Occasion: Sermon at the ELS Seminary Graduation Service, June 19, 1988
Excerpted from print: “A Brief Legacy” p. 28 – (Rev. President Wilhelm W. Petersen)
THE WORD WHICH YOU ARE TO PROCLAIM| 2 Peter 1:19-21| Rev. President Wilhelm W. Petersen
2 Peter 1:19-21
And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
In Christ Jesus, dear fellow–redeemed and especially you, the graduates:
When you began your theological studies some years ago, it must have seemed like an eternity ahead of you before you would graduate. But now that day has arrived and you stand ready to enter into the pastoral ministry. As you look forward to this work, the apostle Peter, writing by divine inspiration of the Lord, wants you to know that the Word which you are to proclaim is a reliable word and a clear word.
First of all, it is a reliable Word. That the Word is reliable is a refrain that runs throughout Scripture. “Your word is truth,” says Jesus. Again: “The Scripture cannot be broken.” “If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples indeed and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” The reason that it is reliable is because it was given by divine inspiration of God and therefore it is inerrant and infallible. Peter says in our text: For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). And the apostle Paul writes: All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
Yes, this Word is reliable when it tells the truth about ourselves, namely that we are poor, lost, miserable sinners, totally unable to save ourselves. Praise God it is also reliable when it tells us that, for the sake of Christ’s atoning work, our sins have been forgiven. That is the heart and center of this Word and we need to hear it again and again and again. Luther observes that the “law is a daily and familiar companion while the Gospel is a rare guest in our consciences” and therefore the Gospel must predominate in our preaching. We need to hear the consoling message “Your sins have been forgiven,” not just once in a while, but in all of our sermons and in all of our ministering. Your hearers must leave your worship service with the ringing assurance that “where sin abounded grace did much more abound,” that their “warfare is accomplished,” their “iniquity is pardoned,” and that they have “received of the Lord’s hand double for all their sins”. Remember, God has committed unto us the ministry of reconciliation, “that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Don’t be stingy with the Gospel. Open its floodgates to poor sinners. Heed Walther’s advice: “So preach the law that it drives the greatest saint to despair; so preach the gospel that it gives the greatest sinner hope.”
Walther also reminds us what our aim as pastors should be: Lead your hearers to the assurance that their sins have been forgiven, that they can have the certainty of eternal life, and that they can face death with confidence. He opines that the prevailing malady of our time is the lack of assurance and the reason is that many are not given reliable teaching. “I think” has replaced “Thus saith the Lord.” Go, then, with courage and confidence as you proclaim this certain Word, believing that if there is anything of which we can be certain in this uncertain world it is the certainty of our soul’s salvation.
But not only do we have a reliable Word, but also a clear Word. “Which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place.” The psalmist said it long ago: “Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
That this Word is clear does not mean that there are not difficulties. The Bible itself says that there are “some things hard to be understood”. But the way of salvation is so clear that a child can understand it. A church father has compared the Bible to a river, so shallow that a lamb can wade through it and yet so deep that an elephant can drown in it, meaning that the way of salvation is so clear that a child can grasp it and yet at the same time it is so deep that the most learned cannot fathom everything in it.
Finally, this “more sure word” is not of private interpretation on our part. Just as the prophecy of which the text speaks did not originate in the mind of man, but was revealed by God the Holy Spirit, so we are not to interpret this Word of prophecy according to our own whims. In your seminary training, you took a course called hermeneutics, which is a study of the principles of interpretation of the Bible. You learned the hermeneutical rule that Scripture interprets Scripture, that we interpret less clear passages in the light of very clear ones. Here again Luther gives us good advice: “You shall not give your own interpretation. The Holy Spirit must explain Scripture. Otherwise it must remain unexpounded.”
God has not granted us the liberty to edit his word; rather we are to proclaim it in all its saving power and beauty. Go then in the conviction that you have a reliable and a clear Word and proclaim it in such a way that your hearers will treasure it as did George Morris, who wrote in his poem “My Mother’s Bible”:
Thou truest friend man ever knew,
Thy constancy I’ve tried;
Where all were false I found Thee true,
My Counselor and guide.
The mines of earth no treasure give
That could this volume buy:
In teaching me the way to live,
It taught me how to die.