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Tower Experience

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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October 25, 2023 12:01 am

Tower Experience

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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October 25, 2023 12:01 am

We won't understand Martin Luther's unwavering defense of justification by faith alone apart from his life-changing encounter with the book of Romans. Today, R.C. Sproul describes how Luther came to understand the gospel for the first time.

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Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul

Paul was not talking about God's righteousness, but rather a righteousness that was made available to believers by faith. And so Luther said, whoa, you mean the righteousness by which I will be saved is not mine? It's what he called an alien righteousness, a righteousness that belongs properly to somebody else.

It's a righteousness that is outside of us, namely the righteousness of Christ. Why did Martin Luther stand up against popes and emperors in defense of the gospel? Because he had finally understood the gospel.

He now knew what made the good news good. Welcome to the Wednesday edition of Renewing Your Mind as we walk in the footsteps of Martin Luther to better understand the significance of the Protestant Reformation and to appreciate afresh the sweetness of the gospel. Luther knew God was holy, that God was righteous, but he also knew that he wasn't. And he had looked for answers in a monastery.

He took a pilgrimage to the city of Rome. But it was during his studies in Paul's letter to the Romans that the good news became clear. And to quote Luther, the doors of paradise swung open and I walked through.

Here's R.C. Sproul to take us through this critical moment in Luther's life and, as it would turn out, in the life of the church. Well, we're going to continue now with our study of Luther and the sixteenth-century Reformation. Earlier in these lectures, I mentioned that in the younger years of Luther, he had a propensity for having a serious crisis every five years. In 1505, he had the lightning bolt experience that sent him into the monastery. In 1510, as we looked at the last time, he had his experience of disillusionment on his journey and pilgrimage to Rome.

But perhaps the most significant crisis of his entire life, that episode that defined him as a man, as a theologian, as a reformer, and as a Christian, took place in the year 1515 in what has been called his tower experience. But before we look at the tower experience, we want to get Luther from Erfurt over to Wittenberg. Let me begin by saying that shortly after he returned from his experience in Rome, he was called to move from Erfurt to the Augustinian cloister of the village of Wittenberg. Now, Erfurt was a major city in Germany with a major university, and Wittenberg was basically a small village of about 2,000 inhabitants, and the extent of the city was less than one mile long.

The name Wittenberg means White Hill or White Little Mountain, and it was situated on a stretch of white sand and bordered the Elbe River. Now, the significance of Wittenberg at this time in history was that it was a village that was basically established by a man whose name was Frederick the Wise, Frederick Elector of Saxony. And if you're not familiar with Frederick the Wise, I have to say at this point that he was one of the major players of the Protestant Reformation, albeit in large measure unintentionally. Now, Frederick's dream was to create a cultural intellectual center in Wittenberg that would rival the University at Heidelberg and the greatest intellectual centers of Germany. And to that end, he scoured the German countryside, asking various monasteries to nominate their finest young scholars to join his new faculty at Wittenberg. And he was able to procure the services of three brilliant young scholars, one of whom was Martin Luther.

Luther had not yet completed his doctor's degree. He had his master's in biblical studies, and he was summoned to the town to be the professor of Bible on the faculty there at Wittenberg. Now, in addition to founding the university there, Frederick also wanted to create the finest reliquary to be found anywhere in Germany. His dream was to make Wittenberg the Rome of Germany. And so over a period of ten or so years, he searched far and wide to collect various relics that he could house in the church there at Wittenberg that would attract pilgrims from literally all over Europe to make their pilgrimages to Wittenberg for the value of indulgences from purgatory that accompany such a trip. And so he was able to amass a collection of relics, over 19,000 of them, whose indulgence value, if you would look at each one of them during your pilgrimage, would amount to 1,902,202 years and about seven months worth of time relieved from purgatory. And so his dream of establishing a giant reliquary there in Wittenberg was accomplished. And among the relics that he was able to assemble include a piece of straw from the manger of Jesus, hair from the beard of Jesus, a piece of the cross, a piece of the stone from the Mount of Ascension, even a branch from the burning bush of Moses.

And so this was quite a collection. Now Frederick the Wise is called Elector of Saxony because he was one of several men in Europe that had a vote in the selection of the Holy Roman Emperor, that one who would preside over the Holy Roman Empire, which scholars have said was neither holy nor Roman nor really an empire. And in fact, in the year 1518, I believe it was, the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Maximilian, died, and the emperor's throne was left vacant. And there were three major candidates to succeed Maximilian.

Two of them were the frontrunners and the third was kind of a dark horse. The frontrunners were Francis who was the king of France at the time, Charles who was the king of Spain who didn't speak Spanish and was considered something of a moron even by his contemporaries, and the third candidate who was lagging far behind, Francis and Charles, was the king of England, Henry VIII. And so the plot thickened as the race continued in the Pope and Rome at this time. Leo X desperately did not want either Francis or Charles to become the new emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. And so he tried to lobby Frederick to throw his hat, as it were, into the ring and run for the office of emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. And to that end, Leo X honored Frederick by giving him the highest honor that the Pope could give a secular ruler, and that was the Order of the Golden Rose. And he bestowed that honor upon Frederick hoping that it would induce Frederick to seek the emperorship of the Holy Roman Empire.

Frederick, however, one of the reasons he was called the wise was he declined the invitation, was not interested in running for emperor, and in fact, cast one of the most significant deciding votes that put Charles on the throne as the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Now what is also significant for Frederick, in addition to his being the man who brought Luther to Wittenberg, where the whole Reformation began, was that because of his political power in Europe, Frederick was able to serve as Luther's protector during the critical years. It has been said by historians, if it weren't for the influence of Frederick the Wise, Luther certainly would have been hunted down and would have been executed. But even though Frederick remained loyal to the Roman Catholic Church, he also was loyal to his faculty and wanted to make sure that Luther wasn't unjustly persecuted or prosecuted and executed.

And so he stood in his defense for many, many years, even though, ironically, it's been said that Luther and Frederick never had more than three conversations in the whole history of their relationship. But in any case, when Luther was brought to Wittenberg as professor of Bible, he began his lectures in 1513 giving lengthy lectures on the book of Psalms. One of the things that we often overlook about Luther is that Luther was a master linguist, and he was an outstanding interpreter of sacred Scripture. In fact, his method as it matured of biblical interpretation changed the whole shape of biblical interpretation from the Middle Ages to modern approaches to Scripture. In the Middle Ages, the favorite means of interpreting the Bible was through the use of what was called the quadriga. The quadriga was a fourfold method of interpreting the Bible so that you looked first of all at the literal sense of a text, and then you found the ethical meaning of the text, you find the mystical meaning of the text, and you find the allegorical meaning of the text. And this led to all kinds of wild speculation and imaginative interpretations of the Bible to such an extent that Luther said that under that system the Bible became a waxed nose that anybody could twist and distort to make it fit whatever theory they wanted to bring to the Scripture. And so Luther gradually came to the position that the proper method of interpreting Scripture was by finding what he called the sensus literalis.

Let's take a look at that. The sensus literalis, which being translated means simply the literal sense of Scripture. I've had people ask me from time to time the question of whether I interpret the Bible literally, but they usually don't ask it in that manner. They usually do it more natively saying, you don't interpret the Bible literally, do you? And when anybody says that to me, you don't interpret the Bible literally, do you?

I never say yes, and I never say no. I always answer that query in the same way. If someone would say to me, you don't interpret the Bible literally, do you?

My answer is always, of course, like duh. What other legitimate way is there to interpret the Bible other than to interpret it literally? But I understand that when people ask me that question, they don't mean what Luther meant by the literal sense or what I mean. What Luther meant by the sensus literalis was that we are to interpret the Bible according to how it is written. If it's historical narrative, you interpret it according to the rules of historical narrative.

If it's poetry, you interpret it according to the rules of poetry. If it's didactic, you interpret it according to those canons and so on, that there's no such thing as Holy Ghost Greek in the Bible. A noun is a noun, a verb is a verb, and you are to treat the Bible in that sense as though it were just like any other book.

Now, of course, it's not like any other book because it and it alone is the Word of God. But nevertheless, Luther built a hedge around all attempts to have a mystical, spiritualized interpretation of the Word of God. He wanted to look for the plain sense and the plain meaning of Scripture that we understand the Word of God as it was originally written and given. And so this principle of biblical interpretation was developing during his teaching years there at Wittenberg, which began, I say, with this lengthy exposition of the book of Psalms.

In 1515 is the year I said that he underwent the most significant crisis perhaps of his entire life in what is called the Tower Experience, and it began when he was given the task of lecturing on the book of Romans. And in the very beginning of his lectures as he was reading through the first chapter of Romans and came to Romans 1.16, he read these words, For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. And then in verse 17, which most scholars grant to be the thematic statement for the entire epistle of Romans, Paul writes this, For in it, that is in the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, The just shall live by faith. Now when Luther first perused that text and began to read the sentences of Lombard and other commentators from the Middle Ages, he was struggling with a concept in verse 17 that he found personally repugnant. This verse spoke of the subject that terrified Luther more than any other subject, namely the righteousness of God. It was to salve his conscience that he had worked so hard in the monastery as being so rigorous in his asceticism and in his pilgrimages and confessions and all that because he was haunted by the specter of a righteous God whom Luther knew if he judged Luther according to God's standard of righteousness that Luther would perish. He also understood that no matter how hard he tried and no matter what he did, he would never be able to satisfy the demands of God's justice or God's righteousness in order to make His way into heaven. So the ultimate barrier that stood between Luther and his God was the righteousness of God. Luther understood in the deepest part of his soul the chasm that exists between the righteousness of God and the unrighteousness of the sinner, and Luther saw no possible way to bridge the gap.

But as he was reading this text and studying this text and preparing his lectures, he came to a completely new and radical understanding of what Paul was saying in Romans chapter 1, verse 17. It says, in it, in the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith as it is written, the just shall live by faith. A verse taken from the book of Habakkuk in the Old Testament that is cited three times in the New Testament. As Luther was stopped short, he said, what does this mean? That there's this righteousness that is by faith, and from faith to faith.

What does it mean that the righteous shall live by faith? Which again, as I said, was the thematic verse for the whole exposition of the gospel that Paul sets forth here in the book of Romans. And so the lights came on for Luther, and he began to understand that what Paul was speaking of here was a righteousness that God in His grace was making available to those who would receive it passively, not those who would achieve it actively, but that would receive it by faith and by which a person could be reconciled to a holy and righteous God. Now there was a linguistic trick that was going on here too, and it was this, that the Latin word for justification that was used at this time in church history was, and it's the word from which we get the English word justification, the Latin word justificare, and it came from the Roman judicial system.

And the term justificare is made up of the word justus, which is justice or righteousness, and the verb, the infinitive facare, which means to make. And so the Latin fathers understood the doctrine of justification is what happens when God, through the sacraments of the church and elsewhere, make unrighteous people righteous. But Luther was looking now at the Greek word that was in the New Testament, not the Latin word, the word dikaios, dikaiosune, which didn't mean to make righteous, but rather to regard as righteous, to count as righteous, to declare as righteous.

And this was the moment of awakening for Luther. He said, you mean here Paul is not talking about the righteousness by which God Himself is righteous, but a righteousness that God gives freely by His grace to people who don't have righteousness of their own. He was confirmed in this understanding by reading an essay from Augustine on the letter in the Spirit, in which Augustine made that very comment that in Romans, Paul was not talking about God's righteousness, but rather a righteousness that was made available to believers by faith. And so Luther said, whoa, you mean the righteousness by which I will be saved is not mine? It's what he called a eustizia alienum, an alien righteousness, a righteousness that belongs properly to somebody else.

It's a righteousness that is extranos, outside of us, namely the righteousness of Christ. And Luther said, when I discovered that, he said, I was born again of the Holy Ghost, and the doors of paradise swung open, and I walked through. There's no way to understand Luther's tenacity, Luther's unwillingness to compromise on the doctrine of justification by faith alone apart from this life-changing born-again experience when for the first time in his life he understood the gospel and what it meant to be redeemed by somebody else's righteousness. Hearing the good news today against the historical backdrop of what the Roman Catholic Church was teaching makes the gospel shine even brighter, doesn't it?

That was R.C. Sproul from his series Luther and the Reformation. You can own the complete series, plus we'll send you Dr. Sproul's Luther and the Reformation book when you give a gift of any amount at renewingyourmind.org. Hear and read the entire account of Luther's bold stand again and again, and take a deeper dive into the differences between the Roman Catholic and Protestant understandings of justification.

Call us at 800-435-4343 or visit renewingyourmind.org today. When you think of the Roman Catholic Church, perhaps you think of indulgences, but what are indulgences? It's helpful to know as they were not reserved only for the 16th century, and sadly they're still offered today. What are indulgences and why are they unbiblical? That's tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-10-25 06:05:23 / 2023-10-25 06:12:46 / 7

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