Scripture

Article 7 of the Belgic Confession calls the Holy Scripture “the only rule of faith.” Lord’s Day 33 of the Heidelberg Catechism, when speaking of good works, describes these works in part as only those that are “performed according to the law of God,” that is, the Scriptures. Sola Scriptura, as we were reminded in the recent celebration of the Protestant Reformation’s 500th anniversary, means that Scripture alone gives us everything we need to know for life and faith. II Timothy 3:15 teaches us that Scripture is “able to make us wise unto salvation.” Scripture indeed is important and should occupy an important place in our lives.

Why is Scripture so important? First, it is God’s Word. What could ever be more important and worth our time than the Word of our covenant Father to us? By it God reveals Himself to us so that we can know Him and live with Him in sweet fellowship.

Second, God’s Word is Jesus Christ our Savior. He made the perfect sacrifice to satisfy for the sins of all His people. Therefore when we appear before God in the final judgment, we are not condemned, but have Christ’s perfect righteousness counted as ours. There can certainly be no greater gift, no more amazing grace than that Word!

Third, Scripture gives us everything we need to live and die happily: knowledge of our sin and misery, how we can be delivered from our sin and misery, and how we can show our gratitude to God for that deliverance (Lord’s Day 1). We can only know those three things through God’s Word, which shows us our sin through the law, reveals Christ’s work on the cross for us, and instructs us in our lives of thankful obedience.

Scripture is everything for the child of God. There is never an hour or circumstance in which God’s Word is not there for us. In joy, it directs us to praise the One from whom all blessings flow. In sin, it rebukes us, calls us to repentance, and assures us of forgiveness. In sorrow, it gives us the only comfort there can ever be in life or in death, that we are not our own but belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. In doubt, it shows us God’s unchanging love and faithfulness and gives us hope for the future. The following poem, by Amos R. Wells, says it nicely.

When I am tired, the Bible is my bed;

Or in the dark, the Bible is my light;

When I am hungry, it is vital bread;

Or fearful, it is armour for the fight;

When I am sick, ‘tis healing medicine;

Or lonely, thronging friends I find therein.

 

If I would work, the Bible is my tool,

Or play, it is a harp of happy sound.

If I am ignorant, it is my school;

If I am sinking, it is solid ground.

If I am cold, the Bible is my fire;

And wings, if boldy I aspire.

 

Should I be lost, the Bible is my guide;

Or naked, it is raiment, rich and warm.

Am I imprisoned, it is ranges wide;

Or tempest-tossed, a shelter from the storm.

Would I adventure, ‘tis a gallant sea;

Or would I rest, it is a flowery lea.

Scripture indeed is everything for the child of God, and the study of Scripture is infinitely profitable. Let us now be faithful and diligent in our use of this great gift.

Emily Feenstra

Samples from Seminary – “Cross, Cross,” and There Is No Cross!

We consider October 31 to be Reformation Day. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Historians view this as the start of the 16th century Protestant Reformation. Today, we celebrate the 499th anniversary of this important event.

While this was an important event in church history, many of us have little knowledge of what Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses actually say. I certainly didn’t until they were assigned as reading for our church history class this semester. Today’s post will give a brief overview of the Ninety-Five Theses and then focus in on one of them.

In his Ninety-Five Theses, Luther shows the conflict between the practice of selling indulgences and true repentance. In Luther’s day, men such as Johann Tetzel were selling these indulgences, which were paper statements that could, according to the Roman Catholic Church, clear away the guilt of sin. Thus, the men who sold these indulgences were like prophets in Jeremiah’s day, who cried out: “Peace, peace,” when there was no peace. The people were led to believe that by purchasing indulgences, they could have their guilt removed and thus have peace with God.

Luther wrote his Ninety-Five Theses to undermine this practice and thinking.

Luther points out that there is no peace to be found in purchasing indulgence letters, for they cannot guarantee salvation. In addition, Luther notes the friction between indulgences and repentance. Luther writes, “It is very difficult… at one and the same time to commend to the people the bounty of indulgences and the need of true contrition.” This was true because those who sold indulgences made repentance unnecessary. There is no need to poor out your heart to God in sorrow for sin when instead you can simply purchase an indulgence letter.

In opposition to this practice, Luther hammers home the importance of repentance from the very first thesis to the end. He maintained that those who truly repent have the right to the full remission of both the penalty and guilt of sin, even without indulgence letters.

This all leads up to Thesis #93, my personal favorite, which reads: “Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “cross, cross,” and there is no cross!” This stands in contrast to those who said, “peace, peace,” but there was no peace. The point of thesis #93 is this: due to the cross of Jesus Christ, there is no cross for us. In the cross of Christ, we have the remission of sins. Thus, those prophets are blessed who preach the cross of Christ and make it clear that there is no cross for us when it comes to paying for our sins.

Matt Kortus

Luther’s Table Talk concerning prayer

As Reformation Day at the end of this month draws near, we have the opportunity to remember and give thanks for one of God’s greatest works in the history of the church, the Protestant Reformation, through which God restored the gospel to His people and purified the church from the accumulated corruptions of medieval Catholicism. The literature available to the Reformed Christian is voluminous, but may I suggest Luther’s Table Talk as an excellent read for the season (if we may speak of a Reformation day season–not a bad idea in my opinion)? Many are likely already familiar with Luther’s Table Talk, an informal collection of Luther’s sayings and conversations as they were committed to writing by various penmen. This work is a veritable treasure trove. In reading some of Luther’s down-to-earth and frank conversation recorded in Table Talk, I was struck by how important prayer was to the life of the great reformer, as well as the poor state of prayer in the life of the church of his day. Luther worked long and hard for the reformation of the church and of Christian life, and included in that reformation was the way in which Christians pray. Since Reformed Christians rightly put great emphasis on the importance of prayer for our spiritual lives, I thought it fitting to reflect briefly on Luther’s high view of prayer and his restoration of prayer to the people of God.

Throughout the Table Talk we find an excellent picture of Luther as a man of prayer. In this the Luther of the Table Talk is the Luther of everyday mundane life, the Luther not as the doctor of theology or the preacher behind the pulpit, but Luther the ordinary Christian man. Luther was a man who prayed continually and exhorted his flock to pray without ceasing. He describes prayer as the sinew which binds the people of God together, and the way by which the people of God commune with their Lord.  In the first place, Luther reveals his extremely high view of prayer, exalting it with such praise and ascribing to it such powers that it impresses upon one’s consciousness the central importance of prayer in the life of the Christian. “O how great a thing, how marvelous, a godly Christian’s prayer is! How powerful with God; that a poor human creature should speak with God’s high majesty in heaven, and not be affrighted, but, on the contrary, know that God smiles upon him for Christ’s sake, his dearly beloved Son. The heart and conscience, in this act of praying, must not fly and recoil backwards by reason of our sins and unworthiness, or stand in doubt, or be scared away” (Table Talk, CCCXXVIII.) As with the rest of his theology, Luther’s view of prayer is grounded in his deep understanding of man’s depravity and the redemption that is found in Christ alone through faith alone. This perfect work of Christ gives the individual Christian such confidence that he may approach the Lord in prayer, not through the mediation of a priest or some prescribed formula dictated by the Romish church, but he himself may come before the throne of grace with all confidence in Christ and pray with the confidence that God will answer him in mercy and love for Christ’s sake. As Luther says, “it is impossible that God should not hear the prayers which with faith are made in Christ.”  Being a mighty man of prayer himself, Luther understood the importance of prayer in the Christian life both as a means of perseverance in the faith and for the strengthening of the church. We also ought to have this high view of prayer. We must come before the Lord in prayer often in the full confidence that He will hear us for Christ’s sake. We do not need another man or priest or Mary to intercede for us, we have direct access to God our Father through Christ.

Luther restored this marvelous truth of the gospel to the people of God, and for this reason it can be said that Luther’s reformation restored prayer to the people of God. Under the bondage of Rome, prayer had become little but lip service. The laity prayed their rosaries and invoked the saints, while monks sang their canonical hours. All of the comfort of prayer was stripped away and replaced with the monotony of heartless and formulaic prayers. Luther described the state of prayer in the Roman Church of his day: “Prayer in popedom is mere tongue-threshing; not prayer, but a work of obedience. Thence a confused sea of Horae Canonicae, the howling and babbling in cells and monasteries, where they read and sing the psalms and collects, without any spiritual devotion, understanding neither the words, sentences, nor meaning” (Table Talk, CCCXXX.) Luther’s church was a praying church, just as his home was a praying home. We who stand as the direct heirs of the Reformation ought to be praying members of praying churches. This is vital for our own spiritual wellbeing as well as the spiritual wellbeing of our churches.

For those who are interested in reading this most enjoyable work of Luther’s pen, it may read online or obtained as a PDF from the following website: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/luther/tabletalk. For those who have not read it, I would encourage you to take a look. Not only are there great theological meditations to be found in these collected sayings of the good doctor, but also many simply hilarious conversations and aphorisms.

JS