The Motto of the Reformation
Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum ("The Word of the Lord Endures Forever") is the motto of the Lutheran Reformation.
It originally appears in Isaiah 40:8 and was also used by Peter in his first epistle (1 Peter 1:24-25). Both scriptural passages are supremely confident expressions of the eternal faithfulness of God and the enduring power and authority of His living Word.
• In Isaiah 40, where the phrase first appears, God gives to Isaiah a vision of the future redemption of Israel and the human race. The first 39 chapters of Isaiah primarily deal with God’s judgment of faithless Judah; in chapter 40, God tells Isaiah that although Israel had sinned and will be sent into exile in Babylon, the unchanging faithfulness of God’s Word still transcends all transitory human faithlessness.
Throughout the rest of the book of Isaiah, God outlines how his faithful and eternal Word will redeem creation. First, He will bring his people out of exile in Babylon. However, this is only a preliminary stage in His plan to do away with sin altogether through the substitutionary sufferings of Christ (whom Isaiah refers to as the “Servant”). The Servant will embody the faithfulness of the eternal divine Word. Through His sufferings, the Servant will break through the barrier of sin by causing many to be accounted righteous (Isaiah 53:11) and becoming a “covenant to the people” (Isaiah 49:8).
• It is against this backdrop that Peter, in his first epistle, cites Isaiah to explain how this same unchanging Word of God manifests itself in the justification of true believers through the work of Christ (1 Peter 1:24-26).
The unchanging faithfulness of God to His Word is at the very heart of the gospel as understood by Martin Luther and the Reformers. It was embraced as one of the central truths of the Reformation.
Luther believed that God’s Word of law and gospel remains true in spite of all attempts to place conditions upon it or cover it over with human traditions. For Luther, the Word of God was living and active. In speaking His Word, God not only promises justification to sinners, but also enacts it by creating faith in their hearts and minds. Those redeemed by Christ are then able to live life of freedom by the power of grace received by God’s faithful Word.
For this reason, the slogan Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum took on a very special significance.
* This slogan first appeared in the court of Frederick the Wise as early as 1522. He caused it to be sewn onto the right sleeve of the court’s official clothing, which was worn by prince and servant alike. It continued to be used by Frederick’s successors in the court of electoral Saxony; his brother John the Steadfast, and his nephew John Frederick the Magnanimous.
* Later, in 1531 when the Lutheran princes gathered themselves together in the Smalkaldic League for the sake of defending their beliefs, communities, families, and lives against the Catholic Emperor and all those who were intent on destroying them, the slogan also became their official motto. It appeared on armour, helmets, uniforms, flags, cannons, and all manner of objects. It was found inscribed inside churches, over doorways, on foundation stones, even on horse’s helmets!
Several examples of its use during the Reformation era appear on this post:
- on coins,
- over a doorway in Braunschweig, Germany,
- on a clock on a church in Kronstadt,
- and finally, a particularly interesting artifact, a helmet from 1553 that would have been placed on a warhorse, contains the motto.
By adopting this motto, the League confessed that God’s redemptive promise of the gospel could not be thwarted. Even if the Emperor was able to overcome the Lutherans through his political might, the redemptive Word would vindicate them on Judgment Day.
The present situation of the Christian Church within an increasingly secularised culture, draws renewed emphasis on the importance of the unchanging nature of God’s Word. Whether or not the Christian Church stands in a strong or secure earthly position, we know that God has spoken the immutable word of His grace in Christ Jesus and therefore has already overcome sin, death, and the devil. He must reign (1 Corinthians 15:24-25; Psalm 2). For this reason, much like the Lutherans of the C16th, we need only to rely on the Word alone and trust in its final vindication on the Last Day.
[ Source material: from Dr Jack Kilcrease: http://lutheranreformation.org/history/vdma/ ]