Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

Luther on Psalm 51

Luther’s most notable work are his commentaries on Paul’s letters to the Galatians and the Romans. But around the same time as his Romans commentary, Luther lectures on the Psalms. Perhaps the clearest example of Luther’s Christological hermeneutic is present in his lectures on the Psalms, for he sees Christ everywhere in Psalm 51; most all of the Psalm is interpreted through Christological and canonical lenses. Luther interprets the second verse of Psalm 51 Christologically, noting that “now with us the situation is that Adam must get out and Christ come in, Adam become as nothing, and Christ alone remain and rule.” This is the washing and cleansing about which David is speaking in Psalm 51:2. Luther goes on to say that, “All Scripture and the Word of God point to the suffering of Christ…Scripture contains nothing else than the promised grace and forgiveness of sin through the suffering of Christ, that whoever believes in Him, and none other, shall be saved.” For Luther, the metanarrative of Scripture is concerned with God and His righteousness and justice which He freely gives to man in Christ. Since that is the case, Scripture can be nothing but Christological from Genesis to Revelation. To that end, Luther says, “God the Holy Spirit does not know and does not want to know anything besides Jesus Christ.”

In addition to being an extended study in Christological hermeneutics, the lecture on Psalm 51 provides another look at some key motifs in Luther’s thought. He writes at length about the justification of God in His words, which is a crucial theme in his lectures on Romans as well. In his comments on Psalm 51:4, Luther says that “anyone who will not consider himself, or be considered, a sinner tries to make God a liar and himself the truth.” If God is to be justified in His words, man must acknowledge himself to be a sinner, and when he does that he opens the door for Christ’s righteousness to come in. However, when man refuses to acknowledge his sin, he makes himself an idolater by putting himself in the place of God. Luther notes that God will be justified one way or the other, “either here by His goodness or hereafter by His severity.” God will not be mocked. Man will either acknowledge his sinfulness, or God will force him to.

Finally, the familiar theme of man’s false righteousness which he tries to earn in contrast to God’s free righteousness is addressed at length. Luther observes that “outward righteousness and apparent piety is pure deception.” As long as man refuses to acknowledge his own sin, as long as he makes God a liar, all he has is the appearance of righteousness. However, when man acknowledges his sin and is made humble in the sight of God, the wisdom of God is revealed to him. Further, “sin is a heavy, grievous, and terrifying burden,” which can only be removed “through the inner work of God.” The truly humble and repentant man who justifies God pleads for Him to look away from his sins and asks God for His righteousness instead, for “it behooves God to give, not to take.” Yet again, Luther’s words ring true: “when He is justified, He justifies, and when He justifies, He is justified.” The lecture on Psalm 51 makes clear that the justification of God and man go together.

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