One of the things I have been remiss in my life is having never read Luther’s Commentary on Galatians so this past weekend I set out to remedy the omission. The edition that I choose to read was from the Crossway Classic Commentaries series edited by Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer.
This little three hundred-page book is considered by a number of Biblical scholars as the finest writing on justification by faith to come out of the entire reformation. In the introduction to the book Packer writes, “It is a well-known fact that John Wesley came into assurance of faith on May 24, 1738, as he listened to (almost certainly) William Holland reading Luther’s synopsis of Romans. Less well-known, yet scarcely less significant, is the fact that on May 17, just a week before Holland had come into the same transforming experience when John’s brother Charles read to him from Luther on Galatians.”
Charles Wesley himself writing about the event of his own conversion wrote in his journal for May 17, “I spent some hours this evening in private with Martin Luther, who was greatly blessed to me, especially the conclusion of the second chapter (of Galatians). I labored, waited and prayed to feel ‘who loved me, and gave himself for me.’” Though hearing the preface to Romans read opened John Wesley’s heart to the gospel, the roots of that conversion was found in Charles encounter with Galatians. And there probably would have been no Pilgrim’s Progress if John Bunyan had not encountered Luther’s commentary on Galatians that so profoundly changed him that he could write that it was as if, “the book had been written out of my own heart.”
When I picked the commentary up and began to read it became clear from the opening words that this was no dry exposition but a book that was alive with the grace and joy of knowing Jesus and His absolute forgiveness. If we read the commentary always keeping in mind that Luther was a man who had spent his Christian life trying to appease God and earn the smile of God upon his soul through laborious labor, works, and scourging of his own body then this commentary is even more of a marvel.
I personally love the book of Galatians and have read partially or wholly eleven or twelve of the best commentaries available on the book. Though I have owned Luther’s commentary on Galatians for a long time I had never read it because I simply believed it to, more than likely, be a dry read. Also with so many good contemporary commentaries on the market surely Luther could have nothing to say that I couldn’t find in a contemporary commentary.
A page into this amazing book all my prejudices had flown out the window and I was hanging on every word. It is easy to forget how much we owe to Luther and his study of the Bible when we have so many Christian voices crying out to us in videos, on-line sermons, books, commentaries, Bible study materials, church services and whatever else Christian publishers throw our way.
But for Luther there was nowhere to go to read up on justification, grace, forgiveness, and faith. When we read the words of his commentary on Galatians we are delving into the mind of a man who learned this all from the Holy Spirit who taught him through the Word of God.
When I spout off on grace or the power of forgiveness in Christ I have an entire literature to support my position. I know my position is sound because I realize I am a participant in a long line of commentators who have laid the foundational groundwork of Bible study that have led to these conclusions. In other words, when I find myself wondering over the meaning of a text of Scripture I can turn to a whole array of sources to help me understand what I am reading.
For Luther he stood alone. When we read Luther’s words in his commentary on Galatians we find ourselves cheering at practically everything he says because we are descendants of these writings. For Luther, however, he had nothing or no one to verify what he was writing and teaching was true. He was discovering righteousness by faith in a world that absolutely hated the concept because for kings it meant a loss of power and for the church it meant a loss of majesty.
As Luther wrote the words of Galatians his teachings tore the church apart and turned the world upside down. What he was writing was revolutionary in its simplicity and yet all-powerful in its ability to change the hearts of men like the Wesley’s and John Bunyan’s.
Yesterday I thought I would write a blog on the book when I had finished it, but this morning I couldn’t wait, I had to share my thoughts with you. For those of us who grew up in a world of legalism and lived our Christian life through a series of do’s and don’ts reading this book is a pleasant reminder of when we first discovered grace through the work of the Holy Spirit on our lives.
As Luther comments on each verse of Galatians I find myself reliving my own conversion experience and remembering what it was like to uncover the magnificent and wondrous truths of righteous by faith. I think those of us who came out of legalism to the gospel find in the delightful and insightful writing of Luther on Galatians the story of our own experience. It is as if we are seeing it through Luther’s eyes for the first time and are reliving the childlike innocence of discovery that exchanged legalism for grace. I find myself cheering him on in his unfolding the precious gems of the book.
There is also something magical in reading these words on righteous by faith and realizing they were written close to five hundred years ago. I know for me it is amazing to grasp the idea that I am reading the thoughts of a man who lived all those years ago and those thoughts have revolutionized the world. To read Luther’s Galatians is to carry us back to our roots. It is an opportunity to sit with this spiritual genius and journey with him as he unfolds our heritage and reveals Jesus the God of grace to a hostile and unsafe world.
This song titled 95 Reasons was recorded by Christian Recording group called First Call. I think you get the connection…