Martin Luther’s Original

Church Postil





Summer Postil 1544


From Trinity Sunday to 12. Sunday after Trinity




This text has been made available for the web by Richard Bucher and Tony Woodcock and edited by Finn B. Andersen. It is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without restriction.


Web-editor, cand.theol. Finn B. Andersen

from the land of the mermaids








Trinity Sunday;

Romans 11:33-36


The Holy Trinity



King James Version

Romans 11:33-36

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counseller? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.


1. This epistle is read today because the festival of Holy Trinity, or of the three persons of the Godhead - which is the prime, great, incomprehensible and chief article of faith - is observed on this day. The object of its observance is that, by the Word of God, this truth of the Godhead may be preserved among Christians, enabling them to know God as he would be known. For although Paul does not treat of that article in this epistle, but touches on it only in a few words in the conclusion, nevertheless he would teach that in our attempts to comprehend God we must not speculate and judge according to human wisdom, but in the light of the Word of God alone. For these divine truths are too far above the reach of reason ever to be comprehended and explored by the understanding of man.


2. And although I have, on other occasions, taught and written on this article fully and frequently enough, still I must say a few words in general concerning it here. True, it is not choice German, nor has it a pleasing sound, when  we designate God by the word ”Dreifaltigkeit” (nor is the Latin, Trinitas, more elegant); but since we have no better term, we must employ these. For, as I have said, this article is so far above the power of the human mind to grasp, or the tongue to express, that God, as the Father of his children, will pardon us when we stammer and lisp as best we can, if only our faith be pure and right. By this term, however, we would say that we believe the divine majesty to be three distinct persons of one true essence.


3. This is the revelation and knowledge Christians have of God: they not only know him to be one true God, who is independent of and over all creatures, and that there can be no more than this one true God, but they know also what this one true God in his essential, inscrutable essence is.


4. The reason and wisdom of man may go so far as to reach the conclusion, although feebly, that there must be one eternal divine being, who has created and who preserves and governs all things. Man sees such a beautiful and wonderful creation in the heavens and on the earth, one so wonderfully, regularly and securely preserved and ordered, that he must say: It is impossible that this came into existence by mere chance, or that it originated and controls itself; there must have been a Creator and Lord from whom all these things proceed and by whom they are governed. Thus God may be known by his creatures, as St. Paul says: ”For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity.” Rom 1, 20. This is (a posteriori) the knowledge that we have when we contemplate God from without, in his works and government; as one, looking upon a castle or house from without, would draw conclusions as to its lord or keeper.


5. But from within (a priori) no human wisdom has been able to conceive what God is in himself, or in his internal essence. Neither can anyone know or give information of it except it be revealed to him by the Holy Spirit. For no one knoweth, as Paul says (I Cor 2, 11), the things of man save the spirit of man which is in him; even so the things of God none knoweth save the Spirit of God. From without, I may see what you do, but what your intentions are and what you think, I cannot see. Again, neither can you know what I think except I enable you to understand it by word or sign. Much less can we know what God, in his own inner and secret essence is, until the Holy Spirit, who searcheth and knoweth all things, yea, the deep things of God - as Paul says above - reveals it to us: as he does in the declaration of this article, in which he teaches us the existence in the divine majesty of the one undivided essence, but in such manner that there is, first, the person which is called the Father; and of him exists the second person called the Son, born from eternity; and proceeding from both these is the third, namely, the Holy Spirit. These three persons are not distinct from each other, as individual brothers or sisters are, but they have being in one and the same eternal, undivided and indivisible essence.


6. This, I say, is not discovered or attained to by human reason. It is revealed from heaven above. Therefore, only Christians can intelligently speak of what the Godhead essentially is, and of his outward manifestation to his creatures, and his will toward men concerning their salvation. For all this is imparted to them by the Holy Spirit, who reveals and proclaims it through the Word.


7. Those who have no such revelation, and who judge according to their own wisdom, such as the Jews, Turks and heathen, must consider the Christian's declaration the greatest error and rankest heresy; they must say that we Christians are mad and foolish in imagining that there are three Gods, when, according to all reason - yea, even according to the Word of God - there can be but one God. It would not be reasonable, they will say, that there should be more than one householder over the same house, more than one lord or sovereign over the same government; much less reasonably should more than one God reign over heaven and earth. They imagine that thus with their wisdom they have completely overthrown our faith and exposed it to the derision and scorn of all the world. As if we were all block- heads and egregious fools and could not see their logic as well as they! But, thank God, we have understanding equal to theirs, and can argue as convincingly, or more so, than they with their Alkoran and Talmud, that there is but the one God.


8. Further, we know, from the testimony of Holy Writ, that we cannot expound the mystery of these divine things by the speculations of reason and a pretense of great wisdom. To explain this, as well as all the articles of our faith, we must have a knowledge higher than any to which the understanding of man can attain. That knowledge of God which the heathen can perceive by reason or deduce from rational premises is but a small part of the knowledge that we should possess. The heathen Aristotle in his best book concludes from a passage in the wisest pagan poet, Homer: There can be no good government in which there is more than one lord; it results as where more than one master or mistress attempts to direct the household servants. So must there be but one lord and regent in every government. This is all rightly true. God has implanted such light and understanding in human nature for the purpose of giving a conception and an illustration of his divine office, the only Lord and Maker of all creatures. But, even knowing this, we have not yet searched out or fathomed the exalted, eternal, divine Godhead essence. For even though I have learned that there is an only divine majesty, who governs all things, I do not thereby know the inner workings of this divine. essence himself; this no one can tell me, except, as we have said, in so far as God himself reveals it in his Word.


9. Now we Christians have the Scriptures, which we know to be the Word of God. The Jews also have them, from whose fathers they have descended to us. From these, and from no other source, we have obtained all that is known of God and divine works, from the beginning of the world. Even among the Turks and the heathen, all their knowledge of God - excepting what is manifestly fable and fiction - came from the Scriptures. And our knowledge is confirmed and proven by great miracles, even to the present day. These Scriptures declare, concerning this article, that there is no God or divine being save this one alone. They not only manifest him to us from without, but they lead us into his inner essence, and show us that in him there are three persons; not three Gods or three different kinds of divinity, but the same undivided, divine essence.


10. Such a revelation is radiantly shed forth from the greatest of God's works, the declaration of his divine counsel and will. In that counsel and will it was decreed from all eternity, and, accordingly, was proclaimed in his promises, that his Son should become man and die to reconcile man to God. For in our dreadful fall into sin and death eternal, there was no way to save us excepting through an eternal person who had power over sin and death to destroy them, and to give us righteousness and everlasting life instead. This no angel or other creature could do; it must needs be done of God himself. Now, it could not be done by the person of the Father, who was to be reconciled, but it must be done by a second person, with whom this counsel was determined and through whom and for whose sake the reconciliation was to be brought about.


11. Here there are, therefore, two distinct persons, one of whom becomes reconciled, and the other is sent to reconcile and becomes man. The former is called the Father, being first in that he did not have his origin in any other; the latter is called the Son, being born of the Father from eternity. To this the Scriptures attest, for they make mention of God's Son; as, for instance, in Psalm 2, 7: ”Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee;” and again, Galatians 4, 4: ”But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son,” etc. From this it necessarily follows that the Son, who is spoken of as a person, must be distinct from the person of the Father.


12. Again, in the same manner, the Spirit of God is specifically and distinctively mentioned as a person sent or proceeding from God the Father and the Son; for instance, God says in Joel 2, 28: ”I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,” etc. Here a spirit is poured out who is God's, or a  divine spirit, and who must be of the same essence, otherwise he could not say, ”my Spirit;'' and yet he must be a person other than he who sent him or who pours out. Again, because when he was sent he manifested himself, and appeared in his descent in a visible form, like that of a dove or tongues of fire, he must be distinct in person from both the Father and the Son.


13. But in this article of faith, in which we say that the Son of God became man and that he was of the same nature as we ourselves are, in order that he might redeem us from sin and death and give us eternal life without any merit or worthiness of our own, we give Jews and Turks no less occasion for laughter and mockery than when we speak of the three persons. For this is a more absurd assertion by far, in the estimation of human reason, which speculates in its Jewish and Turkish - yea, heathenish - teachings, on this wise: God is an only, almighty Lord of all, who has created all men and given them the law according to which they are to live; accordingly it follows that he will be merciful to the good and obedient, but will condemn and punish the disobedient. Therefore, he who does good works and guards himself against sin, God will reward. These are nothing but heathenish conclusions drawn from earthly, worldly experience and observation, as if God's government must be conducted on the same principles as that of a father among his children and domestics; for those are considered good rulers and masters who make a distinction with regard to their own interests.


14. Such heathen ideas of wisdom, holiness and service of God are taught and practiced by the Pope. And so we believed, myself and others, while we were under him, not knowing any better; otherwise we would have done and taught differently. And, in fact, he who has not this revelation and Word of God, can neither believe nor teach other than pagan doctrine. With such a faith, how much better were we than the heathen and Turks? Yea, how could we guard ourselves against any deception and lying nonsense that might be offered as good works and as service of God? Then we had to follow every impostor who came with his cowl and cord, as if Christ were represented in him; and we thought that in the observance of these things we would be saved. So the whole world was filled with naught but false service of God - which the Scriptures properly call idolatry - the product of human wisdom, which is so easily deceived by that which pretends to be a good work and to be obedience to God. For human wisdom knows no better; and how could it know better without the revelation? Even when the revelation was proclaimed, human wisdom would not heed it, but despised it and followed its own fancies. Hence it continued to be hidden and incomprehensible to such wisdom, as Saint Paul says: ”For who hath known the mind of the Lord?”


15. But to us this counsel and mind of God in giving his Son to take upon himself our flesh, is revealed and declared. For from the Word of God we have the knowledge that no man of himself can be righteous before God; that our whole life and all our deeds are under wrath and condemnation, because we are wholly born in sin and by nature are disobedient to God; but if we would be delivered from sin and be saved, we must believe on this mediator, the Son of God, who has taken our sin and death upon himself, by his own blood and death rendering satisfaction, and has by his resurrection, delivered us. In this truth we will abide, regardless of the ridicule heaped upon us because of such faith, by heathen wisdom, which teaches that God rewards the pious. We understand that quite as well, if not better, than heathenism does. But in these mysteries we need a higher wisdom than our own minds have devised or can devise, a wisdom given to us by grace alone, through divine revelation.


16 For it is not our intention thus to pry into the counsel, thoughts and ways of God with our understanding and opinions, and to be his counselors, as they do who meddle in the affairs that are the prerogative of the Godhead, and who even dare, in the face of this passage of Saint Paul, to refuse to receive or learn of God, but would impart to him  that for which he must recompense again. And thus they make gods after their own fancy, as many gods as they have thoughts; so that every shabby monastic cowl or self-appointed work, in their estimation, accomplishes as much and passes for as much as God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in their eternal divine counsel, determine and accomplish. And they continue to be nothing but wearers of cowls and instructors in works, which works even they can do who know nothing of God and are manifestly scoundrels. And even though they have long been occupied with these things, they still do not know how matters stand between themselves and God. And it will ever be true as Saint Paul says: ”For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counselor?”


17. For your own theories - which are no more than what anyone can arrive at, conjecture or conceive in his own mind, without divine revelation - are not a knowledge of the mind of God. And what does it avail if you are not able to say more than that God is merciful to the good and will punish the wicked? Who will assure you that you are good and that you are pleasing to God with your papistic, Turkish monkery and holiness? Is it all that is necessary to assert: God will reward with heaven such as are faithful to the order? No, dear brother, mere presumption, or an expression of your opinion, will not suffice here. I could do that as well as you. Indeed, each may devise his own peculiar idea; one a black, and another a gray monk's cowl. But we should hear and know what God's counsel is, what is his will and mind. This none can tell you by his own understanding, and no book on earth can teach it except the Scriptures. These God himself has given, and they make known to us that he has sent his Son into the world to redeem us from sin and the wrath of God, and that whosoever believes in him should have everlasting life.



18. Behold, Paul's purpose in this epistle is to show Christians that these sublime and divine mysteries - that is, God's actual divine essence and his will, administration and works - are absolutely beyond all human thought, human understanding or wisdom; in short, that they are and ever will be incomprehensible, inscrutable and altogether hidden to human reason. When reason presumptuously undertakes to solve, to teach and explain these matters, the result is worthless, yea, utter darkness and deception. If anything is to be ascertained, it must be through revelation alone; that is, the Word of God, which was sent from heaven.


19. We do not apply these words of Paul to the question of divine predestination for every human being - who will be saved and who not. For into these things God would not have us curiously inquire. He has not given us any special revelation in regard to them, but refers all men here to the words of the Gospel. By them they are to be guided. He would have them hear and learn the Gospel, and believing in it they shall be saved. Therein have all the saints found comfort and assurance in regard to their election to eternal life; not in any special revelation in regard to their predestination, but in faith in Christ. Therefore, where Saint Paul treats of election, in the three chapters preceding this text, he would not have any to inquire or search out whether he has been predestinated or not; but he holds forth the Gospel and faith to all men. So he taught before, that we are saved through faith in Christ. He says (Rom 10, 8): ”The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart,” and he explains himself by saying that this word should be proclaimed to all men, that they may believe what he says in verses 12 and 13: ”For the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich unto all that call upon him: for, Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.


20. But he speaks of the marvelous ruling of God in the Church, according to which they who have the name and honor of being the people of God, and the Church - the people of Israel -  are rejected on account of their unbelief. Others, on the other hand, who formerly were not God's people, but were unbelieving, are now, since they have received the Gospel and believe in Christ, become the true Church in the sight of God, and are saved. Consequently it was on account of their own unbelief that the former were rejected. Then the grace and mercy of God in Christ was offered unto everlasting life, and without any merit of their own, to all such as were formerly in unbelief and sin, if only they would accept and believe it. He declares: ”For God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.” Rom 11, 32.


21. Hereupon follows the text, which Saint Paul begins with emotions of profound astonishment at the judgment and dealings of God in his Church, saying:


”O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out!”

22. Sublime are the thoughts and counsel of God, transcending by far the mind and comprehension of man, yea of all creatures, when he so richly pours forth his goodness and out of pure grace and mercy elects, as beneficiaries of that goodness, the poor and wretched and unworthy, who are concluded under sin - that is, those who acknowledge themselves before God to be guilty and deserving of everlasting wrath and perdition; when he does all this that they might know him in his real divine essence, and the sentiment of his heart - that through his Son he will give all who believe everlasting life. And, again, that they might know how he will reject and condemn the others - those who, in pride and security, boast of their own gifts and the fact that they are called the people of God in preference to all other nations; who boast that they have special promises, that they have the prophets, the fathers, etc.; who think that God will acknowledge no nation on earth but themselves as his people and his Church. He will reject them on account of their unbelief, in which they are fettered by the pride and imaginations of their own wisdom and holiness.


23. This is that rich, inexpressible, divine wisdom and knowledge which they possess who believe in Christ, and by which they are enabled to look into the depths and see what the purposes and thoughts of the divine heart are. True, in their weakness they cannot fully reach it; they only can apprehend it in the revealed Word, by faith, as in a glass or image, as Saint Paul says. 1 Cor 13, 12. But to blind, unbelieving reason, divine wisdom will be foreign and hidden; nothing of it will enter reason's consciousness and thoughts, nor will reason desire more though a revelation be given.


24. That attitude Saint Paul encountered, especially when the arrogant Jews opposed themselves so sternly and stubbornly to the preaching of the Gospel. Filled with astonishment, he exclaimed: What shall I say more? I see indeed that it is but the deep unsearchable wisdom of God, his incomprehensible judgment, his inscrutable ways. So he says elsewhere: ”But we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that hath been hidden, which God foreordained before the world unto our glory: which none of the rulers of this world hath known.” I Cor 2, 7-8.


25. This depth and richness of wisdom and knowledge, we Christians apprehend through faith; for, as Saint Paul says, it cannot be apprehended nor comprehended otherwise. Though the world will not do it, we will firmly believe that God is a true God and Lord, wise, just and gracious, whose riches and depth are ineffable. We will glorify him with our whole heart, therefore, as he ought justly to be praised and glorified by every creature, for his wonderful government of his Church, through his Word and revelation. Whosoever will hear and receive the same shall have light that will turn them to him and give them a knowledge of their salvation - an experience which others can never realize. And he is to be glorified because he manifests such unutterable goodness to all who are in sin and under God's wrath that he translates them, though they are unworthy and condemned, from the power of death and hell into the kingdom of eternal grace and life, if they will only seek grace and believe on Christ his Son. And, on the other hand, he is to be glorified because, as a just judge, he rightfully rejects and condemns those who will not believe the revelation and testimony of his will in his Son; who insist on, and boast of, their blind fancies, of their own wisdom  and righteousness. Being accordingly deprived of such light, such grace and consolation, they must forever be separated and cast forth from the kingdom of God, regardless of what great name and fame may have been theirs when they were supposed to be the people and Church of God.


26. And such are God's unsearchable judgments and his ways past tracing out. Such are his government and works. For by ”judgments” is meant that which in his view is right or wrong; what pleases or does not please him; what merits his praise or his censure; in short, what we should follow or avoid. Again, by ”his ways” is meant that which he will manifest unto men and how he will deal with them. These things men cannot and would not discover by their own reason, nor search out by their own intellect, and never should they oppose their judgments or speculations to God. It is not for them to say what is right or wrong, whether an act or ruling is divine. They should humble themselves before him and acknowledge that they cannot understand, they cannot teach God in such matters; they should give him, as their God and Creator, the honor of better understanding himself and his purposes than do we poor, miserable worms.


”For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counselor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?”

27. Paul states three propositions which take away from the world all its boasting concerning divine things: To know the mind of the Lord - what are his thoughts and purposes, or what he has determined within himself from eternity; to be his counselor - advising or showing him what to do and how to do it; to give to him - assisting him, by one's own ability, to accomplish his divine purpose. All this is impossible to human nature; it cannot know his mind, and how much less will it be able, with all of its wisdom and activity, to counsel him or give him anything.


28. Therefore, it is a shameful presumption on the part of the world to presume by its own powers to ascertain and discover God's essence, his will and works, and to counsel him as to his duties and pleasures; and shameful is it that it presumes with its works to have merited something from him, and to have earned a recompense; shameful presumption to expect to be honored as having achieved much for God's kingdom and for the Church - strengthening and preserving them and filling heaven with holiness!


29. God must defeat minds so perverted. In his administration he must disregard their opinions and attempts. Thus, being made fools by their own wisdom, they may stumble and be offended at it. So would God, by showing us the realities, convince us of the futility of our own endeavors and lead us to acknowledge that we have not fathomed his mind, his counsel and will, and that we cannot counsel him. No man or angel has ever yet first thought out for God his counsel, or offered suggestion to him. Much less is he compelled to call us into counsel, or recompense us for anything we have given to him.




30. There are three different kinds of people on earth, among whom Christians must live. The first of these are that rude class which is unconcerned about the nature of God and how he rules. They have no regard for God's Word. Their faith is only in their mammon and their own appetites. They think only of how they may live unto themselves, like swine in the sty. To such we need not preach anything of this text: ”O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God.” They would understand nothing of it though we were to preach it to them everlastingly. They would rather hear of the husks and swill with which they fill themselves. Therefore we will let them remain the swine that they are, and separated from others as they are. But it is exasperating to have to encounter them among Christians.


31. The second class are they who are still reasonable, concerning themselves, about God's purposes and their fulfilment, and how we may be saved. The heathen, and even we ourselves when under the papacy, contended, according to reason, over these things. Here is the beginning of all  idolatry on earth; everyone teaches of God according to his own opinion. Mohammed says: He that believes his Koran and its doctrines is pleasing to God. A monk: He that is faithful to the order and its regulations will be saved. The Pope: He who observes his prescriptions and ritual, who makes a pilgrimage to the apostles at Rome, buys himself an indulgence; he has acquired the forgiveness of sins: but he who neglects it is under the wrath of God. These observances they call judgments and ways, controlling consciences and directing them to eternal life; and they imagine that they are God's judgments and ways.


32. On the contrary, the Word declares that God wants none of these things; that they are error and darkness and a vain service - idolatry, which he hates and which provokes him to the utmost. All must acknowledge who have practiced their own self-appointed observances for any length of time, that they have no real assurance that God will be gracious unto them and take pleasure in them because of their lives and observances. Yet, in their blind delusion and presumption, they go on in their vagaries till God touches their hearts by a revelation of his law; then, alarmed, they must admit that they have lived without a knowledge of God and of his will, and that they have no counsel or help unless they lay hold on the words of the Gospel of Christ.


33. We were all like that heretofore. Even I, a learned doctor of divinity, did not know better. I imagined that with my monk's cowl I was pleasing to God and on the way to heaven. I thought that I knew the mind of God well. I wanted to be his counselor, and to earn a recompense of him. But now I realize that my belief was false; it was blindness. I know that I must learn from his Word; that nothing else avails before him but faith in the crucified Christ, his Son; and that in such faith we must live, and do as our respective callings or positions require. Thus we may know right and wrong in God's sight; for our knowledge is not of our own invention, but we have it from revelation. By revelation God shows us his mind; as Saint Paul says (I Cor 2, 16): ”We have the mind of Christ.” And again (verse 10): ”But unto us God revealed them through the Spirit.


34. The third class are those who transgress, having knowledge. They have the Word of revelation. I am not now speaking of those who knowingly persecute the truth - those of the first class, who are unconcerned about God - but I am speaking of those who recognize the revelation but are led by the devil to override it and go around it. They would conceive ways and judgments of God that he has not revealed. If they were Christians, they would be satisfied and thank God for having given us his Word, in which he shows us what is pleasing to him and how we may be saved. But instead, they allow themselves to be led by the devil to seek for other revelations and to speculate on what God in his invisible majesty is, and how he secretly governs the world, and what he has determined in regard to the future of each particular individual. And so presumptuous is our human nature that it would even interfere, with its wisdom, in God's judgment, and intrude into his most secret counsel, attempting to teach him and direct him. It was because of his arrogance that the devil was cast out into the abyss of hell; because he aspired to interference in the affairs of divine majesty, and would drag down man in the fall with himself. So did he cause man to fall in paradise, and so did he tempt the saints; and so he tempted Christ himself when he set him on the pinnacle of the temple.


35. Against this third class Saint Paul directs his words, in answer to the impudent questions of wise reason as to why God punished and rejected the Jews, as he did, and allowed the condemned heathen to come into the Gospel grace; why he so administers justice as to exalt the godless and allow the godly to suffer and be oppressed; why he elected Judas as an apostle and afterwards rejected him and accepted a murderer and malefactor. With these words Saint Paul would command the wise to cease their impertinent strivings after the things of the secret majesty, and to  confine themselves to the revelation he has given us; for all such searching and prying will be in vain and harmful. Though you were to search forever you would nowhere attain the secrets of God's purposes, but would only risk your soul.


36. If you, therefore, would proceed wisely, you cannot do better than to be interested in the Word and in God's works. In them he has revealed himself, and in them he may be comprehended. For instance, he manifests his Son, Christ, to you, on the cross. This is the work of your redemption. In it you may truly apprehend God, and learn that he will not condemn you on account of your sins, if you believe, but will give you everlasting life. So Christ tells you: ”God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Jn 3, 16. In this Christ, says Saint Paul (Col 2, 3), are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden. Herein you will have more than enough to learn, to study and ponder. You will marvel at the wonderful revelation of God, and you will learn to delight in and love him. It is a mine which can never be exhausted in this life by study, and in the contemplation of which, as Peter says (I Pet 1, 12), even the angels never tire, but find unceasing joy and pleasure.


37. I say this so that we may be prepared to instruct and direct those we may meet who, assailed and tormented by such thoughts of the devil, are led to tempt God. They are beguiled by the devil to search and grope, in his false ways, after what may be the intention of God concerning them, and thereby they are led into such apprehension and despair that they are unable to endure it. Such individuals must be reminded of these words, and be reproved by them. So did Paul reprove the Jews and cavilers of his day when they presumed to comprehend God with their wisdom, to instruct him as his counselors and masters, to deal with him directly themselves, without any mediator, and to render him such service that he would owe them a recompense. Nothing will come of such searching. Against its endeavors he has erected barriers that, with all your striving, you will never be able to overcome. And so infinite are his wisdom, his counsel and riches, that you will never be able to fathom nor exhaust them. You ought to rejoice that he gives you some knowledge of his omnipotence in his revelation, as follows:


”For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever.”

38. Why should we boast, he would say here, when everything that has being - and our own wisdom and capabilities, of course - did not originate itself but had its origin in him and must be preserved by him, must exist through him? He says (Acts 17, 28): ”For in him we live, and move, and have our being.” And again (Ps 100, 3): ”It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves.” That is, what we are and are able to do, and the fact that we live and have peace and protection - in short, all the good or evil that happens to us - comes to pass not by accident or chance. It all proceeds from his divine counsel and good pleasure. He cares for us as his people and flock. He governs us and gives us good things. He aids and preserves us in every time of need. Therefore, all honor and glory are due to him alone, from his creatures.




39. But when he says, Of him, through him, in him, are all things - he says in the simplest way that the beginning, middle and end is of God; that all creatures have their origin in him, also their growth and their limitations. To illustrate: Every little grain of corn has its beginning. A root springs from the dead seed in the ground; then a shoot comes forth and becomes a stalk, a leaflet, an ear of corn, and here it pauses, having the three parts it is intended to have. All creatures also have their beginning, their continuation and end, filling up the period of their existence. When this order ceases, every creature will cease to exist. That which has a beginning and grows but does not attain its end, does not reach perfection, is nothing. To sum it all up, everything must be of God. Nothing can exist without origin in him. Nothing that has come into being can  continue to exist without him. He has not created the world as a carpenter builds a house and, departing, leaves it to stand as it may. God remains with and preserves all things which he has made; otherwise they would not continue to exist.


40. Saint Paul does not simply say - as he does elsewhere - Of him are all things. He adds two other assertions, making a triple expression, and then unites the three thoughts into one whole when he says, ”To him be the glory for ever.” No doubt it was his intention therewith to convey the thought of this article of faith and to distinguish the three persons of the Godhead, even though he does not mention them by name, which is not necessary here. The ancient teachers also looked upon this passage as a testimony to the Holy Trinity. Their analysis was: All things are created by God the Father through the Son - even as he does all things through the Son - and are preserved, in God's good pleasure, through the Holy Spirit. So Paul is wont to say elsewhere; for example (I Cor 8, 6): ”There is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things.” And concerning the Holy Spirit, Genesis 1, 31 says: ”And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.


41. The Scriptures teach us that all creation is the work of one God, or the whole Godhead; and yet, inasmuch as they make a distinction between the three persons of the one Godhead, we may properly say that everything, had its origin, everything exists and continues, in the Father as the first person; through the Son, who is of the Father; and in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from both the Father and the Son; which three, nevertheless, are comprehended in the one undivided essence.


42. But how such a distinction of persons exists in the divine essence from eternity is a mystery which we shall and must leave unsolved. For we cannot, with our crude understanding, even fathom God's creatures; no creature is wise enough to understand these three parts of itself - the beginning, the middle and the end. Though they are distinct from each other, nevertheless they are so closely connected that we cannot with our physical senses separate one from the other. Who has ever been able to discover or explain the process by which a leaflet grows from a tree, or a tiny grain of corn becomes a root, or a cherry grows from the blossom to wood and kernel? Again, who can explain how the bodily members of a human being manifestly grow; what the sight of the eye is; how the tongue can make such a variety of sounds and words, which enter, with marvelous diversity, into so many ears and hearts? Much less are we able to analyze the inner workings of the mind - its thoughts, its meditations, its memory. Why, then, should we presume, with our reason, to compass and comprehend the eternal, invisible essence of God?








ROMANS 11:33-36.  



1. This festival requires us to instruct the people in the dogma of the Holy Trinity, and to strengthen both memory and faith concerning it. This is the reason why we take up the subject once more. Without proper instruction and a sound foundation in this regard, other dogmas cannot be rightly and successfully treated. The other festivals of the year present the Lord God clothed in his works and miracles. For instance: on Christmas we celebrate his incarnation; on Easter his resurrection from the dead; on Whit-sunday the gift of the Holy Spirit and the establishment of the Christian Church. Thus all the other festivals present the Lord in the guise of a worker of one thing or another. But this Trinity Festival discloses him to us as he is in himself. Here we see him apart from whatever guise assumed, from whatever work done, solely in his divine essence. We must go beyond and above all reason, leaving behind the evidence of created things, and hear only God’s own testimony concerning himself and his inner essence; otherwise we shall remain unenlightened.


2. Upon this subject the foolishness of God and the wisdom of the world conflict. God’s declaration that he is one God in three distinct persons, the world looks upon as wholly unreasonable and foolish; and the followers of mere reason, when they hear it, regard every one that teaches or believes it as no more than a fool. Therefore this article has been assailed continually, from the times of the apostles and the fathers down to the present day, as history testifies. Especially the Gospel of St. John has been subjected to attack, which was written for the special purpose of fortifying this dogma against the attacks of Cerinthus the heretic, who in the apostolic age already attempted to prove from Moses the existence of but one God, which he assigned as reason that our Lord Jesus cannot be true God on account of the impossibility of God and man being united in one being. Thus he gave us the prattle of his reason, which he made the sole standard for heaven to conform to.


3. O shameless reason! How can we poor, miserable mortals grasp this mystery of the Trinity? we who do not understand the operation of our own physical powers–speech, laughter, sleep, things whereof we have daily experience? Yet we would, untaught by the Word of God, guided merely by our fallible head, pronounce upon the very nature of God. Is it not supreme blindness for man, when he is unable to explain the most insignificant physical operation daily witnessed in his own body, to presume to understand something above and beyond the power of reason to comprehend, something whereof only God can speak, and to rashly affirm that Christ is not God ?


4. Indeed, if reason were the standard of judgment in such matters, I also might make a successful venture; but when the conclusions of even long and mature reflections upon the subject are compared with Scripture, they will not stand. Therefore we must repeat, even though a mere stammering should be the result, what the Scriptures say to us, namely: that Jesus Christ is true God and that the Holy Spirit is likewise true God, yet there are not three Gods; not three divine natures, as we may speak of three brothers, three angels, three suns, three windows. There is one indivisible divine essence, while we recognize a distinction as to the persons.



Paul, speaking of Christ in Hebrews 1:3, refers to him as the express image of God’s substance. Again, in Colossians 1:15 he says of Christ: “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” We must take these words for what they say–that all creatures, even angels and men, are ranked below Christ. This classification leaves room for God only: taking away the creature, only God remains. It is one and the same thing, then, to say that Christ is the firstborn of all creatures and that Christ is true and essential God.


5. To make the matter as clear as possible Paul uses the expression “image of the invisible God.” If Christ be the image of God he must be a person distinct from him whose image he is, but at the same time in one divine essence with the Father. He and the Father are not one person, but two, and yet Christ could not be the express image of the Father’s person, or essence, if he were not equally divine. No creature can be an image of the divine essence, for it does not possess that essence. To repeat, Christ could not be called the express image of God if he and the Father were not distinct persons; there must be one imaged and one who is the image. Expressed more clearly and according to Scripture, one person is the Father, who in eternity begets the other; the other is the Son, begotten in eternity, yet both are equally eternal, mighty, wise and just.


6. Though the Jews and Turks ridicule our doctrine, as if we taught the existence of three brothers in heaven, it does not signify. Might I also cavil were it to serve any purpose here. But they do us wrong and falsify our teaching; for we do not conceive of the Trinity as in the nature of three men or of three angels. We regard it as one divine essence, an intimacy surpassing any earthly unity. The human body and soul are not so completely one as the Triune God. Further, we claim the Holy Scriptures teach that in the one divine essence, God the Father begot a son. Before any creature was made, before the world was created, as Paul says, “before the foundation of the world,” in eternity, the Father begot a Son who is equal with him and in all respects God like himself. Not otherwise could Paul call Christ the express image of the invisible God. Thus it is proven that the Father and the Son are distinct persons, and that nevertheless but one God exists, a conclusion we cannot escape unless we would contradict Paul, and would become Jews and Turks.



7. Again, Paul makes mention of Christ in different phrase, saying: “Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.” 1 Corinthians 10:9. Now, keeping this verse in mind, note how Paul and Moses kiss each other, how clearly the one responds to the other. For Moses says ( Numbers 14:22): “All those men… have tempted me these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice,” and in this connection the speaker is represented by the term “Lord,” everywhere in the Bible printed by us in capitals to indicate a name belonging only to the Eternal, applicable to none but the one true God. Other terms used to designate God are sometimes applied also to men, but this word “Lord” refers only to God. Now, Moses says: “And the Lord [Adonai, the true God] said… All these men… have tempted me these ten times.” Then comes Paul explaining who this God is–saying they tempted “Christ.” Crawl through this statement if you may; the fact remains that Paul declares it was Christ who was tempted, and Moses makes him the one eternal and true God. Moreover, Christ was not at that time born; no, nor were Mary and David. Nevertheless, the apostle plainly says, They tempted Christ, let us not also tempt him.


8. Certainly enough, then, Christ is the man to whom Moses refers as God. Thus the testimony of Moses long before is identical with that of Paul. Though employing different terms, they both confess Christ as the Son of God, born in eternity of the Father, in the same divine essence and yet distinct from him. You may call this difference what you will; we indicate it by the term “person.” True, we do not make a wholly clear explanation of the mystery; we but stammer when speaking of a “Trinity? But what are we to do? we cannot better the attempt. So, then, the Father is not the Son, but the Son is born of the Father in eternity; and the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father and God the Son. Thus there are three persons, and yet but one God. For what Moses declares concerning God Paul says is spoken of Christ.


9. The same argument substantially Paul employs in Acts 20:28, when, blessing the Church of Miletus and exhorting the assembled ministers concerning their office, he says: “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood.” This, too, is a significant text, proving beyond all controversy that Christ our Lord, who purchased the Church with his blood, is truly God, and to him the Church belongs. For the apostle plainly asserts it was God who bought the Church with his blood and that the Church is his own. Now, in view of the fact already established that the persons are distinct, and of the further statement that God has purchased the Church through his own blood, we inevitably conclude that Christ our Savior is true God, born of the Father in eternity, and that he also became man and was born of the Virgin Mary in time.


10. If such blood–the material, tangible, crimson blood, shed by a real man–is truly to be called the blood of God, then he who shed it must be actually God, an eternal, almighty person in the one divine essence. In that case we truly can say the blood flowing from the side of the crucified One and spilled upon the ground is not merely the blood of an ordinary man, but God’s own. Paul does not indulge in frivolous talk. He speaks of a most momentous matter; and he is in dead earnest when he in his exhortation reminds us that it is an exalted office to rule the Church and to feed it with the Word of God. Lest we toy in the performance of such an office we are reminded that the flock is as dear to him as the blood of his dear Son, so precious that all creatures combined can furnish no equivalent. And if we are indolent or unfaithful, we sin against the blood of God and become guilty of it, inasmuch as through our fault it has been shed in vain for the souls which we should oversee.


11. There are many passages of similar import, particularly in the Gospel of John. So we cannot evade the truth but must say God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are three individual persons, yet of one divine essence. We do not, as the Jews and Turks derisively allege, worship three Gods; we worship only one God, represented to us in the Scriptures as three persons. Christ said to Philip ( John 14:9), “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” There Christ claims unity and equality with the Father in the one divine essence. So does Paul in Colossians 1:15, where he calls Christ “the image of the invisible God,” at the same time indicating two distinct persons: the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father, yet they are one God. Such passages, I say, are frequent. By means of them the sainted fathers valiantly maintained this dogma of the Trinity against the devil and the world, thus making it our heritage.


12. Now, what care we that reason should regard it as foolishness? It requires no skill to cavil over these things; I could do that as well as others. But, praise God, I have the grace to desire no controversy on this point. When I know it is the Word of God that declares the Trinity, that God has said so, I do not inquire how it can be true; I am content with the simple Word of God, let it harmonize with reason as it may. And every Christian should adopt the same course with respect to all the articles of our faith. Let there be no caviling and contention on the score of possibility; be satisfied with the inquiry: Is it the Word of God? If a thing be his Word, if he has spoken it, you may confidently rely upon it he will not lie nor deceive you, though you may not understand the how and the when. Since, then, this article of the Holy Trinity is certified by the Word of God, and the sainted fathers have from the inception of the Church chivalrously defended and maintained the article against every sect, we are not to dispute as to how God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one God. This is an incomprehensible mystery, it is enough that God in his Word gives such testimony of himself. Both his nature and its revelation to us are far beyond our understanding.



13. And why should you presume to comprehend, to exactly understand, the sublime, inconceivable divine essence when you are wholly ignorant of your own body and life? You cannot explain the action of your laughter, nor how your eyes give you knowledge of a castle or mountain ten miles away. You cannot tell how in sleep one, dead to the external world, is yet alive. If we are unable to understand the least detail of our physical selves, anything so insignificant as the growth of a mere hair, for instance, can we, unaided by the revelation of God’s Word, climb by reason–that reason so blind to things within its natural realm–into the realm of heavenly mysteries and comprehend and define God in his majesty? If you employ reason from mere love of disputation, why not devote it to questions concerning the daily workings of your physical nature? for instance, where are the five senses during sleep? just how is the sound of your own laughter produced? We might without sin occupy ourselves with such questions. But as to the absolute truth in a matter such as this, let us abide patiently by the authority of the Word. The Word says that Christ is the express image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creatures; in other words, he is God equally with the Father.


14. Again, John 5:23 testifies that all should honor the Son as they honor the Father. And in John 12:44 we read: “He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me.” Also, John 14:1: “Believe in God, believe also in me.” And again, John 16:15: “All things whatsoever the Father hath are mine.” These and similar passages are armor that cannot be pierced; for they are uttered by God, who does not lie and who alone is qualified to speak the truth concerning himself. Thus the dogma of the Trinity is thoroughly founded upon the holy Scriptures.



15. Now, having established the existence of Christ in the Trinity, we must next consider the third person, the Holy Spirit, in Scripture sometimes termed the “Spirit” of God and sometimes his “Soul.” This person is not spoken of as “born”; he is not born like the Son, but proceeds from the Father and the Son. To express it differently, he is a person possessing in eternity the divine essence, which he derives from the Father and Son in unity in the same way the Son derives it from the Father alone. There are, then, three distinct persons in one divine essence, one divine majesty. According to the Scripture explanation of the mystery, Christ the Lord is the Son of God from eternity, the express image of the Father, and equally great, mighty, wise and just. All deity, wisdom, power and might inherent in the Father is also in Christ, and likewise in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from Father and Son. Now, when you are asked to explain the Trinity, reply that it is an incomprehensible mystery, beyond the understanding of angels and creatures, the knowledge of which is confined to the revelations of Scripture.


16. Rightly did the fathers compose the Creed, or Symbol, in the simple form repeated by Christian children: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son… I believe in the Holy Ghost.” This confession we did not devise, nor did the fathers of former times. As the bee collects honey from many fair and gay flowers, so is this Creed collected, in appropriate brevity, from the books of the beloved prophets and apostles–from the entire holy Scriptures–for children and for unlearned Christians. It is fittingly called the “Apostle’s Symbol,” or “Apostle’s Creed.” For brevity and clearness it could not have been better arranged, and it has remained in the Church from ancient time. It must either have been composed by the apostles themselves or it was collected from their writings and sermons by their ablest disciples.


17. It begins “I believe.” In whom? “In God the Father.” This is the first person in the Godhead. For the sake of clear distinction, the peculiar attribute and office in which each person manifests himself is briefly expressed. With the first it is the work of creation. True, creation is not the work of one individual person, but of the one divine, eternal essence as such. We must say, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit created heaven and earth. Yet that work is more especially predicated of the person of the Father, the first person, for the reason that creation is the only work of the Father in which he has stepped forth out of concealment into observation; it is the first work wrought by the divine Majesty upon the creature. By the word “Father” he is particularly and rightly distinguished from the other persons of the Trinity. It indicates him as the first person, derived from no other, the Son and the Holy Spirit having existence from him.


18. Continuing, the Creed says, I believe in another who is also God. For to believe is something we owe to no being but God alone. Who is this second person? Jesus Christ. God’s only begotten Son. Christians have so confessed for more than fifteen hundred years; indeed, such has been the confession of believers from the beginning of the world. Though not employing precisely these words, yet this has been their faith and profession.


19. The first designation of God the Son makes him the only Son of God. Although angels are called sons of the Lord our God, and even Christians are termed his children, yet no one of these is said to be the “only” or “only-begotten” Son. Such is the effect of Christ’s birth from the Father that he is unequaled by any creature, not excepting even the angels. For he is in truth and by nature the Son of God the Father; that is, he is of the same divine, eternal, uncreated essence.


20. Next comes the enumeration of the acts peculiar to him: “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” The distinct personality of the Son is thus demonstrated by acts peculiar to himself. Not the Father and not the Holy Spirit, but the Son alone, assumed human nature of flesh and blood, like unto ours, to suffer, die, rise again and ascend into heaven.


21. In the third place we confess, “I believe in the Holy Ghost.” Here again a distinct person is named, yet one in divine essence with the Father and the Son; for we must believe in no one but the true God, in obedience to the first commandment: “I am Jehovah thy God… Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Thus briefly this confession comprehends the unity of the divine essence– we accept and worship only one God–and the revealed truth that in the Trinity are three distinct persons. The same distinction is indicated in holy baptism; we are baptized into the faith of one God, yet Christ commands us to baptize “into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”


22. The peculiarity of this third person is the fact that he proceeds from both the Father and the Son. He is therefore called also the Spirit of the Father and the Son; he is poured into the human heart and reveals himself in the gathering of the Church of Christ in all tongues. Through the Word of the Gospel he enlightens and kindles the hearts of men unto one faith, sanctifying, quickening and saving them.


23. So the Creed confesses three persons as comprehended in one divine essence, each one, however, retaining his distinct personality; and in order that the simple Christian may recognize that there is but one divine essence and one God, who is tri-personal, a special work, peculiar to himself, is ascribed to each person. And such acts, peculiar to each person, are mentioned for the reason that thus a confusion of persons is avoided. To the Father we ascribe the work of creation; to the Son the work of Redemption; to the Holy Spirit the power to forgive sins, to gladden, to strengthen, to transport from death to life eternal. The thought is not that the Father alone is the Creator, the Son alone Redeemer and the Holy Spirit alone Sanctifier. The creation and preservation of the universe, atonement for sin and its forgiveness, resurrection from the dead and the gift of eternal life–all these are operations of the one Divine Majesty as such. Yet the Father is especially emphasized in the work of creation, which proceeds originally from him as the first person; the Son is emphasized in the redemption he has accomplished in his own person; and the Holy Spirit in the peculiar work of sanctification, which is both his mission and revelation. Such distinction is made for the purpose of affording Christians the unqualified assurance that there is but one God and yet three persons in the one divine essence– truths the sainted fathers have faithfully gathered from the writings of Moses, the prophets and the apostles, and which they have maintained against all heretics.


24. This faith has descended to us by inheritance, and by his power God has maintained it in his Church, against sects and adversaries, unto the present time. So we must abide by it in its simplicity and not be wise. Christians are under the necessity of believing things apparently foolish to reason. As Paul says ( 1 Corinthians 1:21): “It was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe.” How can reason adapt itself to comprehend that three are one, and one is three; that God became man; that he who is washed with water in obedience to Christ’s command, is washed with the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and cleansed from all sins? Such articles of faith appear utterly foolish to reason. Paul aptly calls the Gospel foolish preaching wherewith God saves such as do not depend on their own wisdom but simply believe the Word. They who will follow reason in the things dealt with in these articles, and will reject the Word, shall be defeated and destroyed in their wisdom.


25. Now, we have in the holy Scriptures and in the Creed sufficient information concerning the Holy Trinity, and all that is necessary for the instruction of ordinary Christians. Besides, the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ and that of the Holy Spirit is also attested by miracles not to be lightly esteemed nor disregarded. The Lord our God brings to pass miraculous things for the Christian’s sake–for the strengthening of his faith–and not merely as a rebuke to false teachers. Were he to consider the false teachers alone, he might easily defer their retribution to the future life, since he permits many other transgressors to go unpunished for ten, twenty or thirty years. But the fact is, God openly in this life lays hold upon leaders of sects who blaspheme and slander him with their false doctrines. He inflicts upon them unusual punishments for the sake of warning others. Besides being openly convicted of blasphemy and having the condemnation of their own conscience, the misguided ones receive testimony to the fact that these false leaders are instigators of blasphemy against God’s name and his Word. All men are compelled to admit God can have no pleasure in their doctrine, since he visits them with special marks of his displeasure, destroying them with severer punishments than ordinarily befall offenders.


26. History records that John the evangelist had as contemporary a heretic, by the name of Cerinthus, who was the first to arise in opposition to the apostolic doctrine and in blasphemy against the Lord Jesus with the claim that Jesus is not God. This blasphemy spread to such an extent that John saw himself compelled to supplement the work of the other evangelists with his Gospel, whose distinct purpose it is to defend and maintain the deity of Christ against Cerinthus and his rabble. A feature of John’s Gospel patent to all is the sublime beginning of his Gospel which renders it distinct from the others. He does not lay stress upon the miraculous doings of Christ, but upon his preaching, wherein he reveals himself powerfully as true God, born of the Father from eternity, and his equal in power, honor, wisdom, righteousness and every other divine work. With respect to John and Cerinthus it is reported that the former, having gone to a public bath with some of his disciples, became aware that Cerinthus and his rabble were there, also. Without hesitation he told his disciples to be up and away, and not to abide among blasphemers. The disciples followed his advice and departed. Immediately after their departure the room collapsed, and Cerinthus with his followers perished, not one escaping.


27. We also read concerning the heretic Arius, the chief foe of his time toward the dogma of the deity of Christ. the injury done by this man to the cause of Christ was such as to occupy the Church for four centuries after his death; and still today his heresy has not been altogether rooted out. But the Lord took the matter in hand by the performance of a miracle which could not but be understood. History records that Arius had ingratiated himself into the favor of Constantine, the emperor, and his counselors. With an oath he had succeeded in impressing them with the righteousness of his doctrine, so that the emperor gave command that Alexander, bishop of Constantinople, should recognize him as a member of the Christian Church and restore him to the priestly office. When the godly bishop refused to accede to this demand, knowing full well the purpose pursued by Arius and his followers, Eusebius and the other bishops who supported Arius threatened him with the imperial edict and expressed the determination to drive him out by force and to have Arius restored by the congregation as such. However, they gave him a day to think the matter over.


28. The godly bishop was fearful. The following of Arius was large and powerful, being supported by the imperial edict and the whole court. The bishop, therefore, resolved to seek help from God, where alone it is found in all things relating to God’s honor. He fell down upon his face in the church and prayed all night long that God should preserve his name and honor by methods calculated to stem the tide of evil purpose, and to preserve Christendom; against the heretics. When it was morning, and the hour had come when Alexander the bishop should either restore Arius to office or be cast out of his own, Arius convened punctually with his followers. As the procession was wending its way to the church, Arius suddenly felt ill and was compelled to seek privacy. The pompous procession halted, waiting his return, when the message came that his lungs and liver had passed from him, causing his death. The narrative comments: Mortem dignam blasphema et foetida mente–a death worthy such a blasphemous and turpid mind.


29. We see, then, that this dogma has been preserved by God first through the writings and the conflicts of the apostles, and then by miracles, against the devil and his blasphemers. And it shall be preserved in the future likewise, so that, without a trace of doubt, we may believe in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. This is the faith which we confess with our children daily. To guard against a mixing of persons or the abandonment of the tri-personality, three distinct acts are predicated. This should enable the common Christian to avoid confusing the persons, while maintaining the divine unity as to essence. We proclaim these things on this Sunday in order to call attention to the fact that we have not come upon this doctrine in a dream, but by the grace of God through his Word and the holy apostles and Fathers. God help us to be found constant and without blemish in this doctrine and faith to our end. Amen.










(or sunday after Pentecost)

JOHN 3:1-15.


German text: Erlangen Edition, 12:427; Walch Edition, II, 1569; St. Louis Walch. 11:1162.



The instruction Christ gives Nicodemus on the new birth, and the righteousness that avails before god.





King James Version

John 3:1-15

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.


1. This is another beautiful Gospel and treats of the foremost and chief doctrine in Christendom, namely, the article, How a person becomes holy and righteous in the sight of God. And there is here placed before us a beautiful allegory, showing how reason at its best and holiness in its highest state on earth run aground upon the genuine truth and spiritualness of this matter. For this person, Nicodemus, is highly praised by the Evangelist John, who states that he was great both as to the esteem with which he was regarded among his fellow men, and also as to his beautiful life in accordance with the Law. He was a ruler of the Jews, that is. a counselor in their governmental affairs; and in addition a Pharisee, that is, one of the most learned men, for they were regarded as the wisest. Moreover, he was one of the most pious men; for the members of this sect. were considered the greatest saints. Thus, no fault or blame can be laid on him, and he cannot be made greater: in the government he is a ruler, in knowledge the wisest, and in his life the saintliest.


2. Above these, there is in him another grace, namely, that he has a fondness for Christ, the Lord. This was a virtue far above the other three. The other rulers and Pharisees, though they were the wisest and holiest men, persecuted Christ and allied him with the devil; and no one dared to grumble at their decision; for the grumbler was expelled from the council and unchurched. Still, Nicodemus is so holy as to love Christ and to approach him in secret in order to speak with him and show his love for him.


3. Indeed, he must have been a particularly excellent man among the Pharisees and a man as truly pious as he could be by nature and according to the Law, earnestly seeking the truth and inquiring how and what men were teaching and preaching. Being a wise man, he also observed that this Jesus must be an extraordinary person, and was moved by his miracles to desire to hear him personally and to speak with him regarding his doctrine. For, no doubt, he had heard and learned that John the Baptist recently had introduced a new sort of preaching and baptism and had proclaimed the Messiah, who was then coming, while he had sharply and severely attacked and reproved the Pharisees, as this man is now also doing. Accordingly, he is moved to go to him and to hear what it is that he teaches, and what he is reproving. For an intelligent person like himself cannot understand why there should be anything deserving censure or blame in the Pharisees’ holy life according to the Law and in their beautiful works.


4. Therefore, he goes to Christ with thoughts like these: Christ will rejoice to see me come and will be highly pleased because such a great and excellent man, one of the rulers and of the best of men, so humbles himself and shows such honor to a lowly person like Christ as to go to him and to seek his friendship, a thing Christ dare not expect of anyone. Thus he sets out in a pleasant mood, expecting to be made welcome and to be very kindly received. Nor has he the least fear that possibly he may be reproved or put to school, but he imagines that, since he is acting like a good friend, Christ will in turn treat him respectfully and kindly. Occasionally it still may happen that an earnest preacher is deceived by a person of this sort and allows the good opinion expressed to tickle him, causing him to flatter and fawn in turn.

       Nicodemus, then, begins with these words:


“Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God” etc.

5. That is great praise for this preacher, by which Nicodemus offers his testimony that Christ’s doctrine is from God; that is, that it is genuine truth and God’s Word, notwithstanding Christ was not thus esteemed by all the Pharisees and rulers, but rather considered a seditious spirit and an impostor who had come forward without a commission from the proper authorities, and, in opposition to them, would attach the people to himself etc. Nevertheless, since Christ introduces a doctrine other than that which they had learned heretofore from the Law, and since he assails the Pharisees so vigorously, Nicodemus is as yet perplexed and desires to know what better and different things Christ can possibly teach. His remarks are as if to say: We see and know very well that your doctrine is beyond reproach and censure and must be true and divine; and whoever wants to bear witness to the truth must so confess. For this is proven by the signs and wonders which you do and which no other ever has done nor can do. However, what do you mean by bringing forward another doctrine and by reproving us? Are our doctrine and works, then, vain and valueless? What do you find in them to censure? We surely have the Law of Moses, which, without a doubt, was given by God. Why, then, do you reprove us when we exert ourselves with all diligence to keep and fulfill the Law, as though God had no pleasure therein and we could not thereby enter heaven? And why do you receive publicans and other manifest sinners instead? What other and better things with which to please God can be taught or practiced?


6. Thus you see that the question which Nicodemus seeks to have answered by Christ is none other than, How may a person lead a righteous life in the sight of God or, as the apostles express it, how become righteous and obtain eternal life? To this question Christ returns a curt and dry answer; he shows himself an altogether different person than Nicodemus had expected to find him. First, he affronts Nicodemus rather harshly, and repels him, as it were, with a thunderbolt, saying:


“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

7. This is a hard text indeed, and an unfriendly reply to so friendly a greeting. For with these words he upsets all pretensions of Nicodemus; yea, he demolishes and condemns all his works and life. He means to say: You consider me not qualified to censure your beautiful discipline and worship as Pharisees, and unable to teach anything better; that is, you do not regard me more than a teacher and instructor of human works, even as you place no higher esteem on your Messiah and expect him to be no more than a person who will praise and laud, guard and keep, your Law and regulations, and who on that account will place you in high honor and authority. But since you take me for a master come from God, I will tell you something that you have not heard before and do not know: My dear Nicodemus, do not imagine that you will please God and be saved by your life and works, no matter how beautiful and precious they may be, even though they be according to the Law. Although it is true that God has given the Law and demands that you keep it, still you are not righteous in God’s sight on that account; for it is one thing to have the Law and another to fulfill it. It is far from being fulfilled by your outward performance of its works. It must be kept wholly and perfectly, with body and soul, and from the innermost heart, without any disobedience and sin whatever. You Pharisees and self-righteous people are not doing this; for you imagine that you can give God his due by outward holiness, and, relying on and being secure in such holiness, you live in a false confidence, void of the fear of God, yea, you despise his wrath against sin. Moreover, you despise and condemn other people who do not regard your holiness highly and do not pattern after it.


8. To state the matter briefly, he says: Your life and works, which you consider holy, and those of all Pharisees, yea, of all men, are void and avail nothing in the sight of God. A change must take place by which a person is born anew, that is, he must become an entirely different person; otherwise he cannot enter the kingdom of God. There, now, you hear what is my doctrine, about which you have inquired. I do not teach in opposition to the Law of God, to destroy it, but I only charge you with not having kept it, yea, with not understanding it, though you pretend to be its instructors and imagine that you are fulfilling it. You imagine that I ought to preach the Law, the same as you do, and that if the laws of Moses, which you claim to have kept, are not sufficient, I ought to bring to you a new and better law teaching good works, just as you set up many self-elected works in addition to God’s Law, as though you had already fulfilled it.


9. But I am not telling you of new articles, laws or works, for those the Law enjoins are already more than you can do and keep. But I teach that you must become altogether different persons. My teaching is not concerning what you must do or not do, but concerning what you must become. It aims not at the performance of new works, but first at being born anew; not at a different life, but at a different birth. It will not do to put the end before the beginning, or alongside of it; to expect fruit before or as soon as there is a root. The tree must first be made new and there must be a good and proper root, if the fruits and works are to be good. It is not the hand and foot or their actions that must be changed, but the person, that is, the entire man. If this has not taken place, works are of no value and of no avail whatever and a person cannot see the kingdom of God; in other words, he must remain under the condemnation of sin and everlasting death.


10. This was, verily, strange and unheard-of preaching, and a rough and surly answer to our holy Nicodemus who had come to the Lord wellintentioned and thinking that he was in the right way. He had expected least of all that Christ would or could condemn his goodly life and his zeal in keeping the Law. On the contrary, he had hoped that Christ would have to praise them as an example to others, or that he would urge him to continue, or would suggest to him some other work which he was yet to do. Such he was prepared to hear and to do. And now he hears instead that Christ utterly rejects him and condemns all his good and holy living, thus proceeding in an altogether absurd manner. He praises Christ as a good man; Christ in turn accosts him, saying: And you are a bad man. He gives honor to Christ and calls him a teacher come from God; Christ in turn tells him that both his doctrine and life are wrong and have already been ruled out of heaven. For what else is the meaning of his words than this: You are doing many beautiful works and imagine yourself to be holy and without reproach, so that you must needs please God. But I tell you, all that you have done in your past life, or that you may still do in this life, is lost labor and condemned in God’s sight, and not only your works but also your heart and your entire nature – all that you are and all that you do. All must be put aside; the tree with its root and fruits must be cast out and burned, and a new tree must be created.


11. Thus, this first part of Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus is nothing else than a real, sharp call to repentance. Christ, like a faithful preacher, takes pity on Nicodemus because he is so ignorant and still very far from the kingdom of God. Hence he curtly closes and denies heaven to him, yea, he condemns him and hands him over to the devil, stating that, as he now lives or may be able to live in the future, he can never enter the kingdom of God, but must be lost and remain in the power of the devil, of death and of hell. He does this in order that Nicodemus may be brought to a knowledge of self and attain to a genuine understanding and life before God. Penitential preaching of this sort is particularly needed by people like Nicodemus, who pursue their course in the righteousness of their own works and claim to be holy and righteous in the sight of God because they are blameless in the eyes of the world.


12. Thus, Christ always begins the preaching of the Gospel with this point: He first reveals and teaches that which no man’s reason has gathered or known from the Law, namely, that all men in their natural state and life are condemned and under sin. St. Paul also proves this conclusively in the very beginning of his Epistle to the Romans. And this is the first sentence and conclusion here laid down that, in his natural state and with his every ability, man cannot fulfill the Law of God, though he may attempt to keep it; that keeping the Law does not mean doing its work outwardly, as far as human strength is able; and that, consequently, the Law cannot aid man to become holy in the sight of God nor save him from sin and everlasting wrath.


13. If this were in man’s power and could be brought about in our nature by means of the Law, Christ could not say regarding all men, as he does here: “Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” That is certainly saying that man in his old nature, no matter to what eminent height he may attain by his gifts of reason, wisdom and virtue, cannot rid himself of sin nor of the power of death, nor can he please God. In short, there must be an entirely different being; that is, the entire person must be changed so as to obtain an altogether new mind and heart, and new thoughts and feelings.


14. Thus you see overthrown, as by a mighty thunderbolt, all the teaching and boasting of men who undertake to instruct people how to become righteous by the strength and works of human nature, or who would at least have works placed alongside of faith, and who claim that men must contribute something themselves toward their righteousness. For here you are clearly told that a person must be born anew or changed before he can see the kingdom of God or do anything to please God. Now, man surely cannot contribute anything to his birth by his own works; nay, before he can be active at all, his birth must have been accomplished. Then, since a new birth is demanded here, the works and activity of the old birth can never be of any value or aid; in fact, they are all rejected and condemned beforehand.


15. Nor can the claim stand that the works which follow the new birth contribute something toward our righteousness, for the new birth must have occurred before a person can be active by virtue of it; that is, one must first belong to the kingdom and to heaven before he begins to do works that are pleasing to God. But this point will be more fully explained by the following verses, in which Christ states’ the process of the new birth. We have here only the introduction, in which he overthrows the Pharisee’s conceit and establishes the contrary doctrine. On hearing this Nicodemus becomes perplexed, and because he does not know what to make of Christ’s words, he blurts out and says:


“How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

16. He wishes to say: What a queer and absurd statement and teaching that is! Who ever heard of a person being born anew, or that it is at all possible to be born differently from the way in which one has been born? What do you mean by proposing and demanding such an impossible thing? If you wish to teach people, you must tell them something that a human being can do. This is the answer which the wisdom and reason of men return to the preaching of repentance and of the new birth, by which the Law receives its true glory. And, indeed, they must answer thus, because they do not know otherwise. Owing to that outward training in a holy lift which a person can obtain by his own strength, provided he hear the Law, Nicodemus cannot endure to hear these things so commendable in the eyes of the world shall all be counted worthless and shall be condemned, especially since there are very few men who thus lead a beautiful and virtuous life. All the rulers of this world, intelligent, wise and great though they are, consider it harmful teaching to depreciate such a beautiful life, and on that account charge the Gospel with aiming to forbid good works etc.


17. However, by so doing, they testify to their own blindness and ignorance in these divine matters. Nicodemus, who passes for a teacher and instructor, by the confession of his own mouth seals his wisdom with greater foolishness, because he is dreaming about a natural birth from father and mother and imagines that he comprehends Christ’s meaning and has effectually blocked his aim. Such is the corrupt habit of human reason, which ever assumes to pass judgment on the Word of God and to act as its tutor, though is does not understand it. As if Christ, whom Nicodemus has to acknowledge a teacher come from God, were not wise enough himself to know that a person cannot be born again in physical birth, and that such a birth would not benefit him! And, indeed, Christ himself meets this conception.


“Jesus answered: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

18. He means to say: You need not instruct me how to express myself. I know very well what! have said, and in order that you may know that a person does not enter the kingdom of God by his own ability, I say again that he must be born differently, or he cannot enter. However, I do not speak of natural birth, of one’s descent from father and mother, of which you are dreaming because you know of no other birth; but I am speaking of a different birth, a new birth, of water and the Spirit. You ‘certainly have heard me reject this very birth from father and mother by which you and all other men, Jews or not Jews, have been born. Even were! to grant this to be the meaning of a person’s new birth, still, a person might be born over again from his mother’s womb as many as a hundred times, and yet every new birth of this kind would not be different nor better that the former. The reason he declares as follows:


“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

19. These are two clear sayings by which he overthrows the Pharisee’s conception and dream of a natural birth, and explains his opening remarks, in which he had stated that, unless a person receives a different birth, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. The term, “that which is born of the flesh,” defines all that man is, and is able to do, according to his human nature in its present state, since Adam. For the Scripture significance of “flesh” is the natural man, in his human sense, born from father and mother, as he lives, works, thinks, speaks, and acts, no matter when, how often, or of whom he is born, or whether he is called a Jew or a gentile. John 1:12 speaks of being born of blood, that is, born in the natural way, from the holy fathers, or obtaining birth through the will of man and therewith accepting membership among the people and children of God. All this is nothing but flesh, that is, it is void of the Spirit. However, to be void of the Spirit means nothing else than what he terms not being able to enter the kingdom of God, that is, being condemned in sin, under the wrath of God, to everlasting death.


20. This certainly is a curt, unvarnished, solemn and awful verdict on all men in their natural state. It lays down the conclusion that by the teaching and works of the Law, such works as man is able to do in accordance with it, no person becomes rid of sin nor is righteous in the sight of God, because his nature is not changed by works but remains what it was before. For this reason no person can, under the Law, enter the kingdom of God nor obtain life everlasting.


21. Again, he says: “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” He calls “Spirit” that which God works in us above the ability of human nature, namely, such spiritual knowledge, light and understanding as he reveals to us, to the end that we may know God, turn to him, lay hold of his grace, and cling to him. In order that man may receive these revelations, his heart must first be renewed and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, that he may learn to know God’s will toward him and may understand the way to obtain grace and everlasting life.


22. The preaching and teaching of the Law alone cannot do this; it, indeed, demands works and obedience of us, but since these things are not possible to our nature, which is characteristic of the very reverse, the only effect of the Law, when correctly understood, is to make us guilty and to condemn us to everlasting hell under the wrath of God. And it is for this purpose that it must be preached, for it was given by God to the end that man should learn this truth first. Now, if man is not to remain under condemnation, but is to look to God for grace and comfort, the preaching of a different word must be added. We are here told that such word is the preaching and office of the Holy Spirit, revealed and brought down from heaven by Christ, the Son of God. Christ speaks of this office now and explains more fully later.


23. Thus there is shown us by this passage the reason for what the first part of this discourse has stated, namely, the reason why a person cannot enter the kingdom of God in the nature he has by birth, and why another birth is necessary, one which must be accomplished by the Holy Spirit. Christ rebukes here not only human ignorance and error, but he also begins to teach what the new birth is and how it takes place, although he does not here include all parts which belong to it, but shows, in the first place, only causas efficientes, the causes and means from which this new birth springs and by which it is effected. Later he will tell how it is acquired, and by whom; also the way to receive it. Therefore, we must look at these words a little more closely, so as to learn what being born of water and the Spirit means.


24. Note, in the first place, that he directs Nicodemus to the external ordinance in the Church, namely, to preaching and baptism, because he says that one must be born of water and the Spirit. He is speaking of the ordinance which had been introduced by John the Baptist, the forerunner and servant of Christ. The Pharisees and Nicodemus knew this very well, because they had seen it. By pointing him to this ordinance, Christ wishes to confirm the preaching and baptism of John as institutions that are to be in force and operation forever, and are appointed by God for the purpose of the new birth, and so it is that no one shall go to heaven who does not accept them or who despises them. It is as if he were to say: If you wish to see the kingdom of God at all, you will all have to accept this very preaching and baptism that John practiced, and which you Pharisees were unwilling to accept because you would not suffer yourselves to be reproved by him and were offended at his new and unheard of preaching against your holiness by the Law. All your Mosaical and legal washings, purification’s, sacrifices, worship and holiness will be of no help nor benefit to you. You can enter the kingdom of heaven and be saved in no other way than by this ordinance which preaches Christ and baptizes in his name.


25. This ordinance he magnifies by stating that it is the office and work of the Holy Spirit, by which a person is born anew; that it is not simply baptizing with water, but that the Holy Spirit also is present. A person thus baptized, is baptized not with water only, but with the Holy Ghost. The presence of the Spirit could not be claimed for any other washings and baptisms with water, such as the ceremonial washings of the Jews, else a new baptism would not have been necessary; and it could not be claimed that another means aside from the Mosaical Law and form of worship was necessary for a person’s new birth of the Spirit. The reason is plainly this, because through the Mosaical ceremonies the Holy Spirit is not bestowed and does not act.


26. Thus he shows that there is no other means by which a person is born anew and enters the kingdom of God than the office of preaching and baptism, and that the Holy Spirit is connected with this office and by its means operates in the hearts of men. He does not speak of the Spirit in his hidden and unknown qualities, such as he is in his divine person and essence, without the means by which he has revealed himself, but of the Spirit as revealed in the external ordinance, by which he is heard and seen, namely, by the office of Gospel preaching and the administration of the Sacrament. God does not intend to come and act through his Holy Spirit secretly and privily, nor deal with each individual in a particular manner; in that case, who could know for certain where and how to seek and find the Holy Spirit? But he has ordained that the Holy Spirit shall be revealed to the ears and eyes of men by the Word and Sacrament, and shall be active through this external ordinance, so that men may know that the effects which there take place are truly caused by the Holy Spirit.


27. Therefore, the words “Except one be born anew of water and the Spirit,” are equivalent to saying, A person must be born anew by the preaching of the Gospel and the ordinance of baptism, by which the Holy Spirit operates. For by means of the Word he enlightens the heart and reveals God’s wrath against sin; and, on the other hand, by showing us the grace of God which has been promised for the sake of his Son, Christ, he so kindles our hearts that we begin to believe and soon turn to God, take comfort from his grace and call upon him. And in order to rouse and strengthen our faith he adds baptism as a sure sign, along with the Word, to show that he washes away and blots out our sin and promises at all times firmly to keep for us this grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit which he has promised us. Of this more shall be said at another time.


28. Observe from this text how Christ in plain words ascribes to baptism, which he calls water, such glory and power as to say that the Holy Spirit is present in it, and that by its means a person is born anew. By this statement all false doctrines and errors against the doctrine of faith and baptism are overthrown. Among them, in the first place, is that of the papists, and others like them, who seek to obtain righteousness and salvation by their own works. For you are told here that a person’s own merit and holiness, which he possesses by his old birth from flesh and blood, or has achieved by following his own choice and imagination, are insufficient and avail nothing toward this end. There must be a new birth by holy baptism, toward which man can contribute nothing himself, but through the will and grace of God the Holy Spirit is bestowed by means of the preaching of the Word and by water, which act as father and mother at this new birth by which one becomes a new, pure and holy person and an heir to heaven.


29. In the second place, the pretense of the Anabaptists and kindred sects is here overthrown, who teach people to seek the Spirit outside of and without the Word and Sacraments, by special revelations and operations from heaven, without means etc. Yea, they despise blessed baptism, considering it no more than mere useless water. Hence they are in the habit of saying blasphemously: What can a handful of water benefit the soul? However, Christ says clearly that the Holy Spirit is present with this water, and states that a person must be born anew of this water. He certainly refers to real, natural water, such as John used and as he commanded his disciples to use when baptizing. Therefore St. Paul in Ephesians 5:26, calls baptism a washing of water by which the Church of Christ is cleansed, and in Titus 3:5, he calls baptism the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.


30. Yea, Christ so orders his words in this passage as to place at the head “water” and after it the “Spirit,” to indicate that we must not look for the Spirit without and outside of the external means, but know that the Spirit intends to operate in, through, and with the external means and ordinance. Hence both must remain united, and a person must be born anew, of water, by the Holy Spirit, or of the Holy Spirit with and by water. Aside from this instance, it is quite true that, if there were water only without the Spirit, there would be no greater effects than in other water and washings, and there certainly would not result a new birth. For this reason, this birth is called a birth, not of water only, but also of the Spirit, besides and with the water. The Holy Spirit acting at this birth is the male, and the water is the female part, or mother.


31. Moreover, you gather from these words that baptism is not such an unnecessary thing as the sect of the Anabaptists blasphemously claims, stating that one can easily omit it or put it off till old age; or gabbling that baptism is of no benefit to infants, merely because they do not understand how it can be. There is here a plain saying which includes all men in this divine ordinance, namely, that all who wish to enter the kingdom of God must be born anew of water and the Spirit. Hence, it will not do at all to despise this matter, or to put it off, for that would be willfully despising and setting aside the ordinance of God. Such an action, indeed, could not be taken with the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Moreover, it is certain that Christ does not exclude infants in this passage, but they are embraced in it, and if they are to enter the kingdom of God, baptism is to be communicated and administered to them. He assuredly would have them born anew and desires to operate in them. In another place he commands that they shall be brought to him and says that of such as are brought is the kingdom of heaven. Now, if they are to come to Christ, they must not be denied the means and symbols by which Christ operates in them.


32. But this I say of the common ordinance and rule, which ought to be observed wherever and whenever baptism can be obtained. In an extreme case, where it cannot be obtained, there must be exceptions, just as in similar cases of necessity; then the desire to be baptized must suffice, and the person must be brought to Christ and offered to him on the strength of his Word. Of this matter I do not wish to speak further at present. Now, this is what Christ has stated regarding regeneration by the baptism of water and the Spirit. He continues:


“Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born anew. The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”

33. It seems a marvelous and rare saying to Nicodemus, the wise, intelligent, holy Pharisee, that his work and holiness, and that of all men as well, is so utterly rejected that it is of no avail in the sight of God; that he must let go of it all, no matter how many and how great things he may have accomplished in his life; and that he must become another man. There is really nothing better of which Nicodemus has knowledge or that he understands how to do. Also, he is directed preeminently to this ordinance, in which nothing is done or seen except the external ceremony of baptizing one with water, and the hearing of the Word; and he is to believe that through the reception of these such a change takes place in one that he is born anew and becomes pure, holy and righteous in the sight of God, all of which blessings cannot be attained in any way by human work and ability. Alas! he muses, how is this possible? What can be accomplished by such an insignificant matter as being baptized or bathed with water? Is it not a matter of far higher merit to exercise one’s self with great earnestness and diligence in good works and holy worship according to the Law and to shine in the splendor of a beautiful, upright life and of great virtue? Can you name and extol anything nobler and better in all the world?


34. While the Pharisee is thus musing and wondering, Christ replies, explaining to him by a parable what he had said about the new birth of water and the Spirit; he tells him that this matter is not to be considered by the rule of reason, which has regard to the brilliancy of meritorious works and exemplary life and admires them, imagining that they must be as commendatory in the sight of God as in its own estimation. My dear Nicodemus, he says, I will tell you how this takes place: Your conception of the matter is not the right one; you view it as you would anything perceptible to the senses or to reason. But this is a matter which is beyond the fathom of human reason and thought, and it is accomplished in man by the Holy Spirit.


35. Its process in the heart is similar to the phenomenon of the wind, which blows and blusters when and where it will, and passes through all that grows and moves and lives in creation. In the case of the wind there is no more than a breath or air, which lies still for a while but suddenly begins to move, to blow and rush, and you do not know whence it comes. Now it blows here, now there, producing all kinds of sudden changes of weather, and yet you cannot see it nor conceive what it is; you only hear it rushing. You notice its presence, its stir and motion upon the water or in the fields of corn, but you cannot tell, when it strikes you, when or where or at what distance from you it took its start and how far beyond you it will stop blowing, nor can you appoint time, space and measure for its coming and going. In brief, it is in no man’s power at all to bind and rule the wind, to start or to calm it; it moves freely, of its own accord, and does its work without let or hindrance, when, where, and in what manner it pleases. No man can do ought in this matter, nor discover the process and origin, but as Psalm 135:7 says, God brings it out of his treasuries and secret places, which no man knows beforehand, nor can discover.


36. “So is every one,” he says, “that is born of the Spirit.” You must not stand gaping to see great and excellent works of specious holiness which strike the eye. You must not attempt to estimate and grasp these spiritual matters with your reason and according to the Law and external aspect, examining what great works the person is doing who is entitled to be called a person born anew and an heir of heaven, and how he is living and conducting himself. This matter cannot be thus grasped and comprehended, nor can it be pictured and represented in such a manner that we could say: Behold that person; he is a pious Jew and, moreover, a Pharisee who keeps the Law with great earnestness and diligence, hence he is a living saint and a child of God etc. But this new birth which begets children of God, or righteousness in the sight of God, is quite a different thing. It takes place in one’s heart, not by a person’s own choice or action – for that is all flesh and cannot see the kingdom of God – but by the word of the Gospel, which reveals to the heart both the wrath of God against men – inducing repentance – and his grace through the Mediator, Christ, for the consolation and peace of their conscience in the sight of God.


37. No peculiar or glorious manifestation, indeed, will be seen outwardly in this exalted and supreme work, for there is nothing required for it but the Word and water, which we hear and perceive, and yet the power and efficacy of the Holy Spirit is present, kindling and quickening the heart unto true fear of God, true confidence and comfort in his grace, and also unto true prayer, thus renewing the heart and causing a person who receives the Word into his heart to overcome God’s wrath, and sin, death, the flesh and the world, to turn to God sincerely and to conceive a desire and love for everything good.


38. These are genuine, living works of the Holy Spirit, far greater and more glorious than the righteousness of man’s works, which latter possess indeed a great glamour, and are much vaunted in the eyes of men, but are merely dead things, powerless to change in any wise the heart, and which are not followed by genuine and unfailing comfort, and transformation of life. Man, in his own righteousness, remains in the old carnal state of mind, without repentance, in unbelief and doubt, in secret contempt, disobedience, hatred of and enmity against God. This is afterward evident in the real conflict and terror of conscience, where actual flight from God, despair and finally impatience and blasphemy against God, ensue.


39. Such are the genuine fruits of the great and beautiful holiness of Pharisees. Their holiness is without the knowledge of Christ and without faith, and yet claims to be righteous and holy by the rule of the Law. In the end, the great and knotty problem arises which Paul in Romans 7:13 calls sin aroused by the Law. Sin is made exceedingly sinful by it; that is, it is made great and grievous, submerging a person and causing him. to perish in everlasting death. Yet, previously, that same sin and hidden malice of the heart was for a while covered with the outward show of great and holy works in obedience to the Law, permitting the person to live secure in his carnal mind and, as St. Paul says, without the Law, that is, without a genuine knowledge and perception of sin and, hence, also utterly without the Spirit.


40. On the other hand, wherever the Holy Spirit is present he effects a new heart and mind in one, who no longer flees from God but, though he knows and acknowledges that he has sinned and merited God’s wrath, still takes comfort from the grace of Christ, which Christ has promised and proclaimed by the Word of God to those who repent and believe. Thus one obtains a childlike heart toward God as his dear Father, and can cheerfully come before him and call upon him by faith in the Mediator, Christ.


41. Such a new heart and life, I say, is wrought in one by the Holy Spirit through no other outward or visible means than through the Word and baptism, though these produce no external show whatever. It is effected inwardly, before the least ,change can be seen in a person, and yet Christ says that it truly is, and is called, a birth of the Spirit. Reason and human wisdom cannot comprehend how so significant a work should be accomplished by things apparently so very insignificant. Though reason hears, still it does not believe. Nicodemus, too, is still more startled, wondering at these words, and is rebuked by Christ because he wants to grasp the matter with his reason and not to believe it.


42. We have, accordingly, in this parable a beautiful picture which clearly presents to our eyes the process of this new birth. In the first place, there is the external office of the Word and the power which the Holy Spirit exerts through it. As there are in the wind these two features – the blowing, which is the wind itself, and the sound, which is heard without, though the blowing is not seen nor felt except by the person who receives the force of the wind – in like manner there are two features in the new birth; namely, the Word, which is a physical sound that one hears, and the Spirit, who operates with and by the Word. This power is not seen nor felt by anyone except him whom the Spirit seizes, and yet it certainly occurs wherever the external Word and baptism are agents. The Spirit, accordingly, can be seen and apprehended bodily, as it were, in this external institution, which provides us with a certain sign indicating where we are to look for him and where he operates, although the inward power is concealed to human eyes.


43. Accordingly, as I have stated, you must not understand these words “born of the Spirit” as referring to the Holy Spirit in his invisible and incomprehensible divine essence in heaven, but to the manner in which he must be known and apprehended in the Church here on earth, in the Word and symbols. Hence, where these things are heard and seen one may say: There you hear and see the Holy Spirit. Just as you say of the blowing of the wind: There you hear and see the wind. In brief, all that is accomplished by the office of the Word and baptism must be declared to be effected by the Holy Spirit. Just as Christ in our text calls that person born of the Spirit who has received the Word and baptism or as he says elsewhere, who believes and is baptized, etc. Mark 16:16.


44. In the second place, this parable aptly shows that Christianity is not bound up in external affairs, places, persons, garments and other things, such as the outward holiness of the Jews required. A Christian is set up in the liberty of the Spirit, rid of the Law and all its bonds. He cannot be bound and made captive by any sort of laws, rules or works that may be proposed to him with a view of his becoming righteous through their efficacy in the sight of God. (We are not speaking now Of his outward life, in which he may keep all laws, provided, however, it is done without injury and damage to his spiritual liberty of mind and conscience.) Hence, by faith in the Word and in his baptism he remains a free man, superior to all laws, because he has through Christ forgiveness of sin, the grace of God and the Holy Spirit, and governs his entire life accordingly. Through the Holy Spirit, who operates in his heart, he is now become righteous, and has been quickened into life, and, except as the Holy Spirit by the Word guides and directs him, he does not look for other teaching regarding works of holiness.


45. Hence, as Christ here states, Christianity is like the wind which blows where it will, and yet no one sees or knows whence is comes and whither it goes, through what distance or extent it passes. In like manner, the Spirit in a Christian cannot be confined by rules and teachings, nor can it be determined by reason, but it must be untutored and unjudged by everybody, as St. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 2:15. It is not felt, heard and manifested outwardly except in the Word and in its proclamation, by which everybody must be governed, without regard to the persons of men who preach it, no matter how great and holy they are; the only requirement is that they exercise the office and Word of the Spirit aright.


46. However, it is and always will be strange, a thing at which human wisdom will be offended and scandalized, that such a significant, sublime, divine work should be accomplished in so humble and mean a way, by the puny voice of a poor mortal who utters only these words: I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; and again: By the command of the Lord Christ I announce to thee the forgiveness of sins, etc. There is nothing in these acts but the breath or sound of the words which strike the ear, and yet these great things are claimed to be accomplished by it, namely, that you are cleansed from sins, saved from everlasting death, quickened and made a new-born child of God.


47. Much pain and labor are involved before a person is naturally born into this world; ten months he must lie in his mother’s womb, and afterwards both mother and infant are in extreme danger of losing their lives in the birth which ushers man into only this miserable mortal life. But in this case of the new birth it is so easy and so soon accomplished that no work could be easier. There is only the Word spoken to one and he is baptized with water, and yet the effect – provided only the heart lays hold by faith – is so significant that the person in that moment is born to everlasting life and snatched out of everlasting death and hell.


48. However, it is part of the perverse arrogance of reason that it wants, in so momentous a matter, to decide and to pass judgment, according to its conceptions, its way of looking at the matter, and after the standard of greatness as it appeals to the senses, refusing to regard the will of God and to recognize his ordinance, when he has issued his word of command in this matter, and hence it is he who is himself preaching, baptizing and operating through the external means. Divine results would necessarily follow, even if he were to produce them through external means still more insignificant. That is the reason why Christ so harshly assails and rebukes Nicodemus, who undertakes to form his judgment here on the ground of his wisdom.


“Nicodemus answered and said to him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou the teacher of Israel, and understandest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.”

49. Here you can see how into Nicodemus’ comprehension has utterly failed to enter what Christ had stated regarding the new birth by baptism and had explained by means of a parable, namely, that the true spiritual character of this matter could not be seen with the eye nor judged, determined and grasped, as Nicodemus wished to do, by the wisdom and understanding which he possessed from the teaching of the Law. He is so confounded by Christ’s reply that he steps back forthwith, and cannot help being offended at Jesus because the latter proposes what, in his opinion, is an absurd idea. His attitude is as if to say: Is only this single act of baptizing a man with water to be of value, and shall the Law, which God has explicitly commanded us to keep and which he has ‘confirmed with great signs, be pronounced worthless and void? How is it possible that your baptism is such a momentous affair when a person cannot see at all its effects?


50. Before finishing the discourse which he had begun, Christ returns a scathing and solemn answer, in order to show Nicodemus his ignorance and to rebut his carnal notion. Why, he says, you are a teacher of Israel, that is, a person whose duty it is to teach and govern the people of God, and are you so utterly ignorant of these things? Is it not a shame that you who have been appointed to instruct and wish to be extolled as teacher of other people, possess no true perception whatever of these divine things? In what respect are you better than heathen, who are not the people of God and have not God’s Word? For you have no knowledge except that of human works of holiness, such as intelligent and wise men among the heathen also teach. You are utterly ignorant of the teaching which ought to be common knowledge in the Church, regarding Christ, the kingdom of God, and authentic spiritual things. And yet you have the Word of God abundantly in Moses and the Scriptures. You ought to teach the people from the Law to know the wrath of God against their sin, and, in consequence, to seek grace by faith in the promise of Christ. Instead you have perverted everything; you have no knowledge nor experience of genuine repentance, and yet you parade your holiness, secure and insolent, confirming yourselves and others in contempt of God and in unbelief, and with all this, you are dreaming about a Messiah who shall crown you for your Jewish holiness and give you the dominion of the world. Such things you do who pretend to be the foremost people on earth, and by so doing you go farther away from the kingdom of God and merit for yourselves more grievous punishment than others, even manifest sinners. who are more easily instructed and converted than you who pose as great saints.


51. That I call reading him a good, sharp lesson. However, it is done in a friendly spirit, because Christ is talking to a person who, unlike the rest, is not stubbornly despising Christ; and this admonition is necessary in order that he may show Nicodemus the way out of his ignorance, and to rouse his attention to instruction on the subject of how he is to enter the kingdom of God and heaven. Accordingly, he proceeds:


“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, we speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen,” etc.

52. You who pretend to be teachers have no knowledge and understanding of things which should be understood by everyone in that society of men called the people of God. And yet, you refuse to believe the teachings which are apparent from the Word and testimony of God, and you judge simply according to your notions. No, it will not do that with your blind and uncertain conceptions you should act as tutors in the things of our definite teaching and testimony, and that you dispute their truth. How much will a pupil learn who starts out by questioning the correctness of his master’s teaching and wanting to be master himself before he has begun to learn? If you have no knowledge and understanding, you must not pass judgment and pretend to be smart in this matter. If you have not seen these things, we have – John and all my prophets; and we are not offering you uncertain fancies, such as a person spins out of his own head, but the doctrine which God has revealed and has had witnessed by the Holy Spirit. It is useless for you to try to accept this doctrine by your reason, or to grasp, to see with your eyes, to feel, how this new birth of man takes place, in the same way that you behold and grasp your works of external worship. You must lock up your reason and open only your ears and your heart, and believe what God’s Word tells you, which Word we have surely received from God with the command to teach and to testify unto it.


53. If you wish to know which is the way, listen: You must believe and receive the Word, and let go of your notions which undertake to comprehend and encompass matters that no reason can understand nor attain unto. Else what need would there be of teaching God’s Word which I have heard and received from the Father, as also John and the prophets have received it by divine revelation from the Holy Spirit and have borne witness unto it? Thus St. Peter in his Second Epistle 2 Peter 1:21, says that no prophecy ever came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit. For this reason he commands that nothing is to be taught in the Church except that which we know for certain to be God’s Word, not what seems good and right to human reason and wisdom.


54. Therefore, Christ very properly rebukes his Jewish teachers who would rule and instruct men’s consciences in the matter of their relation to God without certain testimony from God’s Word, and who would harmonize their teaching with human reason. The result of such practice leaves the hearer in doubt and uncertainty, confused with heathenish notions of men and never arriving at the true knowledge and experience of the truth.


“If I told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you heavenly things?’

55. I have hitherto told you of earthly things – how a person must be born of water and the Spirit, that is, how the Spirit operates through the external office of the Word and of baptism – things which you can see and grasp with your understanding. You have heard my doctrine expressed in a parable, in a figure of things familiar to you, and you are forced to confess that I have spoken correctly. Now, if you are unwilling to believe the things presented to you in a material way, much less will you be able to believe if I tell you of things not earthly but heavenly and pertaining to the counsel of God, which no one knows except God alone and he who comes from heaven, namely, the Son of God. Whoever wishes to comprehend in any measure the things of heaven must hear and believe him alone who is come from heaven, and who has seen and who testifies of these things. He says:


“And no one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man, who is in heaven?

56. Here he begins to speak of infinite and heavenly matters – of the secret, eternal, unspeakable counsel and will which God framed in eternity. And thus he completes the second part of this discourse regarding the new birth, that is, how a sinful person becomes righteous, a child of God and an heir of heavenly and eternal life; whence baptism has such power and by whom it has been acquired and merited; also how it must be received. And he now begins to speak of himself as the Messiah promised and sent by God, God’s Son and his office and work. Of these things the Pharisees were in utter ignorance, things which seemed far more strange to them than those he had already told them. They could not at all conceive that their Messiah had to be sent from heaven that he might redeem and propitiate all the world, and particularly his own Jewish people, who were condemned and lost, under the wrath of God, and this notwithstanding they had the Law and the ceremonial of Moses. Much less did they understand that he had to die on the cross, that he must be crucified and become a sacrifice for their sins and the sins of the whole world, and that his dominion was not to be in the nature of an earthly kingdom. To be told these things was utterly offensive and intolerable to them. The reason was because they failed to recognize that the whole nature of man in the sight of God merited only damnation and perdition; and because, in their holiness, they regarded themselves as being without sin, or were so bold as to imagine that they could put away and atone for their sins by their own good works and so would need no Messiah, but only one who would deliver them from their temporal bondage and foreign oppression and who would avenge them upon their enemies.


57. Christ’s words mean: My dear Nicodemus, withdraw your thoughts entirely from your own legal righteousness and holiness, and that of all other men, and be careful not to try to enter the kingdom of God by their merit. All ability of men, no matter how wise, learned and holy they are, is of no avail. It is determined with God from the beginning that no man can enter heaven as he is descended from Adam.


58. Yea, there has never been a saint who in his own merit could go to heaven, no matter who he was, whether Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, John or any other. None of these was distinguished as worthy to enter heaven – to reconcile God, to take away sin and death, to merit eternal life for himself and others. But before man can reach heaven, that is, enter the kingdom of God and receive eternal life, there must first come from heaven One who has eternal righteousness and life in himself, who is able to appease God’s anger and to abolish sin and death. He must be the Mediator by whom we, too, may enter heaven. Yea, for this very purpose One had to come down from heaven and, for our sakes, become flesh and blood like we are; that is, he had to take upon himself our misery and sin.


59. With these words Christ directs us to himself as the point of all that he had said before regarding the new birth and the kingdom of God, that it may be manifest that no one can avail himself of these things except through him and for his sake. Without him, it would be in vain that man should even desire to be delivered from his old birth, to be renewed by the Spirit, and to become pure. For had not One first obtained for us these things no one could have realized them. Nor would there be any virtue in holy baptism and the Spirit if they were not bestowed through him and for his sake. Accordingly, the point on which all now depends is that this person, by whom we, too, may be saved, must be known and apprehended. This fact he sets forth in conclusion.


60. It is thus that he pictures his own person: He is the promised Savior come from heaven, that is, he is the true Son of God from eternity; for if he is come from heaven he must have been with God in eternity. But he is descended from heaven, not as an angel who appears and after a while disappears again, but he has taken upon himself the nature of man and, as John 1:14 says, has dwelt among us on earth. For this reason he here calls himself the Son of man, that is, actual man, having flesh and blood like we have.


61. The signification of this descent of the Son of mart is that he has cast himself down into our misery and affliction, that he has taken upon himself our sins and made himself a sacrifice to the everlasting wrath of God which we had merited by our sins. To this he alludes when he here says that he must be exalted. Now, since this man comes down from heaven, personally he must be without any sin whatsoever, innocent and of divine purity. It cannot be said of him that he was born of flesh, as we are, but of the Holy Ghost; and his flesh is not sinful flesh and blood, but is pure and holy. All this was wrought to the end that he might be able to make our sinful flesh and blood pure and holy by his purity and his holy, immaculate sacrifice.


62. But what do these words import: “The Son of man, who is in heaven”? How is it that he has descended from heaven and is still in heaven? Did he not first ascend in the clouds on the fortieth day after his resurrection? True, he descended into our flesh and blood and humbled himself below all men, unto death on the cross, as a man forsaken and accursed by God. However, he was not in the meantime separated from God, but he remained with God all the time and hence was always in heaven; he exists from eternity, ever beholding his Father and present with him, ruling and working together with him, co-equal in power and might. These features of his omnipotence were not in any wise apparent in his humbled state, when he divested himself of the form of God, as Paul says in Philippians 2:7, and went about in the form of a servant, enduring suffering and death, until such time as he was delivered from this state and was exalted again and sat down at the right hand of God, having now been made Lord over death and hell and all elements of his human nature. All this he has manifested by his visible ascension when he was taken up in the clouds before the eyes of his disciples, and in the same visible manner he shall return and be seen by all men.


63. That is the explanation of the record that the Son of man descended and ascended and at the same time remained in heaven in divine essence and power, and in eternal communion with the Father. He does not have reference to a material change of place but to a spiritual removal from humiliation to exaltation, from his suffering and death to his resurrection and heavenly communion with the Father, in which he is not restricted by material conditions. His divinity and communion with the Father he has had from eternity and has continued in possession of them all the time, even from the moment he took upon himself the limitations of his human nature.


“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life.”

64. Here he shows how we may also enter heaven; that is, he shows what he has done for us and how we are to receive and become partakers of his blessing. With these words he proclaims the grand work of redemption, which was decreed by God in his eternal counsel and which, therefore, had so to be accomplished out of the unutterable and fathomless love of God toward the human race, who would not that it should perish (as we have heard in the Gospel for Pentecost Monday, which follows soon after these words). Since there was not elsewhere any help or redress, any expedient for appeasing his eternal wrath against sin, any hope of redeeming men from everlasting death by the agency of any creature in heaven or earth, the only Son of God had to take our place and become a sacrifice for our sin, thereby to appease God’s wrath and make payment for us. This work now is our salvation and comfort and the power that is operative in baptism to the end that we may become new-born men and enter heaven.


65. This is the teaching: His ascending and descending and his being in heaven pertain to himself, and do not help us. They are his prerogatives and no one can do the same. However, he says: I have all things in my power and dwell in heaven above, yet I do not wish to ascend alone, but to draw men upward with me; they could not otherwise ascend, but if they cling to me it shall be accomplished. I shall suffer myself to be crucified and shall rise. Those who believe that I have died for them, I shall draw after me, although they cannot enter heaven by their own strength. Thus he places us on his shoulders and bears us up to the place to which he ascends. Hence, our salvation is not by our strength, but by that of another. With these words all our works are rejected once more.


66. Now, he introduces a beautiful allegory from Numbers 21:6-9, which aptly depicts Christ. When the Jews were journeying in the desert, the way being long and bread and water failing, they murmured against Moses and became very impatient. Then it was that God sent fiery serpents among them, which bit the people. In the countries toward the South there are great deserts, where no food nor drink is found, and there are also multitudes of noxious vermin. The serpents on this occasion were a particularly vicious kind, for their bite caused such fever and such an unquenchable thirst that people had to die. For this reason they are called fiery serpents, such as the Greeks called Dipsades. There may, however, be another reason for the term, for we read that some of the serpents in those countries are so fiery that when they hiss or give forth breath, there issues, as it were, sheer fire from them.


67. On account of this cruel affliction of the Jews there was much pitiful crying and calling among the people to Moses, but he could give no advice until God took pity upon them and said to Moses: Make thee a brazen serpent, like those which are biting the people, and set it upon a standard. Every one that is bitten, when he seeth it, shall live. “And Moses,” so the story runs, “made a serpent of brass and set it upon the standard, and it came to pass that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked unto the serpent of brass, he lived.”


68. Behold now, how Christ has been typified in this story. In the first place, the main point is that the Jews, when bitten by serpents, could find no aid not remedy until they were helped by looking at such a simple thing as the brazen serpent. This serpent had the appearance of a real serpent, but it was dead and without venom, yea, it was salutary. Not that the brass could help them; what made it efficient was the fact that there was affixed to it God’s order and this promise: Whoever is bitten and looks at the serpent, shall live. This word was wrapped about the serpent, and by virtue of it the serpent helped the people.


69. Now, Christ makes application to himself and says: “As Moses lifted up the serpent, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” etc. This is the true explanation and interpretation of this allegory, or figure: We, too, have been stung or bitten by the deadly fang of the devil, which is sin. As St. Paul says, sin is a fiery, poisonous bite, or sting. If the poison enters the conscience, there is never any rest. Sin hurls against us and sets upon us death; death drives man, causing him to feel that he is in a veritable hell. And there is no help nor redress. You may do as many works as you please, you are condemned, nevertheless, until this miracle of grace arrives for you; that is, another serpent is raised up which is not poisonous nor harmful and has only the form of a serpent.


70. But why does Christ not choose a different symbol? Why that of the serpent by which men had been bitten? Surely, he might have chosen some other figure. The reason is stated by St. Paul in Romans 8:3: De peccato damnavit peccatum. For sin he condemned sin. He has driven out death by death: he has overcome the Law by the Law. How has he done this? Christ was made a sinner upon the cross, bearing the title of an arch fiend in the midst of knaves. He suffered the judgment and punishment which a sinner must suffer. He was innocent, he never committed any sin; yet, the name of a sinner and the guilt and punishment verily settled upon him, and thus he has abolished sin by taking upon himself the sin which was not his, and by suffering himself to be judged and condemned as a malefactor.


71. Now, although he is indeed innocent, nevertheless he is like unto a sinner, and there is in him a salutary sin, by which he means to save us, who are truly sinners, from the deadly poison. He has condemned sin upon the cross; for sin wronged him when it condemned him and inflicted death upon him. For this reason he now obtains authority over the sin of the whole world and rightly and justly condemns sin, because it tried to condemn him. Accordingly, he now pronounces to all who believe, this verdict of justice in place of their sin: Sin shall not harm. you; for it is become amenable to me and owes me penitence. Therefore it shall either be no sin, or else a sin that has been sentenced.


72. Now, the conclusion which Christ draws is expressed thus: “That whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” That is saying as much as was said in regard to the serpent: “Whoever looks unto it shall live.” To look unto Christ crucified is to believe on him. By that act sin is canceled and cannot hurt us; or, if it does hurt us, it shall cause no harm. Accordingly, all depends on looking unto Jesus and not on any work. However, while on the former occasion looking was a physical action, looking in this instance is performed spiritually, in the heart, by believing that Christ by his innocence has destroyed sin.


73. Now, Christ might have died upon the cross a thousand times and we would have been helped just as little as the Israelites would have been helped by raising a thousand serpents of their own accord, if this word of promise had not been issued, namely, as is written: “Whosoever believeth on him shall not perish” etc. This word appropriates and applies to us these blessings and makes us certain that we shall reach heaven; that is, certain that for the sake of this exalted and crucified Christ we shall obtain the grace of God and victory over the power of sin, death and hell, and shall receive eternal life, if we believe on him and are thus borne upward clinging to him.


74. Behold, this is the allegory which faithfully depicts to us the misery and need of our entire human nature, and the office of redemption of Christ our Lord, and the manner of obtaining these blessings we have been discussing. It shows how all men were mortally wounded by the fiery, hellish poison of the devil, and no remedy nor aid could have been procured for them if the Son of God had not been given and had not appeared for this purpose, that he might destroy the works of the devil, as 1 John 3:8 states. And this he did, not by a display of the great power, force and might of his divine majesty, but in the greatest weakness and infirmity, by his suffering and dying, when he hung upon the cross, an accursed, noxious worm. But there is a salutary death in the form of this dead serpent; it brings to all who, by their sins, have been poisoned and tainted unto eternal death, a healing balm by means of which they recover and are saved forever.


75. It is very strange to say and to believe that this salvation is achieved utterly without human co-operation. Yon poor Israelites who had to lie among the fiery serpents were not helped at all, though they tried every remedy that they could secure; they only grew worse the more they labored and the longer they strove to defend themselves against the serpents. And at last, when they had despaired of all help and there was no more comfort and hope, no other plan is proposed to them than this, that they must have raised among them just such a serpent, made of brass – a sight that might have terrified and awed them still more! – and must lift their eyes unto this serpent. And yet, it came to pass that whoever obeyed this word of God recovered forthwith and remained unharmed thereafter.


76. So, in this instance, whoever desires to obtain unfailing aid and salvation against sin and eternal death must hear and follow this strange counsel of God, letting go of every other comfort and endeavor, and must fix his heart upon this Christ alone, who has borne our sins and death in his own body. For it is settled that for our salvation no other name under heaven shall avail except that of Christ crucified. Acts 4:12.


77. Thus, Christ has delivered the entire discourse concerning the new birth, or the righteousness of man in the sight of God, going through all the parts which must needs be taught in this connection, namely, whence and by what means it is effected and how it is obtained. He has instructed us concerning the Word, baptism and the Spirit who works through these means; concerning the merit and sacrifice of Christ, for whose sake the grace of God and eternal life are given us; and concerning faith, by which we appropriate these blessings. Accordingly, you must now so retain the thread of this entire discourse that the end shall agree with the beginning. When you are asked: How does the new birth take place, in which the Spirit through the water and the Word makes a person a child of God? you must answer: In the way that Christ has here stated – it takes place when, over and against the terror on account of your sin, you grasp this comfort, the belief that Christ, the Son of God, is come from heaven for your sake and has been raised upon the cross for you, in order that you should not perish but have eternal life. This faith is the chest, or shrine, which holds the treasure of the forgiveness of sins and the heritage of eternal life, and man is saved by it; as Christ says, “Thy faith hath made thee whole” etc.





First Sunday after Trinity


1 Joh 4, 16-21



Reference to:

Vorlesung über den 1. Johannesbrief, 1527

WA 20, 599-801







First Sunday after Trinity;

Luke 16:19-31


The Rich Man & Lazarus





King James Version

Luke 16:19-31

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.


1. We have hitherto heard in our Gospel lessons of various examples of faith and of love; for as they all teach faith and love, I hope you are abundantly and sufficiently informed that no human being can be pleasing to God unless he believes and loves. Now in this Gospel text the Lord presents to us at the same time an example of faith and of unbelief or of the state of the godless, in order that we also may abhor the contrary and the opposite of faith and love, and that we may cleave to faith and love more diligently. For here we see the judgment of God upon the believers and the unbelievers, which is both dreadful and comforting. Dreadful to the faithless and comforting to the faithful. But in order that we may the better grasp the meaning of this text we must picture to ourselves both the rich man and poor Lazarus. In the rich man we see the nature of unbelief and in Lazarus the nature of belief.




2. We must not view the rich man according to his outward conduct; for he is in sheep's clothing, his life glitters and shines beautifully, while he tactfully conceals the wolf. For this Gospel text does not accuse him of adultery, of murder, or robbery, of violence or of having done anything that the world or reason would censure. Yea, he has been as honorable and respectable in his life as that Pharisee who fasted twice a week and was not as other men, of whom Luke 18:11f. speaks. For had he committed such glaring sins the Gospel would have mentioned them since it examines him so particularly that it describes even the purple robe he wore and the food he ate, which are only external matters and God does not judge according to them. Therefore he must have led outwardly an exemplary, holy life; and according to his own opinion and that of others, he must have kept the whole law of Moses.


3. But we must look into his heart and judge his spirit. For the Gospel has penetrating eyes and sees deep into the secret recesses of the soul; reproves also the works which reason cannot reprove, and looks not at the sheep's clothing, but at the true fruit of the tree to learn whether it is good or not, as the Lord teaches in Mat. 7:17. Hence if we judge this rich man according to the fruits of faith, we will find a heart and a tree of unbelief. For the Gospel chastises him that he fares sumptuously every day and clothes himself so richly, which reason never considers as especially great sins. Besides, the work-righteous people think it is right, and that they are worthy of it, and have merited it by virtue of their holy lives, and they do not see how they thus sin by their unbelief.


4. For this rich man is not punished because he indulged in sumptuous fare and fine clothes; since many saints, kings and queens in ancient times wore costly apparel, as Solomon, Esther, David, Daniel and others; but because his heart was attached to them. sought them, trusted in and chose them, and because he found in them all his joy, delight and pleasure; and made them in fact his idols. This Christ indicates by the words ”every day,” that he lived thus sumptuously daily, continuously. From this is seen that he diligently sought and chose such a life, was not forced to it nor was he in it by accident, or because of his office or to serve his neighbor; but he only thereby gratified his own lust, and lived to himself and served only himself.


5. Here one traces the secret sins of his heart as the evil fruit. For where faith is, there is no anxiety for fine clothing and sumptuous feasting, yea, there is no longing for riches, honor, pleasure, influence and all that is not God himself; but there is a seeking and a striving for and a cleaving to nothing except to God, the highest good alone; it is the same to him whether his food be dainty or plain, whether his clothing be fine or homespun. For although they even do wear costly clothes, possess great influence and honor, yet they esteem none of these things; but are forced to them, or come to them by accident, or they are compelled to use them in the service of others. Thus queen Esther says, that she bore the royal crown against her will, and that she had to wear it for the sake of the King. David also would rather have lived a private life; but for the sake of God and of his people he had to become king. In like manner all the saints considered that they were constrained to fill their stations of influence, honor and glory; and their hearts were never entangled by them, and labored in these external things to be helpful to their neighbor, as Psalm 62:10 says: ”Trust not in oppression and become not vain in robbery; if riches increase set not your heart thereon.


6. But where unbelief reigns man is absorbed by these vanities, be cleaves to them, seeks them and has no rest until he has acquired them, and after he possesses them, he feeds and fattens himself with them as the swine wallow in the mire, and finds at the same time his happiness and felicity there. He never inquires how his heart stands with his God and what he possesses in God and may expect from him; but his belly is his God; and if he cannot get what he wants, he imagines things are going wrong. And lo, these dreadful and wicked fruits of unbelief the rich man does not see, he covers them over, and blinds his own eyes by the good works of his pharisaical life, and hardens himself until no teaching, exhortation, threatening nor promise can help him. Behold, this is the secret sin which today's Gospel punishes and condemns.


7. From this now follows the other sin, that he forgets to exercise love toward his neighbor; for there he lets poor Lazarus lie at his door, and offers him not the least assistance. And if he had not wished to help him personally, he should have commanded his servants to take him in and care for him. It may have been, he knew nothing of God and had never experienced his goodness. For whoever feels the goodness of God, feels also for the misfortune of his neighbor; but whoever is not conscious of the goodness of God, sympathizes not in the misfortune of his neighbor. Therefore as he has no pleasure in God, he has no heart for his neighbor.


8. For the nature of faith is that it expects all good from God, and relies only on God. For from this faith man knows God, how he is good and gracious, that by reason of such knowledge his heart becomes so tender and merciful, that he wishes cheerfully to do to every one, as he experiences God has done to him. Therefore he breaks forth with love and serves his neighbor out of his whole heart, with his body and life, with his means and honor, with his soul and spirit, and makes him partaker of all he has, just like God did to him. Therefore he does not look after the healthy, the high, the strong, the rich, the noble, the holy persons, who do not need his care; but he looks after the sick, the weak, the poor, the despised, the sinful people, to whom he can be of benefit, and among whom he can exercise his tender heart, and do to them as God has done to him.


9. But the nature of unbelief is that it does not expect any good from God. By which unbelief the heart is blinded so that it neither feels nor knows how good and gracious God is; but as Psalm 14:2 says: he cares not for God, seeks not after him. Out of this blindness follows further that his heart becomes so hard, obdurate and unmerciful that he has no desire to do a kindness to his fellow man; yea, he would rather harm and offend everybody. For as he is insensible to the goodness of God, so he takes no pleasure in doing good to his neighbor. Consequently it follows that he does not look after the sick, poor and despised people, to whom he could and should be helpful and profitable; but he casts his eyes upward and sees only the high, rich and influential, from whom be himself may receive advantage, gain, pleasure and honor.


10. So we see now in the example of the rich man that it is impossible to love, where no faith exists, and impossible to believe, where there is no love; for both will and must be together, so that a believer loves everybody and serves everybody; but an unbeliever at heart is an enemy of everybody and wishes to be served by every person and yet he covers all such horrible, perverted sins with the little show of his hypocritical works as with a sheep's skin; just as that large bird, the ostrich, which is so stupid that when it sticks its head into a bush, it thinks its entire body is concealed. Yea, here you see that there is nothing blinder and more unmerciful than unbelief. For here the dogs, the most irascible animals, are more merciful to poor Lazarus than this rich man, and they recognize the need of the poor man and lick his sores; while the obdurate, blinded hypocrite is so hard hearted that he does not wish him to have the crumbs that fell from his table.


11. Now all unbelieving people are like this rich hypocrite. Unbelief cannot do nor be different than this rich man is pictured and set forth by his life. And especially is this the character of the clergy, as we see before our eyes, who never do a truly good work, but only seek a good time, never serving nor profiting any one; but reversing the order they want everybody to serve them. Like harpies they only claw everything into their own pockets; and like the old adage runs they ”rob the poor of his purse.” They are not moved in the least by the poverty of others. And although some have not expensive food and raiment, yet they do not lack will power and the spirit of action; for they imitate the rich, the princes and the lords, and do many hypocritically good works by founding institutions and building churches, with which they conceal the great rogue, the wolf of unbelief; so that they become obdurate and hardened and are of no use to anybody. These are the rich man.




12. Likewise we must not judge poor Lazarus in his sores, poverty and anxiety, according to his outward appearance. For many persons suffer from affliction and want, and yet they gain nothing by it; for example King Herod suffered a great affliction, as is related in Acts 12:23; but afterwards he did not have it better before God on account of it. Poverty and suffering make no one acceptable to God; but, whoever is first acceptable to God, his poverty and suffering are precious in the eyes of God, as Ps. 116:15 says: ”Precious in the sight of Jehovah is the death of his saints.


13. Thus we must look into the heart of Lazarus also, and seek the treasure which made his sores so precious. That was surely his faith and love; for without faith it is impossible to please God, as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, 11:6. Therefore his heart also must have confessed that he even in the midst of such poverty and misery expected all good from God, and comfortably relied upon him; with whose blessings and grace he was so richly satisfied, and had such pleasure in them, that he would have heartily and willingly suffered even more misery, if the will of his gracious God had so determined. See, that is a true, living faith, which softened his heart by the knowledge of the divine goodness; so that nothing was too heavy or too much to suffer and to do. So clever and skilful does faith make the heart, when it experiences the grace of God.


14. From this faith follows now another virtue, namely, love to one's neighbor, so that he is willing and ready to serve everybody; but since Lazarus is poor and in misery himself, he had nothing with which he could serve others; therefore his good will is taken for the deed.


15. But this lack of service in temporal things he abundantly makes good by his services in things spiritual. For even now, long after his death, he serves the whole world with his sores, hunger and misery. His bodily hunger feeds our spiritual hunger; his bodily nakedness clothes (or feeds, as some editions read) our spiritual nakedness; his bodily sores heal our spiritual sores; in this way he teaches and comforts us by his example, how God is pleased with us, when we are not prosperous here upon the earth, if we believe; and warns us how God is angry with us, even if we are prosperous in our unbelief; just as God had pleasure in Lazarus in his misery, and was displeased with the rich man.


16. Tell me, what king could have rendered a service to the whole world with his possessions, like poor Lazarus has done with his sores, hunger and poverty? Oh, the wonderful works and judgments of God! In what a masterly manner he puts to shame the cunning goddess and fool of this world, namely, reason and worldly wisdom! She stalks abroad and fixes her eyes rather upon the beautiful purple of the rich man, than upon the wounds of poor Lazarus; she would rather center her eyes upon a healthy, handsome person, as this rich man was, than upon a revolting and naked person like Lazarus; yea, she holds her nose before the stench of his wounds and turns her eyes from his nakedness. Thus the great goddess and fool of this world overlooks God in the very presence of such a noble treasure, and always quietly passes her own judgment, and at the same time makes this poor person so precious and dear, that all the kings hence are not worthy to serve him or to dress his sores. For what king, do you think, would not now with his whole heart exchange his health, purple and crown for the sores, poverty and misery of poor Lazarus, if it were possible for him to do so? And what person is there who would now give a snuff for the purple and all the riches of this rich man?


17. Do you not think that this rich man himself, had he not been so blind and had known that such a treasure, a man so precious in the eyes of God, was dying at his gate, would have run out, and dressed and kissed his sores, and laid him in his best bed; and made all his purple and riches to serve him? But at the time God's judgment went forth, he did not see that he could do it. Then God thought, truly, you are not worthy to serve him. When later the judgment and work of God were accomplished, the wise fool begins to come to himself; and since he suffers now in hell he will gladly give his house and land, to whom before he would not give a crumb of bread; and wishes now that Lazarus might cool his tongue with the tips of his fingers, whom before he would not touch.


18. Behold, even at the present day God is filling the world with such judgments and works, but no one sees it; yea, everybody despises it. There are continually before our eyes poor and needy persons, whom God lays before us as the greatest treasures; but we close our eyes to them, and see not what God does there; later, when God has done his work, and we have neglected the treasure, then we hasten and wish to serve, but we waited too long. Then we begin and make sacred relics of their garments, shoes and furniture, and make pilgrimages to and erect churches over their graves, are occupied with many like foolish deeds and thus ridicule ourselves in that we permit the living saints to be trodden under our feet and to perish, and we worship their garments, which is neither necessary nor of any use; so that indeed our Lord will let the judgment fall as he did in Mat. 23:29-33, and say: ”Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and garnish the tombs of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we should not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye witness to yourselves, that ye are sons of them that slew the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers, how shall ye escape the judgment of hell?”


19. All believers are like poor Lazarus; and every believer is a true Lazarus, for he is of the same faith, mind and will, as Lazarus. And whoever will not be a Lazarus, will surely have his portion with the rich glutton in the flames of hell. For we all must like Lazarus trust in God, surrender ourselves to him to work in us according to his own good pleasure, and be ready to serve all men. And although we all do not suffer from such sores and poverty, yet the same mind and will must be in us, that were in Lazarus, cheerfully to bear such things, wherever God wills it.


20. For such poverty of spirit may exist in those who have very great possessions; as Job, David, Abraham were poor and rich. For David in Ps. 39:12 says: ”I am a stranger with thee, a sojourner, as all my fathers were.” How could that be, since he was a king and possessed extensive lands and large cities? Thus it came about; although he indeed possessed these, yet his heart did not cleave to them, and they were as nothing compared with the riches he had with God. Likewise he had said of the health of his body that it was as nothing compared to the health of his soul before God, and he would indeed not have murmured, had God afflicted him with bodily sores and sickness. So Abraham also, although he had not the poverty and affliction of Lazarus, yet he had the mind and will to bear what Lazarus did, if God had visited him thus. For the saints should have one and the same inner mind and spirit, but they cannot have the same outward work and suffering. Therefore Abraham also recognized Lazarus as one of his own and received him into his bosom; which he would not have done, were he not of the same mind and had he not taken pleasure in the poverty and maladies of Lazarus. Thus is set forth the sum and meaning of the Gospel, that we may see, how faith everywhere saves and unbelief condemns.




21. This Gospel lesson suggests several questions. First, what is the bosom of Abraham, since it cannot be a natural bosom that is meant? To answer this, it is necessary to know that the soul or Spirit of man has no rest or place where it may abide, except the Word of God, until he comes at the last day to the clear vision of God. Therefore we conclude that the bosom of Abraham signifies nothing else than the Word of God, where Christ was promised, Gen. 22:18, to Abraham, namely: ”In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” In these words Christ is promised to him, as the one through whom every person shall be blessed, that is, shall be delivered from sin, death and hell, and through no one else and through no other work. All who have believed this passage, have believed on Christ, and have become good Christians, and have also through faith in this Word been released from sin, death and hell.


22. Thus were all the fathers before the birth of Christ carried into Abraham's bosom; that is, at their death they were established in this saying of God,, and they fell asleep in the same, they were embraced and guarded as in a bosom, and sleep there until the day of judgment; excepting those who have already risen with Christ, as Mat. 27:5.9 teaches, where they also remained. In like manner we, when we face death, must lay hold of and trust in the Word of Christ with strong faith, as John 11:26 says: ”Whosoever believeth on me shall never die,” or like passages; and thus die in this faith, fall asleep, be embraced and guarded in the bosom of Abraham until the day of judgment. For the word spoken to Abraham and the word spoken to us is the very same word; both speak of Christ, that we must be saved through him. But the former is more particularly called Abraham's bosom, because it was spoken first to Abraham and began with him.


23. Likewise on the other hand the hell here mentioned cannot be the true hell that will begin on the day of judgment. For the corpse of the rich man is without doubt not in hell, but buried in the earth; it must however be a place where the soul can be and has no peace, and it cannot be corporal. Therefore it seems to me, this hell is the conscience, which is without faith and without the Word of God, in which the soul is buried and held until the day of judgment, when they are cast down body and soul into the true and real hell. For just as Abraham's bosom is God's Word, in which believers rest through faith, and fall asleep and are guarded there until the day of judgment; so must that on the contrary ever be hell, where God's Word is not, into which the unbelievers are cast until the day of judgment. That can be nothing else than an empty, unbelieving, sinful, and evil conscience.


24. The second question is: How then did Abraham and the rich man converse with one another? Answer: It could not have been a conversation with the natural voice, since the bodies of both were lying in their graves; likewise as little was it the natural tongue that complained of being tormented; nor was it natural fingers and natural water that were desired from Lazarus. Therefore this all must be in the conscience thus: When the conscience is awakened by death or by the agonies of death, then it will have a testimony of its unbelief and will see then for the first time the bosom of Abraham, and those embraced by it, that is, the Word of God, in which it should have believed and did not; from which it has the very greatest pain and anxiety as in hell, and finds neither help nor consolation.


25. Then thoughts arise in the conscience, which held such a conversation, if they could speak, as this rich man did with Abraham, and seeks then whether the Word of God, and all who have believed in it, would help; and with so much anxiety that it would receive the least comfort from the very meanest of men, but even that cannot be granted to him. Then Abraham answered him, that is, his conscience took such a view of the Word of God, that it cannot be; but he had his portion of good things in his life, and he must now suffer; while the others are comforted, whom he despised.


26. At last he feels, that it is declared unto him: There is a great gulf fixed between him and the believers, that they will never be able to come together. These are the thoughts of despair, when the conscience feels that the Word of God is withdrawn forever from him; accordingly the thoughts of his conscience rage and would gladly have the living to know that such are the agonies of death, and he craves that someone would tell it to them. But it is to no purpose; for be feels an answer in his own conscience, that Moses and the prophets are sufficient, whom they ought to believe, as he himself should have done. All such thoughts pass between the condemned conscience and the Word of God, in the hour of death or in the agonies of death; and no one can perceive what it is, except the one who experiences it; and he who experienced it wished that others should know it, but all is in vain.


27. The third question is: When did that take place, and if the rich man still daily without ceasing suffers thus until the day of judgment? That is a subtle question and not easily answered to the inexperienced. For here one must banish the idea of time from the mind and know that in the other world there is neither time nor hours, but all is an eternal moment or wink of the eye; as 2 Peter 3:8 says: ”A day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day,” Ps. 90:4. Therefore it seems to me that in this rich man we have an example of the future of all unbelievers, when their eyes are opened by death and its agonies; which can endure but for a moment and then cease until the day of judgment, as it may please God; for here no definite rule can be established. Therefore I dare not say that the rich man suffers still at present as he suffered at that time; and I dare not deny that he still suffers thus; for both depend upon the will of God. It is sufficient for us to know that his example and the beginning of the suffering of all unbelievers are here clearly set before us.


28. The fourth question is: Shall we pray for the dead; since here in the Gospel there is no intermediate state between Abraham's bosom and hell, and those in Abraham's bosom do not need it, and it does not help those in perdition. We have no command from God to pray for the dead; therefore no one sins by not praying for them; for what God does not bid or forbid us to do, in that no one can sin. Yet, on the other hand, since God has not permitted us to know, how it is with the souls of the departed and we must continue uninformed, as to how he deals with them, we will not and cannot restrain them, nor count it as sin, if they pray for the dead. For we are ever certain from the Gospel, that many have been raised from the dead, who, we must confess, did not receive nor did they have their final sentence; and likewise we are not assured of any other, that he has his final sentence.


29. Now since it is uncertain and no one knows, whether final judgment has been passed upon these souls, it is not sin if you pray for them; but in this way, that you let it rest in uncertainty and speak thus: Dear God, if the departed souls be in a state that they may yet be helped, then I pray that thou wouldst be gracious. And when you have thus prayed once or twice, then let it be sufficient and commend them unto God. For God has promised that when we pray to him for anything he would hear us. Therefore when you have prayed once or twice, you should believe that your prayer is answered, and there let it rest, lest you tempt God and mistrust him.


30. But that we should institute masses, vigils and prayers to be repeated forever for the dead every year, as if God had not heard us the year before, is the work of Satan and is death itself, where God is mocked by unbelief, and such prayers are nothing but blasphemy of God. Therefore take warning and turn from these practices. God is not moved by these anniversary ceremonies, but by the prayer of the heart, of devotion and of faith; that will help the departed souls if anything will. Vigils, masses, indeed help the bellies of the priests, monks and nuns, but departed souls are not helped by them and God is thus mocked.


31. However, if you have in your house a spook or ghost, who pretends that the departed can be helped by saying masses, You should be fully persuaded that it is the work of Satan. No soul has yet since the beginning of the world reappeared on the earth, and it is not God's will that it should be so. For here in this Gospel you see that Abraham declares that no one can be sent from the dead to teach the living; but he points them to the Word of God in the Scriptures, Deut. 31: ”They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” By these words Abraham turns to the command of God in Deut. 18:11, where God says: ”Thou shalt not be a consulter with a familiar spirit.” Is. 8:19. Therefore it is surely nothing but the contrivance of Satan that any spirits should let themselves be entreated and that they should require so and so many masses, such and such pilgrimages or other works, and appear afterwards in the clear light and pretend that certain persons are saved. In this way Satan has introduced error so that the people have fallen from faith into works, and think their deeds may accomplish such great things. And thus is fulfilled what St. Paul declared in 2 Thess. 2:10-11, that God would send upon them powerful error, and temptation to unrighteousness, because they have not received the love of the truth that they might be saved.


32. Therefore be prudent and know that God will not let us know how it is with the dead, so that faith may retain its place in the Word of God, which believes that God will save the believers after this life and condemn the unbelievers. If now a familiar spirit present itself before you, take no notice of it; but be assured that it is the devil, and conquer him with this Saying of Abraham, ”They have Moses and the prophets,” and likewise with the command in Moses, ”Thou shalt not be a consulter with a familiar spirit;” then he will soon be gone. If he leave you not, then let him make a noise until he is tired, and in firm faith suffer his wantonness.


33. And if it were possible that it were indeed a departed soul or a good spirit even, then you should neither learn nor inquire anything of him, since God has forbidden you to do so; because he has sent his Son himself to teach us all that is necessary for us to know. What he has not taught us, that we should gladly not wish to know, and be satisfied with the teachings of the holy Apostles, in which he is preached to us. However, I have further written on this subject in the Postils on the Gospel for Epiphany and in my booklet on the Misuse of the Mass; where you may read more along this line.


34. Likewise, to give an example, we read in the Historia Tripartita (A History in Three Parts) of a bishop, who came to Corinth where he had come to attend a Council, and as he could not find a suitable lodging for himself and his attendants, he saw a house unoccupied and condemned as uninhabitable, and he asked if he might not be allowed to occupy it. Then they told him in reply that it was infested with nightly ghosts, that no one could live in it, and often people were found dead in it in the morning. Then the bishop said but little and immediately entered and lodged there the same night, for he very well saw that the devil was the author of all these ghost stories, and as he had firm faith that Christ was Lord over Satan, therefore he was not moved by his stratagems and he entered to lodge with him. And thus that house was made free by the prayers and presence of a holy man from infesting ghosts and horrifying spectres. Behold, you see that the ghosts are Satan, and there is little use to dispute with them; but one should despise them with a cheerful spirit as nothing.


35. A similar story we read about Gregory, the Bishop of Cappadocia, that he crossed the Alps and lodged with a heathen sexton or clerk of the church, who had an idol, that answered him the questions he asked; and he made his living by telling the people secret things. Now the bishop knew nothing of this, and proceeded the next day as soon as it was morning on his journey. But Satan or the evil spirit could not endure the prayers and presence of the holy man, and at once he betook himself out of the house, so that the heathen sexton could no longer receive answers as before. As soon as he felt his great loss, he set up a great howl to call back his idol, which appeared to him while he was asleep, and said, it was his own fault because he had lodged the bishop, with whom he (the evil spirit) could not remain. The sexton hastened to overtake the bishop and complained to him that he had taken his god and livelihood, and returned evil for the kindness extended to him. Then the bishop took paper out of his pocket and wrote these few words: ”Gregory sendeth greetings to Apollinius. Be thou at liberty, O, Apollinius, to do as thou hast done before. Farewell.” The sexton took the letter and laid it by the side of his idol; then the devil came again, and did as before. Finally the sexton began to think, what a poor god is he, who allows himself to be driven away and lead by my guest who was only a man. And at once he started to the bishop, was instructed and baptized, and grew in his faith, so that he became the eminent bishop of Caesarea, a city in Cappadocia, upon the death of the bishop that baptized him. Behold, how simply faith proceeds, and acts joyfully, securely and effectively. Treat all your troublesome evil spirits in the same way.











1 JOHN 3:13-18.



1 JOHN 3:13-18.

Marvel not, brethren, if the world hateth you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath the world’s goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth.



1. The Epistles and Gospels selected for the Pentecost cycle of Sundays have love as their general theme. They deal not only with the love we owe to Christ and God, which is only to be thankful for the unspeakable blessing of forgiveness of sins and salvation through Christ’s blood and death, but also of the love we owe our neighbor; not a love in return for favors, but one that unceasingly gives, forgives and works all good even when unrequited.


2. John here admonishes the Christian to exercise the virtue of love. Considering the evident rarity of love among men, this admonition is necessary. He particularly warns Christians not to wonder at the world’s hatred and desire for their death. Such was the hate of Cain for his brother, of which the apostle has just spoken. The world’s hate, it must be admitted, repels love and powerfully obstructs its exercise.


3. Is it not surpassing strange that one can hate those who love him and from whom he has received only kindness? Such wickedness is almost inconceivable, we say. What incentive is there for any to render the world service when in ingratitude it rewards love with hatred? But let us examine ourselves, who are baptized and have received the Gospel, and confess how we requite the supreme love of God in giving us his Son. What a beautiful example of glad gratitude we display! For the shame of it we ought to despise ourselves before God and his angels. And what shall we say of those who will not endure the preaching of the glorious message of God’s grace and blessing, but condemn it as heresy? to whom they who seek to serve, to benefit and save the world by declaring the good news, must be, as Paul says, “as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things,” 1 Corinthians 4:13. Indeed, no criminal receives more wretched and ignominous treatment and execution, of which the Pope and his followers are a case in point.



4. While experience has proven this otherwise incredible fact, John vouchsafes the admonition notwithstanding: “Marvel not, brethren, if the world hateth you.” If we are not to wonder at this, is there anything in the world to incite wonder? I should truly think the hearing of a single sermon on the grace of Christ would suffice to bring the world to receive the Gospel with intense joy and never to forget the divine mercy and blessing. It would be no wonder should the earth suddenly open and engulf mankind because of its ingratitude to God who has given his Son to become man for the purpose of redeeming us condemned mortals from sin and death and restoring us to life and salvation. Is it not a horrible thing that any man should shun and oppose such a Savior and his doctrine even more than he does the devil himself?


5. But what is God’s attitude toward such conduct? Well does he say to the Jews through the prophet: “O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me. For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of bondage; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what Balak, king of Moab, devised; and what Balaam, the son of Beor, answered him; remember from Shittim unto Gilgal, that ye may know the righteous acts of Jehovah.” Micah 6:3-5. And well does Christ say to his ungrateful people: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her ! how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” Matthew 23:37. As if he would say, “I surely did not come to effect your death and condemnation by my message. I am about to suffer death and God’s wrath for your sins. I bring you God’s endless grace and blessing for time and eternity. Then why this bitter hatred against me and my message?”


6. “Since the world hates even God for his kindness,” argues John, “marvel not, my beloved, that you suffer the same fate. What does it signify that I show my love by hazarding life and limb to sustain this doctrine of the Gospel and help my neighbor? Mine is but a poor, mean, uncouth, offensive love in comparison with the love that led Christ to die for me and to redeem me from eternal death. If God’s supreme, unfathomable love fails to awaken the gratitude of the world, what wonder if the world hates you for all your kindness? Why will you bring down your fist and stamp your foot in anger at such ingratitude? You are yourselves of that race for whom the Son of God had to die. And even were you to die for the Gospel, your sacrifice would be as nothing in comparison to the fact that God, for the sake of the world, spared not his own Son but permitted the world to put him to death.”


7. But whence arises the world’s hatred? John tells us in verse twelve when he mentions the incident of Cain, who, he says, “was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” An excellent reason, indeed, for hating – the hater and murderer is evil and the benefactor good! In civil and domestic affairs it is the evil-doers and disobedient who incur displeasure and receive punishment; and such reward is just. But whenever God has dealings with the world, it shows what a rotten fruit it is by hating, persecuting, and putting to death as evil-doers and impostors its very benefactors. This trait it inherits, John tells us, from its ancestor Cain, the great fratricide saint. He is a true picture of the world of all times, and ever its spirit and fashion is patterned after him.


8. When mother Eve, the dear, godly woman, bore her first son, she declared in her joy and her hope of God’s promise of the future seed that should bruise the serpent’s head: “I have gotten a man with the help of Jehovah” ( Genesis 4:1); and she named him Cain, which means “obtained,” as if she would say, “I have obtained the true treasure.” For she had not before seen a human being born; this was the first, precious fruit of man. Over Cain she rejoiced, pronouncing herself blessed. This son was trained in the hope that he should be a savior of the future race, a comfort to his brothers and sisters with all their offspring. Nor was he unaware of these proud hopes. Proudly he lorded it over his brother, who in contrast had to bear the ignominious name of Abel, meaning “nothing,” or “vanity,” as if voicing the thought of the parents’ hearts: “Alas! this one has no future. Cain is the rightful heir to the blessing God has promised man; he is lord and master of his brethren.”


9. It is likely that the godly father and mother for many years drew their solace from the hope placed in their first-born son, as they looked forward with intensest longing to the redemption from their deplorable fall. Doubtless they trained both sons very carefully and instructed them concerning their own sin and fall and the promise God had given them, until they were fully grown and had entered into the priestly office. Cain the first-born was particularly zealous in that respect, desiring to be first inasmuch as he offered his first fruits of the earth, given by God and obtained by his own labor, as he no doubt had seen his father offer. Abel, however, the inferior, the poor shepherd, offered the firstlings of his sheep, given him of God and obtained without effort and toil of his own. Now, God in a wonderful way manifested his preference concerning the gifts upon the altar. Fire descended from heaven and consumed Abel’s offering, but Cain’s remained. The fire was the sign of God’s favor. The text says: “And Jehovah had respect unto Abel and to his offering: but unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect.” Genesis 4:4-5.


10. Thereupon Adam and Eve saw that the hope and solace centering in their first-born son, were a delusion. They began to learn the wonderful judgments of God, who gave precedence to Abel, the male counterpart of Cinderella  – which is all he was in his own sight when he compared himself with his brother. Now Cain, with full confidence in his position, spoiled by the delusion of his parents that as the first-born he was God’s preference, felt himself outraged. His hypocrisy, hitherto masked, comes to the surface. He burns with secret hate against God, with hate and anger against his brother, which he takes no trouble whatever to disguise. The parents rebuke him, but effect nothing. The flame of his resentment rises higher, and meeting him alone upon the field, he fells him to the ground. Far from contemplating amendment of life or seeking grace from God, he has no mercy upon the only brother he has on earth, who has done him no harm whatever. He cannot forgive him and leave him in unenvied possession of the grace of God.


11. Such was the solace and joy poor Adam and Eve lived to experience in their first children! From this time on their earthly life was fraught with gloom and sorrow, particularly since they could not but see the source of these in their own fall and they would have pined to death had not God comforted them with another son. For when it became evident that the hope they had placed in Cain was a delusion, and that they were deprived of the son who, beyond a doubt, possessed the grace of God, they, without another son, would not have known where to look for the solace of the promised seed.



12. Note, in this man Cain is pictured the world in its true, characteristic colors; in him its true spirit stands reflected. Certainly his equal has never been. In him are unquestionably prefigured the very flower, the very quintessence, of holiness on earth – the most pious servants of God. On the other hand, that poor, wretched, abject male counterpart of Cinderella, Abel, well represents the obscure little brotherhood, the Church of Christ.


She must yield to Cain the lord the distinction of being everything before God, of being the recipient of every gift of God, of being entitled to all honor and every privilege. He feels important in his imagined dignity, permits this spirit to pervade his sacrifices and his worships, and thinks that God cannot but favor and accept his offering rather than that of his brother. Meanwhile, the pious Abel goes his way, meekly suffering his brother’s contempt. He willingly yields Cain the honor, esteems himself vastly inferior and beholds no consolation for himself aside from the pure mercy and goodness of God. He believes in God and hopes for the promised future seed. In such faith he performs his sacrifice as a confession, a sign, of his gratitude.


13. This illustration is intended by God as solace for his little throng; for the incident is not written for Abel’s sake but for the sake of the humble children of God, whose condition is like that of Abel. God has not forgotten them, though they are haughtily ignored by proud Cain, who regards them as nothing in his presence. God graciously looks upon them and rejects proud Cain with his birthright and offering.


14. Innocent Abel becomes the object of anger and hatred when the Word of God lays hold of Cain revealing God’s displeasure where he had fancied himself worthy, and God’s unwillingness to regard his offering and devotion as superior to this of his brother and more meritorious. Cain begins bitterly to hate and persecute his brother. He finds no rest until Abel is laid low and cut off from the earth. Now you have the cause of the world’s hatred and anger against Christians; simply this, as John says of Cain: “Because his works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.”


15. What offense had godly Abel committed against his brother to be so hated? He had even regarded that brother as the first-born, as vastly superior to himself, and had done him all honor and loved him as became a brother. He was easily satisfied, desiring simply the grace of God. He prayed for the future seed, that is, for the salvation and happiness of his parents, his brother and the entire human race. How could Cain be unmerciful and inhuman enough in his frenzy to murder his own flesh and blood? The answer is found in the fact that the devil had filled Cain’s heart with pride and vanity over his birthright. He considered himself a man of distinction, with every claim upon God’s favor and sinless, whilst his brother was nothing whatever. Cain’s heart is devoid of true brotherly love; he has only contempt for Abel. He cannot endure God’s manifest favor toward his brother, and will not be moved by the injunction to humble himself and seek God’s grace. Anger and envy possess him to the extent that he cannot tolerate his brother alive. In violation of God’s commandment and his own conscience, he becomes a murderer, and then goes his way as if he had done right.


16. This is what John means when he says that Cain had no other cause for his crime than that his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous. Similarly, that obedient daughter of Saint Cain, the world, hates the Christians; and for no other reason than the latter’s love and goodness of heart. Witness the examples of the holy patriarchs, the prophets and, most of all, of Christ himself.


17. What sin against the world did the beloved apostles commit? They desired the injury of none, but went about in extreme poverty and toil, teaching mankind how, through faith in Christ, to be saved from the devil’s kingdom and from eternal death. This the world will not hear and suffer; hence the hue and cry: “Kill, kill these people ! Away with them from off the earth ! Show them no mercy !” Why this hostility? Because the apostles sought to relieve the world of its idolatry and damnable doings. Such good works the world could not tolerate. What it desires is nothing but praise and commendation for its own evil doings, expecting from God the impossible endorsement, “Your deeds are good and well-pleasing to me. Pious children of mine are you. Just keep on cheerfully killing all who believe and preach my Word.”


18. In the same way does the world conduct itself today with reference to our Gospel. For no other reason are we hated and persecuted than because we have, through God’s grace, proclaimed his Word that recovered us from the blindness and idolatry in which we were sunken as deeply as the world, and because we desire to rescue others. That is the unpardonable sin by which we have incurred the world’s irreconcilable anger and its inextinguishable hatred. It cannot permit us to live. We preach no other doctrine than faith in Christ, which our children pray and they themselves confess in words. We differ only in our claim that Christ having been crucified for us and having shed his blood to redeem us from sin and death, our salvation is not effected by our own works, or holiness or devotion. The fact that we do not regard their faithless worship equal to Christ himself, but teach men to trust in the grace of God and not their own worthiness, and to render him gratitude for his grace – this fact is intolerable to the world. It would be well for our adversaries if they would receive such teaching, since it would render them more than ever what they profess to be: our superiors in wisdom, knowledge and reputation – a claim we are willing to concede. But Cain’s works are evil and Abel’s righteous. The world simply cannot tolerate the Gospel, and no unity or harmony is ever to be hoped for. The world will not forsake its idolatry nor receive the faith. It would force us to renounce the Word of God and praise its Cainlike worship, or take death at their hands.


19. Therefore, John says, “Marvel not, brethren, if the world hateth you,” for it is compelled to act according to the nature inherited from its father Cain. It would have all merits and concede to Abel none. The world comprises the exalted, the wise, the learned, the mighty. The Scriptures represent these as under necessity to hate and persecute the poor throng of the Church of Christ by reason of the good works done by them. They can under no consideration tolerate the idea of being taught by this despised and humble throng the doctrine of salvation through the grace and mercy of God alone, not through man’s own merits. They cannot endure the teaching that their offering – the mass, regarded by the Papists as a work of superlative merit and holiness – avails nothing before God.


20. In the text the nature of the world is portrayed for our recognition. So to understand the world as to know what may be expected from it is essential and valuable knowledge for the Christian. Thus armed he will not be dismayed and become impatient of suffering, nor permit its malice and ingratitude to mislead him to hate and desire for revenge. He will keep his faith and love, suffering the world to go its way if it refuse to hear his message. The Christian should expect nothing better from the world than its bitter persecution in return for his good works and love. The Church of Christ on earth, let him remember, is never to have an easier lot. He is not to judge according to show and appearance, thinking: “They are the great throng, the wisest and cleverest people on earth; how is it possible that they should all be in error and under condemnation?”


21. It is necessarily true that discipline and peace are impossible without the most excellent, exalted, erudite, clever people – royal, princely, noble in achievement and honor. Cain is never plain and lowly. He is always eminently clever, wise, holy and in every way vastly Abel’s superior. In fact, he must in himself represent all desirable things, as his name indicates. And the same characteristic is manifest in his children, who are ingenious in the invention of every variety of art. Deplorable the fact that a man of Cain’s qualifications, born of godly parents and signally honored of God, should display such hatred and inhumanity toward poor Abel merely because of God’s Word and Abel’s faith.


22. Such knowledge is comforting to the godly little company of Christians, who are confident they have God’s favor and know it to be the occasion of their persecution; they have no protection and succor but are exposed to the same fate as Abel. If they fare better, they may thank God for it. But they are ever to abide in love toward God, whose love they have received and felt, and likewise toward men, their enemies not excepted. This was Abel’s way; could he have lived again, he would have kept his brotherly love for his murderer, forgiving him and even imploring God’s forgiveness for him.




“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.”

23. To abide in love should be the motive for us Christians. John contrasts it with the motive of the world in hating us – its wickedness. The world’s hatred of you, as John words imply, is not strange. The contrast between you and the world is exceedingly great. Through its own evil works, unbelief, pride, contempt for the Word and grace of God, and the persecution of the godly, the world has become by this time the victim of Satan and eternal death. It spurns all counsel and aid directed toward its rescue. Stiff-necked and hardened, under evident condemnation by its own conscience, it has chosen to persist in its doom. But we believers in Christ, God be praised! are different people. We have come forth from death; we have passed through death and entered into life through the knowledge and faith of the Son of God, who has loved us and given himself for us.


24. Such grace and goodness of God, says the apostle, should prompt you not to be offended and vanquished by the world’s ingratitude, hate and malice, and thus to cease from holy endeavor and become likewise, evil, which course will result in the loss of your treasure. It is yours, not by your own effort, but by grace alone; for at one time you as well as they anguished in the kingdom and power of death, in evil works, far from faith and love. Remember to comfort yourselves, therefore, with the thought of this great blessing, an advantage you enjoy above the others. What if the world, abiding in death, does hate and persecute you who abide in life? Whom can its hatred injure? It cannot take from you the life which it lacks while you possess it, nor deliver you to death, from which you have passed, through Christ. When it does its worst it may perhaps falsely slander you, or deprive you of your property, or destroy your corrupt body – the final home of maggots and in any event doomed to corruption – and thus through the death of the body help you gain true life. Thus vengeance will be yours rather than its own. Yours will be the joy of being transplanted from death into life, whereas the world must abide in death. While they of the world think to deny you both the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of earth, they themselves lose body and soul What more terrible retribution could their hatred and envy receive? For the sake of denying gratification to the devil and the world, and much more for your own welfare, you must not allow your persecutions to rob you of your peace and salvation, nor to lead you to lose your faith through impatience and desire for revenge. Rather, pity their wretchedness and doom. You lose nothing by their oppression; yours is the gain, theirs the loss. For the slight grief inflicted upon you with reference to body and time, it shall dearly pay both here and hereafter.


25. How do we know we have passed from death unto life? John says, because we love the brethren. Just what does he mean? Is it not our doctrine that Christ first loved us, as John elsewhere says? that before we ever loved him he died and rose again for us? When we fully believe in our Savior’s love, then our own hearts respond with perfect love to God and our neighbor. Why, then, does John say, “We have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren”?


26. The explanation is found in the words “We know.” John says plainly, “From the fact that we love the brethren, we know we have passed out of death into life.” Love of the brethren is the test whereby we may ascertain who are the true believers. The apostle directed this epistle especially against false Christians; many there are who extol Christ, as did unbelieving Cain, and yet fail to bear the fruit of faith. John’s reference is not to the means whereby we pass from sin and death to life, but to the proof whereby we may know the fact – not to the cause, but to the effect.


27. It is not sufficient to boast of having passed from death into life; there must be evidence of the fact. Faith is not an inactive and lifeless thing. When there is faith in the heart, its power will be manifest. Where power is not in evidence, all boasting is false and vain. When the human heart, in its confidence in divine mercy and love, is thrilled with spiritual comfort, and also warmed into kindness, friendliness, humility and patience towards the neighbor, envying and despising none but cheerfully serving all and ministering unto necessity even to hazarding body and life  when this is the case, then the fruits of faith are manifest. Such fruits are proof that the believer has truly passed from death into life. Had he not true faith, but doubted God’s grace and love, his heart would not prompt him, by reason of his love and gratitude to God, to manifest love for his neighbor. Where man has faith, and where he realizes God’s infinite mercy and goodness in raising him from death to life, love is enkindled in his heart, and he is prompted to do all manner of good, even to his enemies, as God has done to him.


28. Such is the right interpretation and understanding of John’s expression: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.” It leaves in its integrity the foundation, justification, or deliverance from death, through faith alone. This is the first element of Christian doctrine. Granting that faith does justify, the next question is whether the faith is real or simulated, being merely a deceptive show and unsupported claim. The clear information imparted by the apostles is, that love, indeed, does not deliver from death, but that deliverance from death and the presence of life becomes a matter of sight and knowledge in that love has been wrought. With true faith we must have come to the point where we no longer, like Cain, in our pride and conceit, despise our neighbor; where we are not filled with envy, hatred and bitterness; where we desire, and to the extent of our power, promote the interests of our neighbor and work him all good.


29. John draws to a close by showing the opposite side of the picture, in that he addresses earnest words that reecho like peals of thunder to those who make the carnal boast of being Christians while destitute of love. He cites several facts as evidence that where love is lacking, necessarily faith and deliverance from death are absent, likewise. Thus no opportunity is given for self-deception or a frivolous excuse based upon wordy boasting of one’s faith. The reality of the inner life is known by the presence of love, which in turn attests the presence of faith in the heart.


“He that loveth not abideth in death.”

30. Here, in clear, decisive words, the conclusion is expressed that no man may boast of life unless he has love. If it is true that faith must be active, it is conversely true that the absence of fruitage demonstrates one’s continuance in the old Cain-like manner of existence, torpid and dead, bereft of solace and the experience of God’s grace and life. Let no one presume to think he has passed into life so long as he is devoid of love and the fruits of faith. Let him become serious, and in alarm make ready to become a true believer, lest he remain in eternal death and under greater condemnation than those who have never heard the Gospel.


“Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.”

31. Still clearer and stronger becomes the argument that lack of love means continuance in death. The stern and frightful judgment is here expressed that the unloving person is no better than Cain the fratricide. His heart is under the influence of deadly hate and murderous malice against the brother who refuses to be subservient to his desires. Kindling rage will prove its existence by appropriate works unless restrained by the fear of disgrace and punishment. He wishes his brother nothing good, but rejoices in his misfortune. All this, however, is impossible for one who believes that he has been delivered from death. One who knows the wretchedness and misery of death from experience, but has entered upon life with its solace and joy, blessings he seeks to maintain – such a person will desire for others the same blessing; he cannot rejoice in another’s death. Therefore it is true conversely: “We know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.”



32. Thus we see the nature of the human heart without faith and the knowledge of Christ; at bottom it is but the heart of a Cain, murderous toward its neighbor. Nor can anything better be expected from him who is not a Christian. The Scriptures repeatedly denounce such faithless hypocrites as bloodthirsty and deceitful. “Jehovah abhorreth the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” Psalm 5:6. “For their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood.” Proverbs. 1:16. See also verse 11. All mankind are by nature the children of the murderer Cain. They are, of course, no better than their father. While Cain was a man most magnificent, intelligent and wise, being the first fruit born of those holy parents Adam and Eve, and in his superior endowment with natural virtues infinitely superior to all who come after him, he was nevertheless an unbeliever before God. Hence he became the murderer of his brother.


“Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath the world’s goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him?”

33. These words delineate true Christian love and hold up the sublime example, or pattern, of God’s love manifest in Christ. Christ’s blood and death is God’s own blood and death. Paul in Acts 20:28, speaks of God having purchased the Church “with his own blood.” The heart of man by faith receives and apprehends this sacrifice. Under its transforming influence he is disposed to work good to his neighbor as he has himself received good. He even jeopardizes his life to that end, being conscious of his redemption from eternal death, and knowing physical death powerless to affect his eternal life. But the heart that fails to appropriate Christ’s sacrifice is without faith and insensible to God’s love and eternal life.


34. John uses an illustration plain enough for anyone to understand, and from which we may judge that the soul found wanting in small duties will be deficient in great ones. According to the apostle, if one possesses this world’s goods and sees his neighbor want, he being able to render assistance without injury to himself, and yet closes his heart against that neighbor, not assisting him with even the slightest work of love, how can the love of God dwell in him since he appreciates it so little that he will not spare his needy brother a penny? How can he be expected, then, to render a greater service – to even lay down his life for his brother? What right has such a soul to boast – how can he know – that Christ has laid down his life for him and delivered him from death?


35. How frequently are such people to be found! Having this world’s goods and being able to help the needy, they close their hearts against the unfortunate, as did the rich glutton toward poor Lazarus. Where shall we find in imperial courts, among kings, princes and lords, any who extend a helping hand to the needy Church, or give her so much as a crust of bread toward the maintenance of the poor, of the ministry and of schools, or for other of her necessities? How would they measure up in the greater duty of laying down their lives for the brethren, and especially for the Christian Church? Note the terrible judgment that they who are devoid of brotherly love are in God’s sight murderers and cannot have eternal life.


36. But the merely selfish may well escape our censure in comparison with those who not only close their purses to the poor but shamelessly and forcibly deprive and rob their needy neighbor of his own by overreaching, by fraud, oppression and extortion; who take from the Church the property rightfully hers and especially reserved for her, snatching the bread from her mouth, so to speak. Not only is the papistical rabble today guilty of such sin, but many who would be known as evangelical practice the same fraud with reference to the parochial estates and general property of the Church, and, in addition, tyrannically harass and torment the poor ministers. But oh, how heavy and terrible the impending judgment for those who have denied to Christ the Lord in his thirst even the cup of cold water!


“My little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth.”

37. The world and the false Christians in word pretend great love; but in practice, when love should manifest itself in deeds, it is found to be insincere. So John admonishes that where our love is not ardent enough to lead us to lay down our lives for our brethren, however much we may profess Christ, that love is assuredly only a vain show, a false pretense, wherewith we deceive ourselves and remain in infidelity and death, and in a more deplorable condition than those who are wholly ignorant of the Gospel. Therefore, let him who would proceed safely and prove himself a Christian remember to prove himself such by his deeds and works. Then men will know that he does not, a murderer and liar, like others, follow the devil. They will know, on the contrary, that he truly and with the heart clings to the Word of God, having passed from death to life.









LUKE 14:16-24.





The Great Supper and the guests.




LUKE 14:16-24:

Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.


1. The Papists, contrary to the order of the ancient Church, have appointed this Gospel lesson for the first Sunday after Trinity, because they celebrated it the week during the festival of Corpus Christi, as is still the custom among them. For they interpreted the supper, of which this Gospel speaks, to signify the Sacrament of the Altar, and thereby desired to establish the Communion in one part or form only, which, as you well know, is one of their chief abuses and an anti-Christian perversion of this sacrament, concerning which we do not agree with them.


2. Inasmuch as young people are growing up and know nothing about such festivals or pompous demonstrations, and as we older persons forget it also, it is well to remind our people, so that, when our youth come to their churches and see such things, they may not be offended, but may be able to say: That it is not right, that they should play with the holy Sacrament and carry it about, in order thereby to dispense so many false indulgences, not with the intention thereby to honor the Sacrament, for then they would have carried about the entire Sacrament, or both elements, bread and wine. But to the shame and disgrace of the Sacrament, they do this that they themselves may thereby be honored, namely, that the distinction be maintained, that the order of priests is a more special and a higher order before God, than the common order of Christians; because the priests alone receive the entire Sacrament or both elements, the body and the blood of Christ, and other Christians, as the body and the blood of Christ, and other Christians, as people of a lower order, must be satisfied with only one part of the Sacrament.


3. This difference they sought to introduce among the people by such a festival in order thus to praise their order above others, to the shame and disgrace of the holy Sacrament and our Lord Jesus Christ, who did not institute his holy Sacrament for a special order over and above the common order of Christians; just as he also did not suffer and die for a special order, but for the comfort Of his Christian church which is not divided, but consists of one body, of the one only Head, Jesus Christ, where all the members, so far as life and character are concerned, are equal; although their works are unequal and different.


4. This abuse, which is very great and harmful, we must not overlook, but picture it forth in its true colors, because the Papists insist with such hardened and impenitent hearts on their own godless conduct. For how does it happen that the holy Sacrament must be used to make a distinction among Christians? Whereas Christ our Lord instituted it chiefly for the comfort of the conscience and for the strengthening of our faith, and further that Christendom should be like a bond, by which Christians are bound together in the most intimate manner; that they be as one bread or one loaf, not only that they might have in common and at the same time one God, one Word, one Baptism, one Sacrament, one hope, one confidence, and all the grace and treasures of Christ in common; but that in their external life they are also one body, where one member assists, serves, helps, advises and sympathizes with the others.


5. This use of the holy Sacrament the Papists have thus entirely abolished, so that they alone have wholly taken the Sacrament to themselves, and thereby have formed an extra class that was to be better than common Christians. Yet, in order that the common people might also highly esteem the one part of the Sacrament and not entirely despise it, they celebrated this festival every year for eight days, When they played with the one part, with the wafer, in a grand procession through the city and carried it about with cymbals and stringed instruments, so that they made the people stare with wonder, and made them think that even if the order of priests were grander and greater before God, yet, they too had something of which they could publicly boast.


6. For this purpose they used this Gospel lesson, although it agrees very poorly with the teaching of the Sacrament under one form. Just as though this master of the house had prepared a feast for mice, and only gave them something to eat and nothing to drink; and yet they themselves sing about it: Venite, comedite panem meum, Et Bibite vinum meum. Come, eat my bread, And drink my wine! And after all, they only gave them the one form, the bread, and kept the wine for themselves. But thus our dear Lord God is constantly treated; whatever he institutes and orders must be perverted and put to shame by the devil and his imps. Thus the Sacrament has also been treated, which on this festival even at the present day is still most horribly blasphemed by the Papists.


7. For as said before, they do not keep this feast in honor of the holy Sacrament, else they would bear in their processions both parts, and the entire Sacrament; but they do it to honor themselves, and they had to raise it high, not for our benefit, but only that we might know what the difference is between a priest and a lay member. In other things, where God has so created them, it is proper to observe the difference, for instance, that a woman is a woman, and a man a man, that worldly government must be distinguished from its subjects, and in like manner other worldly conditions. However, that men should here make a difference where God has put away all differences; that the Pope and bishops, yea, even St. Peter or St. Paul should have a better baptism or a better Gospel than any other common Christian is wrong. Therefore it is also wrong that they wish to have a better Sacrament than other Christians, for Christ our Lord and Savior, as already said, did not institute the Sacrament to make a difference among his Christians, but for the sake of equality, just as baptism and the Gospel, that we may have just as much from it as other persons.


8. This I desired to say briefly for the sake of the young, and also for our sakes, that everyone should learn to know the devil, and beware of the abominations which Popery has introduced, and has thus divided the Christian church which our Lord God has made one, while they condemn and persecute us because we will not allow ourselves to be made mice and rats who eat without drinking, or only receive the one part. For this reason we in our church have altogether done away with this festival, because the Papists have made it nothing else but pure idolatry, and have gone straight against the order and institution of Christ, bringing disgrace to the holy Sacrament and a positive injury to Christianity. For we will remain with the unity of Christians, that one is as good as another, and all differences are here at an end. This is enough here for the sake of the young and the common people. We will now take up the Gospel lesson.


9. The occasion of this sermon by Christ was the miracle which the Lord Jesus Christ performed in the house of a Pharisee, when he healed one sick of the dropsy. But the Evangelist tells how they followed him and were on the watch for him, in order to catch him. Therefore, he also begins to lecture them, and tells them how they are filled with pride and vanity, and crowd into the highest seats, until he at length comes to the host, and reads a text also to him, how he should invite his guests; not the rich who can invite him again and thank him for it, but the poor, who may welcome him again in the life to come.


10. Following this address one of them who thought himself much more learned than Christ the Lord, begins to say: “Oh, how blessed is he who eateth bread in the kingdom of God.” As though he would say in his great wisdom: You make yourself unprofitable enough by your preaching! If it would depend on preaching, I can do that, too, even better than you; for I consider this a truly great sermon: “Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.”


11. Christ replies to him: Yes, says he, I will tell you how blessed you and your comrades are: “A certain man made a great supper, and bade many,” and they despised it and would not come. This blow was meant for him. As though he would say: You say much in the words, that he is a blessed man who eats bread in heaven! Oh, but you are in very great earnest! What an excellent holy man you are, namely, you are one of those who are invited and yet do not come. These are hard, sharp and terrible words when rightly considered; for he is speaking to real thorough-going rogues, who sat about the table, not because they wanted to learn anything, but in order to observe him closely to see by what means they might come to him and take him. To those he spoke this parable:


“A certain man made a great supper.”

12. This man who prepared this supper is our Lord God himself. He is a great and rich Lord, who also once prepared a feast according to his glorious majesty and honor, and it was such a supper which is called great and glorious not only on account of the host, who is God himself, for it would be a glorious supper if he had only given a vegetable broth or a dry crust; yet the food is beyond all measure great and costly, namely, the holy Gospel, yea, Christ our Lord himself. He is himself the food, and is offered unto us through the Gospel, how he has made satisfaction by his death for our sins, and has redeemed us from all the misery of eternal death, of hell, of the wrath of God, sin and eternal condemnation.


13. This preaching of Christ is the great and glorious supper with which he feeds his guests and sanctifies them through his holy Baptism, and comforts and strengthens them through the Sacrament of his body and blood, that nothing may be wanting and a great plenty may be at hand and all become satisfied. Thus this supper is justly called a glorious, great supper on account of the fare and food, so costly and richly prepared that no tongue can describe it and no heart sufficiently grasp it. For it is an eternal food and an eternal drink, by partaking of which a man shall nevermore thirst nor hunger, but be forever satisfied, his thirst is quenched and he becomes joyful; and this not only for one man, but for the whole wide world, even if it were ten times wider, they would all have sufficient. For it is an inexhaustible food and an everlasting drink, as our Gospel says: He who believeth on this Lord Jesus Christ, that he was born for us of the Virgin Mary and crucified for out’ sins under Pontius Pilate, died, descended into hell, and rose again from the dead and sitteth at the right hand of God, etc.; he who believes this, eats and drinks truly from this supper. For to believe in Christ the Lord means to eat and to drink, from which the people become satisfied, fat and stout and strong, so that they are joyful forever.


14. This is rightly called a great supper, because it is so precious, and is offered to so many people that every one may eat until he is satisfied, and yet the food never becomes less. For it is such a great and strengthening food that it endures forever and gives eternal life, for it nourishes us differently than our mere bodily eating and drinking. If one has eaten and drunk enough to-day, he must still eat again to-morrow. But this is an eternal food and lasts forever. With this Christ gives those hypocrites at the table to understand that it is a different supper from what they had given him; and yet they are such rogues and knaves, that although they gossip and talk about it a great deal, yet they despise God and his mercy, eternal life and salvation, and hold everything else dearer. It follows further:


“And he bade many.”

15. The many who are bidden are the Jews and all the people of Israel, who from Abraham on, and especially through the prophets had been invited. For to the patriarch Abraham the seed was promised through whom the blessing should come, and to him as the father of this people was this supper first announced. After that the prophets carried it further and directed the attention of the people to it, so that nothing was wanting on the part of the Lord our God, and all were diligently invited. Therefore St. Paul in his Epistles everywhere tells the Jews: Judaeis primum et Graecis: To the Jew first, and also to the Greek.


16. Now when the hour came to go to the table, that is, when the time came for our Lord Christ to be born, to suffer and rise again from the dead, then the servants went out, John the Baptist and the Apostles, and said to those who were bidden, to the people of Israel: Dear people, hitherto you have been invited, now is the time to come, now the supper is ready! Your Lord Jesus Christ, your Messiah is already born, has died and rose again, therefore do not remain away any longer, come to the table, eat and be happy, that is, accept your promised treasure with joy, who has according to promise delivered you from the curse and condemnation and has saved you. And this message was brought especially to the leaders of the people, who held high places in the spiritual and civil governments. But what did they do with it?


“And they all with one consent began to make excuse.”

17. This was a lesson for those guests who sat with Christ at the table, and especially for the good-for-nothing babbler, who wanted to master Christ and preached much about the bread in the kingdom of God; blessed is the man who eats bread in the kingdom of heaven! Yes, Christ answers, do you want to know how blessed you are? I will tell you. The bread is now on the table and the supper prepared. John the Baptist was here, I and my Apostles invite you now to come to the supper; but you do not only stay away, you let the host sit at his great and glorious supper, but you even want to excuse yourselves and yet be pure. Hence it is a twofold sin, not only that you despise the Gospel, but even claim to be doing right, and to be even holy, pious and wise; this is a very grievous sin. It were already too wicked not to believe in the Word of God our Lord; but as they go further and despise it, and yet want to be just besides, is going entirely too far. As our young noblemen also do, who have disgraced and blasphemed the Sacrament and have given to us erring creatures only one part, and at the same time excuse themselves, and claim thereby to have done right. Yea, they also condemn us, and oppress us with all kinds of martyrdom, murder and drive away the people who truly desire to enjoy the whole Sacrament. But let them only pour out their rage hot enough, who knows, who will yet be compelled to sweat in this bath?


18. The Jews acted and excused themselves thus: Oh, we cannot accept the doctrine, for it is opposed to the priesthood and to the law, which God himself has given us through Moses. Besides it also creates divisions in our kingdom which God has confirmed. We must see how to maintain our own affairs! Thus the first one excuses himself with his land, the second with his oxen, and both think they do well; the third does not even excuse himself at all, he simply refuses, and says he cannot come.


19. These are the excuses of the Jews as well as our own, which we prefer against the Gospel, for we are no better than they were. They first pretended that the law of Moses had to remain, and because the Apostles preached against the law, that neither their law, temple nor priests were necessary, for a greater priest was present, Jesus Christ, of the tribe of Judah; they would not tolerate such preaching, but held to their law as they still do. Thus it has come to pass that they still wait at the present day, and must wait until the last day for their Messiah to come, and they hope that he will prepare all things, the old priesthood anti kingdom as it was in the time of David, when he will give them everything in the greatest abundance.


20. For Christ here treats of these three parties. The first says: I want to see my farm. These are the foremost and best among them, among the Jews they were the entire priesthood and the chief rulers. These said: We priests must work, cultivate and harvest the land, that is, we must rule the people, and wait upon the priesthood God has entrusted unto us, as Christ also calls ministers cultivators of the soil who sow the Gospel. But as the teachings of the Apostles are opposed to this, it is wrong, and we are justly excused when we do not accept their doctrine.


21. Thus others also who had offices in the civil government excuse themselves with the oxen. For oxen are called the rulers of the people, Psalm 22:12: “Many bulls have encompassed me; strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.” These also have a fair excuse and say: We have a kingdom and government, instituted and appointed of God, with this we must remain and see to it how we may preserve it.


22. The third class say: The Gospel is a doctrine that will not allow covetousness, nor permit us to strive to have sufficient for our bodily needs, but commands us to risk everything, body and life, money and goods, for Christ’s sake. Therefore we will and cannot come, for we must see how we may keep our own, which God has given us. For to take a wife is not to do or undertake anything dishonorable, but to enter an honorable state, and to be at home and plan how to support yourself, which is everyone’s duty. But all this is just that by which an honest housefather commits sin, when he only thinks of this, how he may become rich, keep house well and prosper. God grant it whether it be done with or against God. For the Jews took into consideration only how Moses had promised them if they would be good and keep God’s commandments, to give temporal blessings, cattle, lands, wife, child, and all things should be blessed and prosper. Therefore they only sought to have their cellars and kitchens full, and to be rich, and then they thought that they were good, and that God had thus blessed them, as the Psalm says, Psalm 144:13-14.


23. Just in this very manner our Papists still excuse themselves and say: The doctrine is right, of course, but we must still adhere to the Church and her orderly government. Again, we must above all things maintain obedience to the worldly power, so that there may be no disturbance and insurrection. Thus they are troubled just like the Jews. If they would accept the Gospel, they fear they might lose their Church and government, whereas the Gospel alone builds up the true Christian church, and prevents all injustice, violence and insurrection. Besides covetousness is also present; since they see nothing in the Gospel but mere poverty and persecution, so that it goes as it does here, that they simply and without fear refuse to obey the Gospel and say, they have taken wives and cannot come, and still they want to be Christians and claim to have done just right, and want to be regarded as pious bishops, good princes and good citizens.


24. But how will it go with them? Just as it did with the Jews. They held so long to their law, priesthood, kingdom and treasures, until they at last went to destruction, and lost one after the other; so that now they dwell here and there and have their homes under foreign princes as if living in a swing. This is the reward for which they labored. For they desired not this supper, and preferred their kingdom, priesthood and houses, rather than the Gospel. Therefore they lost all three, and received the sentence that none of them should taste of this supper, and thus be deprived of both, of temporal things here on earth, and of the everlasting feast in heaven. The same will also certainly be the fate of our adversaries.


25. Thus Christ our Lord lectured this sharp doctor and his associates at the table, and showed them how they stood before our Lord God, namely, that God was angry at them, and would look out for other guests, as follows:


“Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servants, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in hither the poor, and maimed, and blind, and lame.”

26. As though he would say: Very well, inasmuch as this must be done, that you must examine your land and oxen and take unto you wives, and on this account neglect my supper, that is, you want your priesthood, kingdom and wealth, and will let me and my Gospel go, hence I will let you go, too, that on this account you will lose all, and I will provide me other guests. Therefore go forth, my servant, into the struts and lanes of the city and bring in hither the poor and crippled, the lame and blind. This was also done among the Jews. For as the great lords, princes and priests, and those who were the best among the people would not accept the Gospel, for reasons already given, our God and Lord accepted the humble fishermen, the poor, miserable and despised little flock, as St. Paul also says, Corinthians 1:26-28: “For behold your calling, brethren, that not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called; but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world that he might put to shame the things that are strong, and base things of the world, and the things that are despised, did God choose, yea, and the things that are not, that he might bring to naught the things that are.”


27. According to this passage all that are wise, holy, rich and powerful, God has rejected, because they will not accept his Gospel; and the foolish, simple, and the most insignificant little lights, as Peter, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew and the like, who were poor fishermen and needy beggars, whom he here calls the poor, the maimed, the lame and blind, are chosen, whom no one would have considered worthy to be the servants of the priests and princes of the people. These were left like dregs, and as Isaiah says, the dregs of the good costly wine; the best among the people, the priests, the leaders, the rich and powerful are cast out as a vessel of good wine, and the dregs alone are left, which the Lord here calls the poor, the lame, the maimed and the blind. These are promoted to grace and honor, so that they become acceptable to God and dear guests, because the others, the high and great people will not come.


28. What the Pharisee now says: “Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God”- to which Christ answers: Yes, blessed are they; but you and your followers are concerned about your farm and oxen. You speak of these things, therefore you shall know that a supper has been prepared, of which the poor shall eat, as the text says, Matthew 11:5, Pauperes evangelizantur, the poor have the Gospel preached to them. For the powerful, the saints, the wise do not want it, therefore it has come to pass that both priests and leaders have been cast away as the best wine, because they have held so firmly to their oxen, their land and their wives; and in their stead have been promoted the poor beggars, who came to the Gospel in this glorious supper.


29. This is to press the Jews very hard, and especially this one here, who wants to be wise and to eat bread in heaven, and yet he clings to his priesthood and kingdom, let Christ’ and his Gospel be what they may. For his heart is so constituted that he does not need Christ at all to make sure of heaven, but thinks our Lord God will say to him and all the Jews: Come, you Jews, and especially you priests, you saints, you princes, you fat citizens, for you the supper is prepared! Yes, says he, it is true, you are invited, but you care nothing for it and excuse yourselves and claim that you are right. Therefore I cast you away, and accept rather the most humble people, even if I shall obtain no one but the despised, the poor, the maimed and the lame.


30. Thus it shall also be done to our adversaries, and nothing shall help them, though they be great, holy bishops, powerful princes and lords, and think that our Lord God will not thus cast them away, and accept only the poor rats’ nest at Wittenberg, and the humble flock who love the Gospel. Yes, my dear friend, if God has cast away the best among his people who had such glorious and great promises, and took the dregs, neither will he give it to thee. Simply because you are great, holy and powerful, will not enable you to eat bread in heaven, for the poor have the Gospel preached to them. For our Lord is much greater, stronger, wiser and holier than all kings and all devils; therefore he cares but little about your holiness or power. And if you will still defy him and so wickedly despise his Word, he will then also rise up against you, so that all your wisdom, power and holiness will come to naught.


31. Thus far this Gospel lesson pertains only to the Jews; for Christ speaks of the lame and cripple who are found in the streets of the city. The people of the Jews are called a city, because they were a constituted and well ordered people, and had the law, the worship, the temple, the priests and ‘king, all of which was ordained by God himself and established by Moses. Now he also sends his servant into the highways and commands him to take guests wherever he could find them, even the beggars along the hedges and everywhere.


“And the Lord said unto the servant, Go out into the high. ways and hedges, and constrain them to come in that my house may be filled.”

32. This refers to us, the heathen, who have dwelt in no city, who were without any worship of the true God, but were idolatrous, and did not know what we or God were. Therefore our condition is properly called a free, open place on the highways, in the field, where the devil walks over us and has his quarters.


33. Go thither, he says, and constrain them to come in. For the world arrays itself against the Gospel in every way, and cannot tolerate this doctrine, and yet this housefather wants his house full of guests, for he himself has thus made preparations, and he now must have people to eat, drink and be joyful, even if he had to make them of stones.


34. Here we can also see that Christ our Lord suffers the world to stand so long for our sakes, although he would have sufficient reason, because of our sins to destroy it every moment. Yet he does not do this because he still desires more guests, and because of the elect who also belong to this supper. Now, because his servants bring the precious Gospel to us, is an indication that we who are baptized and believe, also belong to this supper, for we are the great lords of the hedges, who are blind, poor and lost heathen.


35. But how shall we be constrained, as God does not want any forced worship? He constrains us by having the Gospel preached to all men: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Here he shows us both heaven and hell, death and life, wrath and grace, and reveals unto us our sins and ruined condition, so that we may be awakened on account of it, because we hear that a man as soon as he is born, naturally belongs to the devil and is condemned. This is part of this constraint, by which one is terrified at the wrath of God and desires grace and help from him.


36. When this has taken place by preaching and the hearts are thus stricken and awakened, he then desires that we should preach thus: Dear friend, do not despair because you are a sinner and have such a terrible sentence passed upon you; but do this, go forth and be baptized and hear the Gospel. Here you will learn that Jesus Christ has died for your sake, and has made satisfaction for your sins. If you believe this, then you will be safe against the wrath of God and eternal death, and you shall eat here at this glorious supper and live well, become hearty and strong.


37. This means rightly to constrain, namely, to terrify with sin, not as the Pope constrains with his ban. He does not properly awaken the conscience, because he does not teach what sin really is, but deals with his foolish work, saying, whoever does not observe his order and human tradition, shall be put under the ban. But the Gospel begins to reveal sin and the wrath of God from heaven, Romans 1, that we all live unrighteously and godlessly, without exception. This our Lord commands us to preach through the Gospel when he says to the Apostles: “Go forth and preach repentance.” But a man cannot preach repentance unless he declares that God is angry at all men, because they are full of unbelief, contempt of God and other sins.


38. This wrath must terrify them and make their consciences timid and fearful, that they constrain themselves and say: O, Lord God! what shall I ever do to be relieved from this distress? Now when man is terrified and feels his wretchedness and misery, then it is right to say to him: Sit down at the table of this rich Lord and eat, for there are yet many tables without guests and plenty to eat, that is, be baptized and believe in Jesus Christ, that he has made satisfaction for your sins. Otherwise, there are no means to aid you, except you be baptized and believe. Thus wrath will cease and heaven will shine with pure grace and mercy, forgiveness of sins and eternal life.


39. Therefore these words, “Constrain them to come in?’ are for the poor, miserable multitude of those who are constrained, that is, especially we, who before were lost and condemned heathen, the lovely and comfortable from the masses, by which God desires to forcibly portray and show unto us his unfathomable grace. For it must ever be an unspeakable love, that he shows in these words that he is so desirous for our welfare and salvation, that he commands us not only friendly to call and encourage poor sinners to come to this supper, but also desires them to be urged and constrained, and that such urging is not to cease, that they may only come to his supper. By this he sufficiently shows that he will not cast them away or permit them to be lost, wherever they themselves will not only through malicious contempt and hardened impenitence oppose such efforts to constrain them. So that he is as Tauler said, immeasurably more anxious to give and help us, than we are or ever can be to receive or to pray, and demands and requires nothing more difficult from us, than that we should widely open our hearts and accept his grace.


40. This constraining, however, is necessary in preaching both repentance and forgiveness of sins; for without repentance we remain too hard and obdurate under his wrath, in our sinful nature and in the kingdom of the devil. And moreover, when the terror of divine wrath strikes us, we are again too fearful, modest and disturbed, to take this to heart and believe, that he will show us such great grace and mercy, and we are always full of anxiety that we do not belong to them, and that he will reject us because of our sins and great unworthiness. Therefore he must himself command and work that men continue and persevere evermore to constrain and urge as much as possible, both by holding forth wrath for the wicked and grace for the faithful Wrath and repentance urge man to run and cry for grace. This is then the right way a person goes to this supper, and thus from Jews and Gentiles there will be one Christian church, and all will be called alike poor, miserable people, lame and crippled, for they accept the Gospel heartily and with joy.


41. Those, however, who will not do this, be they as wise and as shrewd as they please, receive this sentence, they shall not taste of this supper, that is, the wrath of God shall remain upon them and they shall be condemned on account of their unbelief. For here our Lord does not inquire, as before said, whether they be rich, wise or holy. Therefore, although they be already secure and think there is no danger, they will nevertheless experience, that this sentence will stand, when the Lord here concludes: Non gustabunt, “they shall not taste of my supper.” We, however, who accept it and with terrified hearts on account of our sins do not reject the grace of God which is made known to us in the Gospel through Christ and is offered to us, shall receive grace instead of wrath; instead of sin, eternal righteousness; and instead of eternal death, eternal life.


42. In our time this terrible sentence, as we see, most powerfully goes forth against the Jews and the Turks, and no saver of the Gospel is left them; yea, it is to them a disgust and abomination, so that they can neither tolerate nor hear it. So are also our Popes and bishops, they shall not even smell this supper, not to say anything of their being filled with it. But we, who by God’s peculiar grace have come to this doctrine, shall become hearty, strong and joyful by it, and at the table of this supper we are of good cheer. God grant that we may thus remain constant to the end! Amen.


43. Thus in this parable the Lord would admonish us to esteem the Gospel as dear and precious, and not hold to the crowd who think they are smart, wise, powerful and holy. For here stands the sentence: They shall be cast off and shall never taste of this supper; as among the Jewish people they have been cast off, and only the small dregs thereof remained. Thus it will also be with us, when we prefer our land, oxen, wives, that is, as it is at present called, spiritual or worldly honor along with temporal goods, to the Gospel.


44. He declares in simple, humble, short but very earnest words: “They shall not taste of my supper.” As though he would say: Very well, my supper, too, is something, and what does it profit if it be better than their oxen, lands, homes and wives, when they now despise it, and regard their lands, oxen and homes, more precious? And when the hour shall come when they must forsake their oxen, lands and homes, then they would gladly also taste of my supper. But then, too, it shall be said: Dear friend, I am not at home at present, I cannot now wait on the guests, go forth to your lands, to your oxen, to your homes, they will, of course, afford you a better supper, because you have so securely and impudently despised my supper. Of course, I have cooked for you and let it cost me dear; this you have rejected with disdain. If now you have cooked better things, eat and be joyful, but you shall not taste of my supper.


45. This will be to them all a hard, terrible, and unbearable sentence, when he will call his supper everlasting life, and their lands, oxen and homes the everlasting fire of hell; and remain firm by this forever, that they shall not taste of his supper, that is, there shall be no more hope for them forever. For there neither repentance nor sorrow will avail, and from thence there shall be no return. Therefore these are exceedingly violent words, which show the great and endless wrath of the master of the house, for this is customary with great lords and high people, when they are real angry, they do not speak many words. But what they do say, every word weighs a hundred pounds, for they intend to do more violently than they can express in words. Bow much more do those short words of the Almighty Lord signify an inexpressible wrath, which can never be reconciled.


46. Yet we act as though a fool or a child had spoken such hard, terrible words, at which we could laugh and make sport, or as though it were our Lord’s jest and mockery, and neither hear nor see what the text plainly says, that he is angry, and has spoken this in great wrath; and that he is not a fool or a child, but the Lord and God over all things, before whom we justly tremble and are terrified, as the Scriptures say, the mountains with their base and foundation, and both the sea and the waters flee before him. But no creature is so hard and perverse as man, who has no fear whatever for anything, but despises and makes light of it.


47. But we are indeed sufficiently excused who say: This is our boast. For on that day the whole world must bear witness and confess that they have heard it from us, saw and experienced it, and it does not worry us if they condemn it as heresy. We will gladly bear it, that they call it heresy, and we hear it enough and beyond measure, and thank them kindly besides, that they cry it down as heresy. For thereby they always confess that they have certainly heard, seen and read it. I desire nothing more of them, for in that they confess that they have heard it, they testify that we have not been silent. If then we have not been silent, but have faithfully and diligently taught and preached this, so that our enemies themselves say that we have pressed it too hard, then let that man judge us, whom we hold has commanded us so to preach, and then let that god defend or condemn them, who urges them to condemn us. It shall be known in God’s name, whose God is the true God, and whose Christ is the true Christ, and which church is the true Church. It shall be known when the snow disappears.


48. Although there can be no better government for this world than the devil’s, or instead of the devil’s, the government of the Pope, for this is what the world wants. What the devil wants goes forth and mightily prospers; what God wants both in the spiritual and worldly government, never succeeds and has innumerable hindrances, so that, if I could separate the world from the church, I would gladly assist to subject the world to the Pope and the devil. But Christ our Lord will do this and other things besides, and will keep his supper far enough from the world and the devil. Amen.










1 PETER 5:5-11.


1 PETER 5:5-11.

Likewise, ye younger, be subject unto the elder. Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another: for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; casting all your anxiety upon him, because he careth for you. Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom withstand steadfast in your faith, knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world. And the God of all grace, who called you unto his eternal glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall himself perfect, establish, strengthen you. To him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.



1. This is the conclusion of Saint Peter’s epistle. It is an exhortation to good works, such as a Christian, or believer, should practice. It is evident that the doctrine of the Gospel is not such as is charged by some, forbidding good works, or not earnestly commanding and urging them. Most diligently and repeatedly it urges the doctrine of works – such works as are, indeed, good works. There are in this epistle four natural heads which furnish us four good sermons.



2. The apostle has, in the verses immediately preceding our text, exhorted the elders, that is, preachers, to be in their lives “ensamples to the flock,” not “lording it over the charge allotted” to them, but using their office for the service of others. And here in our text he exhorts the others, especially the young, to “be subject unto the elder.” And, in general, he admonishes all to “gird” themselves “with humility, to serve one another.” So Paul likewise admonishes that we should honor one another. Humility is the noblest and sweetest virtue love brings forth, and it is the most essential to peace and discipline. But especially does it become and adorn the young, making them pleasing and precious to God and men, bringing forth an abundance of good fruits.


3. If mankind could be led so to believe this that the virtue of humility would be generally practiced, it would be well everywhere. This would be a beautiful world, filled with discipline and good works. I would much prefer to see a city in which the young are reared in this virtue than a hundred monasteries of barefooted and Carthusian friars, though they lived ever so strictly. Alas! the greatest and most frequent complaint heard anywhere is concerning the disobedience, wantonness and pride of the younger generation found among all ranks. Therefore it is necessary to use all diligence that this exhortation be instilled into the hearts of the young and urged upon them, in the hope that it may benefit them.


4. First of all, Peter presents the divine command. We are not left to our own good pleasure in the matter – to show humility or not, as we please. God earnestly asks it of us, and asks that we do it lovingly and willingly. Otherwise his anger will be poured out upon us and we will have no happiness nor favor, not even among men. For everyone is a foe to pride and arrogance. These offenses are condemned by the whole world, even by strangers whom they do not concern. One may be guilty of pride and not see his own shame, yet he cannot suffer it in another; he will hate and condemn that one. This vice hurts no one save himself. He makes himself hateful and contemptible before God and men. Everyone calls him a great, proud bag of filth and cries shame upon him. God metes out judgment and scorn to him, witnessing that he will not let this vice go unpunished, but will put the offender to shame. As Peter here says: “God resisteth the proud.”


5. Men should be moved by the examples which daily come to light in fulfillment of this passage. If we should have no regard for our own honor and standing before the world, neither for the contempt and the curses of all men; if the illustrious example of the noble character and eternal majesty of God’s Son, our Lord, should not stir us (which ought to move us if we have one spark of Christianity in us), as we behold his unspeakable and incomprehensible humility which, rightly viewed, should melt the Christian’s heart – if all this does not move us, we should be humbled by the many awful examples of God’s fearful wrath which, from the beginning, he has hurled against pride.


6. What is more terrible than the eternal, irreparable fall and banishment of once lofty angelic nature that resulted when the devil robbed himself of the honor and glory enjoyed by the noble blessed spirits, and of the contemplation of eternal God, and brought upon himself everlasting and intolerable damnation by seeking to make himself equal with God, and through similar pride, led the human race to its awful fall? But what a blind, condemned creature are you, who, with your filthy, shameful pride and haughtiness, become like the spirit of evil, thereby turning all the world into your enemy and opposing yourself to the divine majesty, before which even the angels must tremble! If you have no fear of losing the favor and prayers of mankind, at least be afraid lest God send down upon your head his lightning and thunder, with which he crushes iron, rocks, and mountains, and hurl you forever into the abyss, as he hurled down the proud spirit and his angels.


7. Saint Peter exhorts both those who are in the office of the ministry, and other Christians, to whom God has given something, that they abide in their calling and office and conduct the same humbly, gladly obeying and serving others. Right here this vice of pride is the most hurtful to Christianity. For its whole government, life and essence are so ordered by God that no one should exalt himself and lord it over others, as the Pope, the true Antichrist has done. Only humility and deeds of Christian love and service should prevail in all classes and in all offices and works.



8. Pride in this order of the Church is really and directly opposed to the first table of the law. It is a genuinely devilish pride in God’s name and Word on the part of such people as would be wise in matters of faith and would lord it over God’s Word. They puff themselves up if, forsooth, they have a gift more than others, and they hold God and all men as nothing. This vice is common among the great, learned and wise bishops and preachers. It prevails among those who learn of them and cling to them, especially beginners who, inexperienced and undisciplined, are brought into prominence. Such puff themselves up and boast: “I also am a learned doctor. I love the Spirit and other gifts just as well as, and even in greater measure than, these preachers.” So they think they deserve to be heard and honored above others. They consider themselves so wise that all the world, in comparison, are geese and fools. And the greater one’s gifts, the greater and more harmful such pride. It is common in other professions, also. He who has a little ability, or bears the title of doctor, makes much ado about it, and despises others. He acts as if what he has were not given him by God, but as if it were his by nature and birth, and therefore he deserves the praise and worship of all men. Such persons do not realize they are acting in opposition to God, and that they will themselves plunge into the abyss of hell before they can hurl God down from his heavenly throne.


9. See, from the examples of our own time, how God has overthrown such people. Thomas Munzer, with his tumultuous prophets, and later the Anabaptist faction, were proud of heart, would not listen to admonition, and lo! suddenly they went down to ruin, not only in utter disgrace, but to their own miserable and eternal loss and that of many people who had been misled by them. So, too, there are at the present day many proud spirits. Some dare not yet publicly show themselves. Such as have perceived that they are learned, or are held in regard by men, thereupon grow boastful and, despite all their skill and learning, abide without the Spirit and without fruit, even if they do not work more harm in addition to bringing themselves into condemnation.


10. Thus it is in all kinds of gifts and offices where men are not Godfearing and humble. For example, those who are intrusted with the civil government – princes, counselors, lawyers (where they are not “theologians,” that is, Christians)mare so insolent and proud that they imagine themselves alone to be the people, whom others are to reverence as gods. In their pride, they despise God and men, and by their arrogance they lead the land and the people to destruction. These have already the judgment upon themselves that they, as God’s enemies, must be hurled down. For they have cut themselves loose from God’s kingdom and grace; and the blessings of baptism and of Christ, with his suffering and blood, are lost upon them.


11. We have now shown how pride conflicts with the demands of the first table of the law. Men do not employ the spiritual treasures and gifts to God’s honor nor to the good of their neighbors. Thus they mar these gifts and, in their wicked course, go to the devil, into whose likeness they have grown.



12. Further, this vice is just as general in the sphere of the second table of the law – among the common people and in the temporal life of the world, each one boasting of himself and despising others. Prince and nobleman think that all the world is nothing in comparison with themselves. Commoner and peasant, puffed up because they have much wealth, imagine they must defy everybody, and do good to nobody. These deserve to be spit upon by all men. Such pride does not become them better than ornaments of gold or silver would become an image of stone or a wooden block. Finally, the women, with their foolish pride of dress, must not be forgotten. One prides herself on being better or more beautifully adorned than her neighbor. She is, in truth, a finely decorated goose. She imagines that no other woman equals her. Yea, there is scarcely a house-servant or maid but brags over others.


13. In short, we have come to the point where all men, with their insolence and boastfulness, seek to lord it over others. None will humble himself to another. Each thinks he has full right to act as he does, and is under no obligation to yield to others. And the civil government has grown so weak that that there is no hope of restraining the haughtiness of all classes, from the highest to the lowest. At last, God must strike with thunder and lightning to prove to us that he resists such people and will not tolerate pride. Therefore the young, who can still be led, should be exhorted and trained, as far as possible, to guard themselves against this vice.


14. Peter uses for his purpose a peculiar term when he says, “Gird yourselves with humility.” “Gird” has the meaning of being bound or joined together most firmly; or, as a garment, most carefully woven through and through so that it cannot tear. He illustrates by this term how Christians, with all diligence, should strive after the virtue, and manifest and practice it among themselves, as if upon them as a band it was a special obligation. Thus, he says, must you be twined together and bound to each other, and your hands clasped together. So must you be joined by humility, which cannot be dissolved, dismembered, or torn, even though occasion be given one, here and there, incited by the devil, or the evil word of someone else, to fly into a passion, and grow defiant and boastful, as if to say: Must I suffer such things at the hands of this man? But rather say to yourselves. We are Christians, and must bear with each other and yield, in many things; for we are all one body, and we are placed together here on earth for the sole reason that we may, through love, serve one another.


15. And each should recognize his own weakness. He should remember that God has given others also something and can give them yet more, and that therefore he should gladly serve and yield to others, remembering that he needs their help. Each one is created for the sake of others, and we are all to serve one another. God gives the same grace and salvation to all, so that none may exalt himself above his neighbor; or, if he lift himself up, that he lose the grace conferred and fall into deeper condemnation. Therefore we must hold fast to this humility, so that the unity may not be destroyed. For Satan seeks to destroy this also, and uses every possible means to lead people to despise each other and to be proud and insolent in their treatment of each other. And these are things to which flesh and blood, even without special incitement, are inclined. Thus humility is easily and quickly lost if men are not alert to fight against the devil and their own flesh.



16. Humility is one of the beautiful garments and ornaments with which Christians should adorn themselves before God and the world. Paul, in Colossians 3:12, says, “Put on humility.” He regards this virtue as more precious than all earthly crowns and splendor. This is the true spiritual life. It is not to be sought elsewhere, by running into the cloisters or the deserts, by putting on gray gown or cowl. Peter here admonishes all classes to cultivate this virtue. This sermon on good works concerns every station in every house, city or village. It is for all churches and schools. Children, servants and the youth should be humbly obedient to parents, superiors and the aged. On the other hand, it is for those in the higher stations of life who serve their inferiors, even the lowest. If all men so observed this virtue the world would be full of good works. For it is impossible that humility should do evil. It is profitable and pleasant to all men.


17. By this virtue, true saints and Christians can better be known than by monastic seclusion and holiness. It requires no great effort to wear a gray cowl. It is not even such a great trial to lie on the ground at night and to arise at midnight; scoundrels, thieves, and murderers must often do the same. But to wear and hold fast to this angelic garment, humility – this the world is not so willing to accept as monasticism and its works. And thus it comes to pass that flesh and blood do not strive after this holy life. Each man seeks an easy life, in which he can live to himself and need serve no one nor suffer anything at the hands of others; just as the monks have sought and chosen. Peter adds to this admonition the reason:


“For God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.”

18. As I have said above, he strives to show the earnestness of God’s command. The command is accompanied by a threat. He does not simply say, God punishes the proud, or God is hostile to them; but he “resisteth” them, he sets himself against them. Now, what is the pride of all men toward God? Not so much as a poor, empty bubble. Their pride puffs itself up and distends itself as though it would storm the sky and contend against the lightning and thunder, that can shatter heaven and earth. What can the combined might of all creatures accomplish if God oppose himself thereto? And how does a miserable man, whose heart is overwhelmed by a small pestilence, rise against the majesty of heaven which can, any moment, cast him down into the abyss? What are earth and ashes proud of? says Sirach, 10:9.


19. Is it not enough and more than enough that other sin and disobedience are laid to our account, by which we anger God and merit heavy punishment, without our trying further to provoke him with our pride and haughtiness, so that he must arise in his majesty and resist us? With other sins he can have patience, that he may exhort and incite us to repentance. But if, in hardened impenitence, we defy and oppose him, he cannot but rise up against us. Who is there that will bear it, or be able to stand, when God sets his countenance and his power against a poor man already subject, every moment, to death and the power of the devil?



20. From the beginning, innumerable instances in history have proved the truth of this saying, “God resisteth the proud.” They show how he has always overthrown and destroyed the proud world and has cast down the haughty, scornful kings and lords. The great king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, was humbled when banished from his royal throne to the companionship of the beasts of the field and compelled to eat grass with them, Daniel 4:30ff. Again, remember how suddenly the great king Alexander was hurled down, when after the victory and good fortune God had given him, he began to grow proud, and wanted to be reverenced as a god? Again, there was King Herod Agrippa, Acts 12:23. The proud, learned emperor Julian, a virulent mocker and persecutor of Christ, whom he had denied – how soon was he drowned in his own blood! And since then, what has become of all the proud, haughty tyrants, who proposed to oppress and crush Christianity?


21. The Pope, also, has ever, in devilish pride, exalted himself, and in the temple of God set himself forth as God. Further, in worldly pomp and pride he has lifted himself above all others. He has even learned, from heathen emperors, as Diocletian and other tyrants, to have men kiss his feet. Yea, he has forced emperors and kings to submit to this humiliating act. What open, inhuman insolence and pride Pope Alexander the Third practiced when, by threatening against him his empty ban, he compelled the pious and mighty German emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, to prostrate himself at his feet while he stepped upon him and said, Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder; and when the emperor protested against such shameful pride and said, Non tibi, sed Petro (Not to thee, but to Peter), the Pope, with increasing scorn, replied, “Et mihi, et Petro” (Both to me, and to Peter). This is pride carried almost to its highest point.


22. The Turk, too, is prouder now than ever, and, I hope, has reached the heights of pride, beyond which he cannot and shall not proceed. Meantime, may he not attack and humble us! But it will come to pass, in the end, that God will overthrow both pope and Turk through his divine power, and, as Daniel says, without the aid of men. This word will not fail, “God resisteth the proud.” Its truth must appear in human events, so that men may see what is meant by the declaration, “God resisteth”; otherwise no one would believe it. Though the Turk and all the world should be a thousand times more proud and powerful, this should not help them when he who is above sees and grows angry, and lifts his hand. He asks as little about the power of all Turkish emperors and of the Pope as about a dead fly.


23. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” Hebrews 10:31. This, however, is nothing else than with scorn and defiance to oppose his will, so that he, in turn, must set himself against man and must lift his hand. Therefore, let everyone beware lest he boast and grow defiant in the presence of the divine majesty. Not only must he beware, that he may not awaken God’s anger, but that he may have grace and blessing in the things he ought to do. For, if thou beginnest something in thine own power, and wisdom, and haughtiness, think not he will grant thee success and blessing to carry out thy purpose. On the other hand, if thou humblest thyself, and beginnest aught in accordance with his will, in the fear of God and trusting in his grace, there is given thee the promise, “He giveth grace to the humble.” So, then, thou shalt not only have favor with men, but success shall crown thine efforts. Thou shalt prove a useful man, both to God and to the world, and shalt complete and maintain thy work despite the resistance of the devil. For where God’s grace is, there his blessing and protection must follow, and his servant cannot be overthrown or defeated. Though he be oppressed for a time, he shall finally come forth again and be exalted. So Peter concludes by saying:


“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”

24. Peter shows in these words what true humility is and whence it comes. The heart, through knowledge of its sin, becomes terrified in the presence of God’s anger and anxiously seeks grace. Thus a humility is born, not merely external and before men, but of the heart and of God, from fear of God and knowledge of one’s own unworthiness and weakness. He who fears God and “trembles at his word” ( Isaiah 66:5), will surely defy or hector or boast against nobody. Yea, he will even manifest a gentle spirit toward his enemies. Therefore, he finds favor both with God and men.


25. The cause of this, Peter says, shall be “the mighty hand of God.” As though he would say: Ye may not do nor leave undone this thing for the sake of men, but ye ought to humble yourselves under the hand of God. God’s hand is powerful and mighty in a twofold respect: It dashes down and overthrows the proud and self-secure, however hard and iron their heads and hearts may be. They must languish in dust and ashes; yea, must lie despondent and desperate in the anguish and torments of hell, if he touch them but a little with the terrors of his anger. These are experiences through which the saints also pass, and concerning whose severity they make lamentation. “For thine arrows stick fast in me, and thy hand presseth me sore. There is no soundness in my flesh because of thine indignation,” Psalm 38:2-3. “For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping. Because of thine indignation and thy wrath: for thou hast taken me up, and cast me away,” Psalm 102:9-10. “I am consumed by the blow of thy hand. When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth,” Psalm 39:10-11.



26. In the second place, God’s hand is mighty to raise, to comfort and strengthen the humbled and the fearful, and, as Peter says here, to exalt them. Those who in terror have been cast down should not, therefore, despair, or flee before God, but rise again, and be comforted in God. God wants it preached and published that he never lays his hand upon us in order that we may perish and be damned. But he must pursue this course in order to lead us to repentance: otherwise we would never inquire about his Word and will. And if we seek grace, he is ready to help us up again, to grant us forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life. The Psalms and the Prophets here and there speak of this. “Jehovah hath chastened me sore; but he hath not given me over unto death,” Psalm 118:18. “Jehovah raiseth up them that are bowed down,” Psalm 146:8.


27. God will “exalt you in due time,” says Peter. Though God’s help be delayed, and the humbled and suffering seem to lie oppressed all too long under God’s hand, and on that account to languish, nevertheless, let them hold to the promise Paul has given: God “will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able,” 1 Corinthians 10:13, but he will hear your cry, and will, at the right time, help; and with this let them be comforted. But again, let the proud fear, even though he permit them to go unpunished and to continue in their boastful course for a time. He watches their lives, and, when the proper time comes, he will descend all too heavily upon them, so that they cannot bear it. He has already stretched forth his mighty hand, both to cast down the godless and to exalt the humble.


“Casting all your anxiety upon him, because he careth for you.”

28. What will become of him who lives a God-fearing and humble life, suffering the insolence, pride and wantonness of the world? Or, where will he find protection and defense, to abide in his godly ways? We see daily how the pious are harassed and persecuted, and are trod on by the world. The Apostle says: “Ye Christians must endure temptation and adversity, want and need, both physical and spiritual, in the world, and your heart is oppressed with anxiety and cares, and ye think within yourselves: O, what will become of me? How shall I be supported? What if I should die ?” (The world only concerns itself about how it may be enriched and be filled, and anxious, unbelieving consciences would, through themselves and their own good works, seek to have a gracious God and to die in peace.) “In view of all this,” he says, “only hearken, I will counsel and instruct you aright as to what disposition you should make of your troubles.” There is a brief passage in Psalm 55:22 which reads: “Cast thy burden upon Jehovah, and he will sustain thee: he will never suffer the righteous to be moved.” Follow ye this advice. Let not your burden rest upon yourselves; for ye cannot bear it, and must finally perish beneath its weight. But, confident and full of joy, cast it from you and throw it on God, and say: Heavenly Father, thou art my Lord and God, who didst create me when I was nothing; moreover hast redeemed me through thy Son. Now, thou hast committed to me and laid upon me, this office or work, and things do not go as well as I would like. There is so much to oppress and worry, that I can find neither counsel nor help. Therefore I commend everything to thee. Do thou supply counsel and help, and be thou, thyself, everything in these things.


29. Such a prayer is pleasing to God, and he tells us to do only what we are commanded, and throw upon him all anxiety as to the issue and what we shall accomplish. As also other passages of Scripture declare: “Commit thy way unto Jehovah, trust also in him, and he will bring it to pass,” Psalm 37:5. No heathen, philosopher, jurist, if he have not God’s Word, can throw his care and complaint upon God. He thinks that all the world, especially the great, the wise, who rule, must accomplish everything by their own planning and circumspection. And where trouble arises – for it is quite common for even the greatest- and wisest people to make mistakes   he becomes a madman or a fool, and begins to murmur and argue against God and his government, as though God’s rule merited criticism. But such men receive their deserts when God permits their calculations and hopes to fail, and lets the reverse obtain. For they will not admit they have need of him. They think they have sufficient wisdom and power, and that God must respect their plans. Thus, they spend their lives in many vain, useless cares and projects, and must, in the course of their experience, learn and confess, many a time, that the very opposite of their judgment is the truth.


30. Christians have the rare faculty, above all other people on earth, of knowing where to place their care, whilst others vex and torture themselves and at length must despair. Such must be the consequence of unbelief, which has no God and would provide for itself. But faith understands this word Peter quotes from the Scriptures: “Because he careth for you.” It joyfully meditates thereon and does and suffers faithfully. For faith knows this to be its duty. Its trouble, however, it commits to God, and proceeds with vigor against all that opposes. It can call upon God as a father, and it says: I will do what God has commanded me and leave the result with him.


31. The Christian must take this course if he would proceed safely and happily in matters of the highest import. In time of danger and in the hour of death, when, with all his worrying, he cannot discover where he is or how he is journeying, he must, with eyes, senses and thoughts closed to the world, surrender himself in faith and confidence and cast himself upon God’s hand and care and protection, and say: God has permitted me to live until this hour, without my solicitude. Moreover, he has given me his beloved Son as a treasure and sure pledge of eternal life. Therefore, my dear soul, journey on in joy. Thou hast a faithful Father and Savior, who has taken thee into his own hand, and will preserve thee.


32. The Christian Church collectively must so proceed in the discharge of its high spiritual office, of which Peter speaks here, that no man or creature, by his own wisdom and power, can sustain or accomplish any work. No power, might, or protection that can comfort, or upon which one may rely, is to be sought in the world. Wholly in God, and in God alone, must help be sought. By his divine power God must uphold the Church. He has, from the beginning, always and wonderfully preserved it in the world, in the midst of great weakness, in disunion occasioned by schismatics and heretics, in persecution by tyrants. And the government is wholly his, though he commits the office and service to men, whom he would summon and use to administer his Word and sacrament. Therefore, each Christian, especially if he fills such an office and partakes of this fellowship, should be intent, in that whereunto God has called and appointed him, upon serving God faithfully and doing that which is commanded him. The anxiety respecting the Church’s continued existence and her preservation against the devil and the world, can be left to the Lord. He has taken this upon himself and thus has removed the burden from our shoulders, that we might be certain of the permanence of the Church. If its preservation were committed to human counsel, might and will, the devil, with his power, would soon overthrow and destroy it.


33. Likewise, in every office and station, each one should follow this counsel of Saint Peter. A prince should seek to protect his land and people, to promote God’s Word, to maintain discipline and peace, to do justice to every man, to punish the disobedient, etc. Councils, officials, and those in authority should faithfully advise and direct to this end. Pastors and preachers should rightly and fearlessly declare God’s Word and truth. Every citizen and subject should be intent upon his work and duty, and whatever, in connection therewith, is unusual he must simply commit to God. But the world does not pursue this course. Each one says: Why should I incur so much danger, opposition and hostility? Again, why should I labor and toil for naught? I will not accomplish my work at any rate. In this spirit of fear and worry, his proper office and work are delayed, or he is always careless. But let such people know that they are not Christians, nor do they promote God’s kingdom or profit the offices conferred on them. If they do not propose to mend their ways, they should give up the office bestowed on them by God. It is not enough to simply sit at ease in one’s office and accept the plaudits of men. We all like to render esteem and honor to office and station. But know this, that you are not in office to parade about in beautiful garments, to sit in the front row, and be called “Gracious Master” and “Esquire.” You are to conduct faithfully the office with which God has clothed and honored you, regardless of human honor and profit, shame or injury.


34. But men are not generally inclined to believe and trust God. They are not inclined to remember that he cares for us; that he has assumed and must bear the greatest of burdens, which no man on earth can bear; that he cared for us before we were born, and could still, of himself, execute all things dispensing with all human help, but he prefers to accomplish his purpose through human means, and to employ us as instruments in these divine works – governing, punishing, teaching, comforting.


35. The world is particularly culpable in this matter of pride. When divinely charged with some great work, it always seeks to determine, in advance, by its own wisdom, all future danger and accidents, and tries to anticipate them. The world looks for man’s help, and seeks friendship and assistance wherever it can. It makes alliances, and resorts to other schemes. It puts its trust in these and then considers itself strong enough to meet opposition, and is sure of its cause by reason of its own efforts. This is not showing faith in God. It is not committing our cause and all care for ourselves to him. It is maintaining the cause through one’s own anxiety and forethought. It is ignoring and disbelieving the fact that nothing can be accomplished by one’s own vexed effort. No human wisdom has power to foresee the future. If we looked back at the examples furnished by history, we should learn how woefully human wisdom is deceived when it relies upon itself. The results are not what was expected, but the very opposite.


36. The Scriptures give many pertinent examples of the kings of Judah and Israel, whom the prophets often and severely rebuked because they sought refuge and help among strange nations and kings. The prophets warned them that they should not trust in human aid, but should do according to God’s Word and command. They told them he would protect and uphold them. But the kings would not hear. They continued to form friendships and alliances with the kings of Egypt, Syria, Babylon and Assyria, and thus invited them as guests into the land, whereupon the heathen kings came with force and led away captive the inhabitants and laid everything desolate. That was their reward for not heeding God’s Word; for not believing that he cared for them, and desired to protect and defend them if they would but trust and obey him. The wisest and most eminent, even among the heathen, have lamented, in the light of their own experience, that they have been shamefully deluded by their counsels, even though founded on the most careful deliberations. Nor can it be said that the world has grown wiser in consequence of its own or others’ sufferings.


37. This exhortation is preached to no one except the few who are Christians. They have regard for God’s Word, and, now humbled, have learned that they should not rely on their own wisdom and reason, or upon human help and comfort. They have come to the belief that God cares for them. So they do what they know is right and are in duty bound to do, and suffer themselves not to be hindered by such fears as possess the world concerning dangers, injuries, and adversities. They commend all such things to God, and at his word go right through with courage.


38. Let me illustrate from my own experience. What should I have done when I began to denounce the lies of the indulgence system, and later the errors of the papacy, if I had listened and given heed to the terrible things all the world wrote and said would happen to me? How often I heard it said that if I wrote against such and such eminent people I would provoke their displeasure, which would prove too severe for me and the whole German nation. But, since I had not begun this work of myself, being driven and led thereto by reason of my office (otherwise I should have preferred to keep silence), I must continue. I commended the cause to God and let him bear the burden of care, both as to the result of the work and also as to my own fate. Thus I advanced the cause farther, despite tumultuous opposition, than I had ever before dared to think or hope.


39. Oh, how much good would God accomplish through us if people could be persuaded, especially the eminent lords and kings, that what Peter here says is true: “He careth for you !” How much he could do if they believed that truth instead of seeking, through their own wisdom and reason, to equip, strengthen, and compose themselves by aid of human might and assistance, friendship and alliance, for the accomplishment and maintenance of their cause! It is apparent that mortal plans fail and have always failed, and that they accomplish nothing. God hinders and resists man’s work when he will not trust him. Hence God can grant no success or favor to that which is founded on human wisdom or on trust in human powers. This is a truth men must finally perceive by experience, and they must lament because they would not believe it.


40. Let him who would be a Christian learn to believe this. Let him practice and exhibit faith in all his affairs, bodily and spiritual, in his doing and his suffering, his living and his dying. Let him banish cares and anxious thoughts. Courageous and cheerful, let him cast them aside; not into a corner, as some vainly think to do, for when burdens are permitted to conceal themselves in the heart they are not really put away. But let the Christian cast his heart and its anxieties upon God. God is strong to bear and he can easily carry the burden. Besides, he has commanded that all this be put upon himself. The more thou layest upon him, the more pleasing it is to him. And he gives thee the promise that he will carry thy cares for thee, and all things else that concern thee.


41. This is a grand promise, and a beautiful, golden saying, if men would only believe it. If a powerful ruler here on earth were to give such a promise, and were to demand that we let him have all the concern about gold and silver and the needs of this life, how cheerfully and contentedly would every one cling to such promise! But now a greater lord says all this, one who is almighty and truthful, who has power over the body and life, and who can and will give us everything we need, both temporal and eternal. We should have in all this, if we only believed it, half of heaven, yea, a perfect paradise on earth. For what is better and nobler than a quiet, peaceful heart? For this all men are striving and laboring. So have we been doing hitherto, running to and fro after it. Yet it is found nowhere except in God’s word, which bids us cast our cares and burdens on God and thus seek peace and rest. It counsels us to throw upon him everything that threatens to oppress and worry us. God would not have anxiety dwell in our hearts, for it does not belong there; it is put there by the devil.


42. Therefore, a Christian, even though obliged to suffer all manner of adversity, temptation and misfortune, can cheerfully go forward and say: Dear Lord God, thou hast commanded me to believe, to teach, to govern and to act; this I will attempt in thy name, and I will commend to thee whatever may happen to me in the course of duty. There you have a man who is equal to any task, and can do much good. For he is freed from the greatest misfortune and has laid the heaviest weight upon God, whilst another man does nothing except fill his heart with anxiety and gloom. This other can apply himself to no good work. He becomes unfit both to do and to suffer. He is afraid of every trifle and, because of his vexation or impatience, can do nothing worth mentioning. What is the world doing now? Princes, lords, counselors, citizens, and peasants – all want only power, honor, and wealth. None desires to render service. Everyone fears that this or the other thing might happen to him. Though the world never needed more careful rule than at the present time, lords and princes, simply because they are such, idly sit adorned with beautiful crowns, though they have received their trust from God to discharge their princely office. For the world must be governed, the youth must be educated, the wicked must be punished. But if thou desirest the honor only, and art not willing to step in the mire, to suffer people’s displeasure, and through it all learn to trust God and for his sake do everything, thou art not worthy of the grace given for the accomplishment of a good and praiseworthy work. In punishment, resting under God’s wrath, thou must remain unfit for every good work.


“Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the Devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom withstand stedfast in your faith.”

43. The apostle has set forth two things to be practiced throughout the Christian life; namely, Christian humility – which is fear of God – and faith and confidence in God. Now he admonishes his readers to battle and warfare, that these blessings may be preserved. He shows us our enemy and adversary who seeks to rob us of our treasure and deprive us of our salvation and eternal blessedness. Hence he would say: Be not concerned about living a life of earthly glory, and let not anxious cares fill your soul But be intent on humbling yourselves before God. Trust in him. Let this be your care, that you may abide in the grace of humility. Let it never be wrested from you. For the devil seeks to instill these forbidden cares, and to produce disobedience against God, that he may tear faith and God’s Word out of your heart.



Therefore, you must not ignore these facts, and meanwhile strive after something else. You are not to go along in false security or sleep and snore as though there were no danger. You must rather know that you have not been placed in a garden of roses here, but in the midst of heavy conflicts, where you must be on your guard, always watchful and prepared for resistance. For you have an adversary who is not insignificant or to be despised, but is strong, mighty, and moreover wicked and ferocious. He does not fight with stone and wood, destroying rocks and trees, but he has his eye fixed on you Christians. He never grows tired or weary, but without rest and ceasing he pursues you not only to spy upon you and to harass you, in which he can be withstood, but he desires utterly to devour you.


44. His sole purpose and plan is to murder and destroy men, spiritually and bodily; even as, at the beginning, when man had been created, he led and cast him into death. He practices his schemes with awful and deadly effect in the world against those who do not believe in Christ, and he will never stop until the judgment day. One can perceive his incessant activity. He bustles about and openly raves and roars against all Christendom. He uses for his purpose the Turks, and other tyrants and godless people, not to speak of the sorrow and murder he works by so possessing people that in their frenzy they do themselves injury, or without cause murder others. He otherwise, through wicked and shameful snares, leads men into misfortune and sorrow. In short, the world is nothing else than the devil’s murderous cave, both spiritually and physically. God, in order to somewhat hinder and restrain physical murder, has ordained temporal government, parental and other authority. These in their office are to be sober, watchful, and diligent. We ought to thank God for his preservation of such authority, for otherwise there would be no peace – everywhere on earth nothing but murder. Nevertheless, the awful murder the devil perpetrates on those who are without God’s Word and faith, is not thereby checked.


45. Some other defense and protection, then, another kind of watchfulness, must be sought, in order that men may remain undestroyed and unharmed in the presence of this bloodthirsty murderer. Of this Peter speaks here to the little company of Christians, and says: Ye, through Christ’s blood and death rescued from the devil’s lies and murderous intent, have been made alive and have been transplanted into the heavenly life, like your beloved fathers, Adam, Abel, and others. They are no longer under bondage to Satan, but live in Christ, though the body lie for a time in the earth and truth and life must be supplied to their body and soul. But because ye still dwell in the world, ye are exposed to all danger. Physically, ye are yet in the murderer’s house; therefore ye must take good heed, that he may not kill you again, and murder your souls dwelling in these mortal bodies. It shall harm you none that the soul was ruined and the body is yet subject to death. “Because I live,” says Christ ( John 14:19), “ye shall live also.” However, ye must struggle if ye are to abide in the truth and life. To this ye are appointed whilst ye live here on earth; otherwise ye would already be in Paradise. But the devil has not yet been consigned wholly to the punishment of his damnation, which will be at the last day, when he will finally be cast down from his airy height, and from the earth, into the abyss of hell. Then he will no more be able to attack us, and there will no longer be cloud or veil between us and God and the angels.



46. In order, now, he continues, that ye may be saved from his murderous designs, and may preserve the life you have begun, ye must be sober and watchful; not only mindful of the body, but much rather of the mind and soul. It is true that a Christian who is to resist the devil must be physically sober, for a full hog and drunkard cannot be watchful nor can he plan defense against the devil. Yet must a Christian much more guard himself, lest the soul become sleepy or drunken. As the soul is burdened by the body when the latter is overwhelmed by drunkenness, so, when the soul is watchful and sober, the body also is temperate and prepared to hear God’s Word. But where the body is oppressed by drunkenness, there the soul must first have been a drunkard, not heeding God’s Word nor giving attention to prayer. Where the soul is drunken and drowned in such security, it will not avail that the body suffer hurt by strict fasting and selfmortification, after the fashion of the Carthusians and hermits.


47. Saint Peter, then, forbids not only bodily drunkenness, but also drunkenness of the soul. One’s soul is drunk when he lives in carnal security, without thought and anxiety as to whether he have and hold God’s Word or not: when he asks no questions, either about God’s wrath or his grace; and when he, moreover, lets himself be filled with the sweet poison of false doctrine through the mob of evil spirits Satan employs for this purpose, until he grows numb, loses faith and clear judgment and finally becomes overfull of drunkenness and spews it out upon others.


48. The same thing results when men begin to be wise in divine things by following human reason. Saint Peter aptly describes this false doctrine with the expression, “cunningly devised fables,” 2 Peter 1:16. He says: “We did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Such are the beautiful words and sermons which make a great show of wisdom and holiness, and naturally please men. For instance it is a cunningly devised fable when one with the aid of philosophy, which reason can understand, sets forth in grandiloquent words what a fine thing it is for a man to live honorably, chastely, and to practice good works and virtues. The aim is, with such pretense, to have us believe that we, through these works (not alone through faith), are justified before God; that is, are redeemed from sin and death.


49. Again, other factious spirits travel about with worthy sayings which they have heard from us – externals do not help souls; the Spirit must do the work – and then they proceed to fling contempt on baptism and the Lord’s Supper. So Thomas Munzer, with his seditious peasants, and the Anabaptist rabble, went about, with great demonstration, preaching about the shameful, wicked life of the world, especially of the authorities, declaring that these were godless people and tyrants, and deserved God’s wrath and punishment; that therefore men should depose and execute them, and establish a new government, of only pious and holy people. These and similar things Peter calls “cunningly devised fables.” They are exaggeratingly pretended to be the product of great wisdom and art, and are rendered sweet and palatable to reason. So has all idolatry, heresy, and false doctrine, from the beginning on, prevailed, being fashioned and most beautifully adorned by people learned and wise and held in the esteem of the world.


50. How admirable did the position of Arius and his adherents appear in comparison with the true faith concerning the divinity of Christ, when they declared that though Christ should be exalted above all angels and creatures, and that all honor, dominion and power in heaven and on earth belong to him, yea, that he is quite equal to God – all this, yet he is not “homo-ousios”; that is, he is not in one undivided, divine, eternal essence, which is of such unity that it could be imparted to no one else. It would be too much to say that a man is God, etc. With such pretense was a great multitude of Christians seduced. Even few bishops remained in the pure doctrine and faith. And afterward this poison prevailed among the wise people of Asia and Greece, until Mohammed, with his Saracens and Turks, had miserably corrupted the greatest part of the world.


51. Likewise the Pope has adorned and colored with a glorious form his abominations and idolatry, claiming for his order of service that it is a meritorious and beautiful thing. Again, he calls attention to the serviceableness of the beautiful, orderly government and power of the Church, with its well regulated gradations of office and position – bishops superior to the ordinary priests, and over the bishops Saint Peter’s chair at Rome. In that chair is vested the authority for the convocation of general councils so often as these may be necessary. These councils are to judge and decide in all matters of faith, and their decisions everyone must follow and obey. Again, he boasts what great service and consolation to the whole world is the work of the priests in the mass, when they daily renew and offer to God the sacrifice made by Christ on the cross. This is the sweet wine in the “golden cup” of the scarlet harlot of Babylon, with which she has made drunken all kings and nations, Revelation 17:2-4.


52. Where the devil finds those who give ear to such fables, he takes them captive and so fills them with these falsehoods that they neither see nor hear anything else. They think their belief is the only one, and they will not suffer themselves to be instructed out of God’s Word. And so, in their madness, without rightful intelligence of faith and all principles of pure doctrine, they continue in their darkened mind, with their fantastic, lying prattle, without repentance and amendment, having no grace to learn or do anything good. This is amply proved by the example of all seditious spirits.


53. Therefore, Peter admonishes us to be “sober and watchful,” especially in spirit, and to guard ourselves against this sweet poison and these beautiful, adorned lies and fables of the devil. He teaches us how to equip and defend ourselves against his wicked devices. “Whom withstand steadfast in your faith.”


54. The true defense and resistance, in which we are to be sober and watchful, is to be well grounded in God’s Word and cling firmly thereto when the devil seeks, with his cunningly devised fables, born of human understanding and reason, to overthrow our faith. Reason is the devil’s bride, and always vaunts itself wise and skillful in divine things, and thinks what it holds to be right and good must be accounted so before God. But faith holds to God’s Word alone. It knows that before God, human wisdom, skill and power, and whatever gifts and virtues man may have, count for nothing. Only his grace and the forgiveness of sins in Christ has value. Therefore, faith can repel and defeat all these fine pretensions and cunning fables.


55. Worldly dominion and authority boasts before God in this fashion: My crown is a crown in God’s sight, for my power and sovereignty have been given me by God. Therefore, whatever I say he must respect and regard as valid, and everyone must endorse my words and actions. The wise philosopher or jurist would thus give expression to his boasts and pretensions: We are the learned, the Wise rulers of the world, and have admirable laws and statutes. We have superior and beautiful doctrines concerning good works and virtues. Men must listen to us and allow our judgment to have precedence. He who can do, or does, such things as we have done is, in God’s sight, superior to others.



56. No, dear man, says faith to this, I grant that the things of which thou boastest have been ordained and corn firmed by God; but they are not of value save for this temporal life. The world regards it a crown to be known as wise. But in the presence of God thou shouldst lay aside thy crown, let thy might and power, thy law and wisdom, go, and say: God, be merciful to me a poor sinner! Reason has this advantage, that it is equipped and adorned with God’s promise to confirm its rule here on earth and to be pleased therewith; but with the provision that reason shall not interfere in God’s government, or boast over against him. Let it be known that what is called wisdom and prudence on earth, is foolishness before God. What in the sight of the world is commended and honored as beautiful, valuable, as of honor and virtue, is before God sin, and subject to his wrath. What on earth is called life, is before God nothing but death.


57. If, now, the parental, governmental, and other authority which he, himself, has arrayed and through his word established, and which is even administered by Christians, does not endure before him in that other life, how much less will he allow that to stand which man has devised or subtly contrived out of his own head and heart! Wouldst thou be wise and prudent, then cultivate these virtues in the sphere appointed thee, in thy home, the State, and whatever office thou hast. In these temporal things, rule as well as thou canst. Thou wilt find little enough to help in all thy books, thy reason and wisdom. But when thou beginnest to devise out of thine own reason the things of God, though they may all seem trustworthy wisdom, yet, as Peter says, they are nothing else than fables and lies.


58. For example, a monk’s words: Whoever dons a cowl can lead a holy life, for he is cut off from the world, can banish all care and sorrow, and can undisturbed, in peace and quietness, serve God – these words appear wisely spoken, but at bottom they are nothing but unreliable and useless chatter. This is proved from God’s Word, which teaches that God has forbidden us to invent our own worship; also, that God would have us serve him in our ordinary life and station and not by fleeing therefrom. Hence, such monkery can not be a holy, godly life. In Psalm 119:85, we read: “The proud have digged pits for me, who are not according to thy law.” That is, they preach to me about praiseworthy things, and represent their cause as most worthy, in order to overcome me. But when I look at their words aright, I do not find them to be in accord with thy Word and commandments, which (says he) “are faithful.” A lie is always beautiful. It attracts and pretends to be truth. It has, further, the advantage that it can adorn itself from the wardrobe of God’s Word, and, perverting the Word, can use it in an uncertain sense. On the other hand, the truth does not so glitter, because it does not make itself plain to reason. For example, a common Christian, a type of the brethren, hears the Gospel, believes, uses the sacraments, leads a Christian life at home with wife and children – that does not shine as does the fascinating lie of a saintly Carthusian or hermit, who, separated from his fellow men, would be a holier servant of God than other people. Yet the latter is useful to nobody. He lets others preach and rule, and labor in the sweat of their brows.



59. The one important thing, then, is to see to it that we have God’s Word, and that we regulate all the teachings and claims of men in accordance therewith. We will thus distinguish between the true and the false. We must remember, also, that human reason holds a far inferior position to faith and is not to be acknowledged as trustworthy, save as it is authorized by God for temporal authority. He who has faith can easily perceive when reason conflicts with God’s Word or seeks, in its wisdom, to rise superior thereto; just as, in worldly things, each one in his station, office, or calling, knows full well, when another attempts the same work, whether he does it right or not. So every householder well understands that in his home wantonness and wrongdoing on the part of the servants are not to be tolerated. However, in divine things, reason can so attire and adorn itself as not to be recognized except by one who, guided by faith, has a right knowledge of God’s Word. Reason will not refrain from intruding, with its wisdom and prudence, into the affairs of God, where it has no orders. Thus the devil creates endless misery, as he did at the beginning in the case of our first parents. And yet reason will not permit, in its own domain, the slightest interference of one unskilled in reason’s code.


60. If a cobbler were to arise in the Church and censure the people because they did not wear his make of shoes, and should try to convince people that such a procedure was necessary to salvation, they would pursue him out of the Church with shoes and slippers, and cry after him: Stay at home in your shop with your shoes and lasts! What does that concern the spiritual estate? But when a factious spirit stands up and in his supposed wisdom grunts forth: I am a holy, pious man. I have a special illumination from the spirit. Therefore do not believe what the others say, which is nothing but the dead letter, that one person can be God and man; that a virgin can be a mother; that a man can be cleansed from sin by water and the spoken Word, etc.,   when he does this, then there is no one to offer resistance. Reason then gains the victory if it only claims the glory of guidance by the Spirit, of a holy life, etc., even though God’s Word and faith are not present in their purity. Behold, what mischief the Turk, with his Mohammed, has wrought and is still working, solely by claiming the honor of worshipping the one God, and asserting that he alone has the true God! He declares that only he and his followers are God’s people on earth, to honor which God they war and fight against the Christians. He presses his cause the more vigorously because he has such large fortune and victory; so even many Christians who come among them adopt their faith and become Turks. But none of the Turks turn Christian.


61. Therefore, no other counsel can be offered for resisting the devil and escaping destruction by him, than this, that we remain firm in faith, says Saint Peter. One must have a heart which holds fast to God’s Word and fully understands the same and holds it to be true. For faith cannot exist or endure without the Word, nor can it hear or understand aught else. One must separate the Word far from all reason and wisdom, placing it above these. He must hold reason as nothing – yea, as dead – in matters pertaining to God’s government and to how man is to escape sin and eternal death. Reason must keep silent and give to God’s Word alone the honor which belongs to the truth, “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,” as Saint Paul says, 2 Corinthians 10:5. If reason is to be my teacher in these things, what need is there of faith? And why should I not throw away all the Scriptures? We Christians, says Paul ( 1 Corinthians 1:20-21), preach something else and higher than reason comprehends, for the wisdom of the world is mere folly. If reason taught me that the mother of Christ is a virgin, the angel Gabriel might have remained in heaven and kept silent concerning the matter. Your faith, says Paul again ( 1 Corinthians 2:4), should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Now you have seen the tricks and wiles of the devil with which he seeks to devour you, which he bases on reason as opposed to God’s Word.


62. Peter admonishes all Christians, especially the preachers, how to defend themselves against the devil’s intrigues and artifices, with which he seeks to capture them. In order that Christians may be properly equipped, Saint Peter calls attention to two things: First, we must know the enemy and realize his purpose; second, we must be armed to meet him and defend ourselves, that we may stand before him and conquer. He is a terrible, mighty foe, says Peter, and is the god of this world. He has more wisdom and more deceptive snares than all men, and can so blind and unsettle reason that it will cheerfully believe and follow him. He is, moreover, a wicked and bitter enemy to you who in Christ have life. He cannot bear to see you Christ’s. He thinks and plots about nothing else than your overthrow. And think not that he is far from you, or that he will pursue you from a distance. He has encamped close to you and right around you; yea, in your own territory – that is, in your flesh and blood. There he seeks how to reach you, and overtake you when unguarded, attempting now this, now that. Misguided faith, doubt, anger, impatience, covetousness, evil passions, etc., are points of attack – any place where he finds an opening or discovers that you are weak. Therefore, think not that he is simply jesting. He is more furious and hungry than a famished and angry lion. He does not purpose merely to wound or prick you, but wholly to consume you, so that nothing of body or soul will remain.


63. Whoever would withstand such a foe must be equipped with other armor and weapons than those furnished by human wit and understanding, by human powers or ability. Your defense is nothing else, says Peter, than faith, which holds and grasps God’s Word. And because the believer holds fast to this, the devil can gain nothing. It is God’s truth and power, before which, with his lying and murdering, he cannot stand; he must yield and flee. Therefore Ephesians 6:16 says: “Taking up the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one.” These fiery darts are chiefly those he hurls into the heart through the beautiful thoughts of human reason. He thus transforms himself into an angel of light, to displace right thoughts and faith, and to introduce human whims and false faith. His aim is, also, to lead into doubt, distrust, hatred, and anger toward God. Thus it is, too, in the other temptations and trials of life, when Satan drives men into sin and disobedience against God’s commandment, into such sins as avarice, usury, anger, revengefulness, unchastity, and other vices. Here he uses the same insidious arts, first tearing God’s Word out of the heart, then blinding reason with sweet and beautiful thoughts. He says: The thing proposed is not so wicked. God will not be so angry with you. He can afford to be patient with you, you still love the Gospel. With such suggestions as these he carries you away and plunges you under God’s fearful anger and condemnation.


64. If you would withstand these wiles, there can be no other plan or counsel than this: Fight with God’s Word in firm faith against these suggestions and allurements. Further, keep in mind both your former misery and your present treasures of grace. Remember how you were once under God’s wrath when, without fear of God and without faith, you were the devil’s own, subject to all his will, and must have perished had not God, in boundless goodness, forgiven you your sin and bestowed on you his grace. And now give heed that you may not lose this treasure, to which end the Holy Spirit has been promised you. You need not succumb if you remain in faith. Again, if you experience weakness and suffer want, you are bidden to call upon him, certain that he will hear you. The promise is: “If ye shall ask anything of the Father, he will give it you in my name,” John 16:23. Also: “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you,” John 15:7.


65. Peter would, with his admonitions, make Christians bold and confident for resisting the temptations of the devil and defending themselves. He would not have us feel terrified nor despair before Satan, even though that wicked one press us hard through the instrumentality of the world and of our own flesh, as well as by his direct onslaughts. We are not to fear though he seem too strong for us, and though surrender to his prowess seems inevitable. We are to have a manly heart and fight valiantly through faith. We must be assured that, if we remain firm in the faith, we shall have strength and final victory. The devil shall not defeat us; we shall prove superior to him. We have been called of God and made Christians to the end that we renounce the devil and contend against him, and thus maintain God’s name, Word, and kingdom against him. Christ, our head, has already, in himself, smitten and destroyed for us the devil and his power. In addition, he gives us faith and the Holy Spirit, whereby we can wholly defeat Satan’s further wickedness and his attempts to overthrow us.


66. A Christian should bear all this in mind, I say, and learn to experience the strength and power of faith. So will he not yield to temptation and enticement. Nor will he, from love of the devil or the world, to his own eternal hurt, and for the sake of small temporal advantage, pleasure, or honor, cast from him God’s grace and the Holy Spirit, and put himself again under God’s eternal anger and condemnation.


“Knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world.”

67. This is a very precious and comforting passage, the truth of which Peter learned not only by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but from his own experience. One instance of his experience was when, in the high-priest’s house, he thrice denied his Lord, and soon thereafter fell into such anxiety and despair that he would have followed the traitor Judas had not Christ turned and looked on him. It was for this reason that Christ, so soon after his resurrection, first of all commanded that the glad tidings should be announced to Peter. Christ also said to him, before all this happened: “Simon, I made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not; and do thou, when once thou hast turned again, establish thy brethren,” Luke 22:31-32.



Peter makes faithful use of the present passage for his readers’ comfort: Ye must expect, in the world, says he, to suffer many and severe things, both in temptations of soul and body, against the first and the second table of the law, Satan lying in wait for you with his deceitful and murderous arts.


68. Weak Christians suffer beyond measure because they are plagued and beset so constantly by the devil. Their afflictions so sorely oppress them that they conclude that no one suffers so severely as do they. Especially does this seem the case in the great spiritual temptations which come to those endowed with peculiar gifts and who are called to positions of prominence in the Church. So Paul often laments his great temptations, which the common people do not understand and cannot endure. God, moreover, is careful to lay on each one just the cross he is able to carry. Still these sufferings are such that even the great and strong must languish and wither beneath them were it not for the comfort God bestows. These troubles grip the heart, and consume the very marrow, as the Psalms often lament.


69. Some of those living in cloisters, and other pious, tender consciences, have learned by experience how hard such burdens are to bear, especially in the darkness of the papacy, where they receive but little genuine comfort. There are, also, some inexperienced and forward spirits who have seen but have not understood these things, and who yet desire to be regarded as people of large experience. When, however, the test comes, they are found wanting. It is related of one of this class, who heard others bemoaning their temptations, that he prayed God to let temptation visit him also; whereupon God permitted him to be tempted with carnal lust. But when he found he could not bear it, he again prayed God, asking that the burden of his brother, whom he regarded inferior to himself, be given him. But when this request was granted, he prayed yet more earnestly that God would give him back his former burden.


70. Amid such temptations Peter comforts suffering Christians by telling them that they are not the first, nor the only ones, to be thus assailed. They are not to feel as if it were a wonderful, rare, unheard of cross which they bear, or that they bear it alone. They are to know that their brethren, the Christians of all times, and scattered through all the world, must, because they are in the world, suffer the same things at the hand of Satan and his minions. It assuages and comforts beyond measure for the sufferer to know that he does not suffer alone, but with a great multitude.


71. It is true that in external temptations this comfort is easily grasped, because of the knowledge of others’ experiences. But when Satan assails thee alone with his poisonous darts – for example, when he tempts thee to doubt God’s grace, as if thou alone hadst been cast off; or when he suggests horrible blasphemies, hatred of God, condemnation of his government, and so tortures and fills with anguish thy heart that thou art led to think that no man on earth is more fearfully assailed than thyself –  then there is need to make use of this comfort which Peter offers thee and all Christians. In other words, Peter would say: “My friend, let not the devil and thy sufferings terrify thee or lead thee to despair. Thou shouldst know this for a certainty, that thou sufferest not alone. No matter how shamefully he attacks thee, he has done and is doing the same to others.” The devil seeks, not only our own destruction, but also that of all Christendom. It is ever his purpose to tear out of men’s hearts, in the midst of their sufferings, God’s Word and faith. He would rob them of their comfort in Christ, and depict God in the most horrible and hostile light, that the heart may have not one kind thought regarding him. And he can do this; not only with lofty, refined, subtle thoughts, but also by gross suggestions from without, before which a man must fear and shudder. I, myself, saw and heard a girl who complained of a temptation of this nature; namely, that while she stood in the church and saw the sacrament elevated, the thought occurred to her: Lo, what a big knave the priest is elevating. And she was suddenly so frightened at the terrible thought that she sank to the floor.


72. Such terror and anxiety proceed from the fact that one imagines that no one else has ever experienced such dreadful assaults. He thinks he has a special, strange, and unusual affliction. Although it is true that men’s temptations differ and come from different sources and one may imagine his own a peculiar kind, yet the sufferings and temptations of all Christians are alike in this, that the devil tries to drive them all from the fear and confidence of God into unbelief, contempt, hatred, and blasphemy against God. Therefore, the apostles are accustomed to call Christians’ sufferings a fellowship in pain and tribulations. They point all men who suffer to the agonies of Christ our Lord, as the head and exemplar. Peter says Peter 1:11: “The Spirit of Christ… testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them.” And Paul says, “I fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh,” Colossians 1:24.


73. If one would speak of specially severe sufferings, surely no human heart can comprehend, much less tell, how great and heavy were the anxiety and sorrow of our first parents on account of their miserable fall And what sorrow must Adam have witnessed during the nine hundred years of his life in the experiences of his first son Cain, and his children! No man has ever borne such a burden as lay on both parents for nearly a hundred years after Abel’s death, until their third son was born. Truly, these nine hundred years were a period of sorrow and misery. Perhaps, on the last day, we shall discuss with this our father the solitary suffering of that time, of which we know nothing. And we shall willingly confess that in sorrow’s school he stands far above us and we have been only insignificant pupils. It must have been most severe and dangerous for him, since he had no example before him of similar suffering with which to comfort himself.


74. Likewise, if thou couldst rightly understand what the other holy patriarchs, the prophets and apostles – especially Paul and Peter – and later all the beloved martyrs and saints, have endured thou wouldst be forced to say that all thy temptation and suffering are nothing in comparison. But above all these must we reckon the experiences of the Lord Christ, whose heart was so pierced by Satan’s fiery darts and bitter thrusts that the bloody drops of sweat were pressed out of his body. He has gone before and surpassed us on the way of sorrow. We, with all our suffering, can only follow his footsteps.



75. Therefore, learn well this saying of Peter, and think not that thou alone endurest this severe, fearful temptation and these onslaughts of the devil. Remember that thy brethren, not only they who are dead – who also have set thee a good example – but also those who live with thee in the world, have suffered and do suffer such terror and distress. For they have the very same enemy Christ and all Christendom have. Thou canst be glad and shout: God be praised! I am not the only one that suffers, but with me there is a great multitude, all Christians on earth, my beloved brothers and sisters, even down to the last who shall walk this earth. And in this passage Peter comforts and strengthens me, as Christ commanded him, who also has tasted of these sorrows, and, indeed, in far greater measure than I and others have.


76. I have at times thought, in my trials, that I should like to argue with Peter and Paul as to whether they were tried more severely than I. For, when he can do nothing else, the devil resorts to the plan of leading a man to fix his attention solely on his own affliction, and oppresses him with the thought: No man has been so cast off by God, or has sunk so deep into anxiety and distress. The devil has often so wearied me with such arguments that at length I could offer no further opposition to him, but simply turned him over to Christ, who can quickly silence him with arguments. If we have not Christ with us, Satan proves far too strong for us. We cannot silence him. He soon renders helpless all our skill, and slays us with our own sword.


77. Ah, these seditious leaders and other self-secure spirits are poor, miserable people, who know nothing at all of this conflict! They drown in their own imaginations, and think they are perfect. And some of them are so shameless and without fear as to blaspheme, saying that God himself could not take their virtue from them. The devil simply strengthens them in these thoughts, and hardens them the more. This very thing is a sign that they do not yet know the devil; they are already blinded and taken captive by him, so that he can ruin them when he pleases.


78. Genuine Christians are not thus self-confident and boastful when they are attacked. In severe conflicts and anxieties they labor that the devil may not deprive them of the sword. I know that I am learned and have seen something of what the devil can do; but I must bear him witness, from my daily experience, that he can overcome me unless I am well established in faith and have Christ in my heart. Thomas Munzer was so firm and inflexible, as he thought, that he dared to say that he would not behold Christ, if he did not himself wish to speak with him. But at last, when the devil began to attack him, men saw what his pride and boasts were. No, they are not the ones to accomplish anything, who go about so boastful, as if they had consumed the devil. They do not see that they, themselves, were long since devoured seven times over by him and are held fast in his jaws.


79. The heretic Arius was also secure and proud enough against the pious bishops and Christians. Yea, when he was punished for his error by his bishop, and admonished to desist, he became the more obstinate. He complained about the bitter persecution to which he was subjected. But his suffering was that they would not approve his horrible blasphemy. Just so in every age the heretics and blasphemers, yea, even open murderers and tyrants, pose as martyrs when they are not permitted to run against God’s Word and against pious people. So confident do they try to be that they have no fear of God. They count the devil a dead bee until, at length, he suddenly seizes and destroys them in a moment.


80. But the poor, tempted Christians have need of the comfort and the strength furnished by God’s Word. They must anxiously contend lest they lose, in their hours of severe temptation, God, Christ, faith, and Our Father. Therefore, the mission intrusted to Peter, to strengthen his brethren, is most needful. So the same comfort was necessary in his own temptations, and he was even given it beforehand by Christ, who declared that he had prayed for him that his faith might not be extinguished nor fail, which faith, however, from the time of his denial on to the third day did almost die, and scarcely the smallest spark remained. Hence he now, as a true apostle, comforts those who are in the like fears and straits of a sinking and expiring faith. He says to all the suffering and comfortless: My dear brother, think not that thou alone sufferest distress and temptation. Many of thy brethren have suffered quite as heavily, perhaps more heavily. I, myself, have been as weak as thou canst ever be. If thou dost not believe this, look and see what occurred in the house of Caiaphas, the high-priest, when I, who protested my readiness to go with Christ into prison and death, at a word spoken to me by a maid, fell, and denied and abjured most shamefully my beloved Lord. For three whole days I lay in misery. I had no one to comfort me and none who suffered equally with myself. I had no consolation except that my dear Master gave me, with his eyes, one friendly look.


81. Therefore, no one should regard his distress and need as too heavy and fearful, as if it were an entirely new thing, something which had never been experienced by others. To thee it may be something new and untried. But look about thee, at the great multitude of the Church, from the beginning until this hour. The Church has been set in the world to suffer the attacks of the devil, and without ceasing it must be sifted as wheat, as Christ’s words suggest, Luke 22:31. My friend, thou hast not yet seen nor experienced what our first parents endured their whole life long, and after them all the holy fathers until Christ. Peter, also, has been farther in this school than I and thou, and I would say that the same temptation as his could hardly be found. Paul says of him and the beloved apostles ( 1 Corinthians 4:9): “For, I think, God hath set forth us the apostles last of all, as men doomed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, both to angels and men” – so that Satan may torment us according to his will, and thus work out his pleasure upon us. And what are the sufferings of all men combined when compared with Christ’s agony and conflict, in that he sweat blood for thee?


82. When the devil plagues and assails thee with his manifold temptations, refer him to Christ, with whom to dispute about the severe temptations, the death struggle, the anguish of hell, etc. Comfort thyself that thou art one of a great company of sufferers, past present and future. O beautiful, glorious company! All under one lord and head, who took from the devil his power and hell-fire. In short, thy affliction cannot prove so great that thou wilt not find it paralleled in the lives of the apostles, prophets, patriarchs and all the saints, especially of Christ himself; with whom, if we suffer, let us not doubt, says Paul, that we shall “be also glorified,” Romans 8:17.










Third Sunday after Trinity;

Luke 15:1-10

Parable of the Lost Sheep: A marvelously comforting sermon that Luther first preached to the Elector of Saxony in 1533.





King James Version

Luke 15:1-10

Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.And he spake this parable unto them, saying, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.


1. This Gospel contains the teaching we hold and boast of as our chief doctrine, which is called the true Christian teaching, namely, the doctrine of grace and forgiveness of sins, and Christian liberty from the law. It is a very loving and friendly admonition to repentance and the knowledge of Christ. And it is ever a pity, that a godless, impudent person should be permitted to hear such an excellent, comforting and joyful sermon. And yet it is more sad, that every one graduates so soon in it and masters it so that he thinks he knows it so well that he can learn nothing more from it. Yet God, our Lord, does not permit himself to become vexed or weary in repeating it yearly, yea, every day, and enforces it as though he knew nothing else to preach, and as though he had no other skill or art. While we poor, wretched people immediately become so overlearned, so satisfied, tired of it and disgusted besides, that we have no longer a desire or love for it.


2. But before we take up the subject taught in this Gospel, let us first examine what St. Luke gives as an introduction to show what prompted Christ to preach the following sermon, when he says: ”Now all the publicans and sinners were drawing near unto him to hear him,” because they wanted to be near him to hear his word, and he expresses freely and plainly what kind of people he had about him, namely, those who openly lived as they should not live, and were called downright sinners and wicked people. Thus it would appear that the Pharisees had sufficient reason to blame him, because he, who pretended to be a pious and holy man kept company with such low characters.


3. For at that time the men scattered hither and thither through the land were called publicans, to whom the Romans gave charge of a city, or of the revenue, or other duties or offices, and required of them a certain amount of revenue; just as the Turks or Venetians now assign a city or office to a certain person from which he must give many thousands of dollars a year, and whatever he extorts over and above that amount is his own. In this manner they proceeded. Those who collected such revenue and tax proceeded so that they had a profit from it. And as this sum thus appointed was large for each city or office, the officers extorted without let or hindrance, so that they might enjoy more as their own; for their masters were so close with them that they could not gain much for themselves, if they desired to act justly end take advantage of no one. Hence they were reported in all lands as being great extortioners in whom little good or honesty could be found.


4. Thus the other great crowds in general were called ”sinners,” who otherwise were worse people and publicly lived in a shameful and wild way, in covetousness, adultery and the like. Such drew near to Christ in order to hear him, since they had heard, that in the light of his doctrine and his many miracles he was an excellent man.


5. Now, after all, there was a spark or two of virtue and honesty in them, that they had a desire for Christ and gladly heard his doctrine, and see what he did. Inasmuch as they well knew that he was a good man, and heard nothing but good of him, both in words and deeds, so that their doings did neither agree nor harmonize with his life; and yet they feel no enmity against him, nor flee from him, but go to him, not to seek anything evil in him, but to see and hear something good, and to hope that they might become better.


6. The Pharisees and the scribes, on the contrary, who were held and esteemed as the most pious and holy, were such poisonous reptiles, that they were not only enemies of Christ, and could not bear to see or hear him, nor suffer poor sinners to come to him and hear him that they might be made better, yet they even murmured and blamed him for harboring and receiving them, and said: Behold, is this that excellent and holy man? Who will now say that he is of God, as he associates with such rogues and wicked people? Yes, he is a ”wine-bibber and a glutton,” and they say in another place, ”a friend of publicans and sinners.”


7. Such names he must bear from these holy people, not because he was riotous or given to gluttony and drunkenness, but only because he permitted them to come to him, and did not thrust them from him nor despise them. For they thought he should have done so, and should have gone forth in a gray frock with a sour countenance and remained secluded from common people, and when he saw such publicans and sinners, he should have held his nose and looked the other way, so that he would not become polluted by them, as they themselves like holy people were accustomed to do. As Isaiah, 65:5, writes of them: that they kept themselves so pure that they would not dare to touch a sinner; as may also be seen in the example of Luke 7:39, where the Pharisees so bitterly opposed Christ, because he allowed himself to be touched by a woman who was a sinner. Now, these were they who at all times desired to be his master, and to prescribe to him and give him rules how he should conduct himself and live holy. Hence they murmur here, because he does not hold to them and avoid such public, sinners as they do.


8. Now Christ is also a little self-willed and shows here that he is simply not to be dictated to by any one, and that he will be free in all things, as we see also everywhere in the Gospel, that a peculiar firmness or self-will is found in this man, who is nevertheless at other times so mild a man, willing and ready to help, the like of whom was never found on earth. But when they came to him with laws and wanted to be his teachers, then all friendship was at an end, he starts and bounds back, as when you strike on an anvil, and he speaks and does just the contrary they demand of him, although they even say rightly and well, and have God's word for it, as they do here where they come and say: You should do thus, you should hold to the society of good people and not to sinners. This is a precious doctrine taken out of the Scriptures; for Moses himself writes that they should avoid the wicked, and put away evil from among them. They have the text on their side, and come trolling with their Moses, and want to bind him and rule him by their laws.


9. But, whether it be God's law or the law of man, he will in short be unbound, like the unicorn, of which it is said, that it cannot be taken alive, it matters not how you attempt it. It will suffer itself to be pierced, shot and killed, but it will never submit to be taken. Thus Christ also acts, although you approach him with laws to throw them over him, he will not endure it, but he bursts through them as through a spider's web, and gives to them besides a good lecture. As in Mat. 12:3, where they blamed his disciples because they plucked the ears of corn on the Sabbath day, citing the divine command to keep the Sabbath day holy; he turns it around altogether and bursts through the commandment and proves besides, both by Scriptures and examples, just the contrary. Again, in Mat. 16:22-23, where he tells his Apostles how he shall suffer and be crucified, and when Peter with good intentions comes forth with the law of love and sets before him God's commandment and says: ”Be it far from thee, Lord; this shall never be unto thee.” In this connection he also gives him a good strong reply, and handles him roughly and unfriendly, and says: ”Get thee behind me, Satan; for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men.


10. In short, wherever they begin to deal with him only according to laws, he resents it and will be free from all laws, and be the Lord of them all, by which he thrusts them from him, and will observe no law at all, as though he were bound to keep it. And yet, on the contrary, when it springs from himself no law is so trifling, but that he will gladly keep it, yea, even much more than the law could demand, so that a more willing servant could not be found, when he is left free without a master. Yea, he even humbles himself as lowly as to wash and kiss the feet of Judas, his betrayer, and even protects his disciples at night, as history relates of him, and we may well believe, as he says himself, Mat. 20:28:Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” There, of course, belong the works of the law, but not as springing out of the law nor compelled by the law. As also may be seen by his life in that he always goes about hither and thither in the land, sleeps at night on the bare earth, fasts forty days without rest, and performs so many labors that they feared he might lose his mind, Mark 3:21, or harm his body. He does whatever he should and can, but he will be free and unbound, and will have no laws prescribed to him, and wherever one attempts it, there he halts and defends himself most determinedly. Thus he is both the most obstinate and the most kind of all men, and at the same time he is neither stubborn nor slavish, who will do nothing to which he is driven by the law, and yet he does all things in abundance like a flood of good works, when he is only permitted to work of his own free will, without being mastered and taught.


11. This has been written for us as an example, that we may learn what a true Christian man he is according to the Spirit, and that we should not judge him according to the law, nor master him according to our own shrewdness; for this reason also Christ is our Lord, that he may make out of us such people as he is himself. And as he will not suffer himself to be bound by any laws, but is Lord over the law and all things, thus also the faith of a Christian church should not suffer it. For through Christ and his baptism we are to be so highly exalted and liberated that our conscience according to faith may know no law, but simply remain unmastered and unjudged by the same, that nothing else may be so cheerful to us according to the internal experience of conscience, than as though no law had ever appeared on earth, neither ten nor one commandment, either of God, or the Pope, or the emperor; but at all times stand in liberty, that we can say: I know no law, and do not desire to know any.


12. For in this state and nature by virtue of which we became Christians, all human works cease, and hence all law. For where there is no work, there can be no law to demand work and to say: do this, leave that; but we are through baptism and through the blood of Christ simply free from all works, and justified by mere grace and mercy, and even live before God alone by them. This is, I say, our treasure, according to which we are Christians and live and stand before God. For how we should live according to the outward life in our flesh and blood before the world, has nothing whatever to do here.


13. Therefore a Christian must so learn to rule his conscience before God as not to permit himself to be ensnared by any law, but whenever his faith is attacked by the law, let him defend himself against it, and act as Christ does here and in other places, where he shows himself so firm, exceptional and odd, that neither Moses nor any legal exacter can do anything with him, although he is otherwise the most humble, the most gentle and friendly of men.


14. However, this is an excellent and sublime art, which no one knows but he alone who was the master of it, who was able to defy all laws and teachers of law. But we cannot attain to this high degree, for the devil sports with our flesh and blood, when he attacks a man in his conscience and makes him tell what he has done and not done, and disputes with him both concerning his sins and piety. Here a man is drawn into a pit of clay and deep mire, so that he cannot extricate himself, but only sinks deeper and deeper. For it rests upon him as a heavy load and presses him down, so that he is not able to rise above it, under which he goes on and consumes himself with it, and can not obtain peace. As I also feel in my own experience, when with my labor I can not extricate myself, although I labor incessantly, and though I strangle myself to get out of the pit, that I might rise above the law, and accomplish enough to compel it to be quiet and say: Well, you have done sufficient, now I am satisfied with thee! But it amounts to nothing, for it is such a deep pit and mire, out of which no one can emerge, even if he take the whole world to his assistance, as all can bear me witness who have tried it, and still daily experience.


15. Now the cause of this is that our entire nature is so that it is in short inclined to be occupied with works and laws and hear what they dictate and follow those who say: Why does he eat with publicans and sinners? If he would eat and drink with us, then he would do right. Again: Why do your disciples pluck the ears of corn and do what one ought not to do on the Sabbath day? And they always act and dispute with the law until it says: Now you are good. For it can not rise higher nor understand anything better than that the doctrine of the law is the highest doctrine, and its righteousness is the best life before God. Thus human nature remains in the law, forever captive and bound. And as it lays hold and makes the attempt, it can never quiet the law, so that it has nothing to demand or to punish, but is compelled to remain captive under the law as in a perpetual prison. And the longer human nature struggles and afflicts itself with the law, the worse it becomes until entirely overcome.


16. What then am I to do when the law attacks me and oppresses my conscience, because I am conscious of not having done what it requires? I answer: Behold what Christ does here, he sets his head against it, and grows firm, and allows no law to be forced upon him, even though it be taken from the law of God. Thus you must learn to do, and flatly say to it: My dear law, let your contention cease, and go your own way, for I have nothing to do with thee; yes, just because you come to dispute with me and inquire how good I am, I will not hear thee; for nothing avails before this judge, with whom we now dispute, nothing what I am and shall do or not do; but only what Christ is, gives and does. For we are now in the bridal chamber, where the bride and the bridegroom should be alone, you have no right to enter there, or speak on this subject.


17. However in this very way the law still continues to  knock and say: Yes, nevertheless you must do good works, keep God's commandment, if you want to be saved. Here answer again: Do you not clearly hear, that it avails nothing now to consider this. For I have already my righteousness and the sum of all salvation in Christ my Lord without any works, and I was already saved long before thou camest, so that I have no need whatever of thee. For as I said, where works are of no avail, the law also amounts to nothing, and where no law is there is also no sin. Therefore nothing shall rule here except the bride alone in the bridal chamber with Christ, in whom she possesses all things together, and lacks nothing that is necessary unto salvation, and the law must remain excluded with drums and trumpets, and courageously despised and banished when it would attack the conscience. For it does not belong here, it comes out of season, and wants to make a great ado where it should not intrude, for here we are in the sphere of the article of faith; I believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, who suffered for me, died and was buried, rose again from the dead, etc. Before him must give place the law of Moses, of the emperor and of God, and I am to repel everything that would dispute with me about sin, right or wrong, and everything I may do.


18. Behold, Christ would here present to us such liberty, so that we as Christians according to our faith may tolerate no other master, but only hold that we are baptized and called unto Christ, and through him have become justified and sanctified, and say: This is my righteousness, my treasure, my work and everything against sin and wrong, which the law can do and bring against me. If you want another righteousness, work, law, sin, then take them where you may, you will not find them in me. In this way a man may defend himself and withstand the suggestions and temptations of the devil, either referring to past or present sins; so that these two may be kept wide apart, Moses and Christ, works and faith, conscience and the outward life; so that when the law attacks me and would terrify my heart, then it is time to give the good law a furlough, and if  it will not go, bravely drive it away, and say: Gladly would I do and promote good works where I can at the proper time, when among the people; but here where my conscience must stand before God, I will know nothing of them, in this only let me alone, and do not speak to me of what I do or fail to do. Here I will not listen either to Moses or the Pharisees, but my baptism and Christ only shall reign here in full sway, and I will like Mary sit at his feet and hear his Word. But Martha must stay out and go about in the kitchen and do her housework, and in short, leave the conscience alone.


19. But how is it, if I still continually have sin in me, that is certainly not right? I answer: It is true, I am a sinner and do wrong; but I am not going to despair on that account nor run straight to hell, or flee from the law; for I have still a righteousness and work far above Moses, by which I apprehend him who has apprehended me, and I cleave to him who has embraced me in baptism and laid me in his bosom, and by his Gospel has promoted me to the fellowship of all his benefits, and commands me to believe in him. Where he is, there I command the Pharisees, and Moses with his tables, all lawyers with their books, all men with their works, immediately to be silent and depart. For here no law has any right to accuse or demand, although I have not done it nor can I do it, for in Christ I have all things in abundance, whatever I need or lack.


20. Such, I say, is the Christian's doctrine and skill, and it belongs only where Christ reigns, and the conscience acts as in God's presence. But this is not preached to rough, impudent and light-minded people, who understand nothing of it, and who as St. Peter says in his second Epistle, 3:6, only confuse and pervert such doctrine to their own condemnation, from which they take license to live as they please, and say: Ho! why shall I do good works? What harm is it if I am a sinner? Has not Christ abolished the law? Now, this too will not avail, for here you must view Christ from another point, and observe what he further does. For here he himself says that he is the man who  seeks the poor lost sheep, and besides proves it by his present deed, in that he receives publicans and sinners, and preaches to them. Here you will see that he does a great deal more than what the law has commanded, and by his example also teaches thee to do likewise. He is so proud that he will not be under the law; and again he is so willing that he desires to do much more than the law can require. Do thou also likewise, and wait not first until you are driven and tormented with the law, but do what you should of your own accord without the law, as St Peter admonishes, 1 Pet. 2:16As free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bond servants of God;” and in Rom. 6:18 says: ”And being made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness.” These are they who do all things with a free conscience without the coercing of the law.


21. For where the Gospel is truly in the heart, it creates a new man who does not wait until the law comes, but, being so full of joy in Christ, and of desire and love for that which is good, he gladly helps and does good to every one wherever he can, from a free heart, before he ever once thinks of the law. He wholly risks his body and life, without asking what he must suffer on account of it, and thus abounds in good works which flow forth of themselves. Just like Christ will not be compelled to pick up a straw, but without compulsion he permits himself to be nailed to the cross for me and the whole world, and dies for the lost sheep. This may indeed be called work above work.


22. Therefore learn now carefully to discriminate, both rightly to place and to divide these things, when it comes to the test, and when the law and sin would dispute with the conscience, that you courageously take the word out of the mouth of Moses and tell him to be still, and order him out to your old man, whom you are to lead into the school of Moses, that he may dispute with him and say: Listen, you are both lazy and slow to do good, and to serve your neighbor. When you should praise Christ, you rather drink a bottle of beer. And before you expose yourself to danger for Christ's sake, you prefer to rob and cheat your neighbor wherever you can. For the same lazy scoundrel who will not move, whose hands will not work, whose feet will not go where they should, whose eyes are not chaste, here you may take stones and smite the old Adam until he does move.


23. Therefore, when Moses attacks me where it is right, I am to say to him, I will gladly hear and follow thee, namely with my hands and life, aside from the faith and righteousness of my conscience before God, there thou mayest reign like a schoolmaster amid the servants of the family, and order me to be obedient, chaste and patient, to do good to my neighbor, to help the poor, to praise and honor God, besides allow myself to be disgraced and slandered for the sake of his Word, and suffer the world to bring upon me all its torments. In all this I am well pleased, and am willing to do even more than I am able as to the outward man. For Christ says the spirit is willing, and more than willing, but the flesh is weak. For thus he permits himself to be circumcised, to offer in the temple, to be scourged and crucified, none of which was necessary for him, nor could the law demand them from him. But should Moses go further, where he has no right, that is, into my heart and conscience, there I will neither hear nor see him. For there I have another great and unspeakable treasure, called Christ, with his baptism and Gospel. In a word, what concerns the outer man, there Moses cannot burden nor urge too much, but he dare not in the least burden the conscience. For where the Spirit is who brings us Christ, he is above all law, as St. Paul says, 1 Tim. 1:9: ”That law is not made for a righteous man,” and yet he at the same time does more than he is able to accomplish according to the flesh. For after the flesh we are nothing but sinners, and as to our person we would of course have to remain condemned under the law; but by virtue of Christ and baptism we rise high above all law.


24. Thus let Moses carry on his rough work, aside from Christ to urge those who are not Christians, or ever spur the old Adam. For Christians he cannot thereby make either pious or righteous; but of course he does this, namely, he shows them their duty, which according to the Spirit they gladly do, and much more besides, except that the flesh does not willingly follow nor obey the Spirit, so that on this account they still need not be admonished and urged. But at the same time the conscience must remain free, for the law has no right here before God to accuse and condemn. Wherefore in Christianity such doctrine and admonition must be upheld, as even the Apostles did, whereby every one is admonished and reminded of the duty of his calling.


25. But Moses must be allowed to have absolute rule over those who are not Christians, and burden them both outwardly and inwardly, so that he may force and torment them to do what is right and omit what is wrong, although they do it not gladly, like the licentious multitude and stiffnecked people, who neither esteem nor understand the liberty of Christ, although they can prate and boast of the Gospel, and yet they only misuse it for their licentiousness. They should remember that they belong under Moses. For they are not people who can grasp our doctrine. They go along so securely and think they have no need of the Gospel, or that they know it well enough; but it is only for those who thus dispute with the law because of their sins and the wrath of God, and are frightened by it and feel their hearts say to them: Woe is me! how have I lived? How shall I stand before God? And thus they go about too timid and bashful, whereas others are too hard and presumptious, so that they neither feel nor care for any law nor for their sins and distress. Hence to both it is unequally distributed, so that those who ought to have nothing to do with the law are the only ones to feel it and they have too much of it; but the others, who only ought to feel it, do not concern themselves about it at all; yes, the more you try to terrify them with the law and the wrath of God, the harder they become. Therefore they need another master, namely, the hangman and the sheriff to teach them; if they will not do good in God's name, that they may be obliged to do it in the name of some one else, and have no thanks for it, but receive hell-fire and all torments as their reward.


26. On the contrary, Christ, here and everywhere, as I have said, teaches us, who feel our sins and the burden of the law, and would gladly be Christians, both by his example and his sermons, to accustom ourselves to contend against it, and directs us from ourselves to himself, and not to give place to the devil, who by the law would invade the bride chamber of Christ, and sit in his place, that is, rob the conscience of its joy and comfort, in order that he may force man into despair, so as not to be able to lift up his head or heart to God. For this is called the Christian's art, who should learn and know more than the vulgar, profane crowd can know and understand, namely, that they are able to contend against and withstand the devil, when he attacks us and desires to dispute with us with the aid of Moses; so that we simply allow him no argument or conversation, but direct him from Moses to Christ and stay with the latter; for he only goes about cunningly to bring us from Christ under Moses; for he knows when he accomplishes this, he has the victory.


27. Wherefore be on your guard that you be not led from the way or be tempted out of your sphere; but, although he already sets forth many things from the law, which is also God's Word, which you are in duty bound to obey, you can answer him and say: Dost thou indeed not understand that I will now neither know nor hear of any law? For we are now within a sphere and on ground, where there is no question as to what I shall do or leave undone. I already know well enough, that I have not done, nor do I do, what the law requires; but here is the question, how may I acquire a gracious God and the forgiveness of sins, and how shall I learn the article of faith concerning Christ? Here I will abide in the arms of Christ and hang about his neck, and creep into his baptism, God grant it, and let the law say and my heart feel what they may. If we can only keep this chief part pure, and this bulwark firm and well secured, then I will gladly do and suffer externally as much as is laid upon me.


28. Behold, whoever learns this art well is a truly perfect man, as Christ was, so far above all law that he might also call St. Peter a devil, the Pharisees fools and blind leaders, and stop the mouth of Moses and order him to keep quiet, and thus live entirely without any law, and yet fulfill all laws and be proud and firm against everything that would bind and lead him captive, and yet also of his own free self be serviceable and subject unto all men.


29. But here we are always deficient, that we can never properly learn this, for the devil lies in our path and leads us so far that we pervert it and are only too willing and modest to hear everything the law says and become frightened at it, when we should raise our head and neither hear nor follow it. Again, in external matters, we are only too liable to fall into license, when we should courageously keep down the body and exercise it with the law, that it may be compelled to suffer everything that causes it pain, because it still continually commits sin; yet, so that sin here remain without, where it should remain, and have its Moses to lay upon its back and oppress it. But internally no sin or law ought to reign, but Christ alone with pure grace, joy and consolation. Then all things would go right, and man would be prepared for every good work, both to do and suffer all things with joy, with a glad and willing heart, out of good, honest faith in the grace of God through Christ, [so that the conscience remain a master over all laws, and the flesh be subject to all laws.]


30. Now, whoever can do such things, let him thank God, and see to it, that he be able to do it only not too well or loudly boast that he has great skill. For I, and those like me, can not yet accomplish it as we should, although we have indeed tried it most and practiced it the longest; for it is, as I have said, a skill that no one possesses but Christians, all of whom must remain scholars and learn it all their lives; except only those other secure spirits, who pretend that they alone know everything, and yet with such pretended skill they know nothing at all, and thereby have departed farthest from it. There is not a more vexatious thing, nor a greater affliction or harm that can happen to Christendom than that everything becomes full of factions and sects through such sophists; while they are only people who serve neither God nor the world, and hear rightly neither the law nor the Gospel, but securely despise the former and become disgusted with the latter, and are always seeking some other doctrine. But we do not preach in their behalf, for they are unworthy of it, and are punished by God so that they can never learn it or derive any benefit from it, although they hear it; also, that we nevertheless only retain it and that they take nothing of it from us, except that they hear only an empty sound and noise of it.


This is the first part which Christ here teaches by his own example; [how we should keep our conscience free from all disputations of the law and from all the terrors of the wrath of God and of sin]. Now let us examine this beautiful sermon of the Lord, where he begins and says:





”What man of you, having a hundred sheep, and having lost one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?”

31. Christ the Lord is not only firm, in that he refuses to obey their doctrine and despotism, but also shows good reasons for doing so, and with great and fine skill overthrows their objections and stops their mouths, so that they have nothing to say against it, yes, he circumvents them by their own actions and example, and forces them in their very hearts to be ashamed of themselves, that they demanded such things of him and blame him in such weighty matters, which they themselves do in much more trifling things, and wish to do them even with honor.


32. For how could he answer them better than to say: You great masters and dear sophists, would you order and teach me that I should thrust from me poor sinners who desire me and come unto me to hear my words? While even you yourselves for the sake of one lost sheep do much more, when among a hundred you miss a single one, you leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, that is, in the field with the shepherds, standing all alone, and run after the one of the hundred and have no rest until you find it, and this you call a good and praiseworthy deed, and if any one would reprove you for it, you would consider him mad and foolish. And should not I, the Saviour of souls, do the same for men as you do for a sheep, although there is no comparison whatever between a soul and everything else that lives and moves of all the creatures on the earth. Then should you not in your hearts be ashamed of yourselves, to boss and reprove me in a work which is infinitely better than the work you yourselves praise and are compelled to praise? So, if you reprove me, you must first condemn yourselves.


33. This is called giving a good answer, and in all honor putting them to silence, while he gives sufficient reasons why he does not at all need their great authority, yea, he will not, neither should he, endure it. And so they run on as is their nature, for they obtain thus nothing but their own sins and shame. For it is truly a shame to all masters, and an insufferable outrage, for them to attempt to dictate to him, who is appointed of God Lord over all. But it ought to be as I said, whoever desires to direct and judge a Christian, and lead him away from his baptism and the article of faith in Christ, and to govern him by his wisdom and laws, does not only make a fool of himself, but also causes abomination and murder; for he defiles God's temple and sanctuary, and with a devilish outrage invades his kingdom, where he alone should reign through his Holy Spirit. Wherefore he fairly and justly deserves that God should also put him to sin and shame before all the world, because he wants to be a master in the devil's name, whereas Christ alone is master, and with his head he runs against him who is too high and wise for him.


34. Therefore it is not a good thing to trifle with Christians, for they are living saints, who are undisturbed before all the world only because of their man whose name is Christ; for men gain nothing in him at any rate, as he will not suffer others to teach and rule him. So also a Christian can and should not suffer it, for if he suffers it and gives place and yields to suggestions of this kind, where one would blame and master Christ in him, or attack his faith with the law and doctrine of works, then he is lost and fallen from Christ. Therefore let us only hold firmly to him, and care not if the whole world outwits and masters us. For when we abide in him and hold fast to the true sense of this article of faith, we will easily overcome all such fanatics and put them to shame. For this Christ shall and will remain uncorrected and without a master, but he alone will rule and reform the whole world, so that they shall either by grace acknowledge him as their Lord and Master, and themselves as fools, or without grace be exposed to shame and utterly perish.


35. But, as I have said, this sermon is much too good, sweet and comforting for the coarse, rough crowd, and the mad, knotty mob, and so we do not preach it to them that they may know it; but only to those who are in the terrors and anxiety of conscience, or in the danger and toils of death, and when the devil disputes with them about their sins, to drive them into melancholy and despair. To those this lovely picture must be presented, that they may become comforted and joyful. But the rest, who already live in drunkenness and know but very little of melancholy and spiritual sorrow, are to be diverted to Moses and mister hangman and his servants, and afterwards to the devil. For it is painted so very friendly and much better than any man can paint it, and no one is so eloquent as to outline it or equal it with words, but as much as possible it must be grasped by faith in the heart. However, we must notice a little of it, so as to give an occasion to meditate upon it.


36. Christ says I have a hundred sheep, that is, the little flock of entire Christendom, from which number one is lost and fallen from the communion of Christians. If you would know how it is with my heart, only truly describe such a shepherd and his lost sheep!


37. For while the shepherd is merely a man and tends the dumb animals, created to be slaughtered and killed, yet he has such a sympathetic heart for his lost sheep, that he is in as great anxiety to find the sheep as it is to find its shepherd. For as soon as the sheep knows, as it does by instinct, that he is its shepherd, it is not at all afraid, but runs up to him with all confidence, and walks along before him in perfect trust. Yes, as soon as it only hears his voice, it bleats and runs after him, and has no rest until it comes to him. And thus there is of course the purest friendship and love between them both, and they have toward each other only one heart and one mind; so that if the lamb could speak and pour out its heart, it would desire nothing but its shepherd. Again, the shepherd has no other cares and anxieties than how he may again find his precious pet, that has gone from him and strayed away. He makes haste, and sends out servants wherever he thinks it may be found, and never ceases until he has found it and brought it home. For he knows well enough what a poor animal it is, as it can live only by the help and under the protection of its shepherd, and can not at all care for itself, but is wholly lost and must perish, if deprived of its shepherd, and besides it is naturally fearful and inclined to stray; and as soon as it leaves the way and loses the shepherd, it is at once discomfited and can not rest, although it comes among other shepherds and sheep, and the stranger calls it, yet it runs in its fright through briers and water and everything before it until it falls a prey to the wolf or otherwise perishes.


38. But still it has in it the virtue and good nature, that it holds with all diligence to its shepherd and knows his voice so well, and when it hears it, it runs immediately to him, and will not permit itself to be taken from him, though all the world may call and coax. And though it be already lost or gone astray, still it has the hope as much as instinct gives it, if it can only once again hear its shepherd, it  would be cheerful and void of all care. Thus the shepherd is not for the purpose, when he finds it again, to be angry at it and thrust it away, or to cast it into the jaws of the wolf; but all his cares and thoughts are, only to allure it in the most friendly manner and treat it in the tenderest way, he takes it upon his shoulders, holds and carries it, until he again brings it home.


39. The picture painted before us by this creature of God is, how Christ shows his disposition toward us, what he will do for us and what we may expect from him. For, as all this is true in nature, much more is it true in the kingdom of Christ, which is a kingdom of grace, pure love and consolation. Wherefore keep in mind this sheep that belongs to the shepherd, then you will also find, with how much more and greater affection he takes it to himself and how friendly and perfectly and heartily he cares for it, to bring it back. By this he would set forth and indeed poor out his inexhaustible love and ardent desire toward poor, sinful, frightened and weak consciences, which are his true sheep.


40. For when a man has lost this shepherd and does not hear his voice, it is with him exactly as with the lost sheep, which always wanders ever farther and farther from him. And though be even be allured and called by strange doctrines to run over to them and think it is coming to its shepherd, yet it does not find him, but always runs from one corner to another, and the longer it runs the farther it goes astray, and it has no comfort nor help, until it again hears the voice of its true Shepherd ringing in its ears. As also experience plainly shows us, and every one can experience it in his own heart. For if the second article of the creed concerning Christ be taken away or not taught, then here comes a factious spirit, there a fanatic, where one perverts the sacrament of the altar, the other baptism, and one preaches this, the other that, concerning strange holiness of life, and each one entices the poor sheep to himself, and pretends to be the Shepherd, by which the sheep strays more and more, until it loses the way altogether.


41. Moreover, the devil also joins in with his own thoughts, which he shoots into the heart: Ah, if you had done this and that, or not done it! by which the heart becomes only more fickle and erring, that it does not know whither to go. This certainly takes place when Christ is removed out of sight, and the article of faith concerning him is not taught. It matters not how they teach, advise and admonish, it will only be worse and approach nearer destruction, unless the true Shepherd with his own voice comes again to him.


42. Therefore we should now learn rightly to know and recognize Christ our Lord, that we may not regard him as a tyrant or an angry judge, as hitherto he has been preached to us, and as the devil always presents him to the heart, as one standing behind us with a sword. But as the little lamb naturally beholds its shepherd, not at all as one who would frighten, hunt and strike it down, but as soon as it first sees him, it becomes happy and obtains a hope as though it received help already, and needs no more to fear or care, and runs straight up to him with all confidence.


43. Thus too, if our confidence is to begin, and we become strengthened and comforted, we must well learn the voice of our Shepherd, and let all other voices go, who only lead us astray, and chase and drive us hither and thither. We must hear and grasp only that article which presents Christ to us in the most friendly and comforting manner possible. So that we can say with all confidence: My Lord Jesus Christ is truly the only Shepherd, and I, alas, the lost sheep, which has strayed into the wilderness, and I am anxious and fearful, and would gladly be good, and have a gracious God and peace of conscience, but here I am told that He is as anxious for me as I am for him. I am anxious and in pain about how I shall come to him to secure help, But he is in anxiety and worry and desires nothing else than to bring me again to himself.


44. Behold, if we could thus portray his heart, and press it into our own heart, that he has such a gushing desire, anxiety and longing for us, then we could not dread or fear him, but would joyfully run up to him and abide with him alone, and hear no other doctrine or teacher. For wherever a different doctrine comes, be it of Moses or others, it will certainly accomplish nothing, except only to hunt us down and torment us, so that we can find neither rest nor peace. Wherefore Christ also says, Mat. 11:28-29: ”Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest for your souls.” As though he would say: Run about and seek wherever you will, hear and learn everything that man can preach, yet you will find no rest nor peace of heart except in me alone.


45. We will gladly permit the preaching of good works, the ten commandments and all other moral teaching; but to preach to the conscience bound in torment and terror on account of its sins, there shall positively be no other word preached except the Word of Christ. For this is that poor lost sheep, which neither shall nor can have and suffer any master, except this its only Shepherd, who does not deal with it by compulsions and the requirements of the law, but in the sweetest and tenderest manner, and takes upon himself the dear sheep with all its distress, sins and anxiety, and himself does what the sheep should do, as we shall hear further.


46. But, as I have sufficiently said before, we must well distinguish here between two kinds of preaching, or the voice of Moses and the voice of Christ, that by no means you may permit any Moses to come to the lost sheep, though his preaching be ever so excellent. For if these things be confused and we attempt to comfort the troubled conscience with the law thus: Be of good cheer, you have not committed murder nor adultery and done any other outrage, or you have indeed meant it all good! This also is comfort, but it will not last long nor hold out against the cuffs of the devil. For this is nothing more nor less than a consolation with yourself, by which the poor sheep is not benefited, for it remains astray and lost in spite of this, and it can not help itself or come to its Shepherd.


47. However, if he is to be helped, he must be shown the true Shepherd, who comes and seeks him to bring him home, and let his voice be heard, then he can receive true comfort, so that he dare answer Moses and say: I now no longer care either for thy comfort or terror, and you may make me just as bad as you can, you may make me a murderer time and again, and say I have hanged my father and mother; but now, because I am in anxiety and terror before the wrath of God and eternal condemnation, I will neither hear nor obey thee. For I myself feel and confess, that I am, alas, a poor lost sheep; but this is my salvation and comfort in which I triumph, that I have the Shepherd who himself seeks me, his lost sheep, and carries me on his shoulders. Let us now discuss this, and not how good or bad I am, but, how I am to come to Christ.


48. Therefore, all preaching must be adapted to the capacity of the hearers. For I have said that this doctrine is not suited to a carnal and hardened man, even as it does not profit to give a hardy thresher sugar and costly delicacies, which are intended for the sick, but give him a good piece of hard bread and cheese and a drink of water. But other soft and delicate food reserve for the sick and young children, who cannot digest anything hard. Thus you must also observe here how rightly to divide and give each one his proper portion, like a prudent householder. Likewise, that you hold fast to the preaching of Moses and the law, until you find hard and vicious people, who live secure and without fear. These you must permit to eat only the coarse food of common laborers, that is, to hear the angry Moses, who thunders and flashes from Mount Sinai, who destroys the children of Israel and slays them in the desert, and drowns King Pharaoh in the Red Sea.


49. But wherever there are troubled, weak hearts and consciences, which have now become lost sheep, there keep silent about Moses and all the works of God, done under the law, and speak only of the works done by Christ in the time of grace, and well impress the poor conscience how he shows himself toward the lost Sheep; namely, that he is  the dear, good Shepherd, who is so anxious and concerned about the sheep that he drops everything and leaves all lay, only that he may find it again, and never ceases until he brings it home. For it grieves him that a man should remain in sin, fear and tremble; and he cannot endure it, that he remains there and perishes. But he calls to thee with his Gospel in the most friendly manner, that you should only come to him, and be taken up and carried on his shoulders, and remain his dear sheep.


50. But that multitude must not be called the lost sheep, which lives securely and riotously and do not concern themselves whether God above is angry or laughs, for it is a wild goat that will not be either led or protected. But those are called the stray, lost sheep, whose sins oppress them and who struggle in the conflict of faith, where there is no danger of losing Moses but Christ and his chief article of faith, that is, where the conscience is in anxiety and worry as to whether God is merciful to him? This is the true sheep which sighs and cries for its Shepherd, and would be glad for help, as David says, Ps. 119:176: ”I am gone astray like a lost sheep, seek thy servant,” etc. To those the sugar and this friendly sweet refreshment tastes good, by which the heart is revived that it may not despair, but that it may raise itself up again by such consolation, not through Moses but in Christ; not in order to make Moses his friend or be able to quiet his voice, but because he has a gracious God in his Lord and Christ. God grant it. Let Moses abide with his comfort where he can.


51. Although it is also a fine thing and should be so, that a man should not live contrary to the law, rob, steal, murder, or do his neighbor wrong and cause him pain; yet such a life does not give the heart true comfort, but only tickles the skin, which does not enter the heart nor lasts. For when the devil comes and seizes the heart, he takes away all such comfort, and although you have even done right, yet he of course prefers tenfold against it, where you did the contrary. Yea, in the very best works he can easily find much uncleanness, and turn everything to sin. Therefore nothing can be built on such comfort, but only courageously cast it away, and say: God grant, whether I be good or not, this I will reserve for its proper place, when we come to teach and treat of works; but in this circle in which I now stand, it avails nothing to treat of my works and goodness, but of Christ and his works which he has done for me as his lost sheep. If now you ask whether I am good, I will simply answer: No, and I do not want to be in this circle of good people.


52. But if you ask whether Christ is good, then without hesitation I can say yes, and present him as my righteousness, and defiantly appeal to him. For in him I have been baptized, and I have the seal and document here in the Gospel, that I am his dear sheep, and he is my good and pious Shepherd who seeks his lost sheep, and deals with it entirely without the law, demands nothing of me, neither drives, threats nor frigbtens, but shows me pure sweet grace, and humbles himself beneath me and takes me upon himself, that I may only lie on his back and be carried. Why should I then fear the terrors and thunderings of Moses, or the devil besides, because I am in the protection of that man who gives me his holiness and everything he has, to possess it as my own, and who carries and holds me so that I cannot be lost, because I remain a sheep and do not deny the Shepherd or maliciously fall from him.


53. Thus you have this picture presented in the most lovely manner it is possible to present it. But all this is done only on account of faith. For the picture is indeed fine and full of comfort, and is the truth itself. But it is wanting in this, that it is not felt in experience as it should be. For while the sheep runs astray, that is, when man feels his sins and they oppress him, and he does not know where to stand, and the devil terrifies him; then only the contrary takes place, and he cannot grasp that it is true, for all that he has here heard entirely departs through his present feelings and experience. For the devil has so perverted his vision that he sees nothing but God's wrath and indignation, by which his heart is so burdened that he cannot raise himself above it or turn his eyes from it, for he has so deeply sunk into it that he sees nothing else even in Christ than an angry Judge, as he has been hitherto described and forced into all hearts by the scandalous Papists as sitting alone on the rainbow with a sword in his mouth.


54. For the real art and roguery of the devil, which he practices on the poor wandering sheep, are that he perverts this picture and makes a continual bawling in his presence, that he can no more recognize his Shepherd, so that in Christ's name he might lead the man subject to Moses, as he disputes about Christ just as he did before about Moses, so that he indeed needs a strong faith that it is true, and a man first of all must contend against himself on this account. For his own feeling is powerful in itself, and the devil magnifies sin and terror so greatly, that nerve and bone, and the heart in the body, could fail.


55. Therefore it is not so easily learned as some imagine. When all is peace it is easily believed that Christ is sweet and amiable, but when anxiety and terror break forth and overwhelm the heart, then man is blind and wandering, and will judge only according to his heart and feelings, to which he clings and confirms himself in his error, for he is held captive in it, and cannot think otherwise but that it is as he feels it, and yet it is not true.


56. Now this would be an art, were he able to say to his heart: If You acknowledge yourself to be a lost sheep, you speak the truth; but that you would on this account flee from Christ, and imagine him to be a man who would hunt you down and frighten you, this is the work of the sorry devil himself. For if you rightly behold and confess him as your true Shepherd, you would neither be afraid nor frightened at him, but you would run up to him with joy and confidence. For he is not present here to condemn thee, but he comes to seek thee, to carry you on his back, to help and deliver you from sin, error, the power of the devil and every misfortune. If you now feel that you are a sinner and have deserved the wrath of God, then you should just on this account the more earnestly cry and run to your dear Shepherd, that he might deliver you, and you should not imagine him to be anything else than the sheep does its shepherd, which cannot fear him, but is glad and happy as soon as it sees and hears him, although it has strayed away from him, and deserved on this account to fear him. But it knows full well that he bears no anger or indignation against such a sheep, and can expect nothing of him but love and every good thing.


57. Hence everything here depends only upon this, that you rightly learn to look upon Christ according to the Word, and not according to your own thoughts and feelings, for human thoughts are frauds and lies, but his Word is true and cannot lie. For he has even proved it by living deeds and examples, and daily proves it still throughout the whole of Christendom. Wherefore we must only press the Word close to our hearts, and knit ourselves into it and learn the art to reprove our own heart with its lies, and set this article of faith against it. For this alone must remain true, and everything opposed to it, must be false and a pack of lies. But this is an art which I cannot master, and much less can other vain spirits, who boast so much of it, as though they knew it all, if they have only heard it but once, and yet they never taste or experience anything of it. For it is an easy matter to speak and preach about it; but how difficult it is to prove it in reality, which those thoroughly experience, who are earnestly concerned about it.


58. Now this is the first description of the lovely Christ, set forth by himself in this Gospel, that he pours out all his heart and is so anxious for the sheep, that he goes after it alone, leaving the ninety and nine; not to frighten or strike it, but to help it and bring it home again, and to rejoice the wretched and sorrowful heart and conscience by his sweet and friendly voice, so that on both sides there is nothing but hearty love and joy for each other, that you can see what great love and pleasure you thereby afford him, when you cleave to him with the whole heart and look to him for every good thing.


59. You see in the second place how he pours out his joy and unspeakable goodness by external signs and gestures of every kind, and how, when he has found the sheep, he shows himself so friendly, for he does not deal with it at all according to his own law or force, to which indeed he has a right, to drive it before him like the other sheep, and leave it go alone. On the contrary he lays hold and puts it on his shoulders and carries it himself the whole way through the wilderness, takes all the labor and trouble upon himself only in order that the sheep may have rest and a home, and he does it gladly and heartily for he is full of pure joy, only because he once more has it in his care. And observe also how well it is with the sheep, how it lies in all peace and safety upon the shoulders of its Shepherd, and how well pleased it is that it lies so softly and does not need to travel, is safe and without care, both from dogs and wolves, that is, from all error and lies, danger and destruction. This is indeed a friendly painting, excellent, lovely and refreshing to behold.


60. For just so Christ our Lord does when he delivers us, which he once did bodily by his sufferings and death, but now he continually does in power and spirit by his Word. In this way he lays us on his shoulders, carries and defends us, that we may be safe from all danger of sin, of death and the devil; although they even terrify us, and act as if they would tear us away and devour us. For being thus carried is our salvation, and we remain safe from every peril and need fear nothing; just like the precious lamb that lays on the shoulders of the Shepherd will not let itself be disturbed, although the dogs already like fiends bark, and the wolf lurks about, while it hangs its head without any care and sweetly sleeps. So we do also, if we stand and abide in this article of faith: I believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who suffered, died and rose again for us, etc., then we need not worry about being lost, or that the devil can devour us, though he even opens his jaws ever so wide. For we are not then on our own way, nor do we walk with our own feet, but hang about the neck of our dear Shepherd and lay upon his back, where we are entirely safe. For although sin, death and hell appear ever so wicked and terrible, they cannot devour him; otherwise we poor sheep would too soon be lost and destroyed.


61. For even as the sheep cannot protect or provide for itself that it go not astray, unless the shepherd continually directs and leads it in the way; and when it has strayed and is lost, it cannot of itself find the right way or come to its shepherd, but the shepherd himself must go after it, and seek it until he find it, and when he has found it, he holds and bears it upon his back, that it may no more be frightened away from him, hunted or seized by the wolf. So we too cannot either help or advise ourselves, that we may obtain rest and peace of conscience, and escape the devil, death and hell, unless Christ himself brings us again and calls us to himself by his Word. And when we come to him and are in a state of faith, even then we are not able to keep ourselves in faith or be steadfast, unless he himself by his Word and power holds and carries us, because the devil every way and without ceasing watches for us, end lurks, round about us like a roaring lion, as St. Peter In 1 Pet. 5:8 says, to devour us. So that here it avails nothing whatever to boast of our free will and strength, either to begin or continue our return to the Shepherd, and to abide with him, but Christ alone, our Shepherd, must do everything.


62. But now we are certain of this, that as long as we lie around the neck of Christ, we shall be safe from all terror and misfortune. For he will certainly not permit us to be torn from his neck, norr will he cast us off, because he is so happy and of good cheer that he once again has his sheep, and can bring it back to the rest of the flock. In short, there is nothing here of terror, driving and commanding, but a simple friendly carrying and a mere life of grace, by which he cares for his sheep in the tenderest manner. On the contrary, Moses, not like a shepherd of poor, weak sheep, but of rough, strong cattle, with his staff and rod drives his herd before him a three days journey into the wilderness, Ex. 3:1, until they become weary; for such treatment is proper for hardened and proud people.


63. Even we also, when we come under Moses, namely, according to the flesh and the external life, must then go ourselves and do what the law demands. But according to our faith we must not suffer any work to be forced upon us or required of us, but only permit ourselves to be carried and raised up most tenderly, not on horse and chariot, but on his own back and shoulders. Which, as I said, is done, when he permits his Word to be preached unto us, that he died for us, and bore our sins in his own body on the cross, and put the devil with death and sin under his feet, and has led us unto eternal life, and always carries us as long as we live, so that we need not look to our life, how good and strong we are, but only lie upon his shoulders. For in this circle or article of faith we need not be troubled about any sin, death or life, but we have all things in Christ who carries and defends us.


64. Now he is not satisfied with the two parts, that he so lovingly seeks the lost sheep, and carries it so gently and with joy; but also when he brings it home he appoints a special feast and season of joy, and calls together his friends and neighbors that they may rejoice with him. Yea, he makes such a great jubilee, that God in heaven together with all the heavenly hosts and all creatures rejoice over one sinner that repenteth. By this he shows and explains who it is that is called a lost sheep, namely, the sinner who repents, that is, who feels his sins and is heartily sorry on account of them, and would gladly be free from them and come to Christ and amend his life, which is called having a miserable, sorrowful heart and an afflicted conscience, which the devil attacks, that it might perish with sorrow and sadness. For Christ is such a man who seeks and carries no sheep except that which is lost and knows no refuge or help of its own.


65. And now consider, how could he preach still more friendly and comfortingly, or what more should he do to make the heart joyful, and awaken a strong confidence in him? Since we see such a Shepherd, we miserable sinners are painted forth by him, who so unwillingly loses his sheep and so anxiously seeks it, and when he has found it carries it with all joy, and spreads forth such joy that all the angels and saints in heaven, yea, and all creatures rejoice and smile over us so friendly, that even the sun must shine much more lovely. For as it is natural that when a man is sorrowful, the sun and everything looks dark to him, and again when the heart is happy, then man appears twice as joyful, and everything looks to him lighter and brighter.


66. Now he who can firmly believe this, shall also receive true consolation and joy in and through Christ the Lord, because he has here the certain promise, that if he cleave thus unto Christ, and permit himself to be carried on his shoulders, that he is a dear guest in the kingdom of heaven, and will be received with great joy.


67. But we have altogether a different feeling in the sorrow and melancholy of the conscience, when the heart cannot think otherwise than that every angel stands behind us with a drawn sword, so that we can have no good cheer either from God or angels, that even some cannot behold any creature with joy, and fear the friendly sun itself, yea, every leaf that stirs. All which arises from tormenting and consuming themselves with their own thoughts, from which they would gladly disentangle themselves, and labor so much and feel so good that they need not fear; but by this they only make the evil worse.


68. But if you desire to possess true comfort and joy in your soul, then only learn to impress this lovely picture and word of this Gospel in your heart, that you may seek it where it is to be found, namely, in Christ, and nowhere else. For in this man you will find all things, if you only remain under his protection and lie still upon his shoulders. But whatever joy may be sought outside of him, never enters the heart, even if you took to your aid all creatures, and had in one place the joy and pleasure of the whole world.











ROMANS 8:18-22


ROMANS 8:18-22.

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to vanity not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.



1. Paul’s language here is peculiar. He speaks in a manner wholly different from the other apostles. There is something particularly strange about the first sentences of the passage. His words must be faithfully studied and their meaning learned by personal experience. The Christian life consists altogether in the practice and experience of what the Word of God tells us. He who has no experimental knowledge of the Word will have but little conception and appreciation of Paul’s words here. Indeed, they will be wholly unintelligible to him.


2. Up to the point where our text begins, Paul has been assuring us in this epistle that through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ we attain the high privilege of calling God our Father; that the Holy Spirit bears witness in our hearts of our sonship, and makes us bold enough to come, by faith in Christ the Mediator, joyfully before God, trusting him to fill and bless us. Then Paul draws the conclusion, first, that we are children of God; next, he says: “If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” The second conclusion is the outcome of the first. For the reason that we have the boldness and assurance to call God our Father in sincerity and nothing doubting, we are become not only children but heirs, heirs of God and brethren to Christ, joint-heirs with him. But all this, as Paul says, is true “if so be that we suffer with him” ( Romans 8:7).


3. The high prerogative of heirship, Paul faithfully enjoins, is dependent on a sacred duty. Let him who would be Christ’s brother, and joint-heir with him, remember he must also be a joint-martyr and joint-sufferer with Christ. The apostle’s meaning is: Many are the Christians, indeed, who would be joint-heirs with Christ and gladly enjoy the privilege of sharing his inheritance, but who object to suffering with him; they separate themselves from him because unwilling to participate in his pain. But Paul says this will not do. The inheritance follows only as a consequence of the suffering. Since Christ, our dear Lord and Savior, had to suffer before he could be glorified, we must be martyrs with him, with him be mocked by the world, despised, spit upon, crowned with thorns and put to death, before the inheritance will be ours. It cannot be otherwise. A consistent sympathy is essential to Christian faith and doctrine. He who would be Christ’s brother and fellow-heir must also suffer with him. He who would live with Christ must first die with him. The members of a family not only enjoy good together but also share in their ills. As the saying is, “He who would be a companion in eating must also be a companion in labor.”


4. Paul would earnestly admonish us not to become false Christians who look to find in Christ mere pleasure and enjoyment, but to remember that if we are to participate in the “eternal weight of glory” we must first bear the “light affliction, which is for the moment.” 2 Corinthians 4:17. By the words “if so be that we suffer with him” the writer means that we are to do more than exercise the sympathy that grieves over another’s misfortune, though such sympathy is binding upon Christians and is a superior Christian virtue, a work of mercy: we ourselves must suffer, non solum affectu, sed etiam effectu, that is, we are overwhelmed by like sufferings. As Christ our Lord was persecuted, we also must endure persecution. As the devil harassed him, we also must be harassed unceasingly. And so Satan does torment true Christians. Indeed, were it not for the restraining hand of the Lord our God, the devil would suffer us to have no peace. Paul has reference to a heartfelt sympathy intense enough to enter into actual suffering. He says to the Hebrews ( Hebrews 10:32-23): “Ye endured a great conflict of sufferings; partly, being made a gazing stock both by reproaches and afflictions.”


5. And in the verse preceding our text he tells us that as our blissful inheritance through brotherhood and joint-heirship with Christ is not a mere fancy and false hope of the heart, but a real inheritance, so our sympathy must amount to real suffering, which we take upon ourselves as befitting joint-heirs. Now Paul comforts the Christian in his sufferings with the authority of one who speaks from experience, from thorough acquaintance with his subject. He seems to view this life as through obscurities, while beholding the life to come with clear and unobstructed vision. He says:


“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shal be revealed to usward [in us].”

6. Notice how he turns his back to the world and his face to the future revelation, as if seeing no suffering anywhere, but all joy. “Even if it does go ill with us,” he would argue, “what indeed is our suffering in comparison with the unspeakable joy and glory to be revealed in us? It is too insignificant to be compared and unworthy to be called suffering.” We fail to realize the truth of these words because we do not see with our bodily eyes the supreme glory awaiting us; because we fail to grasp fully the fact that we shall never die but shall have a body that cannot suffer nor be ill. If one could conceive the nature of this reward he would be compelled to say: “Were it possible for me to suffer ten deaths by fire or flood, that would be nothing in comparison to the future life of glory. What is temporal suffering, however protracted, contrasted with eternal life? It is not worthy to be called suffering or to be esteemed meritorious.”


7. In this light does Paul regard suffering, as he says, and he admonishes Christians to look upon it similarly. Then shall they find the infinite beyond all comparison with the finite. What is a single penny measured by a world of dollars? though this is not an appropriate comparison since the things compared are both perishable. The suffering of the world is always to be counted as nothing measured by the glorious and eternal possessions yet to be ours. “I entreat you, therefore, beloved brethren,” Paul would say, “to fear no sufferings, not even should it be your lot to be slain. For if you are actually joint-heirs, it must be your fortune, a part of your inheritance, to suffer with others. But what is your pain measured by the eternal glory prepared for you and obtained by the sacrifice of your Savior Jesus Christ? It is too insignificant to be contrasted.” So Paul makes all earthly suffering infinitely small – a drop, a tiny spark, so to speak; but of yonder hopedfor glory he makes a boundless ocean, an illimitable flame.


8. Why cannot we take his view of the insignificance of our afflictions and the magnitude of the future glory? The extravagance of our conduct is apparent in the fact that but a harsh word uttered by one to his fellow will make the injured one ready to overturn mountains and uproot trees in his resentment. To them who are so unwilling to suffer, Paul’s word of encouragement here is wholly unintelligible. Christians are not to conduct themselves in this impatient manner. It ill becomes them to make extravagant complaint and outcry about injustice. “But,” you say, “I have truly suffered injustice.” Very well, so be it. But why do you make so much of your sufferings and never give a thought to what awaits you in heaven? Why not exalt the future glory also? If you desire to be a Christian, truly it will not do to conduct yourself in this impatient manner. If you must air your grievances, surely you may do it quietly and decorously.


9. In this life it must be otherwise than in the life of glory. If you essay to be a joint-heir with the Lord Jesus Christ and do not suffer with him, to be his brother and are not like unto him, Christ certainly will not at the last day acknowledge you as a brother and fellow-heir. Rather he will ask where are your crown of thorns, your cross, the nails and scourge; whether you have been, as he and his followers ever have from the beginning of time, an abomination to the world. If you cannot qualify in this respect, he cannot regard you as his brother. In short, we must all suffer with the Son of God and be made like unto him, as we shall see later, or we shall not be exalted with him in glory.


10. Upon this same topic Paul addresses also the Galatians ( Galatians 6:17): Henceforth let no one confuse me, say nothing to me about the doctrine that friendship is rewarded on earth; for I bear branded on my body the marks of my Lord Jesus Christ. His reference is to the signs in ancient paintings of Christ, where the Savior was represented as bearing his cross upon his shoulders, with the nails, the scourge, the crown of thorns and other emblems in evidence. These marks or signs, Paul instructs, all Christians as well as himself must exhibit, not painted on a wall but branded in their flesh and blood. They are made when inwardly the devil affrights and assails us with all manner of terrors and overwhelming afflictions, and at the same time outwardly the world slanders us as heretics, laying her hand to our throats whenever possible and putting us to death.



Such marks, or scars, for Christ the Lord, Paul admonishes all Christians to exhibit. Thus he encourages them not to be terrified though they suffer every conceivable wrong, such as our brethren here and there have suffered now for several years. But brighter days are in store for us when once the hour of our enemies and the power of darkness shall come. Our adversaries annoy us now with malignant words and slanderous writings, and indeed they may take our lives. So be it. We must in any event suffer if we are ever to attain true glory. But what they will secure by putting us to death they certainly shall experience.


11. In Paul’s reference to the glory that shall be revealed in us there is a hint as to the cause of man’s unwillingness to suffer: faith is yet weak and fails to descry the hidden glory; that glory is yet to be revealed in us. Could we but behold it with mortal vision, what noble, patient martyrs we should be! Suppose one stood on yonder side of the Elbe with a chest full of gold, offering it to him who should venture to swim across for it. What an effort would be made for the sake of that tangible wealth!


12. Take the case of the adventurous officer. For a few dollars per month he defies spears and guns, exposing himself to almost certain death. The merchant hurries to and fro in the world in a frenzied effort to amass riches, hazarding life and limb, apparently careless of physical cost so long as God’s mercy preserves to him but the shattered hulk of a body. And what must not one endure at court before he realizes, if he ever does, the fulfillment of his ambition? In temporal things man can do and suffer everything for the sake of honor, wealth and power, because these are manifest to earthly vision. But in the spiritual conflict, because the reward is not discernible to the senses it is very difficult for the old man in us to believe that God will finally grant us glorious bodies, pure souls and hearts of gladness, and make us superior to any earthly king. Indeed, the very reverse of this condition obtains now. Here is one condemned as a heretic; there one is burned or in some other way put to death. Glory, wealth and honor are not in evidence now. So it seems hard for us to resign ourselves to suffering and wait for the redemption and glory yet unrevealed. Again, no hardship is too great for the world to undergo for the sake of sordid gain; it willingly suffers whatever comes for that which moth and rust consume and thieves steal.


13. Paul means to say: “I am certain there is reserved for us exceeding glory, in comparison wherewith all earthly suffering is actually of no consideration; only it is not yet manifest.” If we have to face the slightest gale of adversity, or if a trifling misfortune befalls us, we begin to make outcry, filling the heavens with our false complaint of a terrible calamity. Were our faith triumphant, we would regard it but as a small inconvenience to suffer, even for thirty or forty years or longer; indeed, we should think our sufferings too trifling to be taken into account. May the Lord our God only forbear to reckon with us for the sins we have committed! Why will we have so much to say about great sufferings and their merits? How utterly unworthy we are of the free grace and ineffable glory which are ours in the fact that through Christ we become children and heirs of God, brethren and joint-heirs with Christ! Well may we resolve: “I will maintain a cheerful silence about my sufferings, boasting not of them nor complaining about them. I will patiently endure all my merciful God sends upon me, meanwhile rendering him my heartfelt gratitude for calling me to such surpassing grace and blessing.” But, as I said, the vision of glory will not enter our hearts because of our weak and miserable flesh, which allows itself to be more influenced by the present than by the future. So the Holy Spirit must be our schoolmaster to bring the matter home to our hearts.


14. Note particularly how Paul expressly states that the glory is to be revealed in us. He would remind us that not only such as Peter or Paul are to participate in the blessing, as we are prone to believe, but that we and all Christians are included in the word “us.” Indeed, even the merest babe obtains at death, wherein it is a joint-sufferer with mankind, this unspeakable glory, which the Lord Jesus into whose death it was baptized has purchased and bestowed upon it. Though in the life beyond one saint may have more glory than another, yet all will have the same eternal life. Here on earth men differ in point of strength, comeliness, intellect, yet all enjoy the same animal life. So in the other life there will be degrees of radiance or glory, as Paul teaches ( 1 Corinthians 15:41), yet all will share the same eternal happiness and joy; there will be one glory for all, for we shall all be the children of God.


15. Now the first point of consolation is that we turn our backs upon all suffering, saying: “What is all my pain, though it were tenfold greater, compared to the eternal life unto which I am baptized, to which I am called? My sufferings are not worthy to be so termed in connection with the exceeding glory to be revealed in me.” Paul magnifies the future glory to make the temporal sufferings the more insignificant. Then follows:


“For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the revealing [manifestation] of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope: [For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope;]”

16. Here is the second point of consolation. Paul holds up as an example to us the condition of the whole creation. He exhorts us to endure patiently, as the creature does, all the violence and injustice we suffer from the devil and the world, and to comfort ourselves with the hope of future redemption. Remarkable doctrine this, unlike anything elsewhere found in the Scriptures, that heaven and earth, sun, moon and stars, leaf and blade, every living thing, waits with sighing and groaning for the revelation of our glory.



17. Such sighing and agony of the creature is not audible to me, nor is it to you. But Paul tells us he sees and hears it, not expressed by one creature alone, but by all God has made. What does he mean? What is the sighing and longing of creation? It is not that annually the leaves wither and the fruits fall and decay: God purposes that every year new fruits shall grow; he decrees the shattering of the fallen tree. But Paul refers to the creature’s unwilling subjection to the ungodly; “subject to vanity,” he phrases it.

       For instance, the blessed sun, most glorious of created things, serves the small minority of the godly, but where it shines on one godly man it must shine on thousands and thousands of knaves, such as enemies of God, blasphemers, persecutors, with whom the world is filled; also murderers, robbers, thieves, adulterers. To these it must minister in all their ungodliness and wickedness, permitting its pure and glorious influence to benefit the unworthy, most shameful and abandoned profligates. According to the apostle, this subjection is truly painful, and were the sun a rational creature obeying its own volition rather than the decree of the Lord God who has subjected it to vanity against its will, it might deny every one of these wicked wretches even the least ray of light; that it is compelled to minister to them is its cross and pain, by reason of which it sighs and groans.

       Just as we Christians endure many kinds of injustice and consequently sigh for and implore help and deliverance in the Lord’s prayer, so do the creatures sigh. Although they have not human utterance, yet they have speech intelligible to God and the Holy Spirit, who mark the creatures’ sighs over their unjust abuse by the ungodly.


18. Nowhere else in the Holy Scriptures do we find anything like Paul’s declaration here concerning the earnest expectation and waiting of the creatures for the revelation of the children of God; which waiting the apostle characterizes as a sighing in eager desire for man’s redemption. A little later he compares the state of the creature to a woman in travail, saying it cries out in its anguish. The sun, moon and stars, the heavens and earth, the bread we eat, the water or wine we drink, the cattle and sheep, in short, all things that minister to our comfort, cry out in accusation against the world because they are subjected to vanity and must suffer with Christ and his brethren. This accusing cry is beyond human power to express, for God’s created things are innumerable. Rightly was it said from the pulpit in former times that on the last day all creatures will utter an accusing cry against the ungodly who have shown them abuse here on earth, and will call them tyrants to whom they were unjustly subjected.


19. Paul presents this example of the creatures for the comfort of Christians. His meaning is: Be not sorrowful because of your sufferings; they are small indeed when the ensuing transcendent glory is considered. You are not alone in your tribulation and your complaint at injustice; the whole creation suffers with you and cries out against its subjection to the wicked world. Every bleat of the flock, every low of the herd, is an outcry against the ungodly as enemies of God and not worthy to enjoy the creatures’ ministrations; not even to receive a morsel of bread or a drink of water. Along this line St. Augustine is eloquent. “A miserly wretch,” he says, “is unworthy the bread he eats, for he is an enemy of God.”

       Paul tells us the whole creation groans and travails with us, as if desiring relief from anguish; that it suffers like a woman in travail. For instance: the heavenly planets would gladly be freed from serving, yes, in the extent of their anguish would willingly suffer eclipse; the earth would readily become unfruitful; all waters would voluntarily sink from sight and deny the wicked world a draught; the sheep would prefer to produce thorns for the ungodly instead of wool; the cow would willingly yield them poison rather than milk. But they must perform their appointed work, Paul says, because of him who has subjected them in hope. God will finally answer the cry of creation; he has already determined that after the six thousand years of its existence now passed, the world shall have its evening and end.


20. Had not our parents sinned in paradise, the world would never be dissolved. But since man has fallen in sin, we all – the whole creation – must suffer the consequence; because of our sins, creation must be subjected to vanity and dissolution. During the six thousand years, which are as nothing compared to eternal life, all created things must be under the power of a condemned world, and compelled to serve with all their energies until God shall overthrow the entire world and for the elect’s sake purify again and renew the creature, as Peter teaches. 2 Peter 3:13.


21. The sun is by no means as gloriously brilliant as when created. Because of man’s ungodliness its brightness is to an extent dimmed. But on the day of visitation God will cleanse and purify it by fire ( 2 Peter 3:10), giving it a greater glory than it had in the beginning. Because it must suffer in our sins, and is obliged to shine as well for the worst knave as the godly man, even for more knaves than godly men, it longs intensely for the day when it shall be cleansed and shall serve the righteous alone with its light. Neither would the earth produce thistles nor thorns were it not cursed for our sins. So it, with all creatures, longs for the day when it shall be changed and renewed.


22. This is the explanation of Paul’s remarkable declaration concerning the “earnest expectation of the creation.” The creature continually regards the end of service, and freedom from slavery to the ungodly. This event will not take place before the revealing of the sons of God; therefore the earnestly expectant creation desires that revelation to come without delay, at any moment. Until such manifestation the world will not consider godly souls as children of the Father, but as children of the devil. So it boldly abuses and slanders, persecutes and puts to death, God’s beloved children, thinking it thereby does God service. In consequence the whole creation cries: “Oh, for a speedy end of this calamity, and the dawning of glory for the children of God!”


23. We have plain authority for the interpretation of the groaning of creation in Paul’s further words, “the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will.” He thus makes all creation – sun and moon, fire, air, water, heaven and earth with all they contain – merely poor, captive servants. And whom do they serve? Not our Lord God; not for the most part his children, for they are a minority among those ministered unto. To whom, then, is their service given? To the wicked – to vanity. The created things are not, as they would be, in righteous service. The sun, for instance, would choose to shine for Paul, Peter and other godly ones. It begrudges to wicked characters like Judas, Pilate, Herod, Annas and Caiaphas the least ray of light; for it is useless service, yielding no good. To serve Peter and Paul would be productive of pleasure and profit; well may its benefit be bestowed upon these godly ones. But the sun must shine as well for the wicked as for the ungodly. Indeed, where it fittingly serves one godly individual, thousands abuse its service.

       The case is similar with gold and other minerals, and with all the articles of food, drink and clothing. To whom do these minister? Wicked desperadoes, who in return blaspheme and dishonor God, condemn his holy Gospel and murder his Christians. This is wasted service.


24. So Paul says, “The creature was made subject to vanity;” it must render service against its consent, having no pleasure therein. The sun does not shine for the purpose of lighting a highway robber to murder. It would light him in godly deeds and errands of mercy; but since he follows not these things the service of the blessed sun is abused and that creature ministers with sincere unwillingness. But how is it to avoid service? A wicked tyrant, a shameful harlot, may wear gold ornaments. Is the gold responsible for its use? It is the good creature of the Lord our God and fitted to serve righteous people. But the precious product must submit to accommodating the wicked world against it will. Yet it endures in hope of an end of such service – such slavery. Therein it obeys God. God has imposed the obligation, that man may know him as a merciful God and Father, who, as Christ teaches ( Matthew 5:45), makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good. For the Father’s sake the blessed sun serves wickedness, performing its service and bestowing its favors in vain. But God in his own good time will reckon with those who abuse the glorious sunlight and other creatures, and will richly recompense the created things for their service.


25. Beloved, Paul thus traces the holy cross among all creatures; heaven and earth and all they contain suffer with us. So we must not complain and excessively grieve when we fare ill. We must patiently wait for the redemption of our bodies and for the glory which is to be revealed in us; especially when we know that all creatures groan in anguish, like a woman in travail, longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For then shall begin their redemption, when they shall not be slaves to wickedness but shall willingly and with delight serve God’s children only. In the meantime they bear the cross for the sake of God, who has subjected them in hope. Thus we are assured that captivity will not endure forever, but a time must come when the creatures will be delivered. “Do ye likewise, beloved Christians,” Paul would advise, “and reflect that as the creature will rejoice with you on the last day, so does it now mourn with you; that not you alone must suffer, but the whole creation suffers with you and awaits your redemption, a redemption so great and glorious As to make your sufferings unworthy to be considered.”











ROMANS 8:18-22.





ROMANS 8:18-22.

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to vanity not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.


1. We have heard how Paul comforts the Christians in their sufferings, pointing them to the future inconceivable and eternal glory to be revealed in us in the world to come; and how he has, for our greater consolation, reminded us that the whole creation as one being suffers in company with the Christian Church. We have noted how he sees, with the clear, keen eye of an apostle, the holy cross in every creature. He brings out this thought prominently, telling us it is not strange we Christians should suffer, for in our preaching, our reproving and rebuking, we easily merit the world’s persecution; but creation must suffer being innocent, must even endure forced subjection to the wicked and the devil himself.


2. Could the sun voice its experience from Adam’s time down, what misery it has witnessed and endured, undoubtedly it would tell of its heavy cross in being compelled to serve innumerable adulterers, thieves, murderers, in fact, the devil’s whole kingdom. Yet it is a noble and admirable work of creation, fit to serve only God, angels and pious Christians, who thank God for it. But it must serve those who blaspheme and dishonor God and who are guilty of all wickedness and lawlessness. Notwithstanding its dislike of such service, it is with every other created thing obedient to God.


3. This is a fine and comforting thought of the apostle’s, that all creatures are martyrs, having to endure unwillingly every sort of injustice. The creatures do not approve the conduct of the devil and of the wicked in their shameful abuse of creation, but they submit to it for the sake of him who has subjected them to vanity, at the same time hoping for a better dispensation in the fulfillment of time, when they shall again be rightly received and abuse be past. Hence Paul points to another life for all creation, declaring it to be as weary of this order as we are and to await a new dispensation. By his reference to the earnest expectation of the creature he means that it does not expect to remain in its present condition, but with us looks toward heaven and hopes for a resurrection from this degraded life into a better one where it will be delivered from the bondage of corruption, as he says later.


4. By these sayings Paul gives us to understand that all creation is to attain a perfection far beyond its present state where with us it must be subject to tyrants. These tyrants wantonly abuse our characters, our bodies, our property rights, just as the devil abuses our souls. But we must suffer our lot, remembering that mankind is captive on earth in the kingdom of the devil, and all creation with it. The earth must submit to be trodden and to be cultivated by many a wicked one, to whom it must yield subsistence. Likewise is this submission true of the elements – air, fire, water – all creation having its cross, yet hoping for the end of the dispensation.


5. There is a refined and comforting perception in the apostle’s exposition where he represents the entire creation as one being, with us looking forward to entrance upon another life. We are satisfied that our present life is not all, that we await another and true life. Likewise the sun awaits the restoration coming to it, to the earth and all creatures, when they shall be purified from the contaminating abuse of the devil and the world.


6. And this condition is to come about when the children of God are revealed. True, they are God’s children on earth, but they have not yet entered into their glory. Similarly, the sun is not now in possession of its real glory, for it is subject to evil; it awaits the appointed time when its servitude shall cease. With all creation and with the true saints it waits and longs, being meanwhile subject to vanity – that is, the devil and the wicked world – for the sake of God alone, who subjects, yet leaves hope that the trial shall not continue forever.


7. We are children of God now on earth. We are blessed if we believe and are baptized, as it is written: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Mark 16:16. And again: “As many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name.” John 1:12. Baptism is a visible rite and we behold with mortal vision those who receive it; the Word of the Gospel we hear, and we have in ourselves the witness of the Holy Spirit that our faith, however weak, is acceptable to God. But who among men recognizes us as children of God? Who will apply the term to a class imprisoned and tortured and tormented in every conceivable way, as if they were children of the devil, condemned and accursed souls?


8. Not without significance is Paul’s assertion that the glory of God’s children is now unmanifest but shall be revealed in them. In Colossians 3:3-4 he declares: “Ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory.” So long as God’s children are here upon earth they are not arrayed in the garb of his own, but wear the livery of the devil. It would be fitting for the children of the devil to be bound, fettered and imprisoned and to suffer all manner of misfortune; but it does not so come to pass. They have the world’s pleasures. They are wealthy and powerful, have honor and money in plenty and withal bear God’s name and wear the garb of his children, as if having his approval. Meanwhile they regard us as heretics and enemies of God. Thus the rightful order of things is reversed: they who are God’s appear to be the devil’s, and the devil’s to be God’s. This condition is painful to the pious. Indeed, heaven and earth and all creatures cry out in complaining protest, unwilling to be subject to evil and to suffer the abuse of the ungodly; to endure that dishonor of God that opposes the hallowing of his name, the extension of his kingdom and the execution of his will on earth as in heaven.


9. Because God’s children are thus unrevealed and denied their true insignia, all creation, as Paul says, cries out with them for the Lord God to rend the heavens and come down to distinguish his children from those of the devil. Considering the unrevealed state of God’s own on earth, the ungodly in their great blindness are not able to discern them. The doctrine of the righteous which magnifies God’s grace manifest in Christ is by the wicked termed error, falsehood, heresy and diabolical teaching. So Paul says the whole creation waits for the manifestation of the children of God.



John, also, says: “Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him.” 1 John 3:2. That is, when our Lord Jesus Christ comes with his loved angels and we are drawn up into the clouds to meet him in the air, he will bring to God’s children a glory consistent with their name. They will be far more splendidly arrayed than were the children of the world in their lifetime, who went about in purple and velvet and ornaments of gold, and as the rich man, in silk. Then shall they wear their own livery and shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Such is the wonderful glory of the revelation that the radiant beauty of poor Lazarus who lay in wretchedness at the rich man’s gate surpasses all expectation. Upon this topic, see Wisdom of Solomon, Song of Solomon 5:2ff.


10. The hope of this wonderful glory, Paul says, is ours and that of all creation with us, for creation is to be purified and renewed for our sakes. Then will we be impressed with the grandeur of the sun, the majesty of the trees and the beauty of the flowers. Having so much in prospect, we should, in the buoyancy of our hope, attach little importance to the slight suffering that may be our earthly lot. What is it compared to the glory to be revealed in us? Doubtless in yonder life we shall reproach ourselves with the thought: “How foolish I was! I am unworthy to be called the child of God, for I esteemed myself all too highly on earth and placed too little value upon this surpassing glory and happiness. Were I still in the world and with the knowledge I now have of the heavenly glory, I would, were it possible, suffer a thousand years of imprisonment, or endure illness, persecution or other misfortunes. Now I have proven true that all the sufferings of the world are nothing measured by the glory to be manifested in the children of God.”


11. We find many, even among nominal Christians, with so little patience they scarce can endure a word of criticism, even when well deserved. Rather than suffer from the world some slight reproach, some trifling loss, for the sake of the Gospel, they will renounce that Gospel and Christ. But how will it be in the day of revelation? Beloved, let us be wise now and not magnify our temporal sufferings; let us patiently submit to them as does creation, according to Paul’s teaching. We may imagine the earth saying: “I permit myself to be plowed and cultivated for man’s benefit, notwithstanding the Christians whom I bless are in the minority, the great mass of those profiting by me being wicked men. What am I to do? I will endure the conditions and permit myself to be tilled because my Creator so orders; meanwhile I hope for a different order eventually, when I shall no longer be subject to wickedness and obliged to serve God’s enemies.”


12. Peter also alludes to the new order of creation, saying: “The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat… But according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” 2 Peter 3:10 and 13. In other words: Here on earth men as a rule are dishonorable and wicked and obey not the will of the Lord God as it is done in heaven; but the day will come when only righteousness and holiness shall dwell on the earth – none but godly, righteous souls. As in heaven all is righteousness, the devil being banished, so on the last day, Satan and all the ungodly shall be thrust from the earth. Then will there be none but holy ones in both heaven and earth, who will in fullness of joy possess all things. These will be the elect. This is Peter’s meaning in the words, “According to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” Paul adds that all creation waits with us for the revelation, groaning and crying out in anguish.


13. But Paul protects the creature from condemnation and reproach for sinful submission to abuse. He says, in effect: “True, it is subject to vanity, yet not willingly.” Likewise I do not desire to suffer reproach as a heretic and a deceiver, but I endure it for God’s sake, who permits it. This attitude on my part does not make me partaker of the sin committed against me by enemies of the truth who reproach me. The case is the same as that of the creature suffering abuse for the sake of him who has subjected it. And you Christians are to imitate the example of creation. The sun seems to say: “Great God, I am thy creature; therefore I will perform, I will suffer, whatsoever is the divine will.” So when the Lord God sends upon you some affliction and says, “Endure a little suffering for my sake; I will largely repay it,” you are to say: “Yes, gladly, blessed Lord. Because it is thy will, I will suffer it with a willing heart.”



It also belongs to the consolation against suffering to be conscious that the suffering will not last forever, but will sometime have an end – on the day of judgment, when the godless shall be separated from the godly. For this life on earth is nothing else than a masquerade where people walk in masks, and one sees another different than he is. He who appears to be an angel is a devil, and those considered the children of the devil are angels and the children of our dear Lord. Hence it is that they are attacked, plagued, martyred and put to death as heretics and children of the devil.


This masquerade must be tolerated until the day of judgment; when the wicked will be unmasked and will no longer be able to pass as holy people. The text now continues:


“That the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.” “[Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.]”

14. We Christians are not the only beings to receive deliverance, Paul declares; the creature in bondage has the same hope of release as the poor, enslaved human being. Sun, moon and every other created thing is captive to the devil and to wicked people, and must serve them in every form of sin and vice. Hence these sigh and complain, waiting for the manifestation of the children of God, when the devil and the ungodly shall be thrust into hell, and for all eternity be denied sight of sun and moon, the enjoyment of a drop of water or a breath of air, and forever deprived of every blessing.


15. So the apostle tells us, “Creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption.” In other words, creation must now subserve most shameful ends. Sun, moon and all creatures must be slaves to the devil and the ungodly because God so desires. He wills for his beautiful creation to lie at the feet of Satan and his adherents and to serve them for the present. Likewise many a sensitive heart is compelled to obey a tyrant or a Turk because the Lord has imposed that servitude upon it. Some may even have to clean the Turk’s boots, or perform still more menial duties, and in addition suffer all sorts of indignities from that individual.


16. These words, “Creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption,” signify that all created things must until the final reckoning be servants and menials, not to the godly, but to the devil and wicked men. Paul himself regards with pity the sun and other creatures because of their forced service to Satan and to tyrannical beings. The created works no more desire such servility than we desire subjection to the Turk. Nevertheless, they submit and wait – for what? The glorious liberty of the children of God. Then shall they be released from slavery and be no longer bound to serve the wicked and worthless. More than that, in their freedom they will have a grandeur far in excess of their present state and shall minister only unto God’s children. They will be done with bondage to the devil.


“For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”

17. Paul uses forcible language here. Creation is aware, he says, not only of its future deliverance from the bondage of corruption, but of its future grandeur. It hopes for the speedy coming of its glory, and waits with the eagerness of a maiden for the dance. Seeing the splendor reserved for itself, it groans and travails unceasingly. Similarly, we Christians groan and intensely desire to have done at once with the Turks, the Pope, and the tyrannical world. Who would not weary of witnessing the present knavery, ungodliness and blasphemy against Christ and his Gospel, even as Lot wearied of the ungodliness he beheld in Sodom? Thus Paul says that creation groaneth and travaileth while waiting for the revelation and the glorious liberty of the children of God.


18. “And not only so,” he adds, “but ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” We pray, we cry with great longing, in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” meaning: “Help, dear Lord, and speed the blessed day of thy second advent, that we may be delivered from the wicked world, the devil’s kingdom, and may be released from the awful distress we suffer – inwardly from our own consciences and outwardly from the wicked. Afflict to the limit these old bodies of ours so long as we may obtain others not sinful, as these; not given to iniquity and disobedience; bodies that can never know illness, persecution or death; bodies delivered from all physical and spiritual distress and made like unto thine own glorified body, dear Lord Jesus Christ. Thus may we finally realize our glorious redemption. Amen.”


19. Paul uses a peculiar word here in the text, which we cannot render by any other in our language than “travail.” It carries the idea of pains and pangs such as a woman knows in childbirth. The mother’s ardent desire is to be delivered. She longs for it with an intensity that all the wealth, honor, pleasure and power of the world could not awaken. This is precisely the meaning of the word Paul applies to creation. He declares it to be in travail, suffering pain and anguish in the extremity of its desire for release. But who can discern the anguish of creation? Reason cannot believe, nor human wisdom imagine, the thing. “It is impossible,” declares reason. “The sun cannot be more glorious, more pleasing and beneficent. And what is lacking with the moon and stars and the earth? Who says the creature is in travail or unwillingly suffers its present state?”

       The writer of the text, however, declares creation to be weary of present conditions of servitude, and as eager for liberation as a mother for deliverance in the hour of her anguish. Truly it is with spiritual sight, with apostolic vision, that Paul discerns this fact in regard to creation. He turns away from this world, oblivious to the joys and the sufferings of earthly life, and boasts alone of the future, eternal life, unseen and unexperienced. Thus he administers real and effectual comfort to Christians, pointing them to a future life for themselves and all created things after this sinful life shall have an end.


20. Therefore, believers in Christ are to be confident of eternal glory, and with sighs and groans to implore the Lord God to hasten the blessed day of the realization of their hopes. For so Christ has taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” May he who has commanded give us grace and strength to perform, and a firm faith in our future glory. Our faith is not to be exercised for the attainment of early riches, but as a means to bring us into another life. We are not baptized unto the present life, nor do we receive the Gospel as ministering to our temporal good; these things are to point us to yonder eternal life. God grant the speedy coming of the glad day of our redemption, when we shall realize all these blessings, which now we hear of and believe in through the Word.












LUKE 6:36-42.


This sermon appeared in 1535 under the title: “A Beautiful Christian consolation in all kinds of suffering and trial from the 8th chapter of Romans, with the explanation of the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity. Preached by Dr. Martin Luther.”








King James Version

Luke 6:36-42

Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye.


1. Beloved Friends! Upon this Gospel a great deal might be said, but at present we will not consider it all, lest we overload ourselves and retain nothing. You have heard in the text how our dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, holds up to us the works of mercy, how we should be merciful; not to judge nor to condemn but gladly forgive everyone and in like manner willingly give and help all, as there is need. If we do this, he says, there shall be given to us again good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. But if we will not do this, with the same measure we mete to others it shall be measured to us again. By this he would earnestly forbid his Christians to condemn anyone, to judge or avenge themselves, or to take from anyone, but rather to give and forgive. For a better understanding of this Gospel, we must in the first place reply to our adversaries, who hold up this text against us as a strong, firm ground of their doctrine, that a man can by works obtain forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and boast of it as though they already had surely gained the victory. They say: Here indeed it stands clearly written: “Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven; give, and it shall be given to you again.” What can a man bring up against such clear passages? Therefore, it certainly follows from this, that a man can obtain forgiveness of sins by good works. Thus, by these and similar passages concerning works, they wish to prove that we are justified and saved by our own merit; and denounce and condemn us as heretics, because we teach that we are saved only through faith in Jesus Christ, who has been crucified and died for us, who gave his body and shed his blood for us for the forgiveness of sins. Thus they make Christ entirely unprofitable for us, and call the doctrine of faith simply an error and falsehood. Here we see how the blind lead the blind.


2. Well, we allow them to proceed, because they want to be blind and hardened. But if they were in earnest to know the truth, they could plainly see from this Gospel to what such passages, to which they so firmly hold, properly refer, and how they should be interpreted. For this Gospel evidently and plainly says, that Christ does not speak to those who shall first obtain grace, but to his disciples, who already are children of grace and justified, and are also sent out by him, that they should preach to others such grace and salvation; from which it clearly follows that they already have forgiveness of sins, and are pious and justified, and are not first to obtain salvation through works. I say, he speaks to those, and instructs them how they shall conduct themselves toward their enemies, namely, when they are persecuted by them, that they should not persecute them in return, but should patiently suffer all these things, and do them good for evil.


3. Hence it is not meant, that by such works as are here enumerated they should first obtain forgiveness of sins and the righteousness that avails before God; but Christ speaks plainly and simply to his disciples whom he had chosen and called Apostles, as St. Luke shows preceding this Gospel. Christ teaches them how they shall conduct themselves when they preach, as though he would say: You dear disciples, I send you as sheep among wolves, and commend this office unto you to preach, and others shall hear your preaching, accept and believe it. And you will be so received that the world will be offended at you and regard you as enemies, and you will find just as much friendship and love in it, as sheep among wolves. For it will become wholly mad and foolish at your preaching, and will by no means tolerate it. Therefore see to it that you lead a better life and conversation than your enemies, who will practice upon you all kinds of unmerciful deeds by judging and condemning you. Moreover they will not only not forgive you any sin, but will proclaim your best works and deeds of mercy as the greatest sins. Again, they will not only not give you anything, but they will also hunt down that which is your own, and will take and keep it by violence. Thus they will treat you. But beware, that you be not like them; on the other hand where they judge, judge not; where they condemn, bless; where they take revenge, forgive; when they take, give. For immediately before, the Lord teaches the very same when he says: Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.


4. In this manner St. Paul also admonishes the Christians at Rome ( Romans 12:18-19): “If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men. Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God.” Christ here teaches the very same when he says: Be merciful, judge not, condemn not, avenge not yourselves, give unto and assist everyone, in order that you may not become equally as bad as your enemies; but rather that they may be prevailed upon by your kind and friendly conversation, to give you a good testimony, and finally be compelled to say conscientiously: Behold, we judge and condemn these people, and carry out all our maliciousness against them; against this they neither defend or avenge themselves, but suffer it all patiently, and besides, they overcome evil with good, Surely, they cannot be bad people, because they have so much patience, and reward evil with good; I myself, will also hold to them, because they do no one any harm, although they have good reasons for so doing.


5. From this one can easily see that Christ does not here teach us to become pious and just through our works, but admonishes those who were already pious and just, that they be merciful like their Father in heaven, so that the heathen may thereby become better, and that thus unbelievers may be kindly enticed to become converted and edified, not only by preaching, but also by the merciful and blameless lives and good conduct of the good and just.


6. In the same sense St. Paul also teaches in 1 Corinthians 7:13: And the woman that hath an unbelieving husband, and he is content to dwell with her, let her not leave her husband, as long as he will permit her to remain a Christian. Because it can so happen that the man may be influenced by the virtue of his Christian wife to become converted and say: I see by my wife, that Christians are good people; therefore I also want to be a Christian. Thus we also read of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, who had a strange and wonderful husband, who besides was also a heathen. But what did she do? She so conducted herself toward him that he did her no wrong. Other Christian wives were very much astonished at this, and went to her and complained about their husbands, that they could not do anything to please them, although they were Christians, and yet they were scolded and beaten by them; therefore they questioned her how she treated her husband, who, as every one knew, was not only a wonderful man, but a heathen also, and yet he never beat her. Such favor they could not expect from their husbands, although they were not heathen, but Christians.


7. Kindhearted Monica answered them and said: I fear you give your husbands cause for doing this. If you were subject to them and would not clamor back, or especially when they begin to be strangely cruel, if you would not answer back, but be patient, submit and obey them, and with friendly words appease them, you would, of course, not be beaten. For thus I am accustomed to treat my husband; when my lord scolds, I pray; is he angry, I avoid him, or return kind words; in this way I have not only put down his anger, but I have also brought him so far, that he is converted and has become a Christian. Behold, the beautiful fruit that followed this conduct, because kind Monica was merciful toward her husband, and did not condemn and judge him. Thus it can often take place, as St. Paul says, that an unbelieving husband or wife, may become converted through the one who believes.


8. Thus, says Christ here, should you Christians also do, because you are children of grace and peace, not of anger and discord, and are also called to inherit the blessing. Therefore you should also bring the blessing among the people, first by your preaching and public confession, and after that also by your good outward conduct, so that when the unbelievers judge and condemn you, treat you unmercifully and rob you, you will be merciful to them, and not avenge yourselves, but give and forgive, and besides help, love and bless them, and speak the best things of them before God and the world; that they may also observe by your good conduct that you are pious and blameless people, who do not only suffer evil, but also return good for evil. By this you will obtain a good name among the heathen, and be estimable and honorable in my sight, who art your Lord and God.


9. Thus you see that this text does not at all permit us to conclude from it that forgiveness of sins is obtained by works; for Christ here speaks to those who are already children of grace, and does not instruct them how to obtain by works, as the Papists dream, the forgiveness of sins, which they already had by grace; however, he here teaches them how they are to conduct themselves, when they go forth and preach, toward the people who persecute, judge, condemn them, and afflict them with all kinds of torment and misfortune; that they immediately do the contrary, not judge, nor condemn, but forgive and give; and then they shall also be neither judged nor condemned before God or the world. And even though the world judge them, still God will not condemn them, as it is said in Psalm 37:13-40. So it shall also be forgiven and given them again.


10. Thus Christ admonishes his disciples with these words, that they diligently perform the duties of their office and preach with courage, let it offend whom it may, and that nothing whatever may lead them astray, even though all the world revile and curse; let them only freely continue and they shall be richly rewarded; for it is already determined in heaven that there shall be given unto them full measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.


11. From all this it is certainly clear, that Christ does not here speak of that righteousness, of how a man becomes just before God, which takes place alone through faith in Jesus Christ, but teaches his disciples how to lead a good life here on earth among unbelievers, by which they may be of great benefit to those who judge and condemn them. When they do such things, it shall be rewarded unto them again both here and hereafter; not that they thereby merit the forgiveness of sins; for no work, be it ever so good, is able to accomplish this; but when they on this account suffer or lose anything, it shall be returned to them even here in this life an hundred fold, as is written in Mark 10:30, and in the life to come they will be more gloriously arrayed and adorned than other saints. Why? Because they have suffered and done more for Christ’s sake than others. For Daniel the prophet says, Daniel 12:3, that the teachers shall shine as the brightness of the firmament after the resurrection of the dead, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever. And St. Paul in Corinthians 15:41 says: “For one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.”


12. The Lord further says: When you fail to do thus, but return evil for evil, it shall be measured to you again, “for with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again.” For by thus judging and condemning those who judge and condemn you, you sufficiently show that you are not my true disciples, and have not yet the forgiveness of sins, or else you would do what I have commanded you. From which it follows further that your faith is not right. So with you it will be changed, and you will hear from me that you have no faith and are false Christians.


13. This is sufficiently proved, because you still judge one another, and one does not assist the other. This my Christians will not do. Therefore your sins will remain upon you, and will only become greater, as is shown in the parable of the wicked servant who owed his Lord ten thousand talents and could not pay it; the Lord forgave him the debt out of pure grace. But as he would not forgive his fellow servant the very little debt, he again fell into his own former debt, which was forgiven him and brought down upon himself the great wrath of his Lord, who delivered him over to the tormentors. Matthew 18:34.


14. Thus our dear Lord would here kindly and lovingly invite us to do good works and lead a Christian life also among our enemies. But when we fail to do this he threatens us, that he would not regard us as Christians. For such works are as a sign or confession that we are true Christians. In addition to this, other people will be made better by such works, and so will we ourselves who do them, as St. Peter says, we make our calling and election sure thereby, and become richer in faith.


15. To this friendly admonition of Christ our Lord we Christians and especially we ministers should diligently give due heed, for we also have at the present day adversaries of our faith and doctrine, who are great and powerful, ‘kings, princes, lords, Pope and bishops. To these our enemies according to this doctrine of Christ we show all mercy, and are not willing that a hair of their heads should be injured, or that they should be robbed of a cent. But this we wish them from our heart, that they may learn to know their errors and sins, and commit themselves to the grace of God and believe the Gospel. On this account they judge, condemn and persecute us, rob us of honor, goods, body and life, as though we were the worst rogues that tread the earth. Such things we do not to them in return, God be praised! but show them all love and kindness, and would willingly help them, if they would only permit it.


16. Yes, they say, you revile us nevertheless, both in writing and preaching, and condemn us as heretics, and will not permit us to be the Christian Church. Is such reproof and condemnation mercy? We answer: This is quite a different matter. Christ in this Gospel speaks of those who shall suffer injustice. And it would not be right to apply this to those who by virtue of their office are required to reprove what is wrong. For those who have the office to judge and condemn, do no wrong thereby, in so doing. For as little as it agrees or is valid for a child to say to its father when he would punish it; father, be merciful, and God will then also be merciful to thee; so little is it valid against those who have the office of reproof. For it would be very inappropriate for a thief or evil doer to say to the officer of the law: Dear sir, forgive and do not judge me, and then our Lord God will again forgive thee. No, my dear fellow, the officer of the law by virtue of his office will thus answer and say: It is not necessary that I should forgive you. I do what is right, and doing right needs no forgiveness, but is praiseworthy. Thus also when father and mother punish their children, they do right, for this is called true punishment, when the office requires it. But beware, that you do not revenge yourself against him who must punish you, even if at times he treats you unjustly.


17. Wherefore it is not appropriate to twist this text, as though the Lord speaks of those who have the authority to punish the wrong, as ministers and all persons in authority, fathers, mothers, princes, lords, and finally also the executioner, who should not say to the evil doer, to whom he must administer justice, as however they are accustomed to do: “Dear Sir, forgive me, what I do to you today,” for why should he say this? As he does right, he needs no forgiveness, which pertains alone to sin and wrong; for. his office is to punish wrong. Just as it would be wrong if a father would say to his son when he would punish him: Dear son, forgive me, that I punish you. No, he does right, therefore the son should bear it, for thus God will have it.


18. Thus St. Paul says, 2 Corinthians 5:13: “For whether we are beside ourselves, it is unto God; or whether we are of sober mind, it is unto you.” In his first Epistle, Paul severely rebuked the Corinthians, which some thought was too severe; but he does not excuse himself in the least nor asks for grace, he simply says: If we rebuke too severely, it is unto God and we serve him; but if we are sober and deal gently, we do so for your good. He will not admit that he has done any sin at all, because he so severely rebukes them, but says he serves God by it, and if he has been too indulgent, he did it for their benefit. This is quite a poor answer to such a complaint as: Dear Paul, why do you strike us so hard? But as he fills the office of an Apostle, he gives no other answer but this: I rebuke and punish sin as I wish, I do right and serve God thereby; not on account of my person, but because God has so commanded and ordered it.


19. Thus also a judge can say, when by virtue of his office he sentences the evil doer unto death, that he serves God thereby. So also father and mother, when they punish their child as it has deserved, thus serve God; but if they, punish it somewhat milder than it deserves, it is for the good of the child.


20. We must make a distinction however, for it is vastly different when a person punishes who has the office to punish, and when one punishes who has not this office. An office, call it what you may, is ordained to punish sin; not to tolerate wrong, but protect the right. Therefore, because I and other ministers have this office, we do right, a work of mercy for the people, when we rebuke them, let whoever will do us good or evil for it.


21. Just as it is a great mercy not to allow young people to have their will and way, whether it be accomplished by threats or by the rod; it will still cost trouble and labor enough to oppose and prevent evil, even though we punish severely. If punishment were altogether omitted and mercy took the place of office, the country would be full of rogues, and the world become a mere den of murderers. Then one would say to another: If you steal from me, I will rob you; if you go with my wife, I will go with yours. No, this would never do; therefore the executioner is a very beneficial and even a merciful man, for he prevents the rogue from repeating his crime, and restrains others from committing crimes. He executes the one and thus threatens others that would do the like, that they may fear the sword and keep the peace. This is a magnificent grace and pure mercy.


22. Again, it is a great sin against mercy, yes a horrible murder, when a father allows his child to go unpunished; for this is just the same as though he killed it with his own hands; hence Solomon says, Proverbs 23:13,14: “Withhold not correction from the child; for if thou beat him with the rod, he will not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.” That is, he will not die of your beating, but with the rod you cause him to live, and deliver his soul from death; for if you do not punish him, the executioner will, even unto death, by taking away his life. As Solomon would say: If you do not beat your son with the rod of life, in order that he may live, then you are a murderer; because you assist your child to become a rogue, so that the executioner must strike him with the rod of death. Therefore take in your hand the rod of life, and freely punish when necessary, that he may escape the rod of death. Then you will perform a noble work of mercy to him, whereas if you let him have his own will, you become his murderer.


23. Therefore it is senseless for the Papists to cry: We of course teach others not to judge, nor condemn, but we ourselves do the contrary, punish, judge and condemn everyone. For as I said, what we do in this, we do by virtue of our office. Therefore our judging and punishing is of such a nature, that it only makes one better and harms no one. And we are obliged to do it on account of the command of Christ our Lord, Luke 24:47, that repentance and forgiveness of sins be preached in his name among all nations on earth; and John 16:8: “The Holy Spirit will reprove the world of sin.”


24. According to this command all the Apostles have first judged and reproved the world, and proclaimed God’s wrath against it; afterwards they preached forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name, as St. Paul does, Romans 1:3, and St. Peter, Acts 2:3-10, and Christ himself when he says, John 9:39: “For judgment came I into this world.” Those who have accepted this preaching and permit themselves to be judged and reproved by it, have received the comfort of the Gospel, that without merit, by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus they are justified and saved, Romans 3:24. This judgment and reproof of Christ and the Apostles is not harmful, but beneficial, comfortable and wholesome. Moreover, those who have not allowed themselves to be reproved by these have remained in their sins, and have died and perished forever; and also, in time, have their cities, lands and kingdoms in which they have lived, been most woefully devastated and destroyed.


25. As therefore the Apostles have preached according to the command of Christ, so too must we do, and say that all men are conceived and born in sin and are by nature children of wrath, and on this account condemned, and can neither by their own or any other creature’s help, advice, work or merit, receive forgiveness of sins and be saved. This is to reprove, judge and condemn everybody, and yet we do this, not out of our own wantonness, or that we take pleasure in crying down men as sinners and godless; but out of Christ’s order and command. With this however we do not cease, but we again encourage and comfort those whom we have rebuked, and say that Jesus Christ has come into the world to save sinners, so that all who believe in him, should not perish, but receive everlasting life.


26. Therefore God-fearing people accuse us of no fault in this; for they observe that we do not preach human nonsense like monks in their hoods, but proclaim the Gospel of Christ; they are glad therefore, and heartily thank God that they have lived to see the time when they can know the precious truth, and thereby obtain comfort for their consciences, and accept this our reproof and judgment as a great mercy. Again, the great and godless crowd scold and condemn us on account of this our reproof, as heretics and traitors, who disturb both the old faith and worship and also the worldly government and peace. We must bear this; yet our conscience gives us the testimony that they wrongfully accuse us, and besides we are comforted to know that we are not the first ones who have been thus slandered. St. Paul also had to hear from Jews and Gentiles, that he was a blasphemer and traitor. Yea, Christ himself was accused before Pilate for misleading the people and making them disobedient to the emperor, for which also he was crucified, With them we are glad to be cried down as heretics and traitors, until the time when our innocence shall come to light.


27. If now the wretched, hardened Papists were not such bitter enemies of the truth, and of us on account of the truth, they could observe by our life that we hold firmly to this admonition of Christ, be merciful; for God be praised, we have not thus far avenged ourselves against any man who has done us injury, we have not driven anyone from house and home, wife and child, we have cast no one into prison on account of his faith, much less have we beheaded, burnt at the stake or hung anyone for their faith, as the Papists have done, the tender saints, who have for the last few years shed much innocent blood, and still do not cease. But we have complied with this doctrine and admonition of Christ, and have honored their order and government and confirmed it with our doctrine as far as they are right, we have prayed and pleaded for them, privately and publicly, and have faithfully also admonished them in writings by virtue of our office which God has committed to our charge. And for this our mercy we have received from them the reward, that they have put us under the ban, cursed and persecuted us, and driven many of our brethren from their possessions and murdered them. What more shall we do? Yet we must bear the name of being impatient, angry, spiteful, and revengeful people, who judge and condemn all the world. Well, we must bear this disgrace before the world, until our dear Lord Jesus Christ, the just Judge, shall examine us and decide the matter; in the meantime we permit them evermore to lie, slander and persecute us; but they shall learn by experience when God’s time comes, whom they have slandered and persecuted in us.


28. This much is said of the chief meaning of this Gospel, how we are to be merciful also toward our enemies. Now we should also apply it to our own lives, we who want to be Christians and brethren should practice this among ourselves; for it is very necessary also that this admonition be preached to us. Although we are all called Evangelical, I fear that the most of us are heathen under the Christian name. Well, what shall we do about it? We must allow the name to all, although few there be who bear it in truth. For St. Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:2 says: “For all have not faith”; and Christ himself complains, Matthew 22:14, that many are called but few are chosen. Now, those who are true Christians should with all diligence take this admonition of Christ to heart, that they may not only be friendly toward enemies, but also much more toward those called Christians.


29. Therefore let everyone who goes to the sacrament and pretends to be a Christian take heed to himself that he deceive not himself. For one can now well see what a scraping, grabbing and scratching there is even among those who want to be Christians, from the lowest to the highest stage of society. It is a sin and a shame to hear it. Nearly everyone falls into this shameful greed, and such a state may well be called a swine’s life, for as the swine in the trough, whichever one is the strongest pushes the rest away, as though she wanted to devour all herself, just so it goes in the world today, and everyone goes securely forth, gives nothing whatever and takes all he can get, whether he gets it rightfully or wrongfully, so that the word give, which stands here in the Gospel, has almost disappeared, and instead robbery and theft in homes and in the market have everywhere come to take its place. What unfaithfulness prevails even among day laborers and house servants, how shamefully they earn their bread with malicious unfaithfulness, cheating and overcharging. They do not look upon it as stealing, and yet it is just as much stealing when they labor unfaithfully, as when they steal it out of our purse. This is the way servants and laborers do, and it matters not by what they are called.


30. But how will such people stand in that day when Christ shall ask them, whether they have done according to his admonition? For if Christians are to be merciful to their enemies as Christ here teaches, much more will it become them to show all love and friendship toward their brethren and Christian people; and as they are not to curse their enemies, much less should they curse their friends. Again, if they are not to avenge themselves on unbelievers, but give to them and do them good, much more should they show this kindness to the household of faith. Yes, turn the thing around to rob, to covet, and to take advantage of another wherever one can; this goes on yet in the world with violence. But the holy Gospel says: Give, and it shall be given unto you; if we do not hold ourselves to this rule, we shall hear the opposite: Steal and rob, and you shall be robbed and stolen from again.


31. But our Lord God is so full of resources that he can send misfortune upon a city or a country so that even after they have gathered and hoarded for a long time, some tramp brother or fellow pilgrim comes along, to whom one must give or he will take it himself by force. For it must surely come to this that if we willfully forget that word “give,” our Lord God will make out of it “take.” After such misfortune we strive with all diligence, for wherever the Lord says “give” there we only wish to make out of it “take.” Well then take, steal and rob as long as you will, what will it avail you; things will take a turn some day so that it will be taken from you again.


32. All history teaches us, that when a kingdom, a principality, or a city, has been exalted to the highest pitch and becomes rich, then comes a war, or some other misfortune, so that it again becomes poor. Thus it happens also to individual families and persons; when they rise suddenly and become powerful, they also immediately fall again. I have already observed several who sat amid great possessions, and yet in a short time were thoroughly ruined. Why is this? Because they did not want to give as Christ here admonishes, but much rather took from others, for this reason a change took place with them, that it was again taken from them; as also teaches experience, and the common proverb runs: Goods unjustly won, will not last to the third son, that he may enjoy it. Such things we see daily in all ranks of life; and if it does endure for a time and descends from father to son, yet it sinks with the third heir, for it is a cursed wealth, which has either been obtained by theft or greed.


33. By such daily experience the children of the world ought to become wise and think: Why scratch and scrape so long, you cannot rightfully possess goods obtained by stinginess after all, nor will it prosper in your hands, as you have time and again experienced from one or another.


34. But we Christians should be more influenced by what the Holy Scriptures teach about it. Thus David says, Psalm 37:16-18: “Better is a little that the righteous hath, than the abundance of many wicked,” and the reason immediately follows: “For the arm of the wicked shall be broken, and the Lord upholdeth the righteous. The Lord knoweth the days of the perfect; and their inheritance shall be forever.” As though he would say: Although a good man may have but little, if he only has it with God and honor, it will be dearer to him than all the treasures of the ungodly. For our Lord God will shower his blessings upon that little, so that it will last to children’s children to the thousandth generation. This is also apparent; for at the present time we find many old and honorable families in the cities, whose possessions have reached to several hundred generations, whereas with others it has disappeared with the third. We should learn from this and similar passages, and hold to it because it is the truth, that it is better to have thirty dollars with God and honor, than three thousand won without God and with dishonor. For God blesses the little which the righteous have (says Psalm 37:16), so that he may not only possess it with a good conscience, but will also be to his benefit and he will use it so that God may be pleased with it. But the wealth that has been unjustly obtained, may be enjoyed for a time; yet because God’s blessing does not rest upon it, it wears away and loses itself, so that we cannot tell what has become of it; for it has been won by greed and wrong, and as they did not regard it as stealing for one to scrape all together and give nothing away, the rust is entered into it and eats it up, so that it cannot be seen that there ever was a penny there. As also the heathen have learned from experience and said: “By evil acquired, by evil it goes,” “As it is won, so it is gone.”


35. But why say more? One will not grow wise except by his own losses; we let our Lord God promise and threat in vain, but who asks about it? Though we preach ever so much, Proverbs 11:4: “Riches profit not in the day of wrath; but righteousness delivereth from death,” and Proverbs 5:28: “He that trusteth in his riches shall fall; but the righteous shall flourish as the green leaf;” everyone thinks the while: “Dear Sir, say what you will, if I had money and goods, I would be free from all distress;” they simply make our Lord God a liar. But they will experience sooner than they wish, that they are deceived. Therefore, my dear friends, let us fear and trust in God, and hereafter be merciful and kind, not only toward enemies as this Gospel teaches, but still more toward our friends and brethren; especially because we hear that our Lord is such an enemy to shameful covetousness, that he will blow upon such ill-gotten gain, so that it will vanish and fly away as the dust before the wind. The prophet Haggai 1:6, says of the miser, that he gathers into a bag with holes; as though he would say: Well, they may gather, but it will do them no good, because they want to get rich by greed even to the injury of others. And Solomon says: The godless man, when he has for a long time gathered wealth in heaps, has such a curse in his house, that he not only does not become better by his wealth, but it also disappears under his hands, as though the rust had devoured it.


36. Now dear friends, do not despise such a warning, but take it to yourselves, and if you have already been ensnared by this covetousness, turn again and reform. Formerly when one served the devil in popedom, everyone was merciful and kind, then they gave with both hands joyfully and with great devotion, to support the false worship of God. Now, when one should justly be kind and give, and show his thankfulness to God for the holy Gospel, everyone is about to perish with hunger, no one will give anything, but will only receive. Formerly every city according to its size, liberally supported several cloisters, not to mention mass-priests and rich monasteries. Now, when only two or three persons, who preach God’s Word, administer the sacraments, visit and comfort the sick in an honest and Christian manner and instruct the youth, are to be supported in one city, and that too not from their own but from property that came to us from the papacy, it is hard for everybody to give.


37. But thus it must be, that Jesus with Mary and Joseph should have no room in the inn at Bethlehem, but after all he finds a crib, and Mary and Joseph a stall, in which they miserably help themselves as best they may. And as they are not at home in Nazareth but in a strange place at an inconvenient time, in the midst of winter, and altogether forgotten in the stall by the people of Bethlehem, yet after all they do not perish with hunger. But before they should suffer hunger among their blood relations who care nothing for them, even the heathen must come from rich Arabia and present the little child Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. Christians understand well enough what is meant.


38. Therefore let everyone be diligent to comply with this admonition, that he willingly give, if he desires that it shall be given unto him again. If he will not do this, Christ will most certainly keep his Word, that it shall not be given unto him again. And though he already has something, there shall not be given him grace enough to enjoy it, as has already been shown from Scripture passages, Now God does not only show us by his Word that our covetousness is displeasing to him, and that usurers shall not enjoy their goods, but proves it also by daily examples. I will relate one as a warning which has recently occurred, although some may be offended at it: It is not far from here to Wittenberg, as has been reported to me and have also myself made proper inquiries, there was a farmer, who all his life cheated and took advantage of the people in the market, as at present nearly all are accustomed to do, he went into his barn to look after his grain; then the devil set such a ghost before his eyes, that he found his barn empty, and could see no corn there. What happened? The miserable, stingy man becomes frightened, and thinks the corn was secretly stolen from his barn. He goes down to his wife and servants with great cries and lamentations and says all his grain has been stolen out of his barn. As the wife and servants go in to look after it, in the meantime the wretched man hangs himself for grief, and dies in the rope before they return again to him. And yet it was but the deception of the devil. For all the corn was still lying untouched on the floor. The devil by the decree of God had thus infatuated him, that he could not see even a single grain.


39. This I say, has taken place before our very doors, to frighten and warn us. What benefit did the poor man reap from it? What help are now his goods to him, which he had scraped together so long with care and labor? The devil wanted to kill him, therefore he so blindfolded him that he could not see his own corn, and thus he gave him a cause, to hang himself for grief. This is I think a curse, which came upon ill-gotten goods, that he should not only not enjoy it, but even not behold it, and thereby lose both body and soul. More similar histories have appeared, as you at other times have heard from me; and it is good not to forget them, there may yet be some who will be reformed by them. The wretched man who so miserably hung himself will find his sentence. But we tell it you as a warning. If you will not receive it, but despise it, you do not despise me who told it you, but the Lord Christ, who tells it to you through me. But if you receive it and do better, I will give you no reward, for I cannot reward the works of a Christian. But he who here says: Give and it shall be given to you, will richly reward it. Whoever will, let him accept, and whoever will not, can let it alone. This text will not become false on that account. For although not all are punished like this man, yet everyone who despises this admonition of Christ, will find his condemnation on the last day. And it is indeed to be wondered at, that we willingly and with great care, weariness and labor, for the stingy man’s stinginess becomes very hard, 1 Timothy 6:10, should bring into our own house first our own injury and curse, whereas with lighter labor and a more joyful courage, if we according to the doctrine of Christ would give and help our neighbor, could well be rich. For he who said, Give, and it will be given you, will certainly keep his Word, and give again to those who obey his admonition, and that abundantly; for he says: A full, pressed down, shaken together, and overrunning measure shall be given to you again.


40. Were it not better, you had but little with God and honor, and give and help the needy according to your ability, and have thereby a good conscience and the glorious comfort that God will bless and increase your humble store, than that you should, with care and restlessness and with an evil conscience, have great possessions, which you not only cannot enjoy, but cannot even be master of, for a miser is mammon’s servant and a captive. And yet, you do not only know from God’s Word, although you will not believe it, but also from daily experience, that it will do your children or heirs no good, but by the very consumption of it they shall become poor.


41. What have you of it at last, O wretched man, when you have so long scraped and scratched together, except that you have made your life very toilsome in sins, and the devil, when your last hour comes, will drag you into the abyss of hell, and so you will not only shamefully lose your money and goods, which in this life you never could enjoy, but besides you also wretchedly lose both body and soul, and upon all this with your condemned treasures you bring down God’s displeasure and curse upon your children and heirs, who have become no better than yourself, but fall into poverty and into all distress and misfortune. Very well, he that will hear, let him hear. For everyone must bear his own burden, as St. Paul says, Galatians 6:5: I believe it also. Therefore you who will not hear, answer for yourselves. This is enough of this Gospel for a small admonition. God grant, that in some of you it may bring forth fruit! Amen.











1 PETER 3:8-15.


1 PETER 3:8-15.

Finally, be ye all like-minded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tender-hearted, humble-minded: not rendering evil for evil, or reviling for reviling; but contrariwise blessing; for hereunto were ye called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For, He that would love life, And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips that they speak no guile: And let him turn away from evil, and do good; Let him seek peace, and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, And his ears unto their supplication: But the face of the Lord is upon them that do evil. And who is he that will harm you, if ye be zealous of that which is good? But even if ye should suffer for righteousness’ sake, blessed are ye: and fear not their fear, neither be troubled; but sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord.



1. Here you have enumerated again a long list of eminently good works enjoined upon Christians who believe and have confessed their faith in the Gospel. By such fruits is faith to be manifest. Peter classifies these works according to the obligations of Christians to each other, and their obligations to enemies and persecutors.


2. Immediately preceding the text, Paul has been instructing concerning the domestic relations of husband and wife; how they should live together as Christians in love and companionship, giving due honor and patiently and reasonably bearing with each other. Now he extends the exhortation to Christians in general, enjoining them to live together in Christian love, like brothers and sisters of a household. In the rehearsal of many preeminently noble virtues and works, he portrays the ideal church, beautiful in its outward adornment, in the grace wherewith it shines before men. With such virtues the Church pleases and honors God, while angels behold with joy and delight. And what earthly thing is more desirable to man’s sight? What happier and more pleasing society may he seek than the company of those who manifest a unity of heart, mind and will; brotherly love, meekness, kindliness and patience, even toward enemies? Surely, no man is too depraved to command such goodness and to desire companionship among people of this class.


3. The first virtue is one frequently mentioned by the apostles. Paul, for instance, in Romans 12:16, says: “Be of the same mind one toward another.” Also in Ephesians 4:3: “Giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Harmony is the imperative virtue for the Christian Church. Before the other virtues – love, meekness – can be manifest, there must first be concord and unity of heart among all. It is impossible that outward circumstances of human life be always the same; much dissimilarity in person, station, and occupation is inevitable. To this very unlikeness and to the natural depravity of flesh and blood is due the discord and disagreement of men in this world. Let one become conscious of personal superiority in point of uprightness, learning, skill or natural ability, or let him become aware of his loftier station in life, and he immediately grows self-complacent, thinks himself better than his fellows, demands honor and recognition from all men, is unwilling to yield to or serve an inferior and thinks himself entitled to such right and privilege because of his superiority and virtue.


4. Pride is the common vice of the world, and the devil fosters it among his numerous followers thereby causing every sort of misery and unhappiness, corrupting all ranks and stations, and rendering men vicious, depraved and incapable of executing good. In opposition to this vice the apostles diligently admonish Christians to be of one mind, regardless of station or occupation, since every individual must remain in the position to which he has been ordained and called of God. All ranks and stations cannot be one. Particularly is this true in the Church; for in addition to the outward difference of person, station, and so on, there are manifold divine gifts unequally distributed and varyingly imparted. Yet these many dissimilarities, both spiritual and secular, are to be amenable to the unity of the spirit, as Paul calls it, or a spiritual unity. Just as the members of the physical body have different offices and perform different functions, no one member being able to do the work of the other, and yet all are in the unity of one bodily life; so also Christians, whatever the dissimilarity of language, office and gift among them, must live, increase and be preserved in unity and harmony of mind, as in one body.


5. This matter of harmony is the first and most necessary commandment enjoined by the doctrine of faith; ay, this virtue is the first fruit which faith is to effect among Christians, who are called in one faith and baptism. It is to be the beginning of their Christian love. For true faith necessarily creates in all believers the spirit that reasons: “We are all called by one Word, one baptism and Holy Spirit, to the same salvation; we are alike heirs of the grace and the blessings of God. Although one has more and greater gifts than another, he is not on that account better before God. By grace alone, without any merit of ours, we are pleasing to God. Before him none can boast of himself.”


6. How can I think myself better than another by reason of my person or my gifts, rank or office? Or what more than I has another to boast of before God concerning himself? No one has a different baptism or sacrament, a different Christ, from mine, or grace and salvation other than I have. And no individual can have another faith than have Christians in general, nor does he hear any other Gospel or receive a different absolution, be he lord or servant, noble or ignoble, poor or rich, young or old, Italian or German. When one imagines himself different from or better than his fellows, desiring to exalt and glorify himself above others, he is truly no longer a Christian; because he is no longer in that unity of mind and faith essential to Christians. Christ with his grace is always the same, and cannot be divided or apportioned within himself.


7. Not without reason did the beloved apostles urge this point. They clearly saw how much depends upon it, and what evil and harm result from disregard of the commandment. Where this commandment is dishonored, schisms and factions will necessarily arise to corrupt pure doctrine and faith, and the devil will sow his seed, which afterwards can be eradicated only with difficulty. When once self-conceit rules, and one, pretending more learning, wisdom, goodness and holiness than his fellows, begins to despise others and to draw men to himself, away from the unity of mind which makes us one in Christ, and when he desires the first praise and commendation for his own doctrine and works, his own preaching, then the harm is already done; faith is overthrown and the Church is rent. When unity becomes division, certainly two sects cannot both be the true Church. If one is godly, the other must be the devil’s own. On the other hand, so long as unity of faith and oneness of mind survives, the true Church of God abides, notwithstanding there may be some weakness in other points. Of this fact the devil is well aware; hence his hostility to Christian unity. His chief effort is to destroy harmony. “Having that to contend with,” he tells himself, “my task will be a hard and wearisome one.”


8. Therefore, Christians should be all the more careful to cherish the virtue of harmony, both in the Church and in secular government. In each instance there is of necessity much inequality. God would have such dissimilarity balanced by love and unity of mind. Let everyone be content, then, with what God has given or ordained for him, and let him take pleasure in another’s gifts, knowing that in eternal blessings he is equally rich, having the same God and Christ, the same grace and salvation; and that although his standing before God may differ from that of his fellows, he is nevertheless in no way inferior to them, nor is anyone for the same reason at all better than or superior to himself.


9. In temporal affairs, every inequality in the world can be harmonized by a unity of mind and heart. In relations other than spiritual there is mutual love and friendship. How great the outward dissimilarity between man and wife – in person, nature and employment! likewise between masters and their subjects. Yet, in mutual conscientiousness they mutually agree and are well satisfied with each other. So it would be possible to enjoy life upon earth in peace and happiness were it not that the devil cannot suffer it. He must divide hearts and alienate love, allowing no one to take pleasure in another. He who is illustrious, of noble birth, or has power or riches, feels bound to despise others as silly geese or witless ducks.



10. The other virtues enjoined by Peter are easily recognized – “Compassionate, loving as brethren, tenderhearted, and humbleminded” [Luther translates “friendly” – courteous]. These particularly teach that Christians should esteem one another. God has subjected them all to love and has united them, with the design that they shall be of one heart and soul, and each care for the other as for himself. Peter’s exhortation was especially called for at that time, when Christians were terribly persecuted. Here a pastor, there a citizen, was thrown into prison, driven from wife, child, house and home, and finally executed. Such things happen even now, and may become yet more frequent considering that unfortunate people are harassed by tyrants, or led away by the Turks, and Christians are thus dispersed in exile here and there. Wherever by his Word and faith God has gathered a church, and that spiritual unity, the bond of Christianity, exists in any measure, there the devil has no peace. If he cannot effect the destruction of that church by factiousness, he furiously persecutes it. Then it is that body, life and everything we have must be jeopardized – put to the stake – for the sake of the Church.


11. Christians, according to Peter, should, in the bond of a common heart and mind, sympathetically share the troubles and sufferings of their brethren in the faith, whoever and wherever the brethren may be. They are to enter into such distresses as if themselves suffering, and are to reason: “Behold, these suffer for the sake of my precious faith, and standing at the front, are exposed to the devil, while I have peace. It does not become me to rejoice in my security and to manifest my pleasure. For what befalls my dear brethren affects me, and my blessings are the cause of their misfortune. I must participate in their suffering as my own.” According to the admonition of Hebrews 13:3: “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; that is, as if in the same bonds and distress. Remember them that are illtreated, as being yourselves also in the body;” as members of the same body.


12. We are all bound to one another, just as in the body one member is bound to another. As you know by your own physical experience, “Whether one member suffereth, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it,” as Paul says in Corinthians 12:26. Note how, when a foot is trodden upon or a finger pinched, the whole body is affected: eyes twitch, nose is contorted, mouth cries out – all the members are ready to rescue and help. No one member can forsake the others. In reality not the foot or the finger is injured, but the whole body suffers the accident. On the other hand, benefit received by one member is pleasing to all, and the whole body rejoices with it. Now the same principle should hold in the Church, because it likewise is one body of many members with one mind and heart. Such unity naturally entails the participation by each individual in the good and evil of every other one.


13. This virtue of sympathy, resulting as it does from a unity of mind and faith, is impossible to the world. In the world every man looks only upon what benefits himself and regards not how others, especially the godly, fare. Indeed, the world is capable of scornful smiles and extreme pleasure at sight of Christians in poverty and distress, and in their sufferings it can give them vinegar and gall to drink. But you who claim to be a Christian, should know it is yours to share the sufferings of your brethren and to prove your heartfelt sympathy with them. If you cannot do more, at least show it with comforting words or prayer. Their suffering concerns you as well as themselves, and you must expect the same afflictions from the devil and the wicked world.



“Loving as brethren.”

14. This virtue must prevail among Christians everywhere. They are to manifest toward one another the love and faithfulness of brothers according to the flesh. It is a law of nature that brothers have a peculiar confidence in one another, being of the same blood and flesh and having a common inheritance. Particularly is this true when in distress. Although they may not be united in other respects, yet when stranger blood assails and necessity comes, they of the same flesh and blood will take one another’s part, uniting person, property and honor.


15. Likewise Christians should exercise a peculiar brotherly love and faithfulness toward one another, as having one Father in heaven and one inheritance, and in the bond of Christianity being of one faith, united in heart and mind. None may despise another. Them among us who are still weak, frail and eccentric in faith and morals, we are to treat with gentleness, kindness and patience. They must be exhorted, comforted, strengthened. We should do by them as do the brothers and sisters of a household toward the member who is weak or frail or in need. Indeed we cannot otherwise dwell in peace. If we are to live together we must bear with one another much weakness, trouble and inconvenience; for we cannot all be equally strong in faith and courage and have equal gifts and possessions. There is none without his own numerous weaknesses and faults, which he would have others tolerate.



“Tenderhearted, humbleminded” [friendly].

16. Here Peter has in mind mankind in general – friends and enemies, Christians and persecutors. Owing to original sin, man is naturally disposed to seek revenge, especially upon those who injure him without cause. If he can do no more, he at least maliciously invokes evil upon his enemy and rejoices in his misfortune. Now, Christians more than any others in this world are innocently persecuted, injured, oppressed and aggrieved, even by those having the name and honor of Christians, a thing of frequent occurrence today. God’s people are aggrieved by such treatment, and if the natural instinct of flesh and blood could have its way, they would gladly revenge themselves; just as they of the world mutually exercise their revenge, not content until passion is cooled.


17. But a Christian should not, and indeed consistently he cannot, be unmerciful and vindictive, for he has become a child of God, whose mercy he has accepted and therein continues to live. He cannot seek pleasure in injury to his neighbor or enjoy his misfortune. He cannot maintain a bitter or hard and stubborn heart toward him. Rather he is disposed to show mercy even to his hostile neighbor, and to pity his blindness and misery; for he recognizes that neighbor as under God’s wrath and hastening to everlasting ruin and condemnation. Thus the Christian is already more than revenged on his enemy. Therefore he should be friendly towards the hostile neighbor and do him every kindness he will permit, in an effort to lead him to repentance.


18. Yet, in showing mercy, as frequently enjoined heretofore we are not to interfere with just and ordained punishments. God’s Word does not teach us to demand mercy or commend kindness where sin and evil practices call for punishment, as the world would have us believe when their sins merit rebuke, particularly the vices of those in high places. These transgressors claim that when reproved their honor is assailed and occasion is given for contempt of their office and authority, and for rebellion, a thing not to be tolerated. This is not true. The lesson teaches the duty of each individual toward all other individuals, not toward the God-ordained office. Office and person must be clearly distinguished. The officer or ruler in his official capacity is a different man from what he is as John or Frederick. The apostle or preacher differs from the individual Peter or Paul. The preacher has not his office by virtue of his own personality; he represents it in God’s stead. Now, if any person be unjustly persecuted, slandered and cursed, I ought to and will say: “Thank God;” for in God I am richly rewarded for it. But if one dishonors my baptism or sacrament, or the Word God has commanded me to speak, and so opposes not me but himself, then it is my duty not to be silent nor merciful and friendly, but to use my God-ordained office to admonish, threaten and rebuke, with all earnestness, both in season and out of season – as Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:2 – those who err in doctrine or faith or who do not amend their lives; and this regardless of who they are or how it pleases them.


19. But the censured may say: “Nevertheless you publicly impugn my honor; you give me a bad reputation.” I answer: Why do you not complain to him who committed the office to me? My honor is likewise dear to me, but the honor of my office must be more sacred still. If I am silent where I ought to rebuke, I sully my own honor, which I should maintain before God in the proper execution of my office; hence I with you deserve to be hanged in mid-day, to the utter extinguishment of my honor and yours. No, the Gospel does not give you authority to say the preacher shall not, by the Word of God, tell you of your sin and shame. What does God care for the honor you seek from the world when you defy his Word with it? To the world you may seem to defend your honor with God and a good conscience, but in reality you have nothing to boast of before God but your shame. This very fact you must confess if you would retain your honor before him; you must place his honor above that of all creatures. The highest distinction you can achieve for yourself is that of honoring God’s Word and suffering rebuke.


20. “Yes, but still you attack the office to which I am appointed.” No, dear brother, our office is not assailed when I and you are reminded of our failure to do right, to conduct the office as we should. But the Word of God rebukes us for dishonoring that divinely ordained appointment and abusing it in violation of his commandment. Therefore you cannot call me to account for reproving you. However, were I not a pastor or preacher, and had I no authority to rebuke you, then it would be my duty and my pleasure to leave your honor and that of every other man unscathed. But if I am to fill a divine office and to represent not my own but God’s dignity, then for your own sake I must not and will not be silent. If you do wrong, and disgrace and dishonor come upon you, blame yourself. “Thy blood shall be upon thine own head,” says Scripture, 1 Kings 2:37. Certainly when a judge sentences a thief to the gallows, that man’s honor is impugned. Who robs you of your honor but yourself, by your own theft, your contempt of God, disobedience, murder, and so on? God must give you what you deserve. If you consider it a disgrace to be punished, then consider it also no honor to rob, steal, practice usury and do public wrong; you disgrace yourself by dishonoring God’s commandment.


21. This much by way of reminder of the difference between official rebuke and personal anger and revenge. It must constantly be kept before us because of the artfulness of flesh and blood, which ever seeks to disregard that difference. True, God would have all men to be merciful and friendly, to forgive and not to avenge wrong; but the office, which is ordained for the punishment of the wicked, will not always admit of that course. Few are willing to forgive, and therefore God must enforce his government over the merciless. They must be punished without mercy. This divine principle must not be restricted. Neither must it be applied beyond measure. Every official must be careful not to exceed the demands of his office, exercising his own revenge, his own envy and hatred, in the name and under pretense of that position.


22. Peter continues to expatiate upon this topic – the good works he has been discussing: gentleness, mercy, friendliness – citing beautiful passages of Scripture and using other exhortations – to incite Christians to practice these virtues. He says:


“Not rendering evil for evil, or reviling for reviling; but contrariwise blessing: for hereunto were ye called, that ye should inherit a blessing.”

23. We have now seen whose prerogative it is to avenge, rebuke and punish evil. This passage does not refer to official duty. When the judge declares sentence of execution upon a thief we have truly an instance of vengeance and reproach, and a public and extreme reflection upon honor. But it is God’s judgment and his doing, with which we are not here concerned. The Christian of true faith and innocent life, who confesses his doctrine and belief, and as he is commanded rebukes opposing forces, will provoke the devil and the world, and will be persecuted, oppressed and harassed in the name of office and right, even by individuals whose official duty it is to protect the godly and restrain unjust power. If these cannot do more, they will at least annoy, hinder and oppose that Christian as far as possible. If the Christian be quick-tempered and fail to curb his anger and impatience, he will effect no good. He will only bring upon himself that disquiet of heart which consumes and worries itself with thoughts of revenge and retaliation upon the offender; which when the devil perceives, he rejoices. He so urges and instigates as to cause more mischief on both sides. Thus he doubly injures the Christian – through his enemy and through the anger wherewith the Christian torments himself and spoils his own peace.



24. What then shall we do, you say, when we must suffer such abuse and without redress? The only resource, Peter says, is to possess your heart in patience and commit the matter to God. This is all that remains when they whose duty it is will not help you, nor restrain and punish the wrong, but even do you violence themselves. If the evil receive not judicial punishment, let it go unpunished until God looks into it. Only see that you keep a quiet conscience and a loving heart, not allowing yourself, on account of the devil and wicked men, to be disturbed and deprived of your good conscience, your peaceful heart and your God-given blessing. But if in your official capacity you are commanded to punish the evil, or if you can obtain protection and justice from rightful authorities, avail yourself of these privileges without anger, hatred or bitterness, ay, with a heart that prompts to give good for evil and blessing for reviling.


25. Such conduct is becoming you as Christians, the apostle says, for you are a people called to inherit a blessing. Oh, wonderful and glorious fact, that God has decreed and appropriated to you this blessing whereby all the riches of his grace and everything good are yours! and that he will abundantly give you his Spirit to remain with you, blessing body and soul, if only you hold fast his grace and do not allow yourselves to be deprived of it. What price would you not gladly pay for this blessing, were it purchasable, instead of being freely given, without your merits, and were you privileged thus to buy the assurance of having a God so gracious, one willing to bless you in time and eternity? Who would not willingly give even body and life, or joyfully undergo all suffering to have the perfect assurance of heart which says: “I know I am a child of God, who has received me into his grace and I live in the sure hope that I will be eternally blessed and saved.” Think, Peter says, what a vast difference God makes between you and others because you are Christians. He has appointed you to be heirs of everlasting grace and blessing and of eternal life. But they who are not Christians – what have they but a terrible sentence like a weight about their necks? the sentence pronouncing them children of the curse and of eternal condemnation.


26. If men would take this to heart, it would be easy by teaching and persuasion to win them to friendship and kindness toward their fellow-men; to induce them not to return evil or reviling from motive of revenge, but when their own privileges and protection and the punishment of evil cannot be obtained, quietly and peaceably to suffer injury rather than lose their eternal comfort and joy. Christians have excellent reason, a powerful motive, for being patient and not revengeful or bitter in the fact that they are so richly blessed of God and given that great glory whereof, as Peter afterwards remarks, they cannot be deprived, nor can they suffer its loss, if only they abide in it. The apostle emphasizes this fact and further persuades Christians by citing the beautiful passage in Psalm 34:12-16:


“He that would love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: and let him turn away from evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears unto their supplication: but the face of the Lord is upon them that do evil.”

27. These words the Holy Spirit uttered long ago through the prophet David, for the instruction and admonition of all saints and children of God. David presents to us the matter as he daily saw it in his own life and learned from his own experience, and as he gathered from examples of the dear fathers from the beginning of the world. “Come hither, dear children,” he would say, “if you will be taught and advised, I will give you sound instruction as to how we are to fear God and become his children. Who desires peace and comfort?” “Oh, who would not desire peace and comfort?” cries the world. For these everyone seeks and strives, and all the efforts of the world are directed toward this end.



28. There are two ways to the goal of peace. One is that chosen by the world. The world seeks to obtain peace by preserving its own with violence. It desires the death of all who oppose it and will suffer injury or evil in word or deed from no one. This method, it is true, is appointed to govern mental authority. It is the duty of civil rulers to faithfully employ it to arrest and hinder evil as far as possible. But they can never wholly restrain evil nor punish every offense. Much wickedness will remain, particularly secret evil, which must punish itself, either by repentance here or in hell hereafter. By this procedure Christians will not accomplish for themselves any personal advantage; the world is too wicked and it will not give them support.


29. Therefore, if you desire peace for yourself personally, particularly as a Christian, you must choose another way. The Psalm shows it to you when it says: “Refrain thy tongue from evil, and thy lips that they speak no guile.” This injunction really applies to doctrine, meaning that we are to abide by the true Word of God and not to allow ourselves to be seduced by false teaching. But Peter here extends the application to the outward life and conduct of Christians in the work, the circumstances being such as to call for this admonition in the matter of refraining the tongue. On account of the faith and confession for which men are called Christians, they must suffer much; they are endangered, hated, persecuted, oppressed and harassed by the whole world. Christ foretold ( Matthew 10:22): “Ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake.” Easily, then, Christians, might believe they have cause to return evil, and being still flesh and blood mortals, they are inevitably moved to be angry and to curse, or to forsake their confession and doctrine and with unbelievers to join the false church with its idolatrous teaching. Here the Psalm admonishes: Dear Christian, let not all this move you to rave, curse, blaspheme and revile again, but abide in the blessing prepared for you to inherit; for you will not by violence remedy matters or obtain any help. The world will remain as it is, and will continue to hate and persecute the godly and believing. Of what use is it for you to hate, chafe and curse against its attitude? You only disturb your own heart with bitterness, and deprive yourself thereby of the priceless blessing bestowed upon you.


30. We have the same teaching in the fourth verse of Psalm 4, which comforts saints and strengthens them against the temptation and provocation to anger and impatience which they must experience in the world. “Be ye angry,” David says, “and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.” That is, although according to the nature of flesh and blood you fret because you are compelled to witness the prosperity of the world in its ungodly life and wickedness, and how it spites, despises and persecutes you with pride and insolence, nevertheless let not yourselves be easily provoked; let wrong, displeasure, vexation and worry remain outside the inner life; let them affect only the outward life, body and possessions. By no means let them become rooted in your heart. Still your hearts and content yourselves, and regard all this vexation as not worth losing sleep over. If you desire to serve God truly and to render acceptable sacrifice to him, then with faith in his Word place your hope in him as your dear Father who cares for you, hears you and will wondrously support you.



31. But the psalmist’s additional words, “Refrain your lips that they speak no guile,” refer, as I have said, primarily to confession of the doctrine; but there is another thought: When one is prompted to anger and to complaint about injury and wrong, in his impatience and irritation he cannot speak fairly concerning the matter of offense, but invariably exaggerates. So it is with anger and retaliation. One receiving but a pin-point wound will fly into a passion and be ready to break the offender’s head. The individual that suffers a single adverse word immediately proceeds to abuse and slander in the extreme his opponent. In short, an angry heart knows no moderation and cannot equally repay, but must make of a splinter, even a mote, a great beam, or must fan a tiny spark into a volcano of flame, by retaliating with reviling and cursing. Yet it will not admit that it does wrong. It would, if possible, actually murder the offender, thus committing a greater wrong than it has suffered.


32. So wicked and unjust is human nature that when offended it stops not with equal measure in retribution; it goes beyond and in its anger and revenge spares neither the neighbor’s honor nor his body and life. James 1:20 says: “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God”; that is, it suffers not a man to abide in his faith and good conscience. But official indignation, which is God’s wrath, does not so. It seeks not the destruction of man, but only the punishment of the actual fault. Man’s anger and revenge, so wicked and insatiable are they, return ten blows for one, or even double that number, and repay a single abusive word with a hundred.


33. So Peter admonishes you to restrain your tongues, to curb them, lest they suddenly escape your control and sin with wicked words, doing injury double that you have received. Guard your lips that your mouth utter not guile or falsehood through your anger, and that it may not calumniate, abuse and slander your neighbor contrary to truth and justice and in violation of the eighth commandment. Such conduct is, before God and man, unbecoming a Christian and leads to that most disgraceful vice of slander, which God supremely hates. It is the devil’s own, whence he has his name of liar or slanderer – diabolus, or devil.



34. The Psalm says further: “Turn away from evil and do good”; that is, beware lest on account of the wickedness of another you also become wicked, for anger and revenge meditate only harm and wickedness. Therefore be all the more diligent to do good, if you can, that your heart may retain its honor and joy and that you may abide in righteousness, and not fall from God’s grace and from obedience to him into the service of the devil. By anger and revenge the devil tempts you, endeavoring to get you again into his toils and to embitter your heart and conscience until you shall exceed others in sin.


35. “Seek peace and pursue it,” continues the apostle. This is a sublime exhortation, and faithful, divine counsel. You must not think, Peter would say, that peace will run after you, or that the world – much less the devil – will bring it into your house. Rather you will find the very opposite true. From without strife will be carried to you in bales, and within your own heart will be kindled anger and bitterness to fill you with everlasting disquiet. Therefore if you desire peace, wait not until other people help you to obtain it, nor until you create it for yourself by force and revenge. Begin with yourself. Turn from the evil to the good. Even undergo suffering to provide your heart with the peace which endures in spite of all that would rob you of it. Strive ever to keep your heart firm in the resolve: I will not be angry nor seek revenge, but will commit my affairs to God and to those whose duty it is to punish evil and wrongdoing. As for my enemy, may God convert and enlighten him. And however much more of violence and wrong I may suffer, I will not allow my heart to be robbed of its peace.


36. Notice, the way to preserve peace and to see good days even in evil times is to keep a silent tongue and a quiet heart through the comfort of divine grace and blessing. No outward occasion may be given for strife, but always peace is to be sought with good words, works and prayers. We must even pursue peace, follow after it, with genuine and strong suffering. Thus we preserve it by force. In no other way can a Christian see good days and hold fast his blessing. Remember you must make strenuous effort if you would not reject your blessing nor be influenced by another to carelessly lie and otherwise sin with your tongue. Flesh and blood are weak and sluggish in the matter of preserving peace, therefore Peter strengthens his exhortation and further encourages us by the promise of God’s help and protection for the faithful and his punishment of their enemies. He says:


“For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears unto their supplication.”

37. Inscribe this verse upon your heart in firm faith and see if it does not bring you peace and blessings. Try to believe that God sits above, sleepless and with his vigilant eye ever upon you. With watchful vision he beholds the righteous as they suffer violence and wrong. Why will you complain and become discouraged by reason of the harm and grief you experience, when the gracious eyes of the true Judge and God are upon you and his intent is to help you? All the wealth of the world would I give, if I might, to purchase that watchful care, or rather to obtain the requisite faith; for surely the lack is not in his regarding, but in our faith.



38. More than this, God’s ears, the apostle tells us, are also open to the prayers of the righteous. As he looks upon you with gracious, winning eyes, so also are his ears alert to even the faintest sound. He hears your complaint, your sighing and prayer, and hears, too, willingly and with pleasure; as soon as you open your mouth, your prayer is heard and answered.


39. Again, Peter says: “The face of the Lord is upon them that do evil.” True, God’s eyes are upon the righteous, but nevertheless he sees also the others. In this case he beholds not with a friendly look or gracious countenance, but with a displeased and wrathful face. When a man is angry the forehead frowns, the nostrils dilate and the eyes flash. Such a manifestation of anger are we to understand by the Scripture when it refers here to “the face of the Lord.” On the other hand it illustrates the pleased and gracious aspect of God by “the eyes of the Lord.”


40. Now, why is “the face of the Lord” upon evil-doers and what is its effect? Certainly God’s purpose is not to heed or to help them, to bestow blessing or success upon their evil-doing. His purpose is, according to the succeeding words in the psalm, “to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.” This is a terrible, an appalling sentence, before which a heart may well be prostrated as from a thunderbolt. And ungodly hearts would be thus appalled were they not so hardened as to despise God’s Word.


41. Notwithstanding the indifference of the wicked, the sentence is passed. Verily it is no jest with God. It illustrates how sincerely he cares for the righteous and how he will avenge them on the wicked, toward whom his countenance bespeaks punishment in due time and the cutting off of their memory from the earth. In contrast, the righteous, because they have feared God and abode in their piety though suffering for it, shall, even here upon earth, live to see blessing and prosperity upon their children’s children. Although for a time the company of the wicked conduct themselves with pride upon the earth, and imagine themselves secure beyond the possibility of being unseated, nevertheless when their hour comes they are suddenly hurled down from earth into the abyss of hell and must suffer the righteous to remain in possession of the earth. So testifies Christ in Matthew 5:5, and Psalm 37 more fully explains the matter.


42. It is proven by all the examples of Scripture and also by the experience of the whole world from the beginning, that God casts down those who seek only to injure. They who have despised God’s threats and angry countenance with security and defiance have at last experienced the fulfillment of these warnings and perished thereby. King Saul thought to destroy godly David, to exterminate his root and branch and blot out his name as if he had been a rebellious, accursed man. But God effected the very opposite. Because David in his sufferings and persecution walked in the fear of God and trusted him with simplicity, desiring no harm to his enemy, God’s gracious eye was ever upon him and preserved him from that enemy. On the other hand, the angry face of God was bent upon King Saul, and before David was aware of it the king had fallen, and his whole family met ruin with him; they were obliged to surrender crown and kingdom to the persecuted David.


43. Christians should strengthen their faith with the comforting thought that God’s gracious countenance is over them and he turns eye and ear toward them; and that on the other hand he looks with angry face upon their enemies and those seeking to injure, and will take a hand in their game, obliging them either to refrain from their evil-doing, or to perish by it. Such retribution is certain. No one can live long without proving by his own experience and that of other men the truth of the proverb, “Right will assert itself.” However, we lack in faith and cannot wait God’s hour. We think he delays too long and that we suffer too much. But in reality his time will come speedily, and we can well wait and endure if we believe in God, who but grants our enemies a brief opportunity to be converted. But their appointed hour is already at hand and they will not escape if it overtakes them without repentance.


“And who is he that will harm you, if ye be zealous of that which is good? But even if ye should suffer for righteousness’ sake, blessed are ye.”

44. According to Peter’s words here, you have a very great advantage over all your enemies, whoever they be, in being richly endowed by God with eternal blessing. You know he will protect, support and avenge you, hence you abide in your faith and godliness. Although your adversaries think to trouble and harm you, they can do you no real injury whatever they effect. For wherein can persecution harm if you strive for godliness and abide in it? Not by malice, might and violence can your enemies take from you, or diminish, your piety and God’s grace, his help and blessing. And even from all the bodily and temporal harm they can inflict, you suffer no loss. For the more they seek to injure you, the more they hasten their own punishment and destruction, and the greater is your recompense from God. By the very fact that they slander, disgrace, persecute and trouble you, they multiply your blessing with God and further your cause, for God must the sooner consider your case, supporting you and overthrowing them. They but prepare your reward and benefit by their wicked, venomous hatred, their envy, anger and fury. At the same time they effect for themselves conditions the very reverse. Being condemned by their own evil consciences, they cannot in their hearts enjoy one good day, one peaceful hour; and they heap up for themselves God’s wrath and punishment.


45. Indeed, you are all the more blessed, temporally and eternally, Peter declares, for the very reason that you suffer for righteousness’ sake. You are so to regard the situation and to praise and thank God for your suffering. The apostle looks upon tribulation in this light and exalts it as supreme blessedness and a glorious thing. Christ says in Matthew 5:11-12: “Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.” Oh, your adversaries should purchase a little of this comfort regardless of cost and boast of suffering a little for the sake of righteousness! Could they understand the promise and be worthy of it, how intensely might they desire to have suffered all and much more than they thought to inflict upon you, if only they might be blessed and prove the comfort of this precious, divine promise!


“Fear not their fear, neither be troubled; but sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord.”

46. Here again Peter resorts to Scripture and cites a verse from the prophet Isaiah ( Isaiah 8:12-13) where he admonishes God’s people not to be terror-stricken by the wrath and threats of men, but firmly and confidently to trust in God. The prophet speaks similarly in Isaiah 51:7: “Fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye dismayed at their revilings.” As if he would say: Why will you permit yourselves to be disturbed by the persecutions of men, however great, mighty and terrible enemies they may be, when you are blessed and happy in God to the extent that all creatures must pronounce you blessed? Moreover, you know the eyes of your God behold you and his ears are open to your cry, and whatever you desire and pray for is heard and granted. More than this, your adversaries are threatened by his angry face. What are all men – tyrants, pope, Turk, Tartars, ay, the devil himself – compared to this Lord, and what can they do against him, when and wheresoever he chooses to show his power? They are but as a straw to a mighty thunderbolt which makes the earth tremble. Therefore, if you are indeed Christians and believe in God you ought in no wise to fear all these adversaries, but rather, joyfully and with scornful courage to despise their defiance, their threatening and rage, as something utterly harmless to you; they are but effecting their own destruction in hurling themselves at the Majesty before which all creatures must tremble.



47. But this you are to do: Sanctify God; that is, regard and honor him as holy. This is nothing else than to believe his Word; be confident that in God you have truly one who, if you suffer for righteousness’ sake, neither forgets nor forsakes, but graciously looks upon you and purposes to give his support and to revenge you on your enemies. Such faith and confession honors him as the true God, upon whom man can confidently and joyfully call for help, reposing his whole trust in him upon the authority of his sure Word and promise, which cannot deceive or fail.


48. In contrast, unbelievers cannot sanctify God; they cannot render him due honor, although they may talk much of him and display much divine worship. They do not accept God’s Word as the truth, but always remain in doubt. In the hour of suffering they deem themselves utterly forgotten and forsaken by the Lord. Therefore they murmur and fret, being very impatient and disobedient toward God. They rashly seek to protect and revenge themselves by their own power. That very conduct betrays them as beings without a God, as blind, miserable, condemned heathen. Such are the great multitude of Turks, Jews, Papists and unbelieving saints today throughout the world.










LUKE 5:1-11.






King James Version

Luke 5:1-11

And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.




1. This Gospel brings before us two parts, in which it exhorts to faith and strengthens faith. In the first part it shows that Christ cares for those who believe in him, so that they are abundantly supplied against temporal and bodily needs. In the second part it shows that he will help them still more against spiritual needs, thus in reality proving the truth of what St. Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:8: “Godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come.” The Scriptures are everywhere full of these two kinds of promises.


2. To faith he assures temporal and bodily help by giving to Peter and his partners so great a draught of fishes after they had vainly toiled all night and caught nothing, and now could have no expectation or hope of taking anything. But herein he adheres to the rule and order which he himself has given and taught in Matthew 6:33: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” He here acts according to this saying and shows its truth by example and experience, inasmuch as the people press upon him in crowds, first to hear his words, and to such an extent that, in order to preach to them, he sets out from land in one of the boats. But when he has taught them he proceeds further to provide for their bodily needs, inasmuch as they are in distress and want.


3. Although it is not indeed the purpose of Christ’s coming or preaching to foster and provide for the body, yet he is not unmindful of it when the first thing sought is his kingdom. He therefore takes upon himself the distress of these poor fishermen who, through all this night, and with all their efforts and toil, have caught nothing. However, as they have lent him their boat to preach, and have listened to him, he, without any thought on their part, and before they have uttered any prayer, provides for them a draught of fishes so great that they are thereby enabled fully to learn and clearly to understand that in him they have a Master who cares for them and will not forsake them, provided they abide in his Word and remain his disciples.


4. He would that his Church, or believing people, should be comforted by the fact that he provides for them, and that somewhere on earth they shall find bread and an abiding place, even though they are everywhere so persecuted and scattered, that their place and provision in the world must be uncertain. We find this set forth, not only in the present instance, and in others like it, but in many a beautiful passage, such as Psalm 34:10: “The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger; but they that seek Jehovah shall not want any good thing.” And Psalm 33:18-19: “Behold, the eye of Jehovah is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his loving kindness; to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.” And Proverbs 10:3: “Jehovah will not suffer the soul of the righteous to famish,” etc.


5. By this example he especially shows how it goes with those upon whom he is to bestow his gifts and assistance, and how he is accustomed to bestow these favors. It goes with them as it went with those fishermen, who labored all the night, yet had nothing for all their trouble and labor, and had nothing to hope for from human counsel or aid. Manifold tribulations, miseries and distress are the daily experience of all Christendom. If Christ is to help, there must be trials, trouble and toil, and it must come to this, that we despair of all human counsel, comfort and ability. Then he comes with his help, and shows that he still has the means of comfort, counsel, protection and deliverance, and that he is able to bestow all this when everything else has failed us, and when all that we have done or suffered, and still may be able to do, is nothing and in yam; yea, that in such need and weakness he gives and helps in richer measure than could be done by all human power, skill and aid.


6. On the other hand, by saying to his disciples: “Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught,” Christ shows that he does not forbid work, or would have that neglected which we have been commanded to do. He thereby enjoins upon them to continue in their handicraft. The two things are thus well maintained over against each other, namely, that we must work, and that our work accomplishes nothing. For if toil and trouble could have accomplished anything, then would the disciples have accomplished it during the hours of the night; and all the more so then, as they had hopes of taking a greater number of fishes while the silence and darkness continued than when Christ, in broad daylight, commanded them to let down their nets. Nevertheless, at Christ’s word, and at one draught, they drew them in full to overflowing.


7. From this every one may see and learn that no man lives by his labor or exertion, however great and unhampered this may be, but must live by God’s blessing and grace. Let it remain at this, as the Germans say, that “God helps,” or “God bestows his gifts over night,” which saying has come down to us from pious men of old who realized its truth in their experience. Daily experience still shows that many a one toils, tooth and nail, in anxiety and hard work, who yet can scarcely earn his bread or get rid of his debts and poverty; whilst to another, who takes it easy and newer overexerts himself, everything comes and flows in so abundantly that we really must say: “All this comes from God’s help and not from any man’s labor.” In <19C702> Psalm 127:2 we are told: “So he giveth it unto his beloved in sleep,” as if the Psalmist would say: “It is in vain that you fret and plague yourself with cares and labor, day and night, in order to provide what is needed in the home. Much may be needed there; but it does not depend upon your hands and labor at all. Nothing will come of your effort unless God himself is the “House Father” and makes it possible for you to say: ‘God bestows his gifts over night. ’ Grain and all food from the earth, yea, all that a man has, or may acquire, must be given him of God.”


8. Such favors he also bestows upon the godless and unbelieving, and upon them more than upon others. With temporal goods he fills to overflowing the house and home of many wicked men who never think of a God. And he does this, not by their exertion and labor, but by a simple act of blessing, as we are told concerning such men in Psalm 17:14: “Whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure.” It is as if the Psalmist here said: “Deliver me from the men of this world who have their portion in this life, whose belly thou fillest with thy treasure,” that is, with such goods as are divine and hidden treasures of thine own, concerning which no man knows whence they come, and over which he has no power, – treasures which he cannot provide for himself, but must be provided and bestowed by thee alone.


9. Hereby Christ would have Christians aroused and strengthened in faith, and protected against unbelief with its harmful fruits, such fruits, especially, as covetousness, and anxious cares for the body and the present life. These cling to man by nature like an inborn plague which, together with the lusts of unbelief, moves and rages against the Spirit, as St. Paul teaches in Galatians 5:17. Moreover, the devil seeks to hinder faith by his temptations and suggestions to mistrust and doubt God. This, too, the world does by its hatred, envy and persecution of the righteous, whose goods and honor and life it is after, and whom it would use as mats for its feet. On the other hand (I say), we here perceive both the power and advantage of the faith which holds fast to Christ’s Word and ventures thereon, as Peter does, saying: “Although we have toiled all night and taken nothing, yet at thy word I will let down the nets.” It is this faith that so enlarges the draught of fishes as to fill the two boats; for without this the nets would not have been let down, nor would any fish have been caught.


10. Scripture, however, everywhere shows the harm that is done by the avarice and anxieties of unbelief. For unbelief can by no means obtain anything from God that would benefit, comfort or bless it, but so deprives itself of the divine benediction that it can have no satisfaction or joy in the temporal goods it desires, and can never possess a good and peaceful conscience. Hence it is that Christ, in Matthew 13:22, speaks of all anxiety, with regard to sustenance, as thorns, on account of which the Word of God cannot put forth its strength or its fruits. St. Paul expounds the meaning of the thorns in 1 Timothy 6:9-10, saying: “They that are minded to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil; which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”


11. Here compare the good things that faith brings and does, with the harm that is done by unbelief. For, in addition to this, that faith has the divine grace and blessing, it also has the promise that it shall be sufficiently supplied with all that it needs. It fills the heart with such goodness, peace and joy that it may well be called the root of all good things. Unbelief, on the other hand, with all its cares and covetousness, shall have this as its reward, that it is not bettered thereby, but must fall into all sorts of snares through many hurtful lusts and desires; and thus it attains to nothing in the end but eternal destruction. It is therefore nothing but the root whence all misfortunes spring.


12. These two things are clearly seen in the world. Those men are at rest and in peace who content themselves with the things that God provides. They journey onward cheerfully and courageously, whatever their calling may be. They have enough to live on, and all their necessities are so well supplied that they must say to themselves: “No evening yet have I gone hungry to sleep,” although it appears as if affliction and want are at their very doors, as, according to our text, was the case with Peter. They have this benefit from their confidence and faith in God, that they need not fret and wound themselves among the thorns (cares for the body), or be stung and injured by them, but can, so to speak, sit amid roses in a garden of pleasure. As Solomon says in Proverbs 15:15: “He that is of a cheerful heart hath a continual feast.” The others, however, who plant themselves among the thorns of avarice, and seek after great possessions, must suffer the consequences of being stung and torn and must fall, not only into manifold temptations and dangers, (which would be a mercy, if it only remained at that), but also into snares wherein they are so thoroughly caught that they sink to a temporal destruction and eternal damnation from which they can never again escape.


13. Of this we see daily examples in those who boast of the Gospel and their Christianity. Everywhere we find robbery, oppression, assessment, usury, etc. , to such an extent that even God and conscience are set aside for the sake of a miserable penny. Then, as if such a fall were not deep enough, they harden themselves, and keep on their course defiantly and sacriligiously, until they sink so far as to become enemies of God’s Word, become blind and deaf, yea, become so unblessed and accursed that they are of no service in any station, and can do nothing that is wholesome and good or useful to the pleasure and improvement of others. All they can do is to cause and bring harm, misfortune and misery upon land and people.


14. All comes from this, as St. Paul says, that men are bent on being rich. For such covetousness and cares do assuredly keep company with a pride that makes men aim at being something great and powerful. Covetousness would appropriate everything to itself. It begins at first by saying: “Would that I had this house, this field, this castle, this village,” etc. Thus it grows greater and greater till it becomes a dragon’s tail that draws everything after it. And where covetousness has once become rooted there it daily brings forth cares of a hundred different kinds, as it seeks to obtain still more goods and gold. There the human heart boils and bubbles with countless insatiable lusts, and desires, that serve no other purpose than its own destruction, and spring from no other source than man’s fall from faith, and thence from one temptation and snare into another. It is a dreadful plague that has taken such thorough possession of men that, on account of it, they can do nothing good or useful in their station, and no longer ,an have any thought of serving God or man.


15. When one has scraped together a great deal, he has no less trouble in retaining and protecting it. He must then try to gain favor and friendship, and in all sorts of ways seek to prevent the loss of his property. In the meantime he brings upon himself hatred and envy and troubles of many kinds, from which he cannot escape; and thus, as St. Paul shows, there is nothing left but disturbance and sorrows of conscience, and a veritable hell, into which the man has cast himself. Upon the covetous man the plague and curse have already been pronounced that he shall never be satisfied, and, furthermore, that he must endure all sorts of misfortune and heartgriefs through the very things he has coveted to his everlasting destruction and damnation.


16. We see from daily experience what shameful and accursed vice covetousness is, and what harm it does, especially in high office, whether clerical or lay. If the money fiend has taken possession of a pastor’s or preacher’s heart, so that he, like the rest of the world, only aims at securing for himself great riches, then has he already, like Judas the traitor, fallen into the jaws of the devil, and is prepared, for a few pieces of silver, to betray Christ and his Word and his Church. Thus has the Pope, in order to secure and maintain his riches and dominion, introduced, in the name of God and the Church, all sorts of idolatries and abominations, and has openly led multitudes of souls to the devil, so filling men with the false terrors of his ban that no one dares to say a word against it.


17. How harmful it is in civil governments when lords and princes are dominated by this shameful vice, aiming to appropriate everything to themselves. Thereby they forget to exercise their princely office so as to be of help to the land and people over whom, for this purpose, they have been placed as lords, and thus they forfeit the commendation and love which, with all honor and praise, they should receive as the fathers of their people and country. They do not concern themselves about the spread of God’s Word, the administration and support of churches and schools, the proper instruction of the people, or the maintenance of law and order among their subjects. They permit destitute pastors, with their children, widows and orphans, to suffer injustice, violence and want. In the meantime they go about with their tax lists, and only consider how they may collect money enough for their excessive expenditures and pomp. And when this does not suffice, they flay and tax their poor subjects to such an extent that they themselves fall into perplexities and difficulties which must bring poverty and ruin upon themselves, their land and their people. Or if, in their avarice, they have already accumulated enough to make them think they are quite rich, then, in order to carry out their undertakings, they involve themselves in manifold strange dealings and affairs that finally, to their own punishment, they bring upon themselves great burdens and ruin.


18. What a dreadful disaster and ruin has been brought upon Germany merely by the shameful and accursed usury which has everywhere gotten the upper hand, so that there is no longer any check or restraint to it, especially as those who should check it are themselves mixed up in it. Nowadays every one who has the power, by means of his money, impoverishes his neighbors, and thereby sets God and conscience aside. Thus, with open eyes, and with an evil, self-accusing conscience, he speeds off to hell, burdened with the curse that has been pronounced upon the abominations of covetousness, – the curse, that he shall not himself enjoy such property in peace and tranquility as has been gained by usury, but either himself shall lose it by God’s visitation or it shall not descend to his heirs. Upon such un-Christian doings must come the fearful wrath and punishment of God, which alas! we have long ago greatly deserved; and the time must come when he will turn us out of doors, together with the Turks and other terrible plagues, so that, since we would not heed his Word and admonition, he him. self may put a forcible end to this godless business.


19. This the believer avoids and escapes who, with good conscience and godly fear, occupies his station in life peacefully and quietly, and is satisfied with the things that God gives him. He does not expose himself to the dangers of temptation or snares. He is in no need of troubling himself with cares and anxieties, or of engaging with others in bickering and brawling disputes, quarrels, jealousies and hatreds. He is a man of fine, blessed and useful character, one who can be of service and assistance to many. He finds grace and favor with God and man that shall benefit and honor even his children’s children.


20. The example before us in this Gospel should teach and admonish us that we may learn to believe, and thus experience through faith, that God cares for his children and provides for them to such an extent that they need not worry and condemn themselves with cares or covetousness. And yet, though cares and covetousness are forbidden, it should be borne in mind, as I have already said, that no one dare cease from labor. The world turns these two things upside down, as it usually does with all the words and ordinances of God. To care and to strive for the obtaining of gold and goods is something it is determined to do. Such care, however, concerns God alone, and for himself alone has he reserved it. And yet the world is willing enough to let God attend to the work which it has been commanded to do; yea, all the aim of its cares and covetousness is to be set free from working in the sweat of its face. God wants just the opposite. He wants us to keep the work and to leave the care with him. By doing this we shall do our part, and, with moderate labor and no care, we shall soon come into possession of all we need.


21. When Christ wished to bestow his gift upon Peter and others he did not cause the fish to leap into the boat without labor or nets, as he very well might have done. But he commanded them to put out into the deep and let down their nets. That is, they should engage in the handicraft they understood and had learnt and were accustomed to, and should act as fishermen. Christ keeps aloof from the lazy, unfaithful idlers who will not do as they have been commanded, and will not keep their hands and feet from straying. Thus he teaches a twofold lesson, that he will not give us anything unless we work for it, and that the things we obtain do not come from our work, but only from God’s help and blessing. You are to work, but you are not to depend upon that work, as if that which resulted therefrom were of your own accomplishment.


22. In short, our work produces and bestows nothing. Yet it is necessary as a means through which we may receive what God gives. The disciples must use their hands to let down the nets and to draw them in, if they wish to secure anything, and must be willing to do so. Yet they are obliged to acknowledge that their labor did not bring about the result, otherwise they would have succeeded, in the first place, without Christ. He therefore permits them to make a sufficient trial, and to discover by experience that the toil of this entire night has been in vain and to no purpose.


23. This he teaches us by daily experience in all sorts of affairs and doings and governments on earth. Very often he permits us to labor long and arduously and without results, till it becomes bitterly painful to us, and we are forced to complain with Peter: “We toiled all night, and took nothing.” This he does that we may not venture to depend upon our labor, but may know that he must grant it success, and that we have not secured this through our own effort, skill or diligence.


24. What diligence, money and effort many a father and mother have bestowed in order to rear their son to honor and virtue, and that with a hope and confidence as great as if (to use a common expression) he were to become an angel. And yet he has become nothing but a notoriously willful and prodigal child. On the other hand, many a poor and forlorn orphan, upon whom very little effort and diligence have been expended, has grown up so surprisingly well-bred as to make us think that it just happened so, and did not depend upon any diligence or care of our own.


25. Of what do all civil governments more generally complain than of fruitless labors and efforts, even where their work is carried on energetically and in earnest, and where there are men who are willing and able to rule well, – men who are not lacking in wisdom, understanding, power and might? These are obliged to learn, after a long period of governing, that thereby they have not accomplished anything. How often it happens, indeed, that the best plans, the wisest counsels, and the brightest ideas prove to be the very worst, and result in nothing but harm and ruin. The very wisest rulers have always experienced and complained of this. And thus we may learn that God will not grant prosperity and success through human wisdom, plans and intrigues, if these are the things we depend upon.


26. Hence, if the world be willing to receive counsel from a plain and straightforward man, namely, from the Lord our God, who certainly has had some experience and understands the art of ruling, the best counsel would be, that each one, in his administration of government, should simply direct his thoughts and plans to a faithful prosecution and believing performance of the duties enjoined upon him, not placing any dependence upon his own thoughts and plans, but casting all his cares upon God. The man who does this will at last be sure to discover that he who trusts in God accomplishes more than he who seeks to transact his affairs according to his own wisdom and thought, or in his own power and might.


27. So it goes in the spiritual government of the Church, as specially indicated in the narrative now before us. Where I have preached and taught during the past ten or twenty years, there another could, perhaps, have done more in one year; and one sermon may bring forth more fruit than many others. Here, also, it is true that our labor, diligence and effort can accomplish nothing. These two things must go together, namely, that each one does his duty, and that he, nevertheless, acknowledges with Peter: “My labor cannot bring forth anything, if thou dost not give the increase.” As Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase,” etc.


28. In short, all human nature and life are so that, until God gives the increase, we may often labor long and much, and all to no purpose. But the work is not to cease on that account, nor should any man be found without work. He must wait for the increase till God gives it, as Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 11:6: “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand; for thou knowest not which shall prosper, whether this or that,” etc.


29. However, the circumstances are especially pointed out under which work becomes useful and fruitful, namely, when Christ appears and commands to let down the nets, etc., that is, when there is a faith that takes hold of his Word and promise and then, cheerfully and bravely, does what has been commanded, waiting, with prayer and supplication, for his help and blessing. This is to say with Peter: “Lord, I have indeed done and labored and suffered ninth, but I know that I shall accomplish nothing thereby, unless thou art present to give strength and increase. I will therefore depend, not upon myself or my own works, but upon thy Word, and will leave everything to thy care.” Thus shall we prosper; and experience shows that Christ, when he is present, gives more as the result of little labor and effort than any one would have dared to hope. For there can be no failure or scanty fruits where he adds his blessing.


30. Thus the disciples could see the experience for themselves what a difference there is between the work they had done all the previous night without faith in Christ, and the work they did when, without prospect of taking anything, they nevertheless, through faith in Christ’s word, and at one draught, drew in an overflowing multitude of fishes. Therefore, if we accomplish little or nothing through our labor and effort, we must put the blame upon our unbelief, or upon the weakness of our faith, and not upon anything else.


31. Yet this is also true, that Christ often delays the bestowal of his help, as he did on this occasion, and on another, John 21, when he permitted the disciples to toil all the night without taking anything, and really appeared as if he would forget his own Word and promise. But this he does that he may drive us to implore his help the more earnestly, and that we may learn to strengthen and maintain our faith, so that we do not doubt, or cease to labor, but continue to wait for the bestowal of his gifts in his own good time and way. For it is his purpose to guide all Christians into a knowledge and experience of the fact that their livelihood and help do not depend on what they see or do, but upon what is invisible and hidden. This he therefore calls his “hid treasure,” as we have already said in regard to Psalm 17:14:, that is, such blessing, help and deliverance as we have not perceived or laid hold of before, but are hidden in his Word and are grasped by faith.


32. Behold, this is the first part of our Gospel, the events of which took place and were recorded that Christians might be instructed and comforted by the fact that Christ cares even for the temporal needs of his Church, so that it is fed and supported, although it should come into a distress where everything is at the point of ruin, and where it seems to have done and suffered everything in vain. Always and everywhere does it happen that the Gospel, as it advances, brings poverty in its train, together with hunger and nakedness and want. But at last, when the storms of the devil have blown over a little, and the world’s greed and appetite have been satisfied, Christ comes and declares that he, too, is a Lord of the earth. For in Psalm 24:1 it is written: “The earth is Jehovah’s, and the fullness thereof,” etc. Also in Psalm 8:6-8: “Thou hast put all things under thy feet; all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea.” All these must obey our Lord, and must bend beneath his scepter, so that the world, after all, cannot prevent him and his from sharing in its food.


33. But, as I have said, we must first have hunger and want, that is, Peter’s empty boat and net, even where there has been long-continued labor. Yet Christ, after such a trial, makes his gifts all the more abundant, not only a tub full, with which the disciples might have been satisfied, but the entire net full and the two empty boats full. He does this that their faith in his spiritual help may thereby be strengthened, He shows this sign to Peter, and to the others whom he intends to call to be his Apostles, not only in order that they should believe that he would care for their bodies, but that he would so strengthen and help them in their apostolic calling that it should not prove to be in vain or fruitless.





34. The second part of this Gospel presents the great doctrine of the inner distress and conflict of conscience, and what constitutes our true comfort in the midst of it. Only after Peter saw this wonderful work of Christ and the abundance it produced, did he begin to consider what sort of a Man this Wonderworker must be, and what sort of a man he himself was in comparison. Out of this great blessing there comes upon him a greater distress than he has ever experienced from any bodily want. He now becomes so thoroughly poor and destitute, that, on account of terror, he almost sinks to the earth and bids Christ depart from him. He has begun to feel his unworthiness and sins. He is forced to acknowledge and lament that he is a poor sinner.


35. Peter is to become a different man; and a greater miracle is to be wrought in him than in the draught of fishes. The sermon which Christ had previously preached from the boat now first began to have its effect upon him. He, with the others, had indeed listened to Christ before this, but he had given no thought to the character of his Person. He had not thought of obtaining any temporal or eternal good from him; nor had he yet begun to tremble on account of his sins. But now when Peter perceives the miracle and the blessing, and realizes, through the present event, what sort of a Man this Jesus is, he stumbles at the greatness of the blessing and of the Person on the one hand, and, on the other, at the extent of his own unworthiness. He trembles on account of his sins. His heart tells him that he does not deserve such great favor, and that he is far more deserving of God’s wrath and disfavor. He is now filled with anxiety and fear, not as to temporal poverty, or as to means of support, for he has been supplied with what he needs; but as to his ability to stand before God and before this man who has shown this great favor to such an unworthy and sinful human being as he.


36. This is the way Christ begins to make Peter spiritually rich in things that are eternally good, so that he may be able to impart them to others, yea, to the entire world. As on a previous occasion, he must first feel spiritual hunger and distress, that is, terror and anguish of conscience, before he can attain to forgiveness and to comfort. The boat and the world have become too narrow for him. He knows not whither to betake himself from Christ, whom, however, he has found to be, not terrifying, but friendly and helpful.


37. Here you see how poor and miserable conscience is when it really begins to feel its sins. how it trembles’. How it runs to escape from God when he draws nigh, as if it would run across a hundred worlds! Thus Adam in Paradise thought to hide himself when God kindly asked: “Adam, where art thou?” So shy and timorous is such a heart and conscience that it gets frightened at itself, and flees from a rustling leaf as from thunder and lightning. It cannot endure the judgment of the Law, which reveals its sins and God’s eternal wrath. And here it is of no use to comfort a man by reminding him of the favors that God has shown him in the past. This only terrifies him all the more, as thereby he realizes that he deserves still greater wrath on account of his ingratitude and sins.


38. Yea, even they have ever to contend with this temptation and fear who already have received the comfort of the grace of God through faith. For his goodness and grace are too great and overwhelming. On the other hand, our heart, in the feeling and consideration of its own unworthiness, is far too narrow and feeble to hold and comprehend such great goodness and mercy. At this it is simply filled with amazement. God therefore shows himself merciful to us by veiling and covering these things under simple words and beneath great weakness.


39. But such is the awful wickedness of our nature that, even when Christ comes to us with his grace and comfort, we avoid and flee from our Savior, while we rather, though naked and barefooted, should run after him to the ends of the earth. We turn and twist, and resort to our own works, and would first, by our own efforts, cleanse and make ourselves worthy enough to deserve such a gracious God and Christ. Thus Peter thinks to seek peace and to escape sin by running away from the Lord. He first looks for something in himself to make him worthy of coming to Christ, but thereby only falls all the more deeply into terror and despair, until the Savior, by his word, raises him up again.


40. All this does, and indeed must, come to pass, where nothing but the Law is taught and understood, and where Christ is not rightly and fully known through the Gospel. A knowledge of the Law has been inscribed and implanted in every human heart by nature, as St. Paul says in Romans 2:15. The Law teaches us what we are to do, and pronounces us guilty of disobedience. It does so in many ways, not only through dreadful tokens and feelings of punishment and of God’s anger, but also through the various gifts and operations of the Lord, that appear to the eyes and ears of man and point out to him the sin and divine wrath which follow upon their abuse in contempt and disobedience towards God. From this he may conclude that those who are ungrateful to God for his gifts and favors, are worthy of his wrath and condemnation.


41. All God’s benefits when they move the heart, are really living sermons unto repentance that lead a man to acknowledge his sins and make him fear them, as St. Paul, in Romans 2:1, says to the impenitent, hardened hypocrite: “Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”


42. Hence, there is nothing in the juggling tricks which our Antinomians play upon this example, when they say that repentance is not to be preached and practiced through the Law, but through the Gospel, or, as they put it, through the revelation of the Son. They change the proper order of the two parts: the revelation of grace and the revelation of wrath, as if we are first to preach comfort through grace and afterwards to terrify through wrath. This is nothing but a blind and foolish pretext on the part of these people. They have no understanding of wrath or grace or repentance, and know not how to comfort the conscience.


43. All preaching of sin and God’s wrath is a preaching of the Law, no matter how or when it may be done. On the other hand, the Gospel is such preaching as sets forth and bestows nothing but grace and forgiveness in Christ. And yet it is true that the Apostles and preachers of the Gospel sanctioned the preaching of the Law, as Christ himself did, and began with this in the case of those who had not yet acknowledged their sins and had felt no fear of God’s anger. Thus our Lord says in John 16:8: “The Comforter, when he is come, will convict the world in respect of sin,” etc. Yea, what more solemn and terrible proof and preaching of God’s wrath can there be than the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, his son? It is not the preaching of the Gospel, nor is it Christ’s own preaching, but the preaching of Moses and the Law to the impenitent, so long as nothing but God’s wrath is preached and men are terrified. For the Gospel and Christ were neither ordained nor given in order to terrify or condemn, but to comfort and raise up such as are fearful and faint-hearted. And from this it follows that the man, whose heart has been rightly impressed by the sufferings of Christ, must, of his own accord, see and feel in these the unbearable wrath of God against sin, and thereby be so stricken with fear that the world becomes too narrow for him. St. Bernard testifies that this was his experience as soon as he gained a right insight into the sufferings of Christ. He says: “Alas, I thought I was safe! I knew nothing of the judgment and wrath that had come upon me, till I saw that the only begotten Son of God had to take my place,” etc. This idea is so terrible that even the damned in hell can have no greater torment, no greater feeling of God’s wrath and condemnation, than this vision of the death of the Son of God, the benefits of which they have forfeited. Thus Judas, the traitor, as he would not heed the kindly admonitions and warnings of the Lord Jesus, and would not take into consideration how he acted towards him, was finally driven into such terror by this vision that he preached the Law and damnation to himself in saying: “I have betrayed innocent blood,” etc. , Matthew 27:4.


44. In like manner, Peter preaches to himself the Law concerning his sins and God’s wrath, and takes as his text Christ’s great kindness towards him. From this kindness he can gather nothing but wrath and terror on account of his unworthiness before God. For he has, as yet, no other understanding in his heart than that of the Law, which Law shows that God is hostile to sin and will punish it. He is still ignorant of the grace of Christ which, through the Gospel, is freely offered to all sinners. To this grace he could not have attained, but must have despaired in ‘the midst of his terror, had not Christ delivered another sermon whereby he comforted him and raised him up. For, of himself, no man can grasp this doctrine, or arrive at an understanding of it, without the revelation of the Holy Spirit through the word of the Gospel.


45. Hence those foolish souls are entirely wrong, who allege that the Law is not to be preached under the New Testament dispensation, or that men are to be terrified with God’s wrath through the Gospel only after grace has been preached to them. For it is certain that the Gospel preaches no wrath; nor does it cause fear and anguish. When it comes, it is for the purpose of comforting consciences. The order everywhere indicated and observed by Scripture is this, that sin must always be acknowledged and fear of God’s wrath be realized, through the preaching or experience of the Law, before there can be such comfort as proceeds from forgiveness, the purpose of this order being that men may be led to long for grace and be made fit to receive the comfort of the Gospel. Those, therefore, who are yet without any fear of God’s wrath, who are secure and hardened and unyielding, must be strongly admonished and urged to repentance by the threats and terrors of that wrath, that is, to them no Gospel is to be preached, but only the Law and Moses.


46. On the other hand, no law is to be preached to those in whose hearts it has wrought its purpose so that, through the realization of their sins, they have become terrified, faint-hearted and fearful. To such as these nothing is to be preached but the Gospel and its comfort. For it is really the purpose of Christ’s coming, and of his command to preach the Gospel to all poor sinners, that they should believe that it abolishes and does away with all the accusations and fears and threatenings of the Law, and puts a perfect comfort in their place. This he everywhere teaches in the Gospel; and in Luke 4:18, quoted from Isaiah 61:1, he says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor.” I have often said, therefore, that Moses must not be permitted to dominate the consciences that are agitated by the assaults of the devil and the dread of God’s wrath, but that these are straightway to dismiss Moses, together with the entire Law, and not listen to him.


47. But besides, we must bear in mind that the doctrine of the Law is not to be entirely done away with, even in the case of those who are Christians, inasmuch as Christians must exercise themselves in daily repentance, because they still live in the flesh which is moved by sinful lusts. hence they must be so taught and admonished, after they have received the forgiveness of sins, that they do not fall back again into a state of security, or give the flesh occasion to war against the Spirit. Galatians 5:13.


48. Such is Peter’s experience at this time. In his terror he has not, as yet, any revelation or knowledge of grace or forgiveness of sins. The revelation of wrath is working in him, and this impels him to flee even from Christ, which he certainly would not hare done, had he rightly known him. But Christ is now about to make of him a true Christian, about to make him experience the real comfort of conscience which overcomes the terror of the Law and raises man from the misery of sin to grace and blessedness, from death to life, from hell to heaven. It is necessary, therefore, that he should first have a real taste of that power of the Law which is roused and wrought, not by Christ, but by Moses through the ten Commandments.


49. Now, see how kindly Christ comforts the terrified heart and conscience. He says: “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” In tones so truly loving does the Savior speak to all who are in fear and terror by reason of their sins. He will not have them to remain any longer in fear and anguish. He takes away from them all the dread of the Law, and shows them that they should not, on account of their sins, flee from him but to him, so that they may learn to know him as the loving Savior who has come into this world, not to reject poor sinners, but to allure them to himself, and to enrich and bless them with his comfort and help. He therefore says, in Luke 19:10: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” And in 1 Timothy 1:15 St. Paul says: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”


50. Not only does Christ give comfort to poor, terror-stricken Peter by the kindly words in which he declares and offers to him his grace and absolution, but he goes on to strengthen this comfort by the great promise that he will give him something far beyond anything he has hitherto received from him; and all this in order that Peter may perceive and experience how Christ’s heart and love go out to him. “From henceforth,” Christ says, “thou shalt catch men.” That Peter is not to be alarmed on account of his unworthiness and sins is, in itself, an abundant comfort and grace. However, he is not only to have the forgiveness of his sins, but is also to know that God intends to accomplish still greater things through him by making him a help and comfort to others. What Christ would say is this: “That which thou hast accomplished by this draught of fishes is much too little; really, it is nothing at all. Thou art henceforth to become a different kind of fisherman, in a different sea, with a different net and boat. For I am going to engage thee in a business which shall be called ‘catching men’; and this means that, throughout the entire world, thou art to draw away souls from the power of the devil into the kingdom of God. Then, first, wilt thou become the sort of man that can help others, even as thou thyself hast been helped.”


51. From this Gospel let us rightly acknowledge and lay hold upon Christ and the power of his comfort, in order that we may comfort both ourselves and others, and may instruct and remind the consciences which are in distress and fear that they are by no means to run or flee away from Christ, but should much rather flee to him and wait for his comfort. Thus to run away, thus to fear, is nothing else than to drive your own salvation and happiness away from you. For Christ has not come to make you afraid, but to remove from you your sins and distress. Nor does he draw nigh and follow after you in order to drive you away, but that he may kindly allure you to himself. You must therefore not do him the dishonor of thrusting him away from you. And you must not pervert to your own fear and despair the comfort he brings you, but much rather run to him in all confidence. Then you will soon hear the cheering and comforting words: “Fear not?’ which he speaks to your heart, and to the hearts of all troubled consciences, and through them he pronounces absolution for all sins and removes all fear. Yea, he will grant you a still richer grace by making you such a holy, blessed and useful man in his kingdom, that you can be of comfort to others, and can bring those to him who, like yourself, are now full of fear and in need of comfort and grace.


52. Here you see how a man is delivered from spiritual poverty and distress, that is, how, through Christ’s Word, he obtains forgiveness of sins and peace of conscience together with grace and increase of spiritual gifts, without any merit or worthiness of his own but only through the grace of Christ. It is in this respect as it was with the temporal miracle of the draught of fishes, which the disciples did not secure by reason of their toil, and which was not given to them before they had labored and striven in vain, and had despaired of taking anything. And yet, as Christ on that occasion does not forbid their laboring, but commands them to let down their nets for a draught, so now he does not abolish works. Although Peter does not deserve grace and forgiveness by what he does, but receives forgiveness and grace freely, yet the Lord will not permit him to dispense with all work and effort. Yea, he assigns to him the duty and business of bringing the same blessings to others, and, in the assignment of this duty, comforts him with the assurance that the necessary power and blessing shall be added. “For,” says he, “I will make thee a fisher of men.” Thus are the two parts rightly taught, namely, that faith deserves nothing by its works, and yet, that it performs all sorts of works in its station and calling, according to the word and command of God.




53. Christ himself teaches the meaning of this history of Peter’s draught of fishes when he says: “From henceforth thou shalt catch men.” Herein is represented the spiritual rule of the Church, which consists in the office of preaching. The sea, or the water, represents the world, the fishes represent men, while the outward office of preaching is represented by the hand and the net by which the fishes are caught. For as the net is let down among the waves, so the sermon finds its way among men.


54. But this office of preaching is of twofold One seeks to win men without Christ. This is the preaching of the Law, which demands of us nothing but works, and either makes arrogant saints who, without accomplishing anything, would pursue their own free, unhampered course through the wild and watery wastes, or only terrifies and drives away the consciences which, without works, are timid and weak.


55. Hence the labor and effort of the entire night (of the Law) must prove vain and lost until Christ comes with the other kind of preaching, – until he brings with him the dawn and revelation of the comforting and cheering Gospel that enlightens the hearts of men with the knowledge of the grace of God, – until he commands us to let down the net for a draught. When this is done at his word and command, great and rich fruits are the result. Then men’s hearts are willing and ready to come to the obedience of faith in Christ, yea, even to press forward to it, and to venture life and limb in its attainment, as Christ says in Matthew 11:12: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and men of violence take it by storm.”


56. This draught of fishes is so great that the one boat alone (hitherto representing the Church of the Jewish people) is not able to draw it up or large enough to contain it. Those in the one boat must beckon to their partners in the other to come and help them. This other boat is the assembly and Church of the Gentiles which has been established and spread by the Apostles. Thus were the two boats filled with one and the same draught of fishes, that is, with one and the same sort of preaching, and with a corresponding faith and confession.


57. Owing to the great draught the nets began to break, and some of the fishes fell out. These are they who are not sincere, and do not abide in the Gospel, but cast themselves out of it, preferring to continue amid their free and wild waves rather than submit themselves to Christ. So there were many, especially among the Jews, who disobeyed and gainsaid the Gospel. These, and all others who establish sects and factions of their own, may not and cannot continue with the true band of God’s people in the assembly of the Church, but make themselves manifest as being good for nothing. Hence St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:19: “There must be also factions among you, that they who are approved may be made manifest among you.” These sects and factions must therefore fall away, while the others are gathered together out of the net and put into the two boats, where they are so kept, in the unity of the Church and of faith in Christ, that they do not fall away again. Otherwise they would be in danger of falling away at last, together with the factions by whom they had been seduced.


58. And as the net suffers through being let down into the water and becomes wet, so must the office of preaching suffer through all sorts of trials and persecutions in the world, even to the extent of being rent and torn. It cannot produce profitable or fruitful results in all men; yet great power and much fruit are found in those who remain steadfast and are kept to the end. It is our comfort, however, that Christ, through our preaching, will lead his own into the boat, and will keep them there, although we know that we cannot make devout men of all to whom we preach, and that we cannot escape persecution on account of our office; yea, though we know that many will fall away even among those of whom we felt sure that we had them in the net.










ROMANS 6:3-11.



ROMANS 6:3-11.

Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin; for he that hath died is justified from sin. But if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him; knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death no more hath dominion over him. For the death that he died, he died unto sin once: but the life that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Even so reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus.



1. In this epistle lesson Paul gives Christians instruction concerning the Christian life on earth, and connects with it the hope of the future and eternal life, in view of which they have been baptized and become Christians. He makes of our earthly life a death – a grave – with the understanding, however, that henceforth the risen man and the newness of life should be found in us. And he treats of this doctrine because of an error that always prevails: When we preach that upon us is bestowed grace and the forgiveness of sins, without any merit on our part, people are disposed to regard themselves as free from obligation and will do no works except those to which their own desires prompt them. This was Saint Paul’s experience when he so strongly commended the grace of Christ and its consolation (ch. 5:20), declaring that “where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly,” and that where there are many and great sins, there also reigns great, abundant and rich grace. The rude crowd cried: Oh, is it true that great grace follows upon great sin? In that case we will cheerfully load ourselves with sin so that we may receive the greater grace.



2. Such argument Paul now confutes. He says: It is not the intention of the Gospel to teach sin or to allow it; it teaches the very opposite – how we may escape from sin and from the awful wrath of God which it incurs. Escape is not effected by any doings of our own, but by the fact that God, out of pure grace, forgives us our sins for his Son’s sake; for God finds in us nothing but sin and condemnation. How then can this doctrine give occasion or permission to sin when it is so diametrically opposed to it and teaches how it is to be blotted out and put away.


3. Paul does not teach that grace is acquired through sin, nor that sin brings grace; he says quite the opposite – that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,” Romans 1:18. But because the sins of men which are taken away are so grievous and numerous, the grace which drowns and destroys them must be mighty and abundant also. Where there is great thirst, a great draft is needed to quench it. Where there is a mighty conflagration, powerful streams of water are necessary to extinguish it. In cases of severe illness, strong medicine is essential to a cure. But these facts do not give us authority to say: Let us cheerfully drink to satiety that we may become more thirsty for good wine; or, Let us injure ourselves and make ourselves ill that medicine may do us more good. Still less does it follow that we may heap up and multiply sins for the purpose of receiving more abundant grace. Grace is opposed to sin and destroys it; how then should it strengthen or increase it ?


4. Therefore he begins his sermon by inquiring, in this sixth chapter (verses 1-3): “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein?” In other words: How is it possible that because grace should destroy sin ye should live unto sin? And then, further to illustrate this, he says: “Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”


5. He speaks here in figurative language to clearly and forcibly impress this matter upon us; ordinarily it would have been sufficient for him to ask: “We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein?” that is to say, Inasmuch as ye have been saved from sin through grace, it is not possible that grace should command you to continue in sin, for it is the business of grace to destroy sin. Now, in the figurative words above quoted, he wishes to vividly remind us what Christ has bestowed upon us. He would say to us: Do but call to mind why you are Christians – you have been baptized into Christ. Do you know why and whereunto you have been baptized, and what it signifies that you have been baptized with water? The meaning is that not only have you there been washed and cleansed in soul through the forgiveness of sins, but your flesh and blood have been condemned, given over unto death, to be drowned, and your life on earth to be a daily dying unto sin. For your baptism is simply an overwhelming by grace – a gracious overwhelming – whereby sin in you is drowned; so may you remain subjects of grace and not be destroyed by the wrath of God because of your sin. Therefore, if you let yourself be baptized, you give yourself over to gracious drowning and merciful slaying at the hands of your God, and say to him: Drown and overwhelm me, dear Lord, for gladly would I henceforth, with thy Son, be dead to sin, that I may, with him, also live through grace.



6. When he says, “All we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death,” and again, “We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death,” he speaks in his own Pauline style concerning the power of baptism, which derives its efficacy from the death of Christ. By his death he has paid for and taken away our sins; his death has been an actual strangling and putting to death of sin, and it no longer has dominion over him. So we, also, through his death have obtained forgiveness of sins; that sin may not condemn us, we die unto sin through that power which Christ – because we are baptized into him – imparts to and works in us.


7. Yea, he further declares that we are not only baptized into his death, but, by the same baptism, we are buried with him into death; for in his death he took our sins with him into the grave, burying them completely and leaving them there. And it follows that, for those who through baptism are in Christ, sin is and shall remain completely destroyed and buried; but we, through his resurrection – which, by faith, gives us the victory over sin and death and bestows upon us everlasting righteousness and life – should henceforth walk in newness of life.


8. Having these things through baptism, we dare no longer obey – live unto – -the sin which still dwells in our flesh and blood in this life; we must daily strangle it so that it may have no power nor life in us if we desire to be found in the estate and life of Christ. For he died unto sin, destroying it by his death and burying it in his grave; and he acquired life and the victory over sin and death by his resurrection, and bestows them upon us by baptism. The fact that Christ himself had to die for sin is evidence of the severe wrath of God against sin. Sin had to be put to death and laid away in the grave in the body of Christ. Thereby God shows us that he will not countenance sin in us, but has given us Christ and baptism for the purpose of putting to death and burying sin in our bodies.


9. Thus Paul shows us in these words what has been effected by Christ’s death and burial, and what is the signification of our being buried with him. In the first place, Christ was buried that he might, through forgiveness, cover up and destroy our sin, both that which we have actually committed and that which is inherent in us; he would not have it inculpate and condemn us. In the second place, he was buried that he might, through the Holy Spirit, mortify this flesh and blood with its inherent sinful lusts; they must no longer have dominion over us, but must be subject to the Spirit until we are utterly freed from them.


10. Thus, we still lie with Christ in the grave according to the flesh. Although it be true that we have the forgiveness of sins, that we are God’s children and possess salvation, yet all this is not perceptible to our own senses or to the world. It is hidden in Christ by faith until the judgment day. For we do not yet experience in ourselves such righteousness, such holiness, such life and such salvation as God’s Word describes and as faith expects to find. Wherefore Paul says in Colossians 3:3-4 (as we have heard in the Easter sermons), “Your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory.”


11. On the other hand, we are outwardly oppressed with the cross and sufferings, and with the persecution and torments of the world and the devil, as with the weight of a heavy stone upon us, subduing our old sinful nature and checking us against antagonizing the Spirit and committing other sins. “For if we have become united [planted together] with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin; for he that hath died is justified from sin.”


12. This is another distinctly apostolic discourse. Being baptized into Christ’s death and buried with him, to which Paul had just referred, he here calls being united, or planted together, with Christ in the likeness of his death. Christ’s death and resurrection and our baptism are intimately united with, and related to, one another. Baptism is not to be regarded a mere empty sign, as Anabaptists erroneously hold. In it is embodied the power of both Christ’s death and resurrection. Hence Paul says, “we are planted together with him,” engrafted into him as a member of his body, so that he is a power in us and his death works in us. Through baptism he dedicates us to himself and imparts to us the power of his death and resurrection, to the end that both death and life may follow in us. Hence our sins are crucified through his death, taken away, that they may finally die in us and no longer live.


13. Being placed under the water in baptism signifies that we die in Christ. Coming forth from the water teaches, and imparts to, us a new life in him, just as Christ remained not in death, but was raised again to life. Such life should not and can not be a life of sin, because sin was crucified before in us and we had to die to it. It must be a new life of righteousness and holiness, Christ through his resurrection finally destroyed sin, because of which he had to die, and instead he brought to himself the true life of righteousness, and imparts it to us. Hence we are said to be planted together with Christ or united with him and become one, so that we both have in us the power of his death and resurrection. The fruits and results of this power will be found in us after we are baptized into him.


14. The apostle speaks consolingly of the death of the Christian as a being planted, to show that the Christian’s death and sufferings on earth are not really death and harm, but a planting unto life; being redeemed, by the resurrection, from death and sin, we shall live eternally. For that which is planted is not planted unto death and destruction, but planted that it may sprout and grow. So Christ was planted, through death, unto life; for not until he was released from this mortal life and from the sin which rested on him and brought him into death on our account, did he come into his divine glory and power. Since this planting begins in baptism, as said, and we by faith possess life in Christ, it is evident that this life must strike root in us and bear fruit. For that which is planted is not planted without purpose; it is to grow and bear fruit. So must we prove, by our new conversation and by our fruits, that we are planted in Christ unto life.



15. Paul gives the reason for new growth. He says: “Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin.” It does not become us, as baptized Christians, to desire to remain in our old sinful estate. That is already crucified with Christ, the sentence of condemnation upon it has been pronounced and carried out. For that is what being crucified means. Just so, Christ, in suffering crucifixion for our sins, bore the penalty of death and the wrath of God. Christ, innocent and sinless, being crucified for our sins, sin must be crucified in our body; it must be utterly condemned and destroyed, rendered lifeless and powerless. We dare not, then, in any wise serve sin nor consent to it. We must regard it as actually condemned, and with all our power we must resist it; we must subdue and put it to death.


16. Paul here makes a distinction. He says, “Our old man was crucified with him [Christ],” and “that the body of sin might be done away.” He intimates that the “old man” and “the body of sin” are two different things. By the term “old man” he means not only the body – the grossly sinful deeds which the body commits with its five senses – but the whole tree with all its fruits, the whole man as he is descended from Adam. In it are included body and soul, will, reason and understanding. Both inwardly and outwardly, it is still under the sway of unbelief, impiety and disobedience. Man is called old, not because of his years; for it is possible for a man to be young and strong and vigorous and yet to be without faith or a religious spirit, to despise God, to be greedy and vainglorious, or to live in pride or the conceit of wisdom and power. But he is called the old man because he is unconverted, unchanged from his original condition as a sinful descendant of Adam. The child of a day is included as well as the man of eighty years; we all are thus from our mother’s womb. The more sins a man commits, the older and more unfit he is before God. This old man, Paul says, must be crucified – utterly condemned, executed, put out of the way, even here in this life. For where he still remains in his strength, it is impossible that faith or the spirit should be; and thus man remains in his sins, drowned under the wrath of God, troubled with an evil conscience which condemns him and keeps him out of God’s kingdom.


17. The “new man” is one who has turned to God in repentance, one who has a new heart and understanding, who has changed his belief and through the power of the Holy Spirit lives in accordance with the Word and will of God. This new man must be found in all Christians; it begins in baptism or in repentance and conversion. It resists and subdues the old man and its sinful lusts through the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul declares, “They that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts,” Galatians 5:24.


18. Now, although in those who are new men, the old man is crucified, there yet, Paul says, remains in them in this life “the body of sin.” By this we understand the remaining lusts of the old man, which are still felt to be active in the flesh and blood, and which would fain resist the spirit. But inasmuch as the head and life of sin are destroyed, these lusts cannot harm the Christian. Still the Christian must take care not to become obedient to them, lest the old man come to power again. The new man must keep the upper hand; the remaining sinful lusts must be weakened and subdued. And this body of ours must finally decay and turn to dust, thereby utterly annihilating sin in it.


19. Now, he says, if ye be dead to sin under the reign of the spirit and the new man, and adjudged to death under the reign of the body, ye must no longer permit sin to bring you under its dominion, lest it inculpate and condemn you. But ye must live as those who are wholly released from it, over whom it no longer has any right or power. For we read, “He that hath died is justified from sin.” This is said of all who are dead. He that has died has paid for his sin; he need not die for it again, for he no longer commits sin and evil deeds. If sin be destroyed in man by the Spirit, and the flesh also is dead and gone, man is completely released and freed from sin.


20. Paul comprehends the whole existence of the Christian on earth in the death of Christ, and represents it as dead and buried, in the coffin; that is, the Christian has ceased from the life of sin, and has nothing more to do with it. He speaks of sin as being dead unto the Christian and of the latter as being dead unto sin for the reason that Christians no longer take part in the sinful life of the world. And, too, they are doubly dead. First, spiritually they are dead unto sin. And this, though painful and bitter to flesh and blood, is a blessed, a comfortable and happy dying, sweet and delightful, for it produces a heavenly life, pure and perfect. Secondly, they are physically dead – the body dies. But this is not really death; rather a gentle, soothing sleep. Therefore ye are, Paul would say, beyond measure happy. In Christ ye have already escaped death by dying unto sin; that death ye need die no more. It – the first death, which ye have inherited from Adam through sin – is already taken away from you. That being the real, the bitter and eternal death, ye are consequently freed from the necessity of dying. At the same time there is a death, or rather only the semblance of one, which ye must suffer because ye are yet on earth and are the descendants of Adam.



21. The first death, inherited from Adam, is done away with: changed into a spiritual dying unto sin, by reason of which the soul no longer consents to sin and the body no longer commits it. Thus, in place of the death which sin has brought upon us, eternal life is already begun in you. Ye are now freed from the dreadful damning death; then accept the sweet, holy and blessed death unto sin, that ye may beware of sin and no longer serve it. Such is to be the result of the death of Christ into which ye are baptized; Christ has died and has commanded you to be baptized in order that sin might be drowned in you.


22. The other, the “little death,” is that outward, physical death. In the Scriptures it is called a sleep. It is imposed upon the flesh, because, so long as we live on earth, the flesh never ceases to resist the spirit and its life. Paul says: “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would.” Galatians 5:17. The spirit, or soul, says: I am dead unto sin and will not sin any more. But the flesh says: I am not dead and must make use of my life while I have it. The spirit declares: I believe that God has forgiven my sins and taken them away from me through Christ. But the flesh asks: What do I know of God or his will? The spirit resolves: I must be meek, pure, chaste, humble, patient, and seek the future life. But the flesh in reply makes a loud outcry: Away with your heaven! if only I had enough of bread and money and property here! Thus the flesh does continually, as long as it lives here; it draws and drags sin after itself; it is rebellious and refuses to die. Therefore God must finally put it to death before it becomes dead unto sin.


23. And after all, it is but a gentle and easy death. It is truly only a sleep. Since soul and spirit are no longer dead, the body shall not remain dead; it shall come forth again, cleansed and purified, on the last day, to be united with the soul. Then shall it be a gentle, pure and obedient body, without sin or evil lust.


24. These words of Paul are an admirable Christian picture of death, representing it not as an awful thing, but as something comforting and pleasant to contemplate. For how could Paul present a more attractive description than when he describes it as stripped of its power and repulsiveness and makes it the medium through which we attain life and joy? What is more desirable than to be freed from sin and the punishment and misery it involves, and to possess a joyful, cheerful heart and conscience? For where there is sin and real death – the sense of sin and God’s wrath – there are such terror and dismay that man feels like rushing through iron walls. Christ says, in Luke 23:30, quoting from the prophet Hosea ( Hosea 10:8), that such a one shall pray that the mountains and the hills may fall on him and cover him.


25. That dreadful death which is called in the Scriptures the second death is taken away from the Christian through Christ, and is swallowed up in his life. In place of it there is left a miniature death, a death in which the bitterness is covered up. In it the Christian dies according to the flesh; that is, he passes from unbelief to faith, from the remaining sin to eternal righteousness, from woes and sadness and tribulation to perfect eternal joy. Such a death is sweeter and better than any life on earth. For not all the life and wealth and delight and joy of the world can make man as happy as he will be when he dies with a conscience at peace with God and with the sure faith and comfort of everlasting life. Therefore truly may this death of the body be said to be only a falling into a sweet and gentle slumber. The body ceases from sin. It no longer hinders or harasses the spirit. It is cleansed and freed from sin and comes forth again in the resurrection clothed with the obedience, joy and life which the spirit imparts.


26. The only trouble is that the stupid flesh cannot understand this. It is terrified by the mask of death, and imagines that it is still suffering the old death; for it does not understand the spiritual dying unto sin. It judges only by outward appearance. It sees that man perishes, decays under the ground and is consumed. Having only this abominable and hideous mask before its eyes, it is afraid of death. But its fear is only because of its lack of understanding. If it knew, it would by no means be afraid or shudder at death. Our reason is like a little child who has become frightened by a bugbear or a mask, and cannot be lulled to sleep; or like a poor man, bereft of his senses, who imagines when brought to his couch that he is being put into the water and drowned. What we do not understand we cannot intelligently deal with. If, for instance, a man has a penny and imagines it to be a five-dollar gold piece, he is just as proud of it as if it were a real gold piece; if he loses it he is as grieved as if he had lost that more valuable coin. But it does not follow that he has suffered such loss; he has simply deluded himself with a false idea.


27. Thus it is not the reality of death and burial that terrifies; the terror lies in the flesh and blood, which cannot understand that death and the grave mean nothing more than that God lays us – like a little child is laid in a cradle or an easy bed – where we shall sweetly sleep till the judgment day. Flesh and blood shudders in fear at that which gives no reason for it, and finds comfort and joy in that which really gives no comfort or joy. Thus Christians must be harassed by their ignorant and insane flesh, because it will not understand its own good or harm. They must verily fight against it as long as they live, at the cost of much pain and weariness.


28. There is none so perfect that he does not flee from and shudder at death and the grave. Paul complains and confesses of himself, and in his own person of all Christians: “For that which I do I know not: for not what I would, that do I practice.” Romans 7:15. In other words: By the spirit, I am well aware that when this body comes to die God simply lays me to rest in sweetest slumber, and I would gladly have my flesh to understand this; but I cannot bring it to it. The spirit indeed is willing and desires bodily death as a gentle sleep. It does not consider it to be death; it knows no such thing as death. It knows that it is freed from sin and that where there is no sin there is no death – life only. But the flesh halts and hesitates, and is in constant dread lest I die and perish in the abyss. It will not allow itself to be tamed and brought into that obedience and into that consoling view of death which the spirit exercises. Even Saint Paul cries out in anxiety of spirit: “Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?” Romans 7:24. Now we see what is meant by the statement, “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit.” The flesh must be dragged along and compelled by the spirit to obediently follow, in spite of its resistance and trembling. It must be forced into submission until it is finally overcome. Just so the mother so deals with the child that is fretful and restless that she constrains it to sleep.


29. Paul says, “Knowing this, that our old man was crucified” – that is, we know that, in soul and spirit, we are already dead unto sin – “that the body of sin might be done away.” The meaning is: Because the body does not willingly and cheerfully follow the spirit, but resists and would fain linger in the old life of sin, it is already sentenced, compelled to follow and to be put to death that sin may be destroyed in it.


30. He does not say that the body is destroyed as soon as a man has been baptized and is become a Christian, but that the body of sin is destroyed. The body which before was obstinate and disobedient to the spirit is now changed; it is no longer a body of sin but of righteousness and newness of life. So he adds, “that we should no longer be in bondage to sin.” “But if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him; knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth, no more; death no more hath dominion over him. For the death that he died, he died unto sin once; but the life that he liveth, he liveth unto God.”


31. Here he leads us out of the death and grave of sin to the resurrection of spirit and body. When we die – spiritually unto sin, and physically to the world and self – what doth it profit us? Is there nothing else in store for the Christian but to die and be buried.? By all means yes, he says; we are sure by faith that we also shall live, even as Christ rose from death and the grave and lives. For we have died with him, or, as stated above, “we have become united with him in the likeness of his death.” By his death he has destroyed our sin and death; therefore we share in his resurrection and life. There shall be no more sin and death in our spirit or body, just as there is no more death in him. Christ, having once died and been raised again, dieth no more. There is nothing to die for. He has accomplished everything. He has destroyed the sin for which he died, and has swallowed up death in victory. And that he now lives means that he lives in everlasting righteousness, life and majesty. So, when ye have once passed through both deaths, the spiritual death unto sin and the gentle death of the body, death can no more touch you, no more reign over you.


32. This, then, is our comfort for the timidity of the poor, weak flesh which still shudders at death. If thou art a Christian, then know that thy Lord Jesus Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. Therefore, death hath no more dominion over thee, who art baptized into him. Satan is defied and dared to try all his powers and terrors on Christ; for we are assured, “Death no more hath dominion over him.” Death may awaken anger, malice, melancholy, fear and terror in our poor, weak flesh, but it hath no more dominion over Christ. On the contrary, death must submit to the dominion of Christ, in his own person and in us. We have died unto sin; that is, we have been redeemed from the sting and power, the control, of death. Christ has fully accomplished the work by which he obtained power over death, and has bestowed that power upon us, that in him we should reign over death. So Paul says in conclusion: “Even so reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus.”


33. “Reckon ye also yourselves,” he says. Ye, as Christians, should be conscious of these things, and should conduct yourselves in all your walk and conversation as those who are dead to sin and who give evidence of it to the world. Ye shall not serve sin, shall not follow after it, as if it had dominion over you. Ye shall live in newness of life, which means that ye shall lead a godly life, inwardly, by faith and outwardly in your conduct; ye shall have power over sin until the flesh – the body – shall at last fall asleep, and thus both deaths be accomplished in you. Then there will remain nothing but life – no terror or fear of death and no more of its dominion.









MATTHEW 5:20-26.


This sermon was first printed in the “Two Sermons on Anger.” A new and unaltered reprint appeared under the title: “One person should not be angry at another, an excellent sermon. – An exhortation to patience and meekness, a second sermon by Dr. Martin Luther, Wittenberg, 1543.” At the end are the words, “Printed at Wittenberg by Joseph Klug.”



Concerning anger and its signs.







King James Version

Matthew 5:20-26

For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.


This text has now been the theme of sermons for more than fifteen hundred years, and will continue to be until the day of judgment, before a person can be found who fully believes and keeps it. It has been copied enough and clearly enough explained, so that we can read and hear it daily and continually. However, it will indeed not be exhausted and still less lived perfectly, although everybody fancies he can hear and learn his fill in one day, so that he will need no more of it. But God knows What fools and dunces we are when we believe ourselves to be the wisest; for that reason he constantly presents one and the same sermon to us, and does not grow tired of drilling and forcing it into us continually, hoping to bring us to the point of seeing our blindness and stupidity, and, like obedient pupils, begin to learn and practice it. [The above is inserted from Luther’s Two Sermons, “Zwo Predigten.”]




1. This Gospel we have fully and sufficiently explained on other occasions, when treating of the entire sermon of Christ, which Matthew the Evangelist records in three chapters; for today we will take a part of it, where Christ expounds and explains the fifth commandment. For here we observe first, that Christ attacks a sin called anger, which is very common and powerfully rules the world. And it is not one of the gross, public vices punished also by the world, but one of those fine sins of the devil that do not want to pass for sin. For they sail under false colors, so that no one can rebuke and punish them. For instance, pride will not be called pride, but truth and justice; envy and hatred do not want to be reprimanded, but rather extolled as being true earnestness and godly zeal against wickedness. These are really the two colors the devil carries in his realm, namely, lying and murder, which in the eyes of the world claim the honor and praise of being holiness and righteousness in the highest degree.


2. For this reason our Lord and Savior singles out the Pharisees, who fain would be the holiest and most pious, and be so considered by everybody; he even calls their doings by the beautiful name of righteousness, but he pictures and judges it as one not leading to heaven but into the abyss of perdition, a veritable fruit of satan. And this he does for the reason that they wanted to be called righteous and pious, defying the whole world to prove the contrary, and at the same time were filled with venomous wrath, envy and hate. The world cannot see nor judge in such matters, therefore Christ alone is the judge here who dare and can pass such a sentence of judgment. Even if this righteousness of the Pharisees be ever so beautiful and holy, yet, they shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven; for I do not desire nor will have a righteousness that stamps itself as such, and will not be called sin, but struts about in the fine coat of divine righteousness, so that we must call them Christian, pious people, holy spiritual fathers, etc.


3. Now, on what is this righteousness of the Pharisees based and where does it derive its name? On the fact that God said, “Thou shalt not kill,” etc. On these words they planted themselves and stood. The text says nothing more than “Thou shalt not kill;” hence it follows that whoever does not kill, is righteous. But when my feelings are hurt and I am wronged, I have good grounds and reasons for being wrought up and for resenting the injustice; at the same time my wrath appears doubly justified because it suffers violence and injustice without actually killing. This wrath of mine advances a step by embellishing its cause in proclaiming its innocence and parading its piety before God and the world thus: Have I not good reasons for being angry? This and that my neighbor has done to me in return for my many favors, and I would have gladly given him my life’s blood; this is the thanks, the returns, with which he pays me. Am I to suffer all this and pass such malice by? And at this point a Pharisee boldly proceeds to malign and persecute his neighbor in the highest degree, wherever he can, inflicting harm and injury; and all this is claimed to be done justly, he himself being pious and holy, yea, extolled as a martyr in the sight of God and men.


4. In like manner, when the Pope and his followers condemn. burn and murder all who will not worship their abominations, counting them as disobedient to the Christian Church and obstinate, this of course must be called genuine service of God, and God should feel elated over becoming worthy of such saints. Our great noblemen act much in the same way, who boast so loudly they are friends of God and of the whole world, but enemies to iniquity. Indeed, what a great friendship we here have with God and with mankind! Where shall God stand before such saints in order to raise them high enough heavenward?


5. Behold the excellent, grand and sacred anger of the cavalier or nobleman, who cannot possibly be guilty of a transgression or an injustice; and whoever is not of this opinion is evidently not a godly man. This sermon of Christ seems therefore very peculiar to the world, in fact it is unknown in use and practice, though heard often enough and well known as to its words. For the world does not consider it a sin for a man to resent a wrong, when he is innocent; and it is true that he who has a clear case against his offender can also seek redress in court, all this we must admit. But in adding his personal wrath to matters and trying to avenge himself, he overdoes it; one law now conflicts with the other, and a small right develops into a great wrong.


6. Hence you must in this instance so tune the organ as to have the pipes sound in harmony, and so as to prevent two from clashing. For what kind of justice would you call it when one offends you by a mere word, or pilfers a penny’s worth, and you go and cut off his arm or burn down his house, crying angrily the while: Well, he did me wrong, and I have good reasons, etc.! In such a case your murderous wrath, that does tenfold more violence and injustice to me, is not to be called a sin, but righteousness and holiness, while I am to be considered unrighteous aria suffer wrong.


7. This now I am not saying for the benefit of strangers, who are without, except merely for an illustration to show how this vice rules in the world; but concerning us, both teachers and scholars, who pride ourselves on being evangelical and still want the liberty of becoming angry and to rage when we please; and not permit ourselves to be punished nor reproved, but rather than that everything may go to pieces, if only we be considered to be in the right, and pious, despite the fact that such a despicable farce of right causes a hundredfold more wrong.


8. Therefore Christ here takes energetic action, and abolishes anger wholly and completely in the entire world, draws it to himself and says: I do not merely say, Thou shalt not kill, nor say Raca to thy brother, but thou shalt in no case be angry; the one is as solemnly and earnestly prohibited as the other. For you are not told to judge or avenge yourself, and even though you are right and have a just cause, still your wrath is of the devil; as St. James in his James 1:20, says: “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Hence all anger is to be abolished entirely from us and the wrath of God alone is to work; otherwise it will turn out to be the devil’s wrath and it certainly does not cool down without sin. Just as also these three: to judge, to avenge and to glory, have been taken from us, and no person should share in them, though they have ever so good a cause and ever so great holiness. But to God alone belong honor, judgment and vengeance, hence also wrath.


9. Now, I fear, this will not be done by us as long as we are here in this life, and yet it would be grace, if we only became so pious as to make a beginning; for as soon as we suffer an injury, flesh and blood at once act as flesh and blood; they begin to rage and rave in anger and impatience. It is natural for us to feel hurt when suffering injustice and violence, hence it is necessary to check and restrain the feelings of anger and resist them. The feeling that you are injured will pass away; but that you in addition desire to avenge yourself in this or that way, is prohibited. Therefore see to it that one fits well into the other, that one claim does not conflict with the other nor cancel it, but let the two harmonize, so that both may continue. If you cannot secure your rights without doing greater harm, let it go. For it is not good to check or punish one wrong with another, nor is God willing to have universal justice perish because of your petty claims.


10. Now the aim and contents of this sermon by Christ are as follows: You fancy that whoever does not inflict a blow with his arm has not acted contrary to God’s command; but he is at liberty to be angry at his neighbor and to avenge himself; and to take vengeance is so far right, and no sin at all. This would nullify the commandment, leaving it without any force whatever. For it does not ask merely that you refrain from killing with your fist, but also from doing harm or injury with your tongue or your heart. If not, how about the command that we are to do good to our enemy? If that is to hold good, we most certainly must not work against our neighbor. Otherwise in what respect would we be better than publicans and public sinners, as Christ himself says, Luke 6:32, who are friends to each other, the one not inflicting any harm on the other?


11. But possibly you say’ Well, if wrath is to be so thoroughly rooted out of the heart of man, how is evil to be stayed and punished, which cannot be done without some severity? But if evil is to have free course and left go unpunished, you would soon have no house and no town. I would reply: We know that God has committed the judiciary to the civil government and to that end established princes and lords, who bear the sword in God’s stead; their sword and its edge is God’s sword and edge. Aside from this they are personally exactly as other people are, having no more right to be angry than anybody else. Now the judge or executioner, in condemning and executing a man that never personally did an injury to either, does so in God’s stead, officiating in God’s place, inasmuch as the malefactor has become liable to God’s sentence and penalty. Assuredly there should be no anger nor bitterness in man’s heart, and yet God’s wrath and sword accomplish their work.


12. The same holds good in war, when you must either defend yourself, or vigorously thrust, beat and burn: then likely wrath and revenge reign supreme, and yet it should not proceed from the heart of man, but emanate from the divine authority and command, so that the wicked be punished and peace be maintained. Even though you thereby meet with damage and harm, you must submit. Thus God suffered his wrath to come over Jerusalem through the king of Babylon; again through the Romans, until not one stone remained upon another.


13. Hence where such wrath exists it is not to be called man’s wrath, but God’s. And when, unhappily, you commingle God’s and man’s wrath, it is the miserable doings of the devil. Wickedness, I say, must be restrained; but this duty must be performed in God’s place and stead. But when a judge and government are not godly, and they mingle their personal wrath with God’s, and grace their actions with the name and shield of the office; when they are secretly hostile to me and can do me harm, they avail themselves of opportunities to do so, and then claim to have done so officially: this I would call diabolical malignity, but they claim to have done the right thing and to be entitled to praise.


14. But you say: Well, the officer has done this and the other thing to me, and I cannot restrain him in any other way; if I should allow it, I would never have peace. I answer: It is indeed not right for persons to harm you, nor are you forbidden to protect yourself in a proper way; but it will never do for you to play double, using the office as a vent for your wrath, so that people will later on say: Mr. John – or Mr. Peter – did not do this, but the mayor or the judge, and you then take credit in saying that you did not do it from motives of anger or hatred, but of duty and justice.


15. Here you see that infamous filth formed by appending human, yea, devilish wrath to divine wrath and making one cake of both, which indeed should be kept asunder farther than heaven and earth. And just as they, contrary to the second commandment, use the name of God in vain by swearing and the like, making that sacred name serve the purpose of a lie, so that it can be on the market under the label of that beautiful and glorious name: so too in this instance the office and law that are God’s must serve the purposes of your envy and hatred giving them a standing so they can achieve all they purpose in the way of harming a neighbor. At the same time you parade about as if you had done the right and proper thing. Yea, you are a two-fold saint; in the first place you have been abused; in the second place, you do not avenge yourself or seek redress personally, but in the capacity of an officer or judge. In this same way our tender saints, the Papists, bishops and priests, now act everywhere, and, following in their wake, great princes and lords illtreat and murder people, as the whim of their raving wrath and hatred may move them. And in the end all this is to be called the service of God and supreme holiness.


16. Thus the wrath of man is at all times full of envy and h