Taken and adapted from, “The Table Talk of Martin Luther.”
Written by Martin Luther.
Edited for thought and sense.
…these, though good and necessary to life here below, are vain and of no effect as to what concerns the life eternal. The Bible should be regarded with wholly different eyes from those with which we view other productions. He who wholly renounces himself, and relies not on mere human reason, will make good progress in the Scriptures; but the world comprehends them not, from ignorance of that mortification which is the gift of God’s word.
Can he who understands not God’s word, understand God’s works? This is manifest in Adam: he called his first-born son, Cain –that is, possessor, house-lord; this son, Adam and Eve thought, would be the man of God, the blessed seed that would crush the serpent’s head. Afterwards, when Eve was with child again, they hoped to have a daughter, that their beloved son, Cain, might have a wife; but Eve bearing again a son, called him Abel –that is, vanity and nothingness; as much as to say, my hope is gone, and I am deceived. This was an image of the world and of God’s church, showing how things have ever gone.
The ungodly Cain was a great lord in the world, while Abel, that upright and pious man, was an outcast, subject and oppressed.
But before God, the case was quite contrary: Cain was rejected of God, Abel accepted and received as God’s beloved child. The like is daily seen here on earth, therefore let us not heed its doings. Ishmael’s was also a fair name “hearer of God” while Isaac’s was naught. Esau’s name means actor, the man that shall do the work –Jacob’s was naught. The name Absalom, signifies “father of peace.”
Such fair and glorious colours do the ungodly ever bear in this world, while in truth and deed they are condemners, scoffers, and rebels to the word of God. But by that word, we, God be praised, are able to discern and know all such; therefore let us hold the Bible in precious esteem, and diligently read it.
To world wisdom, there seems no lighter or a more easy art than divinity, and the understanding of God’s word, so that the children of the world will be reputed fully versed in the Scriptures and catechism, but they shoot far from the mark.
I would give all my fingers, save three to write with, could I find divinity so easy and light as they take it to be. The reason why men deem it so is, that they become soon wearied, and think they know enough of it. So we found it in the world, and so we must leave it
I have grounded my preaching upon the literal word; he that pleases may follow me; he that will not may stay. I call upon St. Peter, St. Paul, Moses, and all the Saints, to say whether they ever fundamentally comprehended one single word of God, without studying it over and over and over again.
The Psalm says: “His understanding is infinite.” The saints, indeed, know God’s word, and can discourse of it, but the practice is another matter; therein we shall ever remain scholars.
The school theologians have a fine similitude hereupon, that it is as with a sphere or globe, which, lying on a table, touches it only with one point, yet it is the whole table which supports the globe. Though I am an old doctor of divinity, -to this day I have not got beyond the children’s learning –the Ten Commandments, the Belief, and the Lord’s Prayer; and these I understand not so well as I should, though I study them daily, praying, with my son John and my daughter Magdalen. If I thoroughly appreciated these first words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father, which art in Heaven,” and really believed that God, who made heaven and earth, and all creatures, and has all things in his hand, was my Father, then should I certainly conclude with myself, that I also am a lord of heaven and earth, that Christ is my brother, Gabriel my servant, Raphael my coachman, and all the angels my attendants at need, given unto me by my heavenly Father, to keep me in the path, that unawares I knock not my foot against a stone.
But that our faith may be exercised and confirmed, our heavenly Father suffers us to be cast into dungeons, or plunged in water. So we may see how finely we understand these words, and how belief shakes, and how great our weakness is, so that we begin to think –Ah, who knows how far that is true which is set forth in the Scriptures?