by Mike Ratliff
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6 ESV)
The incredible lack of spiritual maturity in the current visible church has resulted in a corresponding lack of spiritual depth, i.e. biblical ignorance. Couple this with post-modern relativistic nonsense and we have the perfect environment for the growth and acceptance of what is biblically unChristian being accepted and declared Christian to the point that men like Brian McLaren can be viewed as very advanced and deep “Christian leaders.” As we listen to the blasphemous remarks by this man we must also understand that his “spiritual acumen” did not come from God. There is a precise process God uses to develop His theologians, spokesmen, prophets, and leaders. This process produces a consistent result. Oh, no genuine Christian will claim to be perfect or to “having arrived” spiritually so these “products” of God’s school of spiritual growth will always be “in process.” Martin Luther understood this very well.
Not long ago, I was browsing in a local second-hand bookstore in our area for a diamond in the rough, so-to-speak; a book or collection of books sold to the store from the library of some retired pastor. I have scored some prized books in the past this way that remain in my library to this day and will continue to be used by me until God takes me home. In any case, in the back of the store on the bottom shelf of a stack, which was actually up against the back of another bookcase, I saw a shrink-wrapped slipcase containing four books. It looked new. I moved several books out of the way to get to it. What I found was a set of four books in a collection titled Selected Writings of Martin Luther. The volumes are broken down into four ranges of years. The first volume covers the years 1517-1520. The second volume covers the years 1520-1523. The third volume covers the years 1523-1526, and the fourth volume covers the years 1529-1546. The original price for this set was $60.00. I bought it for $9.99. I am still studying the introductions and prefaces at the beginning of the first volume. In the preface titled “Preface to the Wittenberg Edition of Luther’s German Writings” I found a humble, non-presumptuous, man of God who was most concerned that the Church read the Bible, the Word of God, rather than the writings of men, even his own.
Herein I follow the example of St. Augustine, who was, among other things, the first and almost the only one who determined to be subject to the Holy Scriptures alone, and independent of the books of all the fathers and saints. On account of that he got into a fierce fight with St. Jerome, who reproached him by pointing to the books of this forefathers; but he did not turn to them. And if the exmaple of St. Augustine had been followed , the pope would not have become Antichrist, and that countless mass of books, which is like a crawling swarm of vermin, would not have found its way into the church, and the Bible would have remained on the pulpit.
Moreover, I want to point out to you a correct way of studying theology, for I have had practice in that. If you keep to it, you will become so learned that you yourself could (if it were necessary) write books just as good as those of the fathers and councils, even as I (in God) dare to presume and boast, without arrogance and lying, that in the matter of writing books I do not stand much behind some of the fathers. Of my life I can by no means make the same boast. This is the way taught by holy King David (and doubtlessly used also by all the patriarchs and prophets) in the one hundred nineteenth Psalm. There you will find three rules, amply presented throughout the whole Psalm. They are Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio.1
This piqued my interest immediately as I read that. I don’t read Latin so I had to look up these words and also do some other research on the usage of these three words together. Oratio = prayer, Meditatio = meditation, Tentatio= trials. Actually, to Luther, Tentatio would represent the German word anfechtung. Many theologians believe that it is Luther’s concept of anfechtungen that is the basis for or the fertile ground God used to promulgate the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s relentless search for forgiveness and peace with God was the foundation for his eventual theological understanding of Sola Fide. Luther used anfechtungen to describe the overwhelming times of spiritual trial, terror, despair, and religious crisis that he experienced throughout his life. At the heart of this concept of anfechtungen was the terrifying feeling that God was going to judge and condemn the sinner at any moment. We see this same concept in the Puritans such as John Owen, John Bunyan, and Jonathan Edwards. However, as Luther matured in his faith, he came to see his anfechtungen as part of God’s training coupled with prayer and meditation on God’s Word that produced the crucified, humble walk of the man of God on the broken, narrow path, the only way to God Himself.
Firstly, you should know that the Holy Scriptures constitute a book which turns the wisdom of all other books into foolishness, because not one teaches about eternal life except this one alone.Therefore you should straightway despair of your reason and understanding. With them you will not attain eternal life, but, on the contrary, your presumptuousness will plunge you and others with you out of heaven (as happened to Lucifer) into the abyss of hell. But kneel down in your little room [Matt.6:6] and pray to God with real humility and earnestness, that he through his dear Son may give you his Holy Spirit, who will enlighten you, lead you, and give you understanding.
Thus you see how David keeps praying in the above-mentioned Psalm, “Teach me, Lord, instruct me, lead me, show me,” and many more words like these. Although he well knew and daily heard and read the text of Moses and other books besides, still he wants to lay hold of the real teacher of the Scriptures himself, so that he may not seize upon them pell-mell with his reason and become his own teacher. For such practice gives rise to factious spirits who allow themselves to nurture the delusion that the Scriptures are subject to them and can be easily grasped with their reason, as if they were Markolf or Aesop’s Fables, for which no Holy Spirit and no prayers are needed.
Secondly, you should meditate, that is, not only in your heart, but also externally, by actually repeating and comparing oral speech and literal words of the book, reading and rereading them with diligent attention and reflection, so that you may see what the Holy Spirit means by them. And take care that you do not grow weary or think that you have done enough when you have read, heard, and spoken them once or twice, and that you then have complete understanding. You will never be a particularly good theologian if you do that, for you will be like untimely fruit which falls to the ground before it is half ripe.
Thus you see in this same Psalm how David constantly boasts that he will talk, meditate, speak, sing, hear, read, by day and night and always, about nothing except God’s Word and commandments. For God will not give you his Spirit without the external Word; so take your cue from that. His command to write, preach, read, hear, sing, speak, etc., outwardly was not given in vain.
Thirdly, there is tentatio, Anfechtung. This is the touchstone which teaches you not only to know and understand, but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s Word is, wisdom beyond all wisdom.
Thus you see how David, in the Psalm mentioned, complains so often about all kinds of enemies, arrogant princes or tyrants, false spirits and factions, whom he must tolerate because he meditates, that is, because he is occupied with God’s Word (as has been said) in all manner of ways. For as soon as God’s Word takes root and grows in you, the devil will harry you, and will make a real doctor of you, and by his assaults will teach you to seek and love God’s Word. I myself (if you will permit me, mere mouse-dirt, to be mingled with pepper) am deeply indebted to my papists that through the devil’s raging they have beaten, oppressed, and distressed me so much. That is to say, they have made a fairly good theologian of me, which I would not have become otherwise. And I heartily grant them what they have won in return for making this of me, honor, victory, and triumph, for that’s the way they wanted it.
There now, with that you have David’s rules. If you study hard in accord with his example, then you will also sing and boast with him in the Psalm, “The law of thy mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” [Ps. 119:72]. Also, “Thy commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep thy precepts,” etc. [Ps. 119:98–100]. And it will be your experience that the books of the fathers will taste stale and putrid to you in comparison. You will not only despise the books written by adversaries, but the longer you write and teach the less you will be pleased with yourself. When you have reached this point, then do not be afraid to hope that you have begun to become a real theologian, who can teach not only the young and imperfect Christians, but also the maturing and perfect ones. For indeed, Christ’s church has all kinds of Christians in it who are young, old, weak, sick, healthy, strong, energetic, lazy, simple, wise, etc.
If, however, you feel and are inclined to think you have made it, flattering yourself with your own little books, teaching, or writing, because you have done it beautifully and preached excellently; if you are highly pleased when someone praises you in the presence of others; if you perhaps look for praise, and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it—if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this in the right way you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey ears. Then do not spare any expense! Decorate them with golden bells, so that people will be able to hear you wherever you go, point their fingers at you, and say, “See, See! There goes that clever beast, who can write such exquisite books and preach so remarkably well.” That very moment you will be blessed and blessed beyond measure in the kingdom of heaven. Yes, in that heaven where hellfire is ready for the devil and his angels. To sum up: Let us be proud and seek honor in the places where we can. But in this book the honor is God’s alone, as it is said, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” [1 Pet. 5:5]; to whom be glory, world without end, Amen.2
My brethren, I agree with Luther in this and we see this same wisdom from John Calvin here. We whom God has given a voice in the Church should do nothing more than point all who will hear to the Word of God, the Cross, Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. We teach all who hear, to pray, meditate on God’s Truth, and through the trials God allows in our lives, learn to be humble, broken, and usable vessels that God uses to accomplish His will. Anything else is useless garbage. To those drawn to the light by God to learn His truth and walk it, it is good to read men such as Calvin, Luther, Owen, Bunyan, Edwards, MacArthur, Sproul, et cetera, because these men point us to God’s Word. They are grounded in Sola Scriptura and use the exposition of God’s Word to expound His Truth rather than the man-made, man-pleasing mouse dirt using eisegesis to add to God’s Word or deny it in order to promulgate their philosophies.
Soli Deo Gloria!
1Martin Luther, from Preface to the Wittenberg Edition of Luther’s German Writings 1539, Selected Writings of Martin Luther 1517-1520, (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, p. 9.)
2Ibid, pp. 9-12.
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Excellent work, Mike.
Thank you for sharing this treasure from Martin Luther!
My Pastor was gifted with “The Complete Works of Martin Luther”, and he has allowed me the privilege of reading them…truely a blessing . They contain the great perspective of this man of God, who received his understanding through the tough times he endured, and survived (with his life spared).
Surely he learned by trusting the Lord to protect him, as he stood for God’s Holy Scriptures.
Thank you Kathy and amen about Luther. He went through the fires of tribulation and look what God did through him.
I think I understood the overall point of the excerpt, but then was a little confused by the bit at the end, where he says, ”
…if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this in the right way you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey ears. Then do not spare any expense! Decorate them with golden bells, so that people will be able to hear you wherever you go, point their fingers at you, and say, “See, See! There goes that clever beast, who can write such exquisite books and preach so remarkably well.” That very moment you will be blessed and blessed beyond measure in the kingdom of heaven. Yes, in that heaven where hellfire is ready for the devil and his angels. To sum up: Let us be proud and seek honor in the places where we can.”
That last line was especially surprising… Is he being totally sarcastic? Or is he actually saying that we should be proud and and seek honor so long as we’re not doing it when we’re dealing with scripture?
I had to read that one several times myself Daniel and I am convinced that the whole comment here is sarcasm.
I thought it was quite the witty sarcastic paragraph! 🙂
If such self promotion is one’s desire and one goes to great lengths in speaking of their great insights, new teachings, or ability to teach this truth, etc., then the praises of men will be their “blessing in heaven” or their reward, as he wrote. But, not the true heavenly blessing… because you are stealing God’s glory since he gives you the very ability to do what you do.
Bless you, Mike.
Thank you seekmeandlive!!!
I couldn’t resist when I had read that comment. It made me a teeny bit angry. 🙂 I guess I better get off the computer and find something to do today! But, I am having too much fun.
Ome of my favorite scriptures, by the way.
Well…. I was pretty sure the part about putting bells on your donkey ears was sarcasm, but then at the end it made me stop for a second… Just wanted to be sure!
I did though want to pick your brain a little more about the opening statement in the post… (“The incredible lack of spiritual maturity in the current visible church has resulted in a corresponding lack of spiritual depth, i.e. biblical ignorance“), and specifically as it relates to what you say at the end, “We teach all who hear, to pray, meditate on God’s Truth, and through the trials God allows in our lives, learn to be humble, broken, and usable vessels that God uses to accomplish His will.”
I totally agree with the fact there is a masive amount of biblical ignorance within churches today, and that a large degree of it is a result of the bible not being faithfully preached. But what has struck me more and more and I have aged a little and spent much more time in the Word myself, is that even in churches where the Bible is faithfully and accurately preached, it is still for the most part, only preached…
To me it conjurs a mental image of a teacher of swordsmanship, who every week, skillfully unsheathes his sword in front of the class, and demonstrates it’s proper use for an hour or so, and then proceeds to put it back in a glass case. The regular folk are not encouraged to touch the sword themselves, they are not ready. Week after week, year after year, they are deemed to be unready to pick up the sword themselves, but instead are called to faithfully come every week, and passively listen to the “master swordsman” give another lecture. They spend years “learning” about the Sword, but never actually use it in “battle”…
Okay, so I won’t torture the metaphor too badly, but then false teachers like McLaren come in, and like you said, the environment is perfect for these ideas to take root. I know that many faithful teachers of the Word see the answer as a need to just preach that much more boldly, pound the pulpit harder, etc., etc. But what if the “pulpit” (not the physical object but more the mentality…) is part of the problem? What if what people need is less passive listening, and more actual learning? I mean, if I were going to teach a group of people about anything, would I seriously go about it by simply inviting them to come listen to me talk about it week after week? How do you actually assess what people are really learning that way? How are people being taught to employ the work of “Oratio Meditatio Tentatio” themselves, if someone else is expected to do that for them, and they only need to show up and listen?
That is amazing Daniel because I had this very same conviction today as I listened to John MacArthur preach at the Shepherd’s Conference. When I teach or preach I get the people to open their Bibles and we go through the text together. I used to be a Precept leader and we would get into the Greek and Hebrew and all and that is probably why our classes were not that big. Most of the men and women in our churches are very ignorant of what the Bible really says and they do not rely on Sola Scriptura to guide them into the truth so they do fall for the lies and all. These are the naive that the wolves prey on. This is why I often wonder how big or small the number of the elect really is…
So, Mike, maybe this is why the Lord wants Pastors/ Teachers to “feed His sheep (and Lambs)”
Absolutely Kathy! This would include discipling them, which is not just preaching or simply teaching, but TRAINING them unto godliness. I was a SBC person from as far back as I can remember, however, my spiritual bootcamp time came to a conclusion with my wife and I leaving the SBC and not going back. The Bible teaching and training there is getting shallower and shallower all the time. I was always in trouble with the leadership at our old church because I would not stick to the literature we were told to teach from. I would take the text and actually teach it instead of passing out the drivel in the teacher’s guide from the SBC. We had some pretty hot discussions in my class at times too, but I think that was simply part of God driving a wedge between us and that mess. I miss the fellowship at times, but I do not miss that stuff. God has redirected my teaching to this blog so let us pray for God to draw those who need to learn the truth here and to other teaching blogs and ministries who are bent on doing it right, ie for God’s glory alone!
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