture was as much a pastoral issue as a theological one. The Frenchman appealed to Ephesians 2:20 in order to prove that the Word precedes the church (and not vice-versa). It was this emphasis upon Scripture as standing over and against the church that would come to be a theological distinctive of Protestantism.



3.- The Spirit convinces us of Scripture’s origin



Thirdly, Luther was adamant that the believer could be sure of the truth thanks to the work of the Spirit of God. In one of the greatest quotes from Bondage of the Will the German pens the following: “The Holy Spirit is not a sceptic nor are what He has written on our hearts doubts or opinions, but assertions more certain, and more firm, than life itself and all human experience”.



Not only was there the external clarity of the Word in its assertions but the illuminating inner work of the Holy Ghost made Scripture as plain as could be. “The clearness of Scripture is twofold […] the one is external, placed in the ministry of the Word; the other internal, placed in the understanding of the heart. If you speak of the internal clearness, no man sees one iota in the Scriptures, but he that has the Spirit of God. […] For the Spirit is required to understand the whole of the Scripture and every part of it”. Without the ministry of the Spirit in the preaching of Scripture and the inner-illumination of the heart, no understanding of Scripture could be possible.



4.- The real source of obscurity



Fourthly, then, what could account for the so-called obscurity of Scripture as Erasmus proposed? Luther sees things crystal clearly: the fault lies within humankind’s fallen and sinful mind. In the absence of an effectual ministry of the Word and the regeneration of the heart, Scripture cannot be understood. “If many things still remain abstruse to many, this does not rise from obscurity in the Scriptures, but from their own blindness or want of understanding, who do not go the way to see the all-perfect clearness of the truth”.



And again, “With the same rashness any one may cover his own eyes, or go from the light into the dark and hide himself, and then blame the day and the sun for being obscure. Let, therefore, wretched men cease to impute, with blasphemous perverseness, the darkness and obscurity of their own heart to the all-clear Scriptures of God”.



Erasmus’ scepticism, as far as Luther was concerned, was nothing more than an outworking of rank unbelief harbouring within his own heart.



5.- Christianity depends upon assertions



Fifthly, in the light of all that has been said, Luther underscored the dogmatic and doctrinal nature of Christianity. Truth-affirmations were vital for the Christian religion to flourish in the world. In Luther’s terms, “Not to delight in assertions is not the character of the Christian mind: nay, he must delight in assertions or he is not a Christian [...] By assertion I mean a constant adhering, affirming, confessing, defending and invincibly persevering [...] I speak concerning the asserting of those things which are delivered to us from above in the Holy Scriptures”.



Luther’s love for propositional truth explained his disgust for theological scepticism. “Be sceptics and academics far from us!” The lifeblood of faith was made up of assertions: “Nothing is more known and general among Christians than assertions. Take away assertions and you take away Christianity. [...] What Christian would bear that assertions should be contemned?”



Conclusion



In the light of contemporary doctrinal indifference, a good dose of Luther is much needed in our Evangelical world. We need to recover the great “assertions” of Scripture and the Reformation: sola Scriptura, sola gratia, solus Christus, sola fide and soli Deo gloria.



We should be suspicious of any liberal, sceptical, emergent or post-modern voice which tries to downplay the need of sound doctrine in the name of the so-called “obscurity” of Scripture. Scripture’s key tenets are as clear as can be. And not only are they perspicuous, but they are vital for the present (and future) flourishing of the Christian faith throughout the world.



Let us say together with Luther today: “Allow us to be assertors and to study and delight in assertions!” Such assertions are the anchor of our believing souls.




1 Scylla and Charybdis were two mythical sea monsters in classical Greek mythology.



 

 


0
COMMENTS

    If you want to comment, or

 



 
 
YOUR ARE AT: - - - Martin Luther and Biblical Perspicuity
 
ADVERTISING
 
 
 
AUDIOS Audios
 
Julia Doxat-Purser: 25 years of EEA office in Brussels Julia Doxat-Purser: 25 years of EEA office in Brussels

An interview with the socio-political representative of the European Evangelical Alliance about how evangelical Christians work at the heart of the European Union.

 
Lars Dahle: Nominal Christianity, a mission field for the church Lars Dahle: Nominal Christianity, a mission field for the church

An interview with Lars Dahle, of the Steering Committee of the Lausanne Movement Global Consultation on Nominal Christianity held in Rome.

 
Michael Ramsden: Communicating the Gospel in today’s societies Michael Ramsden: Communicating the Gospel in today’s societies

RZIM International Director Michael Ramsden responds to questions about the secularisation of Europe, the role of Christians in public leadership and the new ‘culture of victimism’.

 
PICTURES Pictures
 
Bulgaria: Evangelicals ask government to protect religious minorities Bulgaria: Evangelicals ask government to protect religious minorities

Christians rallied in Sofia on November 18 to defend their rights. It is the second Sunday of peaceful demonstrations against a new religion draft law that could severely restrict religious freedom and rights of minority faith confessions.

 
Photos: #WalkForFreedom Photos: #WalkForFreedom

Abolitionists marched through 400 cities in 51 countries. Pictures from Valencia (Spain), October 20.

 
Photos: Reaching people with disabilities Photos: Reaching people with disabilities

Seminars, an arts exhibition, discussion and testimonies. The European Disability Network met in Tallinn.

 
VIDEO Video
 
The source of longing, according to C.S. Lewis The source of longing, according to C.S. Lewis

Jerry Root compares the search for meaning of C.S. Lewis with Saint Augustine's reflections.

 
The reliability of the Bible The reliability of the Bible

Jim Cecy, Senior Pastor, Campus Bible Church, answers the question Why is a defense of the reliability of the Bible important?

 
Bulgarian evangelicals ask politicians to defend “basic freedoms” Bulgarian evangelicals ask politicians to defend “basic freedoms”

Protests and prayers continue in Bulgaria for the sixth week.

 
That night That night

“No one came ot help that night, no nurse to numb the fright...”

 
 
Follow us on Soundcloud
Follow us on YouTube
 
 
WE RECOMMEND
 
PARTNERS
 

 
AEE
EVANGELICAL FOCUS belongs to Areópago Protestante, linked to the Spanish Evangelical Alliance (AEE). AEE is member of the European
Evangelical Alliance and World Evangelical Alliance.
 

Opinions expressed are those of their respective contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of Evangelical Focus.