“Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Ps. 119:105. How often we read these words and hardly give them a second thought. The Word of God is written down for us in the Bible, which in its totality makes up the Word of God. The Bible is precious to us. We don’t have to be tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine; we have the Word of God to guide us into the safety of the haven of rest. We need not dash our souls to pieces upon the jagged rocks of human lust and evil desire, but need only follow the beacon light of God’s Word to steer clear of such dangers and be guided safely through troubled waters. When our life is filled with trials and cares and we cry out to Jehovah in our distress, we may be sure that the Word of God will direct us to the comfort of our redemption and loving care of our Heavenly Father Who controls the storms.
About this time of the year, we do well to reflect upon the significance of the great Reformation for us. By the Reformation, we refer to the events which God brought to pass in the lives of Martin Luther and John Calvin, along with others. It was an astounding event in the history of the church; it brought the children of God from the shackles of dead formalism into a vibrant and living faith.
The Word of God made all the difference.
Let’s look at that story in the form of four pictures.
THE FIRST PICTURE
Its edges are frayed, it is yellow with age, being taken over 1700 years ago. The first thing that catches our attention is that there is a man sitting on a throne. Its ornate luxury tells us that he is very rich. One thing is disturbing, his face. It reflects rage and hostility. We can hardly be expected to know his name, but we are told that it is Diocletian.
It won’t take too long, while we study the picture more carefully, to discover why this king is so angry. Outside the window, we see on yonder hill a stake in the ground. It is not a marker to commemorate some heroic event of the past, rather it stands amidst a thick mat of wood chips soaked in oil. Its lonely vigil announces the fate of some poor soul who shall be bound to it while the flames of death shall consume him.
By now our attention is drawn to yet another part of the picture. Just inside the door of the great palace a group of soldiers surround an old man. Ruthlessly, they press him forward in the presence of his austere majesty. He trembles as his loose fitting cloak conceals the torture that has been his. His hands are bound and his head bowed low. Soon the silence is broken by the thundering voice of Diocletian. “Where is your Bible?” The tone of his voice indicates the torrent of rage contained within. Yes, this is the mighty emperor who hates God, has slain countless Christians. His hands are red with the blood of the godly. Some were burned at the stake, others torn by the lions, many rotted away in the dungeons.
The answer comes forth without wavering. “Your majesty, it is in my heart!”
The old man knew that the enemy might be able to uncover a Bible hidden amongst his meager possessions and take it away. But, he also knew that if he committed the Word to memory so that it would abide in His heart, they could never take that away.
He knew the meaning of the words, “Thy word have I hid in my heart.” Such a word is a lamp unto our feet and a light upon our pathway, even if that way leads through the valley of the shadow of death.
He went to the stake with the Word in his heart.
THE SECOND PICTURE
It, too, is very old, about 700 years to be exact. It also is a sad picture.
The center of this picture is a large church. It is very old and by the architecture we can tell that it is in southern France about the year 1200. We can tell that something strange is going on inside this church. There are no happy people entering for worship. Rather, we see soldiers carrying people upon their shoulders, some are old and feeble, others are just children. Some are kicking and putting up a fuss, others are submissive. All are sad faced; they seem to realize what lies ahead.
I hate to tell you to step up closer and look inside the windows: for it is a horrible spectacle. One can just hear the screams and cries of the tortured, the moans of the dying. Soldiers are standing ankle deep in blood; it is seeping into their shoes. On the altar, bodies of the dead are piled high. Soon the church cannot hold any more corpses, for by nightfall over 60,000 men, women, and children are dead by the edge of the sword.
Why this carnage?
Pope Hildebrand had issued a decree that no one could own a Bible. Only the priests could have one for their study. The people in this village were Waldenses, they had disobeyed the order of the pope. They had painstakingly copied by hand—sometimes it took a whole year—the Bible, so that they could read and commit much of it to memory. That Word they taught to their children, so that they, too, could know the God of salvation.
The words of Psalm 119:105 were precious to them, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my pathway.” Only that light could swallow up the darkness. Without it they would rather die.
THE THIRD PICTURE
The next picture is relatively recent, being about 400 years old.
The attraction in this picture is not a palace, not a church, but a large hall. This is not a mob scene, it is very orderly. Two personages are the focus of attention.
The first is obviously a ruler, his dress and deportment indicates that he is a man of importance. He is not here to be entertained, he is here to function as a judge, this is a trial of great importance. He is Charles, ruler of Germany? surrounded by none other than the great and mighty of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, Mr. Eck.
Before him stands Martin Luther, thin, short of stature, robes, skull cap and all. His eyes are sharp and penetrating. His mean figure by no means indicates timidity. The picture tells a different story.
This moment is crucial for Luther. Many strange things have happened to him already. He had nailed the 95 theses on the door of Wittenburg. He had caused a storm of protest and violent theological discussion. The pope had already excommunicated him by means of the papal bull. The pope had also waved his political influence by requesting Charles to call this trial to determine whether Luther was a heretic or not; and if so, he was determined to have Charles put him to death.
Luther’s life was at stake here.
The clever Eck begins to ask questions. Are these your writings? Do you recant, are you sorry for writing them? Are you willing to destroy them?
The answer of Luther sends chills down our spine.
“Since then your majesty and your lordship desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by the Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for they have contradicted each other; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant. For to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me.”
This was the man that had struggled personally until God showed him the truth of justification through faith in Jesus Christ and not righteousness based upon our works. His comfort had been found not in the words of men, but the infallible Word of God. The floodgates of righteousness were opened unto him as he read, “The just shall live by faith.” His fervor for the Word of God led him to translate it carefully into the language of the people. It didn’t take very long and his fellow German, Gutenberg, invented movable type and the common people had their Bibles.
Yes, where else could he stand than upon the certain ground, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God!”
The light of that Word had illuminated the whole of his life.
THE FOURTH PICTURE
This one is very new, its edges are crisp and clean.
The center of this picture is a house. By its structure we can see that it is a house in suburbia America. The tree lined streets are enhanced by the presence of the dwelling.
What is important to us, however, is not the outside, but the inside. With our zoom lens, we are able to enlarge one room of this house to sizable proportions. This room is obviously someone’s private abode. No, it is not spotless, the rumpled bedspread, the shirt hanging over the doorknob, the junk in one comer, tell us that someone lives in this room. It is not a museum; it is a bedroom, very special. Amidst the adequate furnishings we notice a desk in one corner. It, too, tells of neglected papers, piles of abandoned games, books, etc.
But look on.
There at that desk is a young student. Tonight he is working hard at his math. He has finished his English, and he has yet to tackle History. Amongst his books is a Bible. So commonplace he hardly gives it a second thought, yet so precious that he wouldn’t think of studying without it. From time to time his textbooks make reference to this one great Book. His teachers ask penetrating and thought-provoking questions that force him to examine the texts of this Book carefully. He has memorized verses and chapters in great quantity. You can give him chapter and verse, and he can find it readily. His Bible is part of his life.
And that’s not all.
His Bible is at the table, at school, in church, in society.
Very seldom is there not a Bible available within an arm’s reach.
Is this a picture of you?
You, too, have learned that, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light upon my pathway.” What would our life be without our Bibles? How could we ever really know the answers without its authority. Where would we find direction without its guidance, comfort without its words of hope. The Bible is so much part of our life we almost take it for granted.
Now look back. Four pictures. Two are sad, one is a picture of courage, one is a happy scene. Between the sad ones and the happy one is the picture of courage.
That’s what the Reformation must mean to us.
God used Martin Luther and John Calvin and others to give us our Bible, that we might have its lamp upon our feet.
Next time you reach for your Bible, think of these four pictures.