As theological debates on sexuality and marriage become more and more central, many Christian denominations are being asked to clarify their views.
A closer look at what the German Reformer thought about the Word.
In the midst of all the commotion surrounding the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, for those wanting to get to grips with Martin Luther’s theological worldview, there is perhaps no better place to start than with his acclaimed ‘Table Talk’ (first published in English way back in 1646).
The book is unique in that is a compilation of the German reformer’s spontaneous sayings whilst at home with his students and friends. Not only is it a great piece of doctrinal and practical divinity, but it is also exceptionally easy to follow divided up into forty-five distinct themes.
This week, I have put together some of his quotes from the first chapter of the book – ‘Of God’s Word’- to give you all a flavour of the tome and to get a sense of Luther’s burning passion for the blessed Word of God.
May it prove to be a blessing!
“Infinite potentates have raged against this book, and sought to destroy and uproot it –King Alexander the Great, the princes of Egypt and of Babylon, the monarchs of Persia, of Greece, and of Rome, the emperors Julius and Augustus – but they nothing prevailed; they are all gone and vanished, while the book remains, and will remain forever and ever, perfect and entire, as it was declared at first” (I).
“We ought not to criticize, explain, or judge the Scriptures by our mere reason, but diligently, with prayer, meditate thereon, and seek their meaning. [...] When I find myself assailed by temptation, I forthwith lay hold of some text of the Bible, which Jesus extends to me; as this: that He died for me, whence I derive infinite comfort” (IV).
“My counsel is, that we draw water from the true source and fountain, that is, that we diligently search the Scriptures. He who wholly possesses the text of the Bible is a consummate divine. One single verse, one single sentence of the text, is of far more instruction than a whole host of glosses and commentaries, which are neither strongly penetrating nor armour of proof” (V).
“We cannot sound the depth of one single verse in Scripture; we get hold but of the A, B, C, and that imperfectly” (VIII).
“Though I am an old doctor of divinity, to this day I have not got beyond the children’s learning – the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer; and these I understand not so well as I should, though I study them daily, praying, with my son John and my daughter Magdalene” (XI).
“No greater mischief can happen to a Christian people, than to have God’s Word taken from them, or falsified, so that they no longer have it pure and clear. God grant we and our descendants be not witnesses of such calamity” (XII).
“He who loses sight of the Word of God, falls into despair; the voice of heaven no longer sustains him; he follows only the disorderly tendency of his heart, and of world vanity, which lead him on to his destruction” (XX).
“I have lived to see the greatest plague on earth – the condemning of God’s Word, a fearful thing, surpassing all other plagues in the world; for thereupon most surely follow all manner of punishment, eternal and corporal. [...] The condemning of God’s Word is the forerunner of God’s punishments; as the examples witness in the times of Lot, of Noah, and of our Saviour” (XXXI).
“When I was young, I read the Bible over and over and over again, and was so perfectly acquainted with it, that I could, in an instant, have pointed to any verse that might have been mentioned” (XXXIII).
“I am sure and certain, when I go up to the pulpit to preach or read, that it is not my word I speak, but that my tongue is the pen of a ready writer, as the Psalmist has it. God speaks in the prophets and men of God, as Peter n his epistle says: ‘The holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost’. Therefore we must not separate or part God and man, according to our natural reason and understanding. In like manner, every hearer must say: ‘I hear not Paul, Peter, or a man speak, but God himself’ (XXXV).
“We must not regard what or how the world esteems us, so we have the Word pure, and are certain of our doctrine. [...] When a man has this certainty, he has overcome the serpent; but if he is doubtful of the doctrine, it is for him very dangerous to dispute with the devil” (XXXVII).
“I am less afraid of the pope and his tyrants, than I am of our own ingratitude towards the Word of God” (XLI).
“This holy function of preaching the Word is, by Satan, fiercely resisted; he would willingly have it utterly suppressed, for thereby his kingdom is destroyed” (XLVVII).
“We must take fast hold on God’s Word, and believe all true which that says of God, though God and all his creatures should seem unto us other than as the Word speaks [...] The Word is sure, and fails not, though heaven and earth must pass away. Yet, oh! How hard it this to natural sense and reason, that it must strip itself naked, and abandon all it comprehends and feels, depending only upon the bare Word” (L).
“No man understands the Scriptures, unless he be acquainted with the cross” (LIV).
“I did not learn my divinity at once, but was constrained by temptations to search deeper and deeper; for no man, without trails and temptations, can attain a true understanding of the Holy Scriptures. Paul had a devil that buffeted him, and with temptations drove him diligently to study the Holy Scripture. I had hanging on my neck the pope, the universities, all the deep-learned, and the devil; these hunted me into the Bible, wherein I sedulously read, and thereby, God be praised, at length attained a true understanding of it. Without such a devil, we are but only spectators of divinity” (LXII).