Christians are universally agreed that God’s Word above all things is what makes this life worth living, and that deprived of the Word, this world has nothing to offer. This world is nothing but barren wastes, even though ever so busy, bright and lively — yet it does not know God and thus all its action and vivacity is the herky-jerky motions of the epileptic, or the death thrashes of a dying animal caught in a trap it doesn’t understand and indeed, cannot understand.
Martin Luther was led to very similar musings by Psalm 119:162 :
I will rejoice at Thy words like one who has found great spoil. Our every rejoicing is in the hope of things to come, and not in the reality of things present. For this reason we rejoice, because we believe the divine promises, and we hope for and love the things which He promises. For he does not say “I will rejoice at the riches of the world” but “at Thy words.” And it is the voice of the church living among persecutors. For all persecutors did this to lure the faithful to the vanities of the world and passing joys, so that they would either rejoice with them in the worst things, or at least fear them, if they were unwilling to rejoice. And so they attempted to force to joys through grief, to delights through afflictions, to pleasures through torments. Therefore he says in opposition to both: “I am neither afraid of you, nor will I rejoice with you, for there are other things that I fear and other things in which I will rejoice; I fear Him who can destroy into hell, and not the princes who kill the body (Matt. 10:28). And I will rejoice at the words of God, and not at the presence of your pleasure.” He compares himself to one finding many spoils. And how does he rejoice, I ask? I think that he rejoices in the manner which the Lord describes in Matt. 13:44, that a man who found a treasure hidden in a field hid it and went for joy, etc. He rejoices, but not openly. He alone knows his joy, because he alone knows his good. If he had published it, then the field would certainly not have been sold to him, and he would not have gained possession of the treasure. Or if he had possessed it, he would have possessed it with danger. Such is the joy of the Spirit, because it is in secret, because he alone knows, because also he alone knows his spiritual good. The words of God are foolish to men and of no weight. For if they esteemed them as precious, wise, and good, they would undoubtedly not have thus disdained them. They can indeed say that they love and esteem the Word of God, but they deny it by their deeds. They can also say that they hate the world and regard it as nothing, but they approve of it by their deeds. For when they reach out all day and night for those things that are of the world, yes, week after week, but do not reach out for the Word of God on a festival day, it is plainly evident that “they do not rejoice but sicken at Your words,” like the Jews in the wilderness, who found many things lacking and no spoils. And this is a clear demonstration that the world is the image of hell and a model and forerunner of the damned, yes, like the lodging of the devil and ungodliness, which consistently ignores the Word of God and its immeasurable benefits and does not see them and most basely despises them. This one argument, I say, would be abundantly enough, even if it were the only one, to demonstrate this. If there is neither wisdom nor knowledge nor reason in death, whither we are hastening (Eccl. 9:10), then the world is that way by which we hasten to such great wretchedness. And so, the faster it hastens, the more it shares in its own end (like every motion). This is surely what Hezekiah says (Is. 38:18): “Neither shall death praise Thee, nor shall they who go down into the pit look for Thy truth.” If they who go down do not look for it, how much more is this true of those who are already in the pit and have gone down! For those who are going down are the ones in the world of whom he said that they are hastening to death. Therefore, O thick darkness of Egypt, which ignores such great benefits of the Word of God! But, O blessed light of the church, which still sees, so that it also rejoices at these: In the midst of persecuting and threatening princes she still has more joy within than grief without; the words of God do more to strengthen the spirit than the scourges of men to weaken the flesh. The latter is afflicted with the pains of tormentors, the former is consoled by the strength of words. Wonderful exchange, that words prevail over things, things that are contrary and exceedingly strong! As Isaiah promises (Is. 50:4): “The Lord has given me a learned tongue, that I should know how to uphold by the Word him who is weary.” “By the Word,” he says, namely, by the naked Word without the reality set forth, but not without the reality to be set forth.”
Luther, M. (1999, c1976). Vol. 11: Luther’s works, vol. 11 : First Lectures on the Psalms II: Psalms 76-126 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (11:518). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
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