God Works Through His Appointed Means

For Martin Luther, the work of Christ came to sinners outwardly in God’s institutions and inwardly by the Holy Spirit and faith. Both the outward and the inward were necessary. He wrote:

“Now when God sends forth his holy gospel he deals with us in a twofold manner, first outwardly, then inwardly. Outwardly he deals with us through the oral word of the gospel and through material signs, that is, baptism and the sacrament of the altar. Inwardly he deals with us through the Holy Spirit, faith, and other gifts. But whatever their measure or order the outward factors should and must precede. The inward experience follows and is effected by the outward. For he wants to give no one the Spirit or faith outside of the outward Word and sign instituted by him, as he says in Luke 16[:29], “Let them hear Moses and the prophets.” Accordingly Paul can call baptism a “washing of regeneration” wherein God “richly pours out the Holy Spirit” [Titus 3:5]. And the oral gospel “is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith” (Rom. 1[:16]).

The Christian must give priority to the outward institutions of the Word, both in preaching and in the sacraments. As God came to us in the incarnation, so He continues to come through outward means to accomplish His purpose. They are the means that God has appointed and through which He works by His Spirit.

Luther always stressed that we find God in His institutions, His appointed means, not in our creations or our experiences. We must use God’s ways to come to Him. Luther rejected the inventions of Rome and the claims of the Spirit’s revelations among the Anabaptists. Only the institutions established in the Bible connect us to Jesus. Luther boldly declared that he would rather have Jesus present in the preaching of the Word than in person:

Thus He comes to us through the gospel. Yes, it is far better that he comes through the gospel than that he would now enter in through the door; for you would not even know him even though he came in. If you believe then you have; if you do not believe then you do not have.

This excerpt is adapted from W. Robert Godfrey’s contribution in The Legacy of Luther editted by W. R.C. Sproul and Stephen Nichols.

Faithful Theological Education

Theological education abounds in America in a wide variety of churches, institutes, colleges, universities, and seminaries. The interesting question before us is: what makes for faithful theological education?
In the great heritage of Reformed Christi…

The Suffering and the Glory of Psalm 22

Psalm 22 begins with the most anguished cry in human history: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These are the words that Jesus took on His lips at the depth of His suffering on the cross. His suffering was unique at that point as…

Teach Us to Number Our Days

“Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90: 12).
This verse is often treated as if it were a proverb that means, “Life is short, so live wisely.” But in the context of the whole psalm, it means mu…

Can Christians Pray the Imprecations of Psalm 69?

Psalm 69 presents familiar elements of lament and praise, but in a particularly pointed and vivid way. The suffering is poignant, the praise strong, the imprecations severe, and the anticipations of Christ detailed. The psalm is primarily a series of …

What Does Semper Reformanda Mean?

The phrase ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (the church reformed, always reforming) has been used so often as to make it a motto or slogan. People have used it to support a surprising array of theological and ecclesiastical programs and purposes….

What Does Semper Reformanda Mean?

The phrase ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (the church reformed, always reforming) has been used so often as to make it a motto or slogan. People have used it to support a surprising array of theological and ecclesiastical programs and purposes….

Why I Love the Psalms

At a recent conference, I was asked what my favorite book of the Bible is. My initial reaction was to wonder if that was a bad question. Should we not like all of the Word of God equally? Then I thought that I should cooperate, and I asked myself what…

The Myth of Influence

In the March 7, 1998, issue of the Los Angeles Times, the Religion section featured an article entitled, “L.A.-Area Seminary Teachers Gather to Ponder the Truth.” For the fourth year, the Skirball Institute on American Values drew five seminaries toge…

Martin Luther’s 7 Characteristics of the Church

The Word
“First, the holy Christian people are recognized by their possession of the holy word of God.” Martin Luther always returned to the foundational importance of the Scriptures and the gospel in his approach to any doctrinal question. The church…