Sep 28, 2017

We give God the glory if we trust in His grace

We give God the glory if we trust in His grace that He does everything and that our work, righteousness, ability, and merit cannot save us or eradicate sin—Johannes Bugenhagen

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Reflections by Jim West, professor at Ming Hua Theological College

Whenever I read one of the first generation Reformers (Luther, Melancthon, Zwingli, Oecolampadius, Bucer, or Bugenhagen, among others) I'm always stricken by the powerful way they communicate an aspect of the Gospel that the Papacy had long ignored and moderns have long taken for granted: the attribution of Glory to God alone.  Calvin turned this aspect of the Gospel into a core value, but Bugenhagen expressed it first, and so beautifully and concisely, that he is really the one who deserves to be remembered for its centrality.

Vision of the Glory of God
John’s vision of the glory of God, surrounded by 24 elders, seven lamps, and four creatures.


As H.F. Vos notes of Bugenhagen,

Born near Stettin in Pomerania, Bugenhagen was ordained a priest and became a pastor at Treptow in 1504 after completing studies at the University of Greifswald.  Won over to the Reformation in 1520, he went to Wittenberg in 1521. There he formed close friendships with Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon and held the pastorate of the collegiate church from 1523 until his death.  A distinguished scholar, Bugenhagen helped Luther translate the Old Testament into High German and published his own translation of the Bible in Low German in 1533. He was the author of numerous works, perhaps the best of which was Interpretation of the Book of Psalms (1523).

Bugenhagen, who loved the Psalms deeply, went to work again on them later in life, writing in 1542 an exposition of Psalm 29 which he dedicated to Christian, King of Denmark.  In that exposition he writes early on— “We give God the glory if we trust in His grace that He does everything and that our work, righteousness, ability, and merit cannot save us or eradicate sin.” We glorify God, he suggests, when we trust him to do what we cannot do in order to somehow or other redeem ourselves.  Glorifying God is the end result of trust and trust is the one attribute that we cannot do without if we wish to glorify God.

Psalm 29, according to Bugenhagen, expresses this very truth: 

Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty, give unto the Lord glory and strength.
Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
The voice of the Lord is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the Lord is upon many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.
He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn.
The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness; the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to calve, and discovereth the forests:
and in his temple doth every one speak of his glory.
The Lord sitteth upon the flood; yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever.
The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace. (KJV)

The more modern hymn “Trust and Obey” expresses the sentiment in precisely the same way.  It reads:

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
    What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
    And with all who will trust and obey. 

Refrain: Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. 

Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
    But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
    Can abide while we trust and obey. 

Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
    But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
    But is blessed if we trust and obey. 

But we never can prove the delights of His love
    Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
    Are for them who will trust and obey. 

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
    Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
    Never fear, only trust and obey.

 Hymns, when based in sound theology, have a way, a powerful way, of communicating the Gospel. They always have (as we see from the Psalms of ancient Israel), and they always will. To God be the Glory. 

Jim West is a professor at Ming Hua Theological College. Find more from Jim on his blog at

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Tags Johannes Bugenhagen • Reformers • glory of God

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