What Luther Meant And Didn’t Mean About The Holy Spirit Preaching

Luther wrote a little booklet entitled “A Simple Way to Pray” and Keller makes extensive use of it. Near the end of chapter 6, he mentions that Luther taught that one should always be alert and ready to hear the preaching of the Holy Spirit within. While in prayer, a believer can suddenly be overcome by good and edifying thoughts and then he or she should sit still and listen. Says Luther, “The Holy Spirit himself preaches here, and one word of his sermon is better than a thousand of our prayers. Many times I have learned more from one prayer than I might have learned from much reading and speculation.” This is one of the most abused quotes of Luther. Authors like Sarah Young (in Jesus Calling) appeal to this quote to justify their belief that God has spoken directly to them. Luther was often given to very expressive and over-the-top language and I doubt that he wished to provide support to the modern-day descendants of those Anabaptists who claimed to receive direct revelation from God. Instead, Luther’s intent was to remind Christians of how we may sometimes receive illumination from the Spirit – he can sometimes enlighten our hearts and bring us to breakthroughs in our understanding of spiritual truths found in God’s Word. I’m convinced Keller knows this too: “Luther is talking about the eyes of our hearts being enlightened (Eph. 1:18) so that things we know with the mind become more fully rooted in our beings’ core” (96). Yet, because this quote is so easily misunderstood with its use of the word “preach,” I wish that Keller had explained more clearly that this is not speaking of extra-biblical revelation and gives no support to those, like Sarah Young, who claim that the Lord spoke to them in their quiet time.

—Wes Bredenhof, Book Review: Prayer

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  1. Sarah Young like many in the “Word of Faith” movement often claim that God is speaking to them directly. I ignore people like this and warn everyone I know to stay away for such people because they probably belong to the WofF folks or cults or worse! Just yesterday I was doing some reading up on the WofF televangelists and the amount of money they bring in and their very lavish lifestyles. It is beyond me how many people have been led astray based on the outlandish claims of these WofF televangelists. The fool is soon separated from his/her money (I should use gender inclusive language since so many women are so easily taken in by the likes of Joyce Meyer and others).

  2. Interesting quote…

    It’s probable that Keller and many others may not realize just how prevalent outside the Reformed camp is the “belief that God [speaks] directly to them.” And this notion is found among otherwise Biblical/evangelical Christians. I’ve been accused of not believing in the Holy Spirit by some dear Christians simply because I don’t accept their stories of how God spoke – “inwardly yet actually” – to them in a situation as to what they should do or that God gave them a direct word of revelation. I think the idea that Scripture only becomes the Word of God when the Holy Spirit “enlivens” it (Barth?) has so seeped into mindset of mainstream Christianity as to give preeminence to the Spirit’s “speaking” apart from and over the written Word. It’s almost another religion in some sense.

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