The Spirit Speaks Through the Scriptures

martinluthermondaysMartin Luther is often celebrated as the Father of the Reformation. Although he certainly had his faults, his courageous teaching on the doctrine of justification by faith alone was central to the birth of Protestantism and a renewed proclamation of the true Gospel. Whether we realize it or not, evangelical Christians today are standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before us, and one of those giants was Martin Luther.

What many don’t realize is that Luther was first and foremost a preacher. Books and studies on Luther as a theologian are legion, but few studies exist on his theology of preaching. This blog series aims to help fill that void. We began by presenting a definition of preaching that summarized the Reformer’s views on the subject: Preaching is God’s Spirit speaking through God’s man by God’s Word in God’s way to bring God’s results. Next, we discussed the first component of that definition—Luther’s firm conviction that God speaks through sermons. Last week we considered the role of the man of God as the human messenger of God’s speech. Today we’ll consider the third component of Luther’s definition: the primacy of the Word of God.

The Spirit’s Message

For Luther, the sermon is nothing less than the very words of God spoken through a human mouthpiece. He firmly believed that the fundamental nature of the sermon was not mere words about God but words from God. Lutheran scholar Henry Wilson asserts, “Luther’s greatest service to preaching is the recovery of the biblical understanding of preaching — God speaking (Deus loquens). Preaching is not mere human talk, but it is God himself speaking to individuals through human preachers.”[1]

“Christian preaching — when it is faithful to the word of God in the Scriptures about our need and God’s response to it — is God speaking” –Fred Meuser

For Luther, preaching is the Spirit of God speaking through the man of God. But this is no arbitrary speech. The Spirit speaks by the Word of God. The thoughtful reader may question the Reformer’s theology of Deus loquens. If the Spirit speaks through the sermon, is the evangelical understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture at risk? If God has already said all He intended to say through Scripture, in what sense can He continue to speak through sermons today? Furthermore, does the Spirit speak through all Christian preaching? What barometer can determine the validity of a Christian sermon? Fred Meuser clarifies Luther’s position:

“Christian preaching — when it is faithful to the word of God in the Scriptures about our need and God’s response to it — is God speaking. When it focuses on what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ, it is God speaking. When it invites faith and presents Christ so that faith becomes possible, it is God speaking. It is God’s very own audible address to all who hear it, just as surely as if Christ himself had spoken it.”[2]

Therefore, God binds His presence in preaching to the message, not the man. The Spirit speaks through the sermon insofar as it corresponds with the truth of Scripture. Meuser concludes: “When the preacher speaks, God is really present and speaking. In the sermon one actually encounters God. That makes preaching . . . a most dangerous business.”[3]

“The Spirit does not speak without the word. The Spirit speaks through and in the word.” — Paul Althaus

Luther further elucidates this truth in a sermon from John 6: “Whenever you hear anyone boast that he has something by inspiration of the Holy Spirit and it has no basis in God’s Word, no matter what it may be, tell him that this is the work of the devil.”[4] In other words, for Luther the Spirit’s voice and God’s Word are inextricably linked. Paul Althaus summarizes Luther’s understanding in two sentences: “(1) The Spirit does not speak without the word. (2) The Spirit speaks through and in the word.”[5] Luther believed that although God could speak to His people apart from the Word, He does not wish to do so because “it has pleased God not to give the Spirit without the Word, but through the Word; that he might have us as workers together with him.”[6]


Why It Matters

Luther’s doctrine of Deus loquens (God speaking through sermons) matters to those in the pulpit and those in the pew. Pastor, remember that the Spirit is not bound to speak through you this Sunday. He will speak through you insofar as you faithfully speak what He has already spoken. But if your sermons are superficial self-reflections that butcher the text (or ignore it altogether), you can have no confidence that the Spirit is speaking through you. So study the text and study it well, that you may rightly divide the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

Christian, don’t assume that God is speaking through everyone masquerading as a preacher and everything masquerading as a sermon. False teachers have been around since the beginning and their wretched influence continues today. Just because someone stands behind a podium holding a Bible doesn’t mean he’s speaking the Word of God. So study your Bible well, like the Bereans who tested the sermons they heard against the Scriptures (Acts 17:11).

The survival of Christianity will be directly tied to its handling of the Scriptures. Wherever preachers faithfully proclaim the Word, God’s Spirit is there speaking powerfully to those who listen. Wherever churches highly value the preached Word of God, there is hope. So hold fast to the Word of God because as Althaus rightly states, “the Spirit does not speak without the word.”[7]


© M. Hopson Boutot, 2016



[1] Henry S. Wilson, “Luther on Preaching as God Speaking,” Lutheran Quarterly 19 (2005): 63.

[2] Fred W. Meuser, Luther the Preacher (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983), 12. Henry Wilson adds, “God is active in preaching insofar as the preacher remains obedient to the Word and seeks nothing but for the people to hear the Word of God.” Wilson, “Luther on Preaching as God Speaking,” 69.

[3] Meuser, Luther the Preacher, 13.

[4] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 23: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John Chapters 6-8, ed. Daniel E. Poellot (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 173.

[5] Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther, trans. Robert C. Schultz (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 36.

[6] Martin Luther, WA 18, 695. Quoted in Ibid., n. 7.

[7] Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther, trans. Robert C. Schultz (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 36.

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1 Response to The Spirit Speaks Through the Scriptures

  1. Pingback: The Bilingual Spirit: The Languages of Law & Gospel | Poquoson Baptist Church Blog

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