Come, Holy Spirit: Sermons (by Karl Barth), a Review

Book: Come, Holy Spirit: Sermons by Karl Barth and Eduard Thurneysen (Amazon link)

Publisher: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2009 (Publisher link)

I have a soft spot for reading Karl Barth’s sermons. This is now the fourth collection I’ve read; and while I can’t say it was my favorite (Deliverance to the Captives earns that honor), this book is a fascinating and insightful look into Barth’s early preaching and thinking.

There is an attractive liveliness in Barth’s early work, and this collection is no exception. The translators introduction highlights this well: “These sermons simply proclaim God, but not as a static absolute far removed from the world, not as an immanent essence entangled with the world; they preach the good news of God ‘in action,’ of a living person who is wholly other than the world and yet Creator, Upholder of the universe, Savior and Sanctifier of men…” 1

These sermons were preached shortly after The Epistle to the Romans had its famously devastating effect upon the theological world. It should be no surprise then to learn that these sermons echo many of Barth’s famous remarks in Romans, such as the wholly-otherness of God and the “infinite qualitative distinction” between God and mankind.

This collection, we could say, is the “preached edition” of Barth’s Romans; many of those same themes are here preached in a pastoral manner.

Therefore, we read statements which devastate all our attempts to know God with ourselves at the center of that knowledge, such as this:

It is possible that whenever we utter the word ‘God’ we think of something high, great and beautiful, as a goal or ideal which we have set for ourselves. But fundamentally that would be a weighing of ourselves by ourselves; we ourselves would be our own judges and emancipate or condemn ourselves. But God dwells in a light which no man can approach. Even the highest which we think about Him when measured by His true self is still an illusion. He himself is God. He alone knows it. 2

Barth’s theology is best understood within the context Barth wanted it to be understood in, and in this case that is the context of preaching. I think it would be of great benefit for new readers of Barth’s Romans to also pick up this volume to read alongside it; here Barth the preacher is on full display.

Yet this collection is also chiefly an inspiring set of sermons, which may be read devotionally. There is a pastoral element to each sermon that makes them more than just theology, though they are certainly theological, but go beyond theology into the attempt to proclaim the Word of God.

Here is one of my favorite quotes which highlights this, from the sermon “Good Friday”:

He, too, is in the midst of our misery! Yes, He, too! ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ We know this question, do we not? He, too, was pressed, thronged by all sorts of ghosts which press about us. He, too, was in our state of restlessness. He, too, did not know the way out. … He, too, was in fear and trembling upon a way where at every step the impenetrable darkness beclouded Him. We are not alone; He, too, is there. Is there an uncertainty, a question, a doubt in you that is not also in Christ? He, too, is with us in death, but the living one in the midst of death. In His uncertainty there is certainty, assurance in His doubt, an answer in His question. 3

Summary: Karl Barth’s Come, Holy Spirit is an insight collection of sermons which one might read in connection with The Epistle to the Romans, but also as a devotional, pastoral collection for personal edification.

My thanks to Wipf and Stock Publishers for a digital copy of this book for review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review, and have presented my honest reflection on this work. 

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  1. George W. Richards, Kindle location 60
  2. Kindle location, 364
  3. Kindle location, 1687

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