As an outlaw and a
heretic, Luther spent his Exile at the
In 1525, follow the Sermons until Easter. These three parts are known as the Winter-part of Luther’s Church Postil.
In 1528, Luther says about his Church Postil: It is the best book I have ever written.
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.
It is written in the book of Nehemiah (ch 4) that the Jews, in rebuilding
2. The first consideration in this lesson is, Paul teaches what should be the one theme of Titus and of every other preacher, namely, Christ. The people are to be taught who Christ is, why he came and what blessings his coming brought us. ”The grace of God hath appeared,” the apostle says, meaning God's grace is clearly manifest. How was it manifested? By the preaching of the apostles it was proclaimed world wide. Previous to Christ's resurrection, the grace of God was unrevealed. Christ dwelt only among the Jews and was not yet glorified. But after his ascension he gave to men the Holy Spirit. Concerning the Spirit, he before testified (Jn 16, 14) that the Spirit of truth, whom he should send, would glorify him. The apostle's meaning is: Christ did not come to dwell on earth for his own advantage, but for our good. Therefore he did not retain his goodness and grace within himself. After his ascension he caused them to be proclaimed in public preaching throughout the world - to all men. Nor did he permit the revelation to be made as a mere proclamation of a fact, as a rumor or a report; it was appointed to bring forth fruit in us. It is a revelation and proclamation that teaches us to deny - to reject - ungodly things, all earthly lusts, all worldly desires, and thenceforward lead a sober, righteous and godly life.
3. In the first verse, the true essence of the text, ”The grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men,” Paul condemns the favors of the world and of men as pernicious, worthy of condemnation, ineffectual; and would incite in us a desire for divine grace. He teaches us to despise human favor. He who would have God's grace and favor must consider the surrender of all other grace and favor. Christ says (Mt 10, 22), ”Ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake.” The Psalmist says (Ps 53, 5,), ”God hath scattered the bones of him that campeth against thee.” And Paul declares (Gal 1, 10), ”If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ.” Where saving grace of God comes, the pernicious favor must be ignored. He who would taste the former must reject and forget the latter.
4. According to the text, this grace has appeared, is proclaimed, to all men. Christ commanded (Mk 16, 15) that the Gospel be preached to all creatures throughout the whole world. And Paul in many places - for instance Colossians 1, 23 - says, ”The Gospel, which ye heard preached in all creation under heaven.” The thought is, the Gospel was preached publicly in the hearing of all creatures, much more of all men. At first Christ preached the Gospel and only in the land of the Jews, knowledge the Holy Scriptures being confined to that nation, as Ps. 76,2 and Ps 147, 19 declare. But afterward the Word was made free to all men; not confined to any particular section. Psalm 19, 4 declares, ”Their line is gone out through the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” This is spoken of the apostles.
But you may object, ”Surely the words of the apostles did not, in their time,
reach the end of the world; for nearly eight hundred years elapsed after the
apostolic age before Germany was converted, and also recent discoveries show
there are many islands and many countries where no indication of the grace of
God appeared before the century.” I reply: The apostle has reference to
character of the Gospel. It is a message calculated, from the nature of its
inception and purpose, to go into all the world. At
the time of the apostles it had already entered the greater and better part of
the world. Up to that day, no message of like character was ever ordained. The
Law of Moses was confined to the Jewish nation. Universal proclamation of the
Gospel being for the most part accomplished at that time, and its completion
being inevitable today - the Scripture phraseology makes it an accomplished
fact. In the Scriptures we frequently meet with what is called
”synecdoche;” that is, a figure of speech whereby a part is made to
stand for the whole. For instance, it is said that Christ was three days and
three nights in the grave, when the fact is he passed one entire day, two
nights, and portions of two other days in that place. Mt 12,
40. Again, we read (Mt 23, 37) of
6. So the Gospel was in the apostolic day preached to all creatures; for it is a message introduced, designed and ordained to reach all creatures. To illustrate: A prince, having despatched from his residence a message and seeing it started upon the way, might say the message had gone to the appointed place even though it had not yet reached its destination. Similarly, God has sent forth his Gospel to all creatures even though it has not so far reached all. Note, the prophet says the voice of the apostles has ”gone out through all the earth.” He does not say their voice has reached the entire world, but is on the way - ”is gone out.” And so Paul means the Gospel is continuously preached and made manifest to all men. It is now on the way; the act is performed though the effect is not complete.
7. The appearing of grace, Paul says, instructs us in two things: one is described as ”denying ungodliness and worldly lusts.” We must explain these terms. The Latin word ”impietas,” which the apostle renders in the Greek ”asebia” and which in Hebrew is ”resa,” I cannot find any one German word to express. I have made it ”ungoettlich wesen,” ”ungodliness.” The Latin and Greek terms do not fully convey the Hebrew meaning. ”Resa,” properly, is the sin of failing to honor God; that is, of not believing, trusting, fearing him, not surrendering to him, not submitting to his providence, not allowing him to be God. In this sin, those guilty of gross outward evils are deeply implicated indeed; but much more deeply involved are the wise, sainted, learned ecclesiasts who, relying upon their works, think themselves godly and so appear in the eyes of the world. In fact, all men who do not live a life committed to the pure goodness and grace of God are ”impious,” ungodly, even though they be holy enough to raise the dead, or perfect in continence and all other virtues. ”Graceless” or ”faithless” would seem to be the proper adjective to describe them. I shall, however, use the term ”ungodly.” Paul tells us that saving grace has appeared to the graceless to make them rich in grace and rich in God; in other words, to bring them to believe, trust, fear, honor, love and praise him, and thus transform ungodliness into godliness.
8. Of what use would be the appearing of saving grace were we to attempt to become godly in life through some other means? Paul here declares grace was revealed and proclaimed to the very end that we might deny ungodliness and thereafter live righteously; not through or of ourselves, but through grace. No one more disparages divine grace, and more gainsays its appearing, than do hypocrites and ungodly saints; for, unwilling to regard their own works ineffectual, sinful and faulty, they discover in themselves much good. Measuring themselves by their good intentions, they imagine they deserve great merit independently of grace. God, however, regards no work good - nor is it - unless he by his grace effects it in us. It was for the sake of accomplishing in us all many such works, and of deterring us from our own attempts, that God manifested his saving grace to men.
9. Now, the foremost evil of men is their godlessness, their unsaved state, their lack of grace. It includes first a faithless heart, and then all resultant thoughts, words, works and conduct in general. Left to himself, the individual's inner life and outward conduct are guided only by his natural abilities and human reason. In these his beauty and brilliance sometimes outshine the real saints. But he seeks merely his own interest. He is unable to honor God in life and conduct, even though he does command greater praise and glory in the exercise of reason than do the true saints of frequent Scripture mention. So worldwide and so deeply subtle an evil is this godless, graceless conduct, it withholds from the individual the power to perceive the evil of his way, to believe he errs, even when his error is held up to him. The prophet (Ps 32, 2) looks upon this blindness as not that of reason, or of the world, or of the flesh, but as a spiritual deception, leading astray not only the reason but the spirit of man.
10. In fact, that ungodliness is sinful must be believed rather than felt. Since God permitted the manifestation of his grace to all men to lead them to deny ungodliness, we ought to believe him a Being who knows our hearts better than we do ourselves. We must also confess that were it not for the ungodliness and faulty character of our deeds, God would not have ordained the proclamation of his grace for our betterment. Were one to administer remedies to an individual not ill, he would be looked upon as lacking sense. Accordingly, God must be regarded in the same light by them who, measuring themselves by their good intentions and their feelings, are unwilling to believe all their deeds ungodly and worthy of condemnation and that God's saving grace is necessary. To them this is a terrible doctrine. Christ (Mt 21, 32) charges the chief priests, doctors and ecclesiasts (elders) with disbelieving John the Baptist, who called them to repentance; they refused to know their sin. All the prophets met death for accusing the people of the sin of ungodliness. No one believed the prophets. No one of the people thought himself guilty of such sin. They judged themselves by their feelings, their intentions and works; not by God's Word, not by his counsel delivered through the prophets.
11. Paul employs a strong Greek term, ”paedeusa,” meaning ”to instruct” - such elementary instruction as we give children concerning a thing whereof they have no knowledge at all. The children are guided, not by their reason, but by the instructing word of their father. According to his representation they regard a certain thing as useful or as harmful. They believe in and are guided by him. With intelligent and learned individuals, however, we explain in a way comprehensible to their reason why a certain thing is profitable and a certain other thing unprofitable. God designs that we, as childish pupils, be instructed by his saving grace. Then if we cannot feel we may yet believe that our natures are godless and faulty, and so receive grace and walk therein. Well does Christ testify (Mt 18, 3), ”Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven;” and Isaiah (ch. 7, 9), ”If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.” Divine, saving grace, then, has appeared, not only to help us, but also to teach us our need of grace. For the fact of its coming shows all our works godless, graceless, and condemned. The psalmist (Ps 119, 5-8) fervently entreats God to teach him his judgments, laws and commandments, that he may not be guided by his own ideas and feelings, a thing God has forbidden (Deut 12, 8), saying: ”Ye shall not do . . . every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes.”
12. The other evil in man Paul terms ”worldly lusts.” Therein is comprehended all disorderly conduct the individual may be guilty of, touching himself and his neighbor; while the first evil - ungodliness - comprehends all wrongs toward God. Observe Paul's judicious choice of words - ”lusts,” ”worldly lusts.” By the use of ”worldly” he would include all evil lusts, whether it be for goods, luxuries, honor, favors or aught of the world wherein one may lustfully sin. He does not say, however, we must deny ourselves worldly goods, or must not make use of them. They are good creatures of God. We must avail ourselves of food, drink, clothing and other necessaries of life. No such thing is forbidden; it is only the lust after them, the undue love and craving for them, that we must deny, for it leads us into all sins against ourselves and our neighbors.
13. In this expression is also condemned the conduct of godless hypocrites, who, though they may be clad in sheep's clothing and sometimes refrain from an evil deed through cowardice or shame or through fear of hell's punishment, are nevertheless filled with evil desires for wealth, honor and power. No one loves life more dearly, fears death more terribly and desires more ardently to remain in this world than do they; yet they fail to recognize the worldly lusts wherein they are drowned, and their many works are vainly performed. It is not enough to put away worldly works and speech; worldly desires, or lusts, must be removed. We are not to place our affections upon the things of this life, but all our use of it should be with a view to the future life; as follows in the text: ”Looking for the . . . appearing of the glory,” etc.
14. Observe here, the grace of God reveals the fact that all men are filled with worldly lusts, though some may conceal their lustfulness by their hypocrisy. Were men not subject to such desires, there could be no necessity for the revelation of grace, no need for its benefits, no occasion for its manifestation to all men, no need it should teach the putting off of lusts. For whosoever is not subject to lusts is not called upon to forsake them. Paul's statement here has no reference to such a one. Indeed, he cannot be a human being; hence he has no need of grace, and so far as he is concerned its manifestation is not essential. What, then, must he be? Unquestionably, a devil, and eternally condemned with all his holiness and purity. Could the hypocrites, however, wholly hide their worldly lusts, they could not conceal their ardent desire to hold to this life, and their unwillingness to die. Thus they reveal their lack of grace, and the worldliness and ungodliness of all their works. Nevertheless, they fail to perceive their graceless condition and their perilous infirmity.
15. Further, Paul speaks of ”denying,” or renouncing. Therein he rejects many foolish expedients devised by men for attaining righteousness. Some run to the wilderness, some into cloisters. Others separate themselves from society, presuming by bodily flight to run away from ungodliness and worldly lusts. Yet others resort to tortures and injuries of the body, imposing upon themselves excessive hunger, thirst, wakefulness, labor, uncomfortable apparel. Now, if ungodliness and worldly lusts were but something painted upon the wall, you might escape them by running out of the house; if they were knit into a red coat, you might pull off the coat and don a gray one; did they grow in your hair, you might have it shaved off and wear a bald pate; were they baked in the bread, you might eat roots instead. But since they inhere in your heart and permeate you through and through, where can you flee that you will not carry them with you? What can you wear under which you will escape them? What will you eat and drink wherein they will not be with you? In a word, what can you do to escape yourself, since you cannot get out of yourself? Dear man, the great temptations are within you. To run away from them would necessitate, first, fleeing from yourself. James says (ch 1, 14), ”Each man is tempted, when he is driven away by his own lust, and enticed.”
16. The apostle means, not simply that we must flee the outward temptations to sin, but, as he says, that we must ”deny” them, must mortify the lusts, or desires, within ourselves. Our lusts being mortified, no external temptation can harm. By such subjection do we truly flee. If we fail to mortify our desires, it will not avail to flee outward temptations. We must remain amidst temptations and there learn through grace to deny lusts and ungodliness. It is written (Ps 110, 2), ”Rule thou” - or apply thyself - in the midst of thine enemies.” Conflict and not flight, energy and not rest, must be the order in this life if we are to win the crown.
17. We read of an ancient father who, unable to endure temptation in a cloister, left it that he might in the wilderness serve God in peace. But in the desert one day his little water-jug overturned. He set it up, but it overturned a second time. Becoming enraged, he dashed the vessel into pieces. Then, saying within himself, ”Since I cannot find peace when alone, the defect must be in myself,” he returned to the cloister to suffer temptations, from that time forward teaching that we must obtain the victory, not by fleeing worldly lusts, but by denying them.
18. Paul goes on to show another thing wherein we are instructed of grace -the Christian's manner of life after ungodliness and worldly lusts are denied:
”v12b We should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world.”
What an excellent general rule of life he gives us! one adapted to all conditions. He offers no occasion for sects. He introduces no differing opinions of men, as the case is with human doctrines. First, he mentions ”soberness,” wherein is indicated what should be the nature of man's conduct toward himself in all respects. It calls for the subjection of the body, the keeping of it well disciplined. In every place of our text where the term ”soberness” is used, Paul has the Greek word ”sophron,” which signifies, not only soberness, but temperance in every recognition of the body, in every ministration to the flesh; in eating, drinking and sleeping, for instance; in apparel, speech, manner and movement. Such soberness represents what is known in German as honorable living and good breeding. The sober man knows how, in all physical relations, to conduct himself temperately, discreetly and bravely; not leading a wild, shameless, unrestrained, disorderly life, lax in regard to eating, drinking, sleeping, and to speech, manner and movement. In the earlier part of the chapter, Paul devises that aged women teach the young women to be ”sober-minded” and chaste.
19. Excessive eating and drinking truly does greatly impede our efforts to lead an honorable life. On the other hand, temperance contributes much to accomplish it. The moment one indulges his appetite to excess, he loses perfect control of himself; his five senses become unmanageable. Experience teaches that when the stomach is filled with meat and drink, the mouth is filled with words, the ears with the lust of hearing, the eyes with the lust of seeing. The whole system either becomes indolent, drowsy, dull, or else it grows wild and dissolute, all the members overleaping the bounds of reason and propriety, until no discipline nor moderation remains. The word in our text, therefore, is not inaptly Latinized ”sobrius,” ”soberness.” In Greek, the word ”sophron” is the opposite of ”asotos,” just as in German ”voellerei” and ”maeszigkeit,” ”drunkenness” and ”soberness,” are contrasting terms. Examining the Latin ”sobrius,” we find it does not signify total abstinence from food and drink. ”Sobrius" and "ebrius" are also contrasting terms, like the German ”trunkenheit oder voellerei” and ”nuechterkeit,” ”drunkenness or ebriety” and ”soberness.” We Germans also call that individual ”nuechtern,” ”sober,” who, though he may have eaten and drunk, is not intoxicated, but has perfect control of himself.
20. You see now the manner of good works advocated by the apostle. He does not require us to make pilgrimages; he does not forbid certain foods; nor does he prescribe a particular garb, nor certain fast days. His teaching is not that of the class who, in obedience to human laws, separate themselves from men, basing their spirituality and goodness upon the peculiarity of their garb and diet, their manner of wearing the hair, their observance of times; who seek to become righteous by not conforming to custom in the matter of clothing, diet, occupation, seasons and movements. They are given an appropriate name in the Gospel - ”pharisaei,” meaning ”excluded” or ”separated.” In Psalm 80, 13, the prophet calls them ”monios,” signifying ”a solitary one.” The name primarily is applied to a wild hog of solitary habits. We shall hereafter designate this class as ”solitary.” As the psalmist complains, they make terrible havoc of God's vineyard. These pharisees, or solitary ones, make great show with their traditions, their peculiar garb, their meats, days and physical attitudes. They easily draw away the multitude from the common customs of life to their ways. As Christ tells us (Mt 24, 24), even the elect can scarce resist them.
21. Let us learn here from Paul that no meats, drinks, apparel, colors, times, attitudes, are forbidden and none are prescribed. In all these things, everyone is given freedom, if only they be used in soberness, or moderation. As said before, these temporalities are not forbidden. Only the abuse of them, only excess and disorder therein, is prohibited. Where there is distinction and emphasis on such matters, there you will surely find human laws; not evangelical doctrine, not Christian liberty. Without soberness, or moderation, the ultimate result must be dissimulation, and hypocrisy. Therefore, make use of all earthly things when and where you please, giving thanks to God. This is Paul's teaching. Only guard against excess, disorder, misuse and licentiousness relative to temporal things and you will be in the right way. Do not permit yourself to be misled by the fact that the holy fathers established orders and sects, made use of certain meats and certain apparel, and conducted themselves thus and so. Their object was not peculiar eminence - therein they would have been unholy - but their conduct was of preference, and as a means for exercising moderation. Likewise do you exercise moderation as you see fit, and maintain your freedom. Confine not yourself to manners and methods, as if godly living consisted in them. Otherwise you will be solitary and deprived of the communion of saints. Diligently guard against such narrowness. We must fast, we must watch and labor, we must wear inferior clothing, and so on; but only on occasions when the body seems to need restraint and mortification. Do not set apart a specified time and place, but exercise your self-denial as necessity requires. Then you will be fasting rightly. You will fast every day in denying worldly lusts. So the Gospel teaches, and they who follow this course are of the New Testament dispensation.
22. Secondly, Paul says we should be ”righteous” in our lives. No work, however, nor particular time, is here designated as the way to righteousness. In the ways of God is universal freedom. It is left to the individual to exercise his liberty; to do right when, where and to whom occasion offers. Herein Paul gives a hint of how we should conduct ourselves toward our neighbor - righteously. We owe him that righteousness which consists in doing to him as we would have him do to us; in granting to him all we would have him grant us. We are to do our neighbor no bodily harm, no injury to his wife, children, friends, possessions, honor or anything of his. Rather we are obligated, wherever we see he needs our assistance, to aid him, to stand by him, at the risk of our bodies, our property, our honor and everything that is ours. Righteousness consists in rendering to each one his due. What a little word to comprehend so much! How few walk in this way of righteousness, though otherwise living blamelessly! We do everything else but what saving grace reveals to us as our duty to do.
23. The word ”neighbor” must be construed to include even an enemy. But the way of righteousness is entirely obliterated. It is much more overgrown in neglect than the way of moderation, which itself is almost wholly untrodden and effaced because of the introduction of certain meats and apparel, certain movements and display. These things have been superabundantly, more than profusely, insinuated. We ape after set forms, and make fools of ourselves with rosaries, with ecclesiastical and feudal institutions, with hearing of masses, with festivals, with self-devised works concerning which is no divine command. 0 Lord God, how wide hell has opened her mouth (see Isaiah 5, 14); and how narrow has the gate of heaven become in consequence of the accursed doctrines and devices of these solitary and pharisaical persons! The prophets unwittingly paint the picture of present-day conditions. They represent hell by the wide-open mouth of a dragon, and heaven by a closed door. Oh, the wretchedness of the picture!
24. It is not necessary to inquire what outward works you can perform. Look to your neighbor. There you will find enough to do, a thousand kind offices to render. Do not suffer yourself to be misled into believing you will reach heaven by praying and attending church, by contributing to institutions and monuments, while you pass by your neighbor. If you pass him in this life, he will lie in your way in the life to come and cause you to go by the door of heaven as did the rich man who left Lazarus lying at his gate. Wo to us priests, monks, bishops and Pope! What do we preach? What teach? How we lead the pitiable multitude from the way! The blind leading the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. Such doctrines as Paul declares in the conclusion of this lesson - these are what we should teach.
25. In the third place, we are taught we must live ”godly” lives. Here we are reminded of how to conduct ourselves toward God. Now we are fully instructed concerning our duty to ourselves, to our neighbors and to God. As before said, impiety signifies wickedness, ungodliness, lack of grace. Piety, on the other hand, means having faith, godliness, grace. Godly living consists in trusting God, in relying on his grace alone, regarding no work not wrought in us by him, through grace. If we are godly, we will recognize, honor, adore, praise and love God. Briefly in two words, to live godly is to fear and trust God. As it is written (Ps 147, 11), ”Jehovah taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his lovingkindness.” See also Ps 33, 18. To fear God is to look upon our own devices as pure ungodliness in the light of his manifest grace. These being ungodly, we are to fear God and forsake them, and thereafter guard against them. To trust in God is to have perfect confidence that he will be gracious to us, filling us with grace and godliness.
26. The individual yields to God when he gives himself wholly to God, attempting nothing of himself but permitting the Lord to work in and to rule him; when his whole concern and fear, his continual prayer and desire, are for God to withhold him from following his own works and ways, which he now recognizes as ungodly and deserving of wrath, and to rule over and work in him through grace. Thus the individual will obtain a clear conscience and will love and praise God. Observe, they are pious and filled with grace, who do not walk by reason, do not trust in human nature, but rely only on the grace of God, ever fearful lest they fall from grace into dependence upon their own reason, their self-conceit, good intentions and self-devised works. The theme of the entire one- hundred-and-nineteenth psalm is trust in God. In every one of its one hundred and seventy-six verses, David breathes the same prayer. Reliance upon God is a subject of such vital importance, and so numerous are the difficulties and dangers attending human nature and reason and human doctrine, we cannot be too much on our guard.
The way of God does not require us to build churches and cathedrals, to make
pilgrimages, to hear mass, and so on. God requires a heart moved by his grace,
a life mistrustful of all ways not emanating from grace. Nothing more can one
render God than such loyalty. All else is rather his gift to us. He says (Ps
50, 14-15), in effect: ”Think not, 0
28. Note, such obedience to God is real, divine service. For this service we need no bells nor churches, no vessels nor ornaments. Lights and candles are not necessary; neither are organs and singing, images and pictures, tables and altars. We require not bald pates nor caps, not incense nor sprinkling, not processions nor handling of the cross; neither are indulgences nor briefs essential. All these are human inventions, mere matters of taste. God does not regard them, and too often they obscure with their glitter the true service of God. Only one thing is necessary to right service - the Gospel. Let the Gospel be properly urged; through it let divine service be made known to the people. The Gospel is the true bell, the true organ, for divine service.
29. Further, Paul says we are to live as he describes ”in this present world.” First: the perfect life cannot be accomplished by works; our whole life, while we remain here, must be sober, righteous and godly. Christ promises (Mt 10, 22), ”He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.” Now, there are some who, it must be admitted, occasionally accomplish good; but occasional accomplishment is not a complete life of goodness, nor does it mean endurance to the end. Second: No one can afford to leave this matter of a godly life until death, or until another world is reached. Whatever we would have in the life to come must be secured here.
30. Many depend upon purgatory, living as it pleases them to the end and expecting to profit by vigils and soulmasses after death. Truly, they will fail to receive profit therein. It were well had purgatory never been conceived of. Belief in purgatory suppresses much good, establishes many cloisters and monasteries and employs numerous priests and monks. It is a serious drawback to these three features of Christian living: soberness, righteousness and godliness. Moreover, God has not commanded, nor even mentioned, purgatory. The doctrine is wholly, or for the most part, deception; God pardon me if I am wrong. It is, to say the least, dangerous to accept, to build upon, anything not designated by God, when it is all we can do to stand in building upon the institutions of God which can never waver. The injunction of Paul to live rightly in this present world is truly a severe thrust at purgatory. He would not have us jeopardize our faith. Not that I, at this late day (when we write 1522), deny the existence of purgatory; but it is dangerous to preach it, whatever of truth there may be in the doctrine, because the Word of God, the Scriptures, make no mention of a purgatory.
Paul's chief reason, however, for making use of the phrase ”in
this present world” is to emphasize the power of God's saving grace. In the
extreme wickedness of the world, the godly person is as one alone, unexampled
as it were, a rose among thorns; therefore he must endure every form of
misfortune, of censure, shame and wrong. The apostle's thought is: He who would
live soberly, righteously and godly must expect to meet all manner of enmity
and must take up the cross. He must not allow himself to be misled, even though
he has to live alone, like Lot in
32. With these words the apostle makes the godly life clearly distinct from every other life. Here is the text that enables one to perceive how he measures up to the life of grace. Let all who presume to think they live godly, step forward and answer as to whether or no they delight in this hope, as here pictured; whether they are so prepared for the day of judgment that they await it with pleasure; whether they regard it as more than endurable, as even a blessed event to be contemplated with longing and with cheerful confidence. Is it not true that human nature ever shrinks from the judgment? Is it not true that if the advent of that day rested upon the world's pleasure in the matter, it would never come? And particularly in the case of hypocritical saints? Where, then, does human nature stand? Where reason? where the free-will so much extolled as inclined to and potent for good? Why does free-will not only flee from good but shrink from that honor to the God of salvation which the apostle here refers to as a ”blessed hope” and in which hope we shall be blessed? What is to prevent the conclusion here that they who shrink from the judgment lead lives impious, blamable and devoid of grace, the evils and ungodliness of which they might, but for the approach of that day, conceal? What is more ungodly than to strive against God's will? But is not that just what the individual does who would flee from the day wherein the honor of God shall be revealed, who does not await the event with a loving and joyful heart? Mark you, then, he who desires not that day and does not with delight and with love to God await it, is not living a godly life, not though he is able even to raise the dead.
33. ”Then it must be,” you say, ”that few lead godly lives, particularly among those solitary, spiritual ones who above all men flee death and the judgment.” That is just what I have said. These separated individuals simply lead themselves and others from the true path, obliterating the ways marked out of God. Plainly we see now how little reason and nature can accomplish; they but strive against God. And we see how necessary is saving grace. For when our own works are abandoned, God comes and alone works in us, enabling us to rise from ourselves, from our ungodly conduct, to a supernatural, grace-filled, godly life. Then we not only do not fear the Day of Judgment, but cheerfully, even longingly, await it, contemplating it with joy and pleasure. This point has been further treated in the Gospel lesson for the second Sunday in Advent.
34. True godliness, you note, is not taught by human nature or mortal reason, but by the manifest grace of God. By grace are we enabled to deny worldly lusts, even to feel aversion to them, to desire liberation from them, to be dissatisfied with our manner of life in general. More than that, it creates in us a disposition essential to godliness, a disposition to entreat God with perfect confidence and to await with pleasure his coming. So should we be disposed.
35. Now, let us carefully weigh the words ”blessed hope.” A contrast is presented to that miserably unhappy life wherein, when we attempt to walk uprightly, we are only harassed by misfortune, danger and sin. All in this life serves but to vex, while we have every reason to be encouraged in that hope. Such is the experience of them who earnestly endeavor to live soberly, righteously and godly. The world cannot long endure this class; it soon regards them as repulsive. Paul testifies (Rom 5, 3): ”We also rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh stedfastness; and stedfastness, approvedness; and approvedness, hope: and hope putteth not to shame.” Thus our eyes remain closed to the worldly and visible, and open to the eternal and invisible. All this transformed condition is the work of grace, through the cross, which we must endure if we attempt to lead a godly life, the life the world cannot tolerate.
”v13b And appearing of the glory.”
36. Paul's word for ”advent!' here is ”epiphaniam,” ”appearing” or ”manifestation.” Similarly, he spoke above of the ”appearance” or ”manifestation” of grace. The word ”advent” in the Latin, therefore, does not express all. The apostle would make a distinction between the first appearing and the last. The first appearing was attended by humility and dishonor, with intent to attract little attention and occasion no manifestation but that made in faith and through the Gospel. Christ is at present not manifest in person, but on the day of judgment he will appear in effulgent splendor, in undimmed honor; a splendor and honor eternally manifest to all creatures. The last day will be an eternal day. Upon the instant of its appearing every heart and all things will stand revealed. Such is the meaning of ”the appearing of glory” mentioned, the appearance of Christ's honor. Then there will be neither preaching nor faith. To all men everything will be manifest by experience, and by sight as in a clear day. Hence Paul adds,
”v13c Of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”
Not that another and lesser God exists; but that God has reserved unto the last day the displaying of his greatness and majesty, his glory and effulgence. We behold him now in the Gospel and in faith - a narrow view of him. Here he is not great because but slightly comprehended. But in the last appearing he will permit us to behold him in his greatness and majesty.
37. The words of this verse afford comfort to all who live soberly, righteously and godly. For the apostle therein declares the coming glory, not of our enemy or judge, but of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, who will at that time give us perfect happiness. For the day of that glorious appearing he will make the occasion of our liberation from this world wherein we must endure so much in the effort to lead a godly life in response to his will. In view of his coming and our great and glorious redemption, we ought firmly and cheerfully to bear up under the persecution, murders, shame and misfortunes the world effects, and to be courageous in the midst of death. With these joys before us, we ought the more stedfastly to persevere in a godly life, boldly relying upon the Saviour, Jesus Christ.
38. On the other hand, the words of this verse are terrible to the worldly-minded and wicked who are unwilling to endure, for the sake of godliness, the persecutions of the world. They prefer to make their godliness go no farther than to live without friction in the world and thus avoid incurring enmity and trouble. But the dissolute, the reckless, the obdurate, utterly disregard those words. They never give a thought to the fact of having to appear on the final day. Like frenzied animals, they run blindly and heedlessly on to the Day of Judgment and into the abyss of hell. You may ask, ”How shall I obtain the godliness fitted to enable me to confidently await that day, since human nature and reason flee from a godly life and cannot accomplish it?” Observe what follows:
”v14a Who gave himself for us.”
39. The things the apostle has been so carefully presenting are laid before you to enable you to perceive and acknowledge your helplessness, to utterly despair of your own power, that you may sincerely humble yourself and recognize your vanity, and your ungodliness, impiety and unsaved state. Note, the grace appearing through the Gospel teaches humility; and being humbled, one desires grace and is disposed to seek salvation. Wherever a humble desire for grace exists, there is open to you the door of grace. The desire cannot be without provision for its fulfilment. Peter says (I Pet 5, 5), ”God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” And Christ frequently in the Gospel declares: ”Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted.”
40. So the blessed Gospel is presented to you. It permits saving grace to appear in and shine forth from you, teaching you what more is required to keep you from falling into despair. Now, the Gospel, the appearance of the light of grace, is this which the apostle here declares, namely, that Christ gave himself for us, etc. Therefore, hearken to the Gospel; open the windows of your heart and let saving grace shine forth, to enlighten and teach you. This truth, that Christ gave himself for us, is the message spoken of as proclaimed to all men. It is the explanation of what is meant by the appearing of grace.
41. Banish from your mind, then, the error into which you may have fallen, of thinking that to hear the epistles of Paul and Peter is not to hear the Gospel. Do not allow yourself to be misled by the name ”epistle.” All Paul writes in his epistles is pure Gospel. He says so in Romans 1, 1 and in First Corinthians 4, 15. In fact, I venture to say the Gospel is more vividly presented in the epistles of Paul than in the four books of the evangelists. The latter detail the life and words of Christ, which were understood only after the advent of the Holy Spirit, who glorified Christ. Thus the Saviour himself testifies. Paul, though he records no account of the life of Christ, clearly explains the purpose of our Lord's coming, and shows what blessings his advent brings to us. What else is the Gospel but the message that Christ gave himself for us, to redeem us from sin, and that all who believe it will surely be saved? So we are to despair of our own efforts and cleave to Christ, relying upon him alone. Gracious, indeed, and comforting is this message, and readily welcomed by hearts despairing of their own efforts. ”Evangelium,” or Gospel, implies a loving, kind, gracious message, fitted to gladden and cheer a sorrowing and terrified heart.
42. Take heed to believe true what the the Gospel, declares - that Christ gave himself for you for the sake of redeeming you from all unrighteousness and of purifying you for a peculiar inheritance. It follows that, in the first place, you must believe and confess all your efforts, impure, unrighteous; and that your human nature, reason, art and free-will are ineffectual apart from Christ. Unless you so believe, you make void the Gospel; for, according to the Gospel, Christ did not give himself for the righteous and the pure. Why should he? With righteousness and purity existent, he would be giving himself in vain. It would be a senseless giving. In the second place, you must believe that Christ gave himself for you, to put away your impurity and unrighteousness and make you pure and righteous in himself. If you believe this, it will be so. Faith will accomplish it. The fact that he gave himself for you can make you pure and righteous only through faith on your part. Peter (Acts 15, 9) speaks of the cleansing of hearts by faith. Observe, Christ is not put into your hand, not given you in a coffer, not placed in your bosom nor in your mouth. He is presented to you through the Word, the Gospel; he is held up before your heart, through the ears he is offered to you, as the Being who gave himself for you - for your unrighteousness and impurity. Only with your heart can you receive him. And your heart receives when it responds to your opened mind, saying, ”Yes, I believe.” Thus through the medium of the Gospel Christ penetrates your heart by way of your hearing, and dwells there by your faith. Then are you pure and righteous; not by your own efforts, but in consequence of the guest received into your heart through faith. How rich and precious these blessings!
43. Now, when faith dwelling within you brings Christ into your heart, you cannot think him poor and destitute. He brings his own life, his Spirit - all he is and commands. Paul says the Spirit is given, not in response to any work of man, but for the sake of the Gospel. The Gospel brings Christ, and Christ brings the Spirit - his Spirit. Then the individual is made new; he is godly. Then all his deeds are well wrought. He is not idle; for faith is never inactive. It continually, in word and act, proclaims Christ. Thus the world is roused against Christ; it will not hear, will not tolerate, him. The result is crosses for the Christian, and crosses render life loathsome and the Day of Judgment desirable. This, mark you, explains the Gospel and the appearing of the saving grace of God.
44. How can death and the Day of Judgment terrify the heart that receives Christ? Who shall injure such a one when the great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who orders the day of judgment, stands by with all his glory, greatness, majesty and might? He who gave himself for us, he and no other, will control that day. Assuredly he will not deny his own testimony, but will verify your faith by declaring he gave himself for your sins. And what have you to fear from sin when the judge himself owns he has taken it away by his own sacrifice? Who will accuse you? Who may judge the judge? Who exercise authority over him? His power outweighs that of all the world with its sins innumerable. Had he purchased your salvation with anything but himself, there might be great error in this doctrine. But what can terrify when he has given himself for you? He would have to condemn himself before sin could condemn the souls for whom he died.
45. Here is strong, unquestionable security. But our connection with it depends upon the stedfastness of our faith. Christ certainly will not waver. He is absolutely stedfast. We should, then, urge and enforce faith by our preaching and in our working and suffering, ever making it firm and constant. Works avail nothing here. The evil spirit will assail only our faith, well knowing that upon it depends all. How unfortunate our failure to perceive our advantage! for we ignore the Gospel with its saving grace. Wo unto you, Pope, bishops, priests and monks! Of what use are you in the churches and occupying the pulpits? Now let us analyze the words,
”v14b That he might redeem us.”
46. He gave himself to redeem - not himself, but us. Evidently, we are naturally captives. Then how can we be presumptuous and ungrateful enough to attribute so much merit to our free-will and our natural reason? If we claim there is aught in us not bound in sin, we disparage the grace whereby, according to the Gospel, we are redeemed. Who can do any good thing while captive in sin, while wholly unrighteous? Our own efforts may seem to us good, but in truth they are not; otherwise, the Gospel of Christ must be false.
”v14c From all iniquity.”
47. The word Paul uses for ”iniquity” is ”anomias,” the specific meaning of which is, anything not conforming to the Law, whether transgression of soul or body, the former transgression being ungodliness or impiety, and the latter worldly lusts. He is careful to add the word ”all,” to make plain the inclusion of the sins of the body and the unrighteousness of soul wherefrom Christ has completely redeemed us. This teaching is a blow at the self-righteous and separate, who redeem themselves, and others as well, from certain forms of unrighteousness by means of the Law, or by their own reason and free-will. In reality they do avoid the outward act of transgression, being restrained by prohibitions, or fear of pain and penalty, or expectation of reward or gain. But this is only ridding of the scum of unrighteousness; the heart remains filled with ungodly, unregenerate inclination and worldly lusts, and neither body nor soul righteous. But through faith Christ redeems us from all unrighteousness. He liberates us, enabling us to live godly and heavenly, a power we had not when in the prison of unrighteousness.
”v14d And purify unto himself.”
Sin is attended by two evils: First, it takes us captive. In its power we are
incapable of doing good, of desiring or even recognizing good. Sin thus robs us
of power, freedom and light. The second evil attendant upon sin is the natural
outcome of the first: we forsake good to engage only in iniquity and impurity,
tilling with hard and heavy labor the land of wicked Pharaoh in
49. Afterward, the effort of our entire lives should be to purge from body and soul unrighteous, unregenerate, and worldly conduct. Until death our lives should be nothing but purification. While it is true that faith instantly redeems from all legal guilt and sets free, yet evil desires remain in body and soul, as odor and disease cling to a dungeon. Faith occupies itself with purifying from these. Typical of this principle, Lazarus in the Gospel was raised from the dead by a single word (Jn 11, 44), but afterward the shroud and napkin had to be removed. And the half-dead man whose wounds the Samaritan bound up and whom the Samaritan carried home, had to remain in the inn until he was restored.
”v14e A people for his own possession.”
50. The thought is of ownership - a peculiar inheritance or possession. The Scriptures term God's people his inheritance. As a landholder cultivates, nourishes and improves his inheritance, so, through the medium of our faith, Christ, whose inheritance we are, cultivates us, or impels us to daily grow better and more fruitful. Thus you see, faith liberates from sin, but more than that, it makes us Christ's inheritance, which he accepts and protects as his own. Who can injure us when we are the inheritance of the mighty God?
51. As ungodliness is opposed by inheritance, so zeal or diligence in our efforts after good opposes worldly lusts. By inward godliness we become Christ's heritage, and by sober and righteous living are good works wrought. As his heritage we serve him, and by good works we serve our neighbors and ourselves; first the heritage, then the good works. For good works are not wrought without godliness, and we are taught we must be zealous - zelotaethat is, must emulate one another in doing good, or vie with one another in the effort to work universal good, disputing who was the best and who did the most good. This is the real meaning of the word ”zelotae.” Where are these now?
”v15 These things speak and exhort.”
52. Truly, 0 Lord God, it is a vital charge, this - not only to preach the principles taught in this lesson, but contiually to urge, admonish and arouse the people, leading them to faith and actually good works. Though we may have taught, we must follow it up with persevering exhortation, that the Word of God may have its sway.
53. 0 Pope, bishops, priests and monks now flooding the Church with fables and human doctrines, let these things sink into your minds. You will have more than enough to preach if you attempt only what this text contains, provided you continually admonish the people and enforce it. It beautifully portrays the life of the Christian. Its teaching, and only this, are you to preach and enforce. God grant it! Amen.
54. Note, the office of a minister calls for two things - teaching and exhortation. We must teach the uninformed, and must admonish the already informed lest they go backward, grow indolent or fall away entirely instead of persevering against all temptations.
55. First, the text gives us authority to maintain that without grace no good can be wrought and all human efforts are sinful. This principle is established by Paul's statement, ”Grace hath appeared.” Evidently, previous to the advent mentioned, no grace existed among men. If no grace existed, plainly there was only wrath. Therefore, without grace, there is in ourselves nothing but unregeneracy and wrath, instead of good.
56. Again, Paul's reference to saving grace clearly indicates that whatever is devoid of grace is already condemned and beyond the power of procuring help and salvation. Where, then, is free will? Where are human virtues, human reason and opinions? All are without saving grace, all are condemned, sinful and shameful before God, even though precious in our sight.
57. Still more impressive is the phrase ”to all men.” None are excepted. Manifestly, then, until recognition of the Gospel, naught but wrath ruled in all men. The apostle says (Eph 2, 3), ”We were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” Here he repels with safe armor, and stops the mouths of, all who boast of reason, works, opinions, free-will, light of nature, etc., as efficacious without grace. He makes them all corrupt, impious, ungodly and devoid of grace.
58. Further, Paul declares the grace of God appeared to ”all men” to enable them to ”deny ungodliness and worldly lusts.” Who can stand before the armor he uses? What is the inevitable conclusion but this: without the grace of God, the works of all men are ungodliness and worldly lusts? For were there godliness, or spiritual aspirations, in any individual, there would be no reason for ”all men” to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts; neither would the saving appearance of grace be called for in all cases. In this way, mark you, we should use the Scriptures as armor against false teachers. Not only are they for the exercise of our faith in our daily living, but for the open defense and battle of faith against the attacks of error.
59. Before the testimony of this text, all hypocrites, all ecclesiastics, must lie prostrate in defeat, no matter how much they may have fasted, prayed, watched and toiled. These exertions will avail naught; ungodliness and worldly lusts will still survive in them. Though shame may cause them to conceal evil expression, the heart is still impure. Could our works, apparel, cloisters, fasting and prayers render us godly, the apostle might more properly have said that a prayer or a fast, a pilgrimage or an order, or something else, had appeared teaching us to be godly. But emphatically it is none of these; it is the appearing of saving grace. This, this alone, nothing else, renders us godly.
60. The danger and error of human laws, orders, sects, vows, and so on, is easily apparent. For they are not grace; they are merely works, by their false appearance leading the whole world into error, distress and misery. Under their influence, the world forgets grace and faith, and looks for godliness and happiness in these errors.
61. Again, Paul's admonition to us to look for the blessed and glorious appearing of the great God establishes the fact of another life beyond this. Plainly, it is evident that the soul is immortal; yes, that even the body must rise again. We say in the creed, ”I believe in the resurrection of the body and in the life everlasting.”
62. Further, it may be logically inferred from Paul's language - ”the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” - that Christ is true God. Clearly, then, it follows that the Being to come in glory on the judgment day is the great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
63. Should one in a caviling spirit apply to the Father alone the reference here to ”the great God,” his theory would not hold. For this glorious appearing is shared by the great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Were Christ not true God, the glory and splendor of God would not be attributed to him. Since mention is made of the splendor, the glory, the work, of ”the great God and our Saviour” the latter must be God with the former. Through the mouth of Isaiah, God has more than once said, ”My glory will I not give to another,” and yet here he shares it with Christ. Hence Christ can be no other than God. The glory of God is his. Yet he is a person distinct from the Father.
64. Once more, a strong argument against human doctrine is afforded us in Paul's words, ”These things speak and exhort.” Had Paul designed anything further to be taught than the things he mentions, he surely would have said so. Our bishops and popes today think they have done enough when they permit these Paul's injunctions to be written in books and on slips of paper, enforcing them by no commands of their own; but the fact is, their own voices should be heard in constant preaching and enforcing of the Gospel. Wo unto them!
(WA 10, I, 58-95)
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out
a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world
should be taxed. (This taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of
1. It is written in
Haggai 2, 6-7, that God says, ”I will shake the
heavens; and the precious things of all nations shall come.” This is fulfilled
today, for the heavens were shaken, that is, the angels in the heavens sang
praises to God. And the earth was shaken, that is, the people on the earth were
agitated; one journeying to this city, another to that throughout the whole
land, as the Gospel tells us. It was not a violent, bloody uprising, but rather
a peaceable one awakened by God who is the God of peace. It is not to be
understood that all countries upon earth were so agitated; but only those under
Roman rule, which did not comprise half of the whole earth. However, no land
was agitated as was the
2. This taxing, enrollment, or census, says Luke, was the first; but in the Gospel according to Matthew, 17, 24, and at other places we read that it was continued from time to time, that they even demanded tribute of Christ, and tempted him with the tribute money, Math. 22,17. On the day of his suffering they also testified against him, that he forbade to give tribute to Caesar. The Jews did not like to pay tribute, and unwillingly submitted to the taxing, maintaining that they were God's people and free from Caesar. They had great disputes as to whether they were obliged to pay the tribute, but they, could not help themselves and were compelled to submit. For this reason they would have been pleased to draw Jesus into the discussion and bring him under the Roman jurisdiction. This taxing was therefore nothing else but a common decree throughout the whole empire that every individual should annually pay a penny, and the officers who collected the tribute were called publicans, who in German are improperly interpreted notorious sinners.
3. Observe how exact the
Evangelist is in his statement that the birth of Christ occurred in the time of
Caesar Augustus, and when Quirinius was governor of
4. And had he not willed
to be submissive, he might have been born before there was any enrollment
decreed. Since now all the works of Jesus are precious teachings, this
circumstance can not be interpreted otherwise than that he by divine counsel
and purpose will not exercise any worldly authority; but will be subject to it.
This then is the first rebuke to the pope's government and every thing of that
character that harmonizes with the
5. This Gospel is so clear that it requires very little explanation, but it should be well considered and taken deeply to heart; and no one will receive more benefit from it than those who, with a calm, quiet heart, banish everything else from their mind, and diligently look into it. It is just as the sun which is reflected in calm water and gives out vigorous warmth, but which cannot be so readily seen nor can it give out such warmth in water that is in roaring and rapid motion. Therefore, if you would be enlightened and warmed, if you would see the wonders of divine grace and have your heart aglow and enlightened, devout and joyful, go where you can silently meditate and lay hold of this picture deep in your heart, and you will see miracle upon miracle. But to give the common person a start and a motive to contemplate it, we will illustrate it in part, and afterwards enter into it more deeply.
behold how very ordinary and common things are to us that transpire on earth,
and yet how high they are regarded in heaven. On earth it occurs in this wise:
Here is a poor young woman, Mary of
7. Now they evidently
owned an ass, upon which Mary rode, although the Gospel does not mention it,
and it is possible that she went on foot with Joseph. Imagine how she was
despised at the inns and stopping places on the way, although worthy to ride in
state in a chariot of gold. There were, no doubt, many wives and daughters of
prominent men at that time, who lived in fine apartments and great splendor,
while the mother of God takes a journey in mid-winter under most trying
circumstances. What distinctions there are in the world! It was more than a
day's journey from
8. The Evangelist shows
how, when they arrived at Bethlehem, they were the most insignificant and
despised, so that they had to make way for others until they were obliged to
take refuge in a stable, to share with the cattle, lodging, table, bedchamber
and bed, while many a wicked man sat at the head in the hotels and was honored
as lord. No one noticed or was conscious of what God was doing in that stable. He
lets the large houses and costly apartments remain empty, lets their
inhabitants eat, drink and be merry; but this comfort and treasure are hidden
from them. 0 what a dark night this was for
9. See, this is the first
picture with which Christ puts the world to shame and exposes all it does and
knows. It shows that the world's greatest wisdom is foolishness, her best
actions are wrong and her greatest treasures are misfortunes. What had
10. Some have commented on the word ”diversorium”, as if it meant an open archway, through which every body could pass, where some asses stood, and that 'Mary could not get to a lodging place. This is not right. The Evangelist desires to show that Joseph and Mary had to occupy a stable, because there was no room for her in the inn, in the place where the pilgrim guests generally lodged. All the guests were cared for in the inn or caravansary, with room, food and bed, except these poor people who had to creep into a stable where it was customary to house cattle. This word ”diversorium”, which by Luke is called ”katalyma” means nothing else than a place for guests, which is proved by the words of Christ, Luke 22,11, where he sent the disciples to prepare the supper, ”Go and say unto the master of the house, The Teacher saith unto thee, Where is the guest chamber, where I shall eat the Passover with my disciples?” So also here Joseph and Mary had no room in the katalyma, the inn, but only in the stable belonging to the innkeeper, who would not have been worthy to give shelter to such a guest. They had neither money nor influence to secure a room in 'the inn, hence they were obliged to lodge in a stable. 0 world, how stupid! 0 man, how blind thou art!
11. But the birth itself
is still more pitiful. There was no one to take pity on this young wife who was
for the first time to give birth to a child; no one to take to heart her
condition that she, a stranger, did not have the least thing a mother needs in
a birth-night. There she is without any preparation, without either light or
fire, alone in the darkness, without any one offering her service as is
customary for women to do at such times. Every thing is in commotion in the
inn, there is a swarming of guests from all parts of the country, no one thinks
of this poor woman. It is also possible that she did not expect the event so soon, else she would probably have remained at
12. Just imagine what kind of swaddling clothes they were in which she wrapped the child. Possibly her veil or some article of her clothing, she could spare. But that she should have wrapped him in Joseph's trousers, which are exhibited at Aixla-Chapelle appears entirely too false and frivolous. It is a fable, the like of which there are more in the world. Is it not strange that the birth of Christ occurs in cold winter, in a strange land, and in such a poor and despicable manner?
13. Some argue as to how this birth took place, as if Jesus was born while Mary was praying and rejoicing, without any pain, and before she was conscious of it. While I do not altogether discard that pious supposition, it was evidently invented for the sake of simple minded people. But we must abide by the Gospel, that he was born of the virgin Mary. There is no deception here, for the Word clearly states that it was an actual birth.
14. It is well known what is meant by giving birth. Mary's experience was not different from that of other women, so that the birth of Christ was a real natural birth, Mary being his natural mother and he being her natural son. Therefore her body performed its functions of giving birth, which naturally belonged to it, except that she brought forth without sin, without shame, without pain and without injury, just as she had conceived without sin. The curse of Eve did not come on her, where God said: ”In pain thou shalt bring forth children,” Gen. 3: 16; otherwise it was with her in every particular as with every woman who gives birth to a child.
15. Grace does not interfere with nature and her work, but rather improves and promotes it. Likewise Mary, without doubt, also nourished the child with milk from her breast and not with strange milk, or in a manner different from that which nature provided, as we sing: ubere de coelo pleno, from her breast being filled by heaven, without injury or impurity. I mention this that we may be grounded in the faith and know that Jesus was a natural man in every respect just as we, the only difference being in his relation to sin and grace, he being without a sinful nature. In him and in his mother nature was pure in all the members and in all the operations of those members. No body or member of woman ever performed its natural function without sin, except that of this virgin; here for once God bestowed special honor upon nature and its operations. It is a great comfort to us that Jesus took upon himself our nature and flesh. Therefore we are not to take away from him or his mother any thing that is not in conflict with grace, for the text clearly says that she brought him forth, and the angels said, unto you he is born.
16. How could God have shown his goodness in a more sublime manner than by humbling himself to partake of flesh and blood, that he did not even disdain the natural privacy but honors nature most highly in that part where in Adam and Eve it was most miserably brought to shame? so that henceforth even that can be regarded godly, honest and pure, which in all men is the most ungodly, shameful and impure. These are real miracles of God, for in no way could he have given us stronger, more forcible and purer pictures of chastity than in this birth. When we look at this birth, and reflect upon how the sublime Majesty moves with great earnestness and inexpressible love and goodness upon the flesh and blood of this virgin, we see how here all evil lust and every evil thought is banished.
17. No woman can inspire such pure thoughts in a man as this virgin; nor can any man inspire such pure thought in a woman as this child. If in reflecting on this birth we recognize the work of God that is embodied in it, only chastity and purity spring from it.
18. But what happens in
heaven concerning this birth? As much as it is despised on earth, so much and a
thousand times more is it honored in heaven. If an angel from heaven came and
praised you and your work, would you not regard it of greater value than all
the praise and honor the world could give you, and for which you would be
willing to bear the greatest humility and reproach? What exalted honor is that
when all the angels in heaven can not restrain themselves from breaking out in
rejoicing, so that even poor shepherds in the fields hear them preach, praise
God, sing and pour out their joy without measure. Were not all joy and honor
19. Behold how very richly God honors those who are despised of men, and that very gladly. Here you see that his eyes look into the depths of humility, as is written, ”He sitteth above the cherubim” and looketh into the depths. Nor could the angels find princes or valiant men to whom to communicate the good news; but only unlearned laymen, the most humble people upon earth. Could they not have addressed the high priests, who it was supposed knew so much concerning God and the angels? No, God chose poor shepherds, who, though they were of low esteem in the sight of men, were in heaven regarded as worthy of such great grace and honor.
20. See how utterly God overthrows that which is lofty! And yet we rage and rant for nothing but this empty honor, as we had no honor to seek in heaven; we continually step out of God's sight, so that he may not see us in the depths, into which he alone looks.
21. This has been considered sufficiently for plain people. Every one should ponder it further for himself. If every word is properly grasped, it is as fire that sets the heart aglow, as God says in Jer. 23, 29, ”Is not my Word like fire?” And as we see, it is the purpose of the divine Word, to teach us to know God and his work, and to see that this life is nothing. For as he does not live according to this life and does not have possessions nor temporal honor and power, he does not regard these and says nothing concerning them, but teaches only the contrary. He works in opposition to these temporal things, looks with favor upon that from which the world turns, teaches that from which it flees and takes up that which it discards.
22. And although we are not willing to tolerate such acts of God and do not want to receive blessing, honor and life in this way, yet it must remain so. God does not change his purpose, nor does he teach or act differently than he purposed. We must adapt ourselves to him, he will not adapt himself to us. Moreover, he who will not regard his word, nor the manner in which he works to bring comfort to men, has assuredly no good evidence of being saved. In what more lovely manner could he have shown his grace to the humble and despised of earth, than through this birth in poverty, over which the angels rejoice, and make it known to no one but to the poor shepherds?
23. Let us now look at the mysteries set before us in this history. In all the mysteries here two things are especially set forth, the Gospel and faith, that is, what is to be preached and what is to be believed, who are to be the preachers, and who are to be the believers. This we will now consider.
24. Faith is first, and it is right that we recognize it as the most important in every word of God. It is of no value only to believe that this history is true as it is written; for all sinners, even those condemned believe that. The Scripture, God's Word, does not teach concerning faith, that it is a natural work, without grace. The right and gracious faith which God demands is, that you firmly believe that Christ is born for you, and that this birth took place for your welfare. The Gospel teaches that Christ was born, and that he did and suffered everything in our behalf, as is here declared by the angel: ”Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people; for there is born to you this day a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” In these words you clearly see that he is born for us.
25. He does not simply say, Christ is born, but to you he is born, neither does he say, I bring glad tidings, but to you I bring glad tidings of great joy. Furthermore, this joy was not to remain in Christ, but it shall be to all the people. This faith no condemned or wicked man has, nor can he have it; for the right ground of salvation which unites Christ and the believing heart is that they have all things in common. But what have they?
26. Christ has a pure, innocent, and holy birth. Man has an unclean, sinful, condemned birth; as David says, Ps. 51, 5, ”Behold I was brought forth in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Nothing can help this unholy birth except the pure birth of Christ. But Christ's birth cannot be distributed in a material sense neither would that avail any thing; it is therefore imparted spiritually, through the Word, as the angel says, it is given to all who firmly believe so that no harm will come to them because of their impure birth. This it the way and manner in which we are to be cleansed from the miserable birth we have from Adam. For this purpose Christ willed to be born, that through him we might be born again, as he says John 3: 3, that it takes place through faith; as also St. James says in 1, 18: ”Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”
27. We see here how Christ, as it were, takes our birth from us and absorbs it in his birth, and grants us his, that in it we might become pure and holy, as if it were our own, so that every Christian may rejoice and glory in Christ's birth as much as if he had himself been born of Mary as was Christ. Whoever does not believe this, or doubts, is no Christian.
28. 0, this is the great joy of which the angel speaks. This is the comfort and exceeding goodness of God that, if a man believes this, he can boast of the treasure that Mary is his rightful mother, Christ his brother, and God his father. For these things actually occurred and are true, but we must believe. This is the principal thing and the principal treasure in every Gospel, before any doctrine of good works can be taken out of it. Christ must above all things become our own and we become his, before we can do good works. But this cannot occur except through the faith that teaches us rightly to understand the Gospel and properly to lay hold of it. This is the only way in which Christ can be rightly known so that the conscience is satisfied and made to rejoice. Out of this grow love and praise to God who in Christ has bestowed upon us such unspeakable gifts. This gives courage to do or leave undone, and living or dying, to suffer every thing that is well pleasing to God. This is what is meant by Isaiah 9: 6, ”Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,” to us, to us, to us is born, and to us is given this child.
29. Therefore see to it that you do not find pleasure in the Gospel only as a history, for that is only transient; neither regard it only as an example, for it is of no value without faith; but see to it that you make this birth your own and that Christ be born in you. This will be the case if you believe, then you will repose in the lap of the Virgin Mary and be her dear child. But you must exercise this faith and pray while you live, you cannot establish it too firmly. This is our foundation and inheritance, upon which good works must be built.
30. If Christ has now thus become your own, and you have by such faith been cleansed through him and have received your inheritance without any personal merit, but alone through the love of God who gives to you as your own the treasure and work of his Son; it follows that you will do good works by doing to your neighbor as Christ has done to you. Here good works are their own teacher. What are the good works of Christ? Is it not true that they are good because they have been done for your benefit, for God's sake, who commanded him to do the works in your behalf? In this then Christ was obedient to the Father, in that he loved and served us.
31. Therefore since you have received enough and become rich, you have no other commandment to serve Christ and render obedience to him, than so to direct your works that they may be of benefit to your neighbor, just as the works of Christ are of benefit and use to you. For the reason Jesus said at the Last Supper: ”This is my commandment that ye love one another; even as I have loved you.” John, 13: 34. Here it is seen that he loved us and did every thing for our benefit, in order that we may do the same, not to him, for he needs it not, but to our neighbor; this is his commandment, and this is our obedience. Therefore it is through faith that Christ becomes our own, and his love is the cause that we are his. He loves, we believe, thus both are united into one. Again, our neighbor believes and expects our love, we are therefore to love him also in return and not let him long for it in vain. One is the same as the other; as Christ helps us so we in return help our neighbor, and all have enough.
32. Observe now from this how far those have gone out of the way who have united good works with stone, wood, clothing, eating and drinking. Of what benefit is it to your neighbor if you build a church entirely out of gold!? Of what benefit to him is the frequent ringing of great church bells? Of what benefit to him is the glitter and the ceremonies in the churches, the priests' gowns, the sanctuary, the silver pictures and vessels? Of what benefit to him are the many candles and much incense? Of what benefit to him is the much chanting and mumbling, the singing of vigils and masses? Do you think that God will permit himself to be paid with the sound of bells, the smoke of candles, the glitter of gold and such fancies? He has commanded none of these, but if you see your neighbor going astray, sinning, or suffering in body or soul, you are to leave every thing else and at once help him in every way in your power and if you can do no more, help him with words of comfort and prayer. Thus has Christ done to you and given you an example for you to follow.
33. These are the two things in which a Christian is to exercise himself, the one that he draws Christ into himself, and that by faith he makes him his own, appropriates to himself the treasures of Christ and confidently builds upon them; the other that he condescends to his neighbor and lets him share in that which he has received, even as he shares in the treasures of Christ. He who does not exercise himself in these two things will receive no benefit even if he should fast unto death, suffer torture or even give his body to be burned, and were able to do all miracles, as St. Paul teaches, I Cor. 13ff.
34. The other mystery, or spiritual teaching, is, that in the churches the Gospel only should be preached and nothing more. Now it is evident that the Gospel teaches nothing but the foregoing two things, Christ and his example and two kinds of good works, the one belonging to Christ by which we are saved through faith, the other belonging to us by which our neighbor receives help. Whosoever therefore teaches any thing different from the Gospel leads people astray; and whosoever does not teach the Gospel in these two parts, leads people all the more astray and is worse than the former who teaches without the Gospel, because he abuses and corrupts God's Word, as St. Paul complains concerning some. 2 Cor. 2: 17.
35. Now it is clear that nature could not have discovered such a doctrine, nor could all the ingenuity, reason and wisdom of the world have thought it out. Who would be able to discover by means of his own efforts, that faith in Christ makes us one with Christ and gives us for our own all that is Christ's? Who would be able to discover that no works are of any value except those intended to benefit our neighbor? Nature teaches no more than that which is wrought by the law. Therefore it falls back upon its own work, so that this one thinks he fulfills the commandment by founding some institution or order, that one by fasting, this one by the kind of clothes he wears, that one by going on pilgrimages; this one in this manner, that one in that manner; and yet all their works are worthless, for no one is helped by them. Such is the case at the present time in which the whole world is blinded and is going astray through the doctrines and works of men, so that faith and love along with the Gospel have perished.
36. Therefore the Gospel properly apprehended, is a supernatural sermon and light which makes known Christ only. This is pointed out first of all by the fact that it was not a man that made it known to others, but that an angel came down from heaven and made known to the shepherds the birth of Jesus, while no human being knew any thing about it.
37. In the second place it is pointed out by the fact that Christ was born at midnight, by which he indicates that the entire world is in darkness as to its future and that Christ can not be known by mere reason, but that knowledge concerning him must be revealed from heaven.
38. In the third place, it is shown by the light that shined around the shepherds, which teaches that here there must be an entirely different light than that of human reason. Moreover, when St. Luke says, Gloria Dei, the glory of God, shone around them, he calls that light brightness, or the glory of God. Why does he say that? In order to call attention to the mystery and reveal the character of the Gospel. For while the Gospel is a heavenly light that teaches nothing more than Christ, in whom God's grace is given to us and all human merit is entirely cast aside, it exalts only the glory of God, so that henceforth no one may be able to boast of his own power; but must give God the glory, that it is of his love and goodness alone that we are saved through Christ. See, the divine honor, the divine glory, is the light in the Gospel, which shines around us from heaven through the apostles and their followers who preach the Gospel. The angel here was in the place of all the preachers of the Gospel, and the shepherds in the place of all the hearers, as we shall see. For this reason the Gospel can tolerate no other teaching besides its own; for the teaching of men is earthly light and human glory; it exalts the honor and praise of men, and makes souls to glory in their own works; while the Gospel glories in Christ, in God's grace and goodness, and teaches us to boast of and confide in Christ.
39. In the fourth place this is represented by the
name Judea and
40. Beth means house; Lehem means bread,
41. Moreover where Christ and the Gospel are there is
42. But the angel shows most clearly that nothing is
to be preached in Christendom except the Gospel, he takes upon himself the
office of a preacher of the Gospel. He does not say, I preach to you, but ”glad tidings I bring to you”. I am an Evangelist and my
word is an evangel, good news. The meaning of the word Gospel is, a good,
joyful message, that is preached in the New Testament.
Of what does the Gospel testify? Listen! the angel says: ”I
bring you glad tidings of great joy”, my Gospel speaks of great joy. Where is
it? Hear again: ”For there is born to you this day in
the city of
43. Behold here what the Gospel is, namely, a joyful sermon concerning Christ, our Saviour. Whoever preaches him rightly, preaches the Gospel of pure joy. How is it possible for man to hear of greater joy than that Christ has given to him as his own? He does not only say Christ is born, but he makes his birth our own by saying, to you a Saviour.
44. Therefore the Gospel does not only teach the history concerning Christ; but it enables all who believe it to receive it as their own, which is the way the Gospel operates, as has just been set forth. Of what benefit would it be to me if Christ had been born a thousand times, and it would daily be sung into my ears in a most lovely manner, if I were never to hear that he was born for me and was to be my very own? If the voice gives forth this pleasant sound, even if it be in homely phrase, my heart listens with joy for it is a lovely sound which penetrates the soul. If now there were any thing else to be preached, the evangelical angel and the angelic evangelist would certainly have touched upon it.
45. The angel says further: ”And
this is the sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes,
and lying in a manger.” The clothes are nothing else than the holy Scriptures, in which the Christian truth lies wrapped,
in which the faith is described. For the Old Testament contains nothing else
than Christ as he is preached in the Gospel. Therefore we see how the apostles
appeal to the testimony of the Scriptures and with them prove every thing that is
to be preached and believed concerning Christ. Thus
46. According to this Christ's seamless coat which was not divided and which during his sufferings was gambled off and given away, John 19, 23-24, represents the New Testament. It indicates that the pope, the Antichrist, would not deny the Gospel, but would shut it up violently and play with it by means of false interpretation, until Christ is no longer to be found in it. Then the four soldiers who crucified the Lord are figures of all the bishops and teachers in the four quarters of the earth, who violently suppress the Gospel and destroy Christ and his faith by means of their human teachings, as the pope with his Papists has long since done.
47. From this we see that the law and the prophets can not be rightly preached and known unless we see Christ wrapped up in them. It is true that Christ does not seem to be in them, nor do the Jews find him there. They appear to be insignificant and unimportant clothes, simple words, which seem to speak of unimportant external matters, the import of which is not recognized; but the New Testament, the Gospel, must open it, throw its light upon it and reveal it, as has been said.
48. First of all then the Gospel must be heard, and
the appearance and the voice of the angel must be believed. Had the shepherds
not heard from the angel that Christ lay there, they might have seen him ten
thousand times without ever knowing that the child was Christ. Accordingly
49. Therefore let us beware of all teaching that does not set forth Christ. What more would you know? What more do you need, if indeed you know Christ, as above set forth, if you walk by faith In God, and by love to your neighbor, doing to your fellow man as Christ has done to you. This is indeed the whole Scripture in its briefest form, that no more words or books are necessary, but only life and action.
50. He lies in the manger. Notice here that nothing
but Christ is to be preached throughout the whole world. What is the manger but
the congregations of Christians in the churches to hear the preaching? We are
the beasts before this manger; and Christ is laid before us upon whom we are to
feed our souls. Whosoever goes to hear the preaching goes to this manger; but
it must be the preaching of Christ. Not all mangers have Christ neither do all
sermons teach the true faith. There was but one manger in
51. But in order to show that Christ in swaddling clothes represents the faith in the Old Testaments, we will here give several examples. We read in Math. 8, 4, when Christ cleansed the leper that he said to him: ”Go, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.” Here you perceive that the Law of Moses was given to the Jews for a testimony, or sign, as the angel also here says, namely, that such law represents something different from itself. What? Christ is the priest, all men are spiritual lepers because of unbelief; but when we come to faith in him he touches us With his hand, gives and lays upon us his merit and we become clean and whole without any merit on our part whatever. We are therefore to show our gratitude to him and acknowledge that we have not become pious by our own works, but through his grace, then our course will be right before God. In addition we are to offer our gifts, that is, give of our own to help our fellow man, to do good to him as Christ has done to us. Thus Christ is served and an offering is brought to the rightful priest, for it is done for his sake, in order to love and praise him. Do you here see how, figuratively speaking, Christ and the faith are wrapped up in the plain Scriptures? It is here made evident how Moses in the law gave only testimony and an interpretation of Christ. The whole Old Testament should be understood in this manner, and should be taken to be the swaddling clothes as a sign pointing out and making Christ known.
52. Again, it was commanded that the Sabbath should be strictly observed and no work should be done, which shows that not our works but Christ's works should dwell in us; for it is written that we are not saved by our works but by the works of Christ. Now these works of Christ are twofold, as shown before. On the one hand, those that Christ has done personally without us, which are the most important and in which we believe. The others, those he performs in us, in our love to our neighbor. The first may be called the evening works and the second the morning works, so that evening and morning make one day, as it is written in Gen. 1, 5, for the Scriptures begin the day in the evening and end in the morning, that is, the evening with the night is the first half, the morning with the day is the second half of the whole natural day. Now as the first half is dark and the second half is light, so the first works of Christ are concealed in our faith, but the others, the works of love, are to appear, to be openly shown toward our fellow man. Here then you see how the whole Sabbath is observed and hallowed.
53. Do you see how beautifully Christ lies in these swaddling clothes? How beautifully the Old Testament reveals the faith and love of Christ and of his Christians? Now, swaddling clothes are as a rule of two kinds, the outside of coarse woolen cloth, the inner of linen. The outer or coarse woolen cloth represents the testimony of the law, but the linnen are the words of the prophets. As Isaiah says in 7, 14, ”Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel”, and similar passages which would not be understood of Christ, had the Gospel not revealed it and shown that Christ is in them.
54. Here then we have these two, the faith and the Gospel, that these and nothing else are to be preached throughout Christendom. Let us now see who are to be the preachers and who the learners. The preachers are to be angels, that is, God's messengers, who are to lead a heavenly life, are to be constantly engaged with God's Word that they under no circumstances preach the doctrine of men. It is a most incongruous thing to be God's messenger and not to further God's message. Angelus means a messenger, and Luke calls him God's messenger (Angelus Domini). The message also is of more importance than the messenger's life. If he leads a wicked life he only injures himself, but if he brings a false message in the place of God's message, he leads astray and injures every one that hears him, and causes idolatry among the people in that they accept lies for the truth, honor men instead of God, and pray to the devil instead of to God.
55. There is no more terrible plague, misfortune or cause for distress upon earth than a preacher who does not preach God's Word; of whom, alas, the world today is full; and yet they think they are pious and do good when indeed their whole work is nothing but murdering souls, blaspheming God and setting up idolatry, so that it would be much better for them if they were robbers, murderers, and the worst scoundrels, for then they would know that they are doing wickedly. But now they go along under spiritual names and show, as priest, bishop, pope, and are at the same time ravening wolves in sheeps' clothing, and it would be well if no one ever heard their preaching.
56. The learners are shepherds, poor people out in the fields. Here Jesus does what he says, Math. 11, 5, ”And the poor have good tidings preached to them”, and Math. 5, 8, ”Blessed are the poor in spirit; for their's is the kingdom of heaven”. Here are no learned, no rich, no mighty ones, for such people do not as a rule accept the Gospel. The Gospel is a heavenly treasure, which will not tolerate any other treasure, and will not agree with any earthly guest in the heart. Therefore whoever loves the one must let go the other, as Christ says, Math. 6, 24: ”You cannot serve God and mammon.” This is shown by the shepherds in that they were in the field, under the canopy of heaven, and not in houses, showing that they do not hold fast and cling to temporal things; and besides they are in the fields by night, despised by and unknown to the world which sleeps in the night, and by day delights so to walk that it may be noticed; but the poor shepherds go about their work at night. They represent all the lowly who live on earth, often despised and unnoticed but dwell only under the protection of heaven; they eagerly desire the Gospel.
57. That there were shepherds, means that no one is to hear the Gospel for himself alone, but every one is to tell it to others who are not acquainted with it. For he who believes for himself has enough and should endeavor to bring others to such faith and knowledge, so that one may be a shepherd of the other, to wait upon and lead him into the pasture of the Gospel in this world, during the night time of this earthly life. At first the shepherds were sore afraid because of the angel; for human nature is shocked when it first hears in the Gospel that all our works are nothing and are condemned before God, for it does not easily give up its prejudices and presumptions.
58. Now let every one examine himself in the light of the Gospel and see how far he is from Christ, what is the character of his faith and love. There are many who are enkindled with dreamy devotion, when they hear of such poverty of Christ, are almost angry with the citizens of Bethlehem, denounce their blindness and ingratitude, and think, if they had been there, they would have shown the Lord and his mother a more becoming service, and would not have permitted them to be treated so miserably. But they do not look by their side to see how many of their fellow men need their help, and which they let go on in their misery unaided. Who is there upon earth that has no poor, miserable, sick, erring ones, or sinful people around him? Why does he not exercise his love to those? Why does he not do to them as Christ has done to him?
59. It is altogether false to think that you have done
much for Christ, if you do nothing for those needy ones. Had you been at
60. Therefore, if your neighbor were now what he shall be in the future, and lay before you, you would surely give him attention. But now, since it is not so, you beat the air and do not recognize the Lord in your neighbor, you do not do to him as he has done to you. Therefore God permits you to be blinded, and deceived by the pope and false preachers, so that you squander on wood, stone, paper, and wax that with which you might help your fellow man.
61. Finally we must also treat of the angels' song, which we use daily in our service: Gloria in excelcis Deo. There are three things to be considered in this song, the glory to God, the peace to the earth, and the good will to mankind. The good will might be understood as the divine good will God has toward men through Christ. But we will admit it to mean the good will which is granted unto men through this birth, as it is set forth in the words thus, ”en anthropis eudokia, hominibus beneplacitum.”
62. The first is the glory to God. Thus we should also begin, so that in all things the praise and glory be given to God as the one who does, gives and possesses all things, that no one ascribe any thing to himself or claim any merit for himself. For the glory belongs to no one but to God alone, it does not permit of being made common by being shared by any person.
63. Adam stole the glory through the evil spirit and appropriated it to himself, so that all men with him have come into disgrace, which evil is so deeply rooted in all mankind that there is no vice in them as great as vanity. Every one is well pleased with himself and no one wants to be nothing, and they desire nothing, which spirit of vanity is the cause of all distress, strife and war upon earth.
64. Christ has again brought back the glory to God, in that he has taught us how all we have or can do is nothing but wrath and displeasure before God, so that we may not be boastful and self-satisfied, but rather be filled with fear and shame, so that in this manner our glory and self-satisfaction may be crushed, and we be glad to be rid of it, in order that we may be found and preserved in Christ.
65. The second is the peace on earth. For just as strife must exist where God's glory is not found, as Solomon says, Prov. 13, 10, ”By pride cometh only contention;” so also, where God's glory is there must be peace. Why should they quarrel when they know that nothing is their own, but that all they are, have and can desire is from God; they leave everything in his hands and are content that they have such a gracious God. He knows that all he may have is nothing before God. He does not seek his own honor, but thinks of him who is something before God, namely Christ.
66. From this it follows that where there are true Christians, there is no strife, contention, or discord; as Isaiah says in 2, 4, ”And they shall beat their swords into plowshears, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
67. Therefore our Lord Christ is called a king of peace, and is represented by king Solomon, whose name implies, rich in peace, that inwardly he may give us peace in our conscience toward God through faith; and outwardly, that we may exercise love to our fellow men, so that through him there may be everywhere peace on earth.
68. The third is good will toward men. By good will is not meant the will that does good works, but the good will and peace of heart, which is equally submissive in every thing that may betide, be it good or evil. The angels knew very well that the peace, of which they sang, does not extend farther than to the Christians who truly believe, such have certainly peace among themselves. But the world and the devil have no reproof, they do not permit them to have peace but persecute them to death; as Christ says, John 16, 33, ”In me ye may have peace. In the world ye have tribulation.”
69. Hence it was not enough for the angels to sing
peace on earth, they added to it the good will toward men, that
they take pleasure in all that God does, regard all God's dealing with them as
wise and good, and praise and thank him for it. They do not murmur, but
willingly submit to God's will. Moreover since they know that God, whom they
have received by faith in Christ as a gracious Father, can do all things, they
exult and rejoice even under persecution as
70. Behold, it is such a good will, pleasure, good opinion in all things whether good or evil, that the angels wish to express in their song; for where there is no good will, peace will not long exist. The unbelieving put the worst construction on every thing, always magnify the evil and double every mishap. Therefore God's dealings with them does not please them, they would have it different, and that which is written in Psalm 18, 25-26 is fulfilled: ”With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful, with the perfect man thou wilt show thyself perfect; with the pure thou wilt show thyself pure”, that is, whoever has such pleasure in all things which thou doest. In him thou, and all thine, will also have pleasure,” and with the perverse thou wilt show thyself froward, that is, as thou and all thou doest, does not please him, so he is not well pleasing to thee and all that are thine.
71. Concerning the good will
72. From this song we may learn what kind of creatures the angels are. Don't consider what the great masters of art dream about them, here they are all painted in such a manner that their heart and their own thoughts may be recognized. In the first place, in that they joyfully sing, ascribing the glory to God, they show how full of his light and fire they are, not praising themselves, but recognizing that all things belong to God alone, so that with great earnestness they ascribe the glory to him to whom it belongs. Therefore if you would think of a humble, pure, obedient and joyful heart, praising God, think of the angels. This is their first step, that by which they serve God.
73. The second is their love to us as has been shown. Here
you see what great and gracious friends we have in them, that they favor us no
less than themselves; rejoice in our welfare quite as
much as they do in their own, so much so that in this song they give us a most
comforting inducement to regard them as the best of friends. In this way you
rightly understand the angels, not according to their being, which the masters
of art attempt fearlessly to portray, but according to their inner heart,
spirit and sense, that though I know not what they are, I know what their chief
desire and constant work is; by this you look into their heart. This is enough
concerning this Gospel. What is meant by Mary, Joseph, and
74. In this Gospel is the foundation of the article of
our faith when we say: ”I believe in Jesus Christ,
born of the Virgin Mary.” Although the same article is
founded on different passages of Scripture, yet on none so clearly as on this
one. St. Mark says no more than that Christ has a mother; the same is
also the case with
75. In olden times it was also proclaimed by patriarchs and prophets; as when God says to Abraham, Gen. 22,17: ”And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Again he says to David, Ps. 89, 4, and 132, 11: ”Jehovah hath sworn unto David in truth; he will not return from it; of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne.” But those are obscure words compared with the Gospel.
76. Again it is also represented in many figures, as in the rod of Aaron which budded in a supernatural manner, although a dry piece of wood, Num. 7, 5. So also Mary, exempt from all natural generation, brought forth, in a supernatural manner, really and truly a natural son, just as the rod bore natural almonds, and still remained a natural rod. Again by Gideon's fleece, Judges 6, 37, which was wet by the dew of heaven, while the land around it remained dry, and many like figures which it is not necessary to enumerate. Nor do these figures conflict with faith; they rather adorn it; for it must at first be firmly believed before I can believe that the figure serves to illustrate it.
77. There is a great deal in this article, of which, in time of temptation, we would not be deprived, for the evil spirit attacks nothing so severely as our faith. Therefore it is of the greatest importance for us to know where in God's Word this faith is set forth, and in time of temptation point to that, for the evil spirit can not stand against God's Word.
78. There are also many ethical teachings in the Gospel, as for example, meekness, patience, poverty and the like; but these are touched upon enough and are not points of controversy, for they are fruits of faith and good works.
But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
1. This epistle selection inculcates the same principle taught in the conclusion of the Gospel lesson pertaining to contentment, good will and love for our neighbor. The substance of the text is: Why should we be unwilling to do for others what has been done for us by God, of whose blessings we are far less worthy than anyone can be of our help? Since God has been friendly and kindly disposed toward us in bestowing upon us his loving kindness, let us conduct ourselves similarly toward our neighbors, even if they are unworthy, for we too are unworthy.
2. It is necessary to a ready understanding of this epistle that we know the occasion of these words. In the verses immediately preceding, Paul says to Titus, his disciple:
”Put them in mind to be in subjection to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready unto every good work, to speak evil of no man, not to be contentious, to be gentle, showing all meekness toward all men. For we also once were foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.”
Note that Paul here indicates the relation we sustain to God and man. He would have us obedient to magistrates and kind to neighbors. Though our neighbors may be blind, erring and wicked, yet we should be charitable in our judgment and cheerfully endeavor to please them, remembering God's similar attitude toward us when we were as they.
3. The word ”appeared,” implying the revelation of the Gospel, or Christ's appearance to the whole world, is sufficiently defined in the preceding epistle lesson. Though in that case it refers to the birth of Christ, little depends on the circumstance so far as the meaning of the word is concerned. Paul does not employ here the little word ”grace”, used there, but he described the God of grace with two other pleasing words - ”kindness” and ”love.” The first is, in Greek, ”Chrestotes” (friendliness), implying that friendly, lovable demeanor which makes the individual attractive and gives his society a gracious influence moving everyone within its circle to love and affection. Such a one is capable of bearing with all men. He is not inclined to neglect any nor to repel with harshness. In him everyone may repose confidence. All men can approach him and deal with him. He resembles Christ, whom the Gospel portrays as always friendly to everyone, repelling none but gracious unto all.
4. God, too, shows himself to us through the Gospel as wholly lovable and kind, receiving all, rejecting none, ignoring our shortcomings and repelling no soul by severity. The Gospel proclaims naught but grace, whereby God sustains us and through which he kindly leads us, regardless of our worthiness. This is the day of grace. All men may confidently draw near to the throne of his mercy, as it is written in Hebrews 4, 16. And we read in Psalm 34, 5: .They looked unto him, and were radiant; and their faces shall never be confounded.” That is, God will not permit us to ask in vain, or to come unto him and go away empty and ashamed.
5. The second Word is, in Greek, ”Philanthropia” (Philanthropy) - love of mankind. Avarice is the love of money. David (2 Sam 1, 26) refers to ”the love of women.” But naturalists term certain animals - the dog, the horse, the dolphin - philanthropic or humane, because they have a natural love and fondness for man; they adapt themselves to his service as if endowed with reason enabling them to understand him.
6. It is an attitude of love for mankind the apostle here attributes to our God. Moses has done likewise in Deuteronomy 33, 2-3, where he says of God: ”At his right hand was a fiery law for them. Yea, he loveth the people.” This quotation indicates that God does more than show himself, through the Gospel, with a kindly bearing, desiring to draw men unto himself, and tolerant of their shortcomings; he would give them of himself, would bestow his presence, and he extends his grace and friendship.
7. These two words descriptive of God, ”kindness” and ”love,” are indeed pleasant and consoling. They represent him as offering grace, following us, ready to receive most graciously all who draw near to him and desire him. What more could he do? Note now why the Gospel is termed a gracious, comforting message concerning God revealed in Christ. What can be conceived more gracious to a poor, sinful conscience than what these words convey? Oh, how wretchedly the devil, through the laws of the Pope, has perverted for us these pure words of God!
8. These two words are to be accepted with their full and broad import. No distinction of person, as prevails among men, is to be made: for divine love and kindness is not secured by human merit; it is of God's grace alone and given to all that bear the name of man, however insignificant. God loves not what is characteristic of one person, but of a all. He is partial not to one, but kind to all. Therefore a man's honor is perfectly maintained, and no one can boast of his worthiness, or need despair because of his unworthiness. All mankind may be equally comforted in the unmerited grace God kindly and humanely offers and applies. Had there ever been a meritorious individual or a work worthy of consideration, it surely would have been found among the doers of ”works of righteousness.” But Paul rejects especially these, saying, ”not by works of righteousness which we have done.” How much less reason have we to think the kindness and love of God has appeared in consequence of man's wisdom, power, nobility, wealth and the color of his hair! The grace which cancels all our boasted honor, ascribing glory alone to God who freely bestows it upon the unworthy, is pure as well as great.
9. This epistle instills the two further principles of believing and loving - receiving favors from God and granting favors to our neighbors. The entire Scriptures enforce these two precepts, and the practice of one requires the practice of the other. He who does not firmly believe in God's grace assuredly will not extend kindness to his neighbor, but will be tardy and indifferent in aiding him. In proportion to the strength of his faith will be his willingness and industry in helping his neighbor. Thus faith incites love, and love increases faith.
10. Now we see how utterly we fail to walk in faith when we presume to arrive at goodness and happiness by any other good works than those done to our neighbor. So numerous are the new works and doctrines daily devised, everything like a correct conception of a truly good life is wholly destroyed. But the fact is, all Christian doctrines and works, all Christian living, is briefly, clearly and completely comprehended in these two principles, faith and love. They place man as a medium between God and his neighbor, to receive from above and distribute below. Thus the Christian becomes a vessel, or rather a channel, through which the fountain of divine blessings continuously flows to other individuals.
11. Mark you, the truly godlike are they who receive from God all he offers through Christ, and in return accredit themselves by their beneficence, performing for others the part God performs for them. Psalm 82, 6 is in point here: ”I said, Ye are gods, and all of you sons of the Most High.” Sons of God are we, through the faith that constitutes us heirs of all divine blessings. But we are also ”gods” through the love that makes us beneficent toward our neighbor. The divine nature is simply pure beneficence, or as Paul here says, kindness and love, daily pouring out blessings in abundance upon all creatures; as we everywhere witness.
12. Take heed, then, to embrace the message of these words presenting the love and kindness of God to all men. Daily exercise your faith therein, entertaining no doubt of God's love and kindness toward you, and you shall realize his blessings. Then you may with perfect confidence ask what you will, what your heart desires, and whatever is necessary for the good of yourself and your fellow-men. But if you do not so believe, it were far better you had never heard the message. For by unbelief you make false these precious, comforting, gracious words. You conduct yourself as if you regarded them untrue, which attitude is extreme dishonor to God; no more enormous sin could be committed.
13. But if you possess faith, your heart cannot do otherwise than laugh for joy in God, and grow free, confident and courageous. For how can the heart remain sorrowful and dejected when it entertains no doubt of God's kindness to it, and of his attitude as a good friend with whom it may unreservedly and freely enjoy all things? Such joy and pleasure must follow faith; if they are not ours, certainly something is wrong with our faith. This act of faith the apostle in Galatians terms ”receiving the Holy Spirit” in and through the Gospel. The Gospel is a message concerning the love and mercy of God so gracious as to bring with it to preacher and hearer the presence of the Holy Spirit; just as the rays of the sun bear in themselves, and transmit, heat.
14. How could Paul have presented words conveying more love and graciousness? I venture to assert I have never read, in the entire Scriptures, words more beautifully expressive of the grace of God than these two - ”Chrestotes” and ”Philanthropia,” friendliness and philanthropy. They represent grace not only as procuring for us remission of sins, but as God ever present with us, embracing us in his friendship, ever ready to help us and offering to do for us according to all we desire; in short, as a good and willing friend, to whom we may look for every favor and accommodation. Picture to your imagination a sincere friend and you will have an idea of God's attitude toward you in the person of Christ, though a very imperfect representation of his superabundant grace.
15. Now, if you steadfastly believe, if you rejoice in God your Lord, if you are alive and his grace satisfies, if your wants are all supplied, how will you employ yourself in this earthly life? Inactive you cannot be. Such a disposition of love toward God cannot rest. Your zeal will be warm to do everything you know will be to the praise and glory of a kind and gracious God. At this point there is no longer distinction of works. Here all commands terminate. There is neither restraint - nor compulsion, but a joyful willingness and delight in doing good, whether the intended achievement be insignificant or difficult, small or great, requiring short service or long.
16. Your first desire will be that all men may obtain the same knowledge of divine grace. Hence your love will not be restrained from serving all to the fullest extent, preaching and proclaiming the divine truth wherever possible, and rejecting all doctrine and life not in harmony with this teaching. But take note, the devil and the world, unwilling that their devices be rejected, cannot endure the knowledge of what you do. They will oppose you with everything great, learned, wealthy and powerful, and represent you as a heretic and insane. Mark you, you will be brought to the cross for the sake of the truth, as was Christ your Lord. You will have to endure the extremity of reproach. You must endanger all your property, friends and honor, your body and life, until thrust out of this life into eternity. In the midst of these trials, however, rejoice, cheerfully enduring all. Regard your enemies with the utmost charity. Act kindly, ever remembering you yourself were once as they are in the sight of God. Faith and love certainly can do it. Note this: the truly Christian life is that which does for others as God has done for itself.
17. Such is the apostle's meaning when he tells us the kindness of God did not appear unto us, or save us, because of our righteousness. His thought is: If we, though unworthy, were received through mercy, to enjoy the favors of God in spite of our great demerits and the enormity of our sins, why should we withhold our favors from others, whose merits have claims upon us? Let us not withhold; no, let us rather be children of God, doing good even to our enemies and to evil-doers: for so God has done, and still does, to us, evil-doers and his enemies. This teaching is in harmony with Christ's (Mt 5, 44-46): ”Love your enemies . . . that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?”
18. Paul not only forcibly rejects us for our evil deeds, but goes so far as to say, ”Not by works of righteousness which we have done.” He means the works regarded by ourselves as good - our righteousness in our own eyes and in the eyes of others - but which only render us more unfit to receive God's grace because they are in themselves deceitful and because we commit a twofold sin in looking upon them as good and in relying upon them; an attitude to provoke God's displeasure.
19. Similarly do our enemies, who while in the wrong yet maintain, in opposition to us, their faultlessness, for the most part provoke us to anger. Yet we are not to refuse them kindness. God, solely for his mercy's sake, refused not kindness to us in similar errors, when we foolishly imagined all we did was right. As he dealt not with us according to our imagined righteousness, so should we in return not deal with our enemies according to their merits or demerits, but assist them from pure love, looking for thanks and reward, not from them, but from God. Let this be sufficient for a summary of this epistle.
20. Now let us consider the words Paul employs to define and advocate grace. In the first place he exalts it to the rejection of all our righteousness and good works. We are not to conclude it is a trivial thing he is rejecting here. It is man's best earthly achievement - righteousness. Were all men to concentrate their united efforts to attain wisdom and virtue by their natural reason, knowledge and free will - as we read, for instance, of the illustrious virtues and wisdom of certain pagan teachers and princes, Socrates, Trajan, and others, to whom all the world gives written and oral applause - were all men so to do, yet such wisdom and virtue are, in the sight of God, nothing but sin, and altogether reprehensible. The reason is, they are not attained in the grace of God; the achievers know not God and have not honored him in the effort, for they consider they have wrought by their own abilities. Righteousness is not taught otherwise than by grace, in the Gospel. Paul boasts that he once led a life altogether irreproachable, and superior to the lives of his intellectual equals (Gal 1, 14), wherein he presumptuously thought he did right in persecuting the Christians who rejected that sort of piety. But after he had learned to know Christ, he declared he regarded his righteousness but filth and refuse that he might be found, not in his own righteousness, but in Christ and in faith, as he further shows in Phil 3, 9 and Gal 1, 14.
21. So he discards all boasted free will, all human virtue, righteousness and good works. He concludes they all are nothing and are wholly perverted, however brilliant and worthy they may appear, and teaches that we must be saved solely by the grace of God, which is effective for all believers who desire it from a correct conception of their own ruin and nothingness.
22. Now, it is essential that we accustom ourselves to interpret rightly the Scripture teaching of two kinds of righteousness. There is a human righteousness, to which Paul here and often elsewhere refers, and a divine righteousness - or divine grace - which justifies us through faith. Paul so expresses it in the conclusion of this epistle: ”That, being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” You see, the grace of God, and righteousness, become ours; we say ”righteousness of God” because he gives it, and ”our righteousness” because we receive it. In Romans 1, 17 Paul tells us that the Gospel declares the righteousness of God is obtained through faith; ”as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith.” And it is stated of Abraham in Genesis 15, 6: ”And he believed in Jehovah; and he reckoned it to him for righteousness.” So the Scripture conclusion is, no one is justified before God except the believer; witness the quotation just given and that other by Paul from Habakkuk 2, 4, ”The righteous shall live by his faith.” So faith, grace, mercy and truth are one thing, wrought in us by God, through the Gospel of Christ; as it is written: ”All the paths of Jehovah are lovingkindness and truth.” Ps 25, 10.
23. We walk in ”the paths of Jehovah,” and he is in us when we observe his commandments. To be God's, the way must proceed in divine mercy and truth; not in our own ability or strength, for such are, in the eyes of God, ways of wrath and falsehood. He says (Is 55, 9): ”For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways.” In other words, ”Your ways are earthly and ineffectual; you must walk in my heavenly ways if you are to be saved.”
24. How are these words, reading as if we were already saved, to pass criticism? Are we not still on earth, in the midst of afflictions? I answer: The statement is made in just this way to emphasize the power of divine grace and the character of faith as opposed to the erring self-righteous, who essay to obtain salvation through their works, as if it were not right at hand. But salvation is not so to be attained. Christ has saved us once for all, and in a twofold manner: First, he has done all that is necessary for our salvation - conquered and destroyed sin, death and hell, leaving no more there for anyone to do. Secondly. he has conveyed all these blessings unto us in baptism. He who confidently believes Christ has accomplished these things, immediately, in the twinkling of an eye, possesses salvation. All his sins and the reality of death and hell are removed. Nothing more than such faith is necessary to salvation.
25. Take note, God pours out upon us in baptism super-abundant blessings for the purpose of excluding the works whereby men foolishly presume to merit heaven and gain happiness. Yes, dear friend, you must first possess heaven and salvation before you can do good works. Works never merit heaven; heaven is conferred purely of grace. Good works are to be performed without any thought of merit, simply for the benefit of one's neighbor and for the honor of God; until the body, too, shall be released from sin, death and hell. The true Christian's whole life after baptism is but a waiting for the manifestation of the salvation already his. He is certainly in full possession of the eternal life yet concealed in faith. When faith is removed by fulfilment, salvation is manifest in the believer. This takes place at physical death. It is written (1 Jn 3, 2-3): ”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; for we shall see him even as he is. And every one that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”
26. Therefore, let not the work-righteous who
disregard faith mislead you, placing your salvation far ahead of you and
compelling you to obtain it by works. It is within you, dear friend; it is
already obtained. Christ says (Lk 17, 21): ”The
27. These and similar passages prove we are even now saved and that a Christian should not seek works as a means of salvation. The delusive doctrine of works blinds the Christian's eyes, perverts a right understanding of faith and forces him from the way of truth and salvation. Salvation by grace is implied in the words, ”According to his mercy he saved us,” and again in the latter part of the lesson where it reads, ”that we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” We are heirs - though the fact is unrevealed in faith - and wait in hope for the manifestation of our inheritance.
28. The life of waiting we must live after we are baptized is designed to subdue the flesh and to display the power of grace in the conflict against the flesh, the world and the devil; and thus ultimately to enable us to serve our neighbors, by our preaching and example bringing them also into the faith. Though God might convert men through angels, he desires to accomplish it by human beings - by us, so that faith might be established and completed in a more congenial way through a kindred agency. Were angels constantly to dwell with us, faith would cease here. The instrumentality of angels would not be so congenial as that of our fellow-creatures, whom we are familiar with and understand. If we all were taken to heaven immediately after baptism, who would convert the others and bring them to God by means of the Word and a good example?
29. The fact that we expend so much by reason of purgatory and, forgetful of faith, presume to secure ourselves against purgatory or to liberate us from it by good works, unquestionably indicates we are under the influence of the devil and of Antichrist. We proceed as if our salvation were not already secured but we must gain it in some other way than by faith; and this even though plainly in contradiction of the Scriptures and of the principles of Christianity. He who does not receive salvation purely through grace, independently of all good works, certainly will never secure it. And he who makes his good works serve his own advantage, seeking to profit himself and not his neighbor thereby, performs no good work. All his doctrine is without faith and is such harmful error and deceit that I wish purgatory had never been instituted or introduced into the pulpit, for it is very destructive of Christian truth and true faith. So great has been the devil's influence, nearly all institutions, cloister ceremonials, masses and prayers have reference simply to purgatory, leading us to the pernicious inference that, through works we must improve our condition and secure salvation. So the blessings of baptism and faith must be obscured, and Christians must ultimately become pure heathen.
30. Oh Lord God, what abominable wickedness! When we should, like Christ and Paul, teach Christians to consider themselves, after baptism or absolution, ready for death at any hour and waiting for the manifestation of the salvation already theirs, we by relying on purgatory afford them indolence-fostering security. In such security they consider only this life, deferring and procrastinating in the matter of salvation until they come to their death-beds, there to effect sorrow and repentance and to presume, by ceremonials, soul-masses and bequests, to liberate themselves from purgatory. They will surely become conscious of their mistake. Now follows:
31. How beautifully the apostle in these strong words extols the grace of God bestowed in baptism! He refers to baptism as a washing, whereby not our feet only, not our hands, but our whole bodies are cleansed. Baptism perfectly and instantaneously cleanses and saves. For the vital part of salvation and its inheritance, nothing more is necessary than this faith in the grace of God. Truly, then, are we saved by grace alone, without works or other merit. So, eternally pure love, praise and gratitude for, and honor unto, divine mercy shall possess us; we will not boast of nor delight in our own powers or achievements: as has already frequently and sufficiently been declared.
32. The righteousness of man, however, is a different sort of cleansing, simply a washing of garments and vessels, as recorded of hypocrites in Matthew 23, 25. Externally they appear clean, but internally remain full indeed of filth. Paul terms baptism not a bodily cleansing, but a ”washing of regeneration.” It is not a superficial washing of the skin, a physical cleansing; it converts the whole nature, destroying the first birth, that of the flesh, with all inherited sin and condemnation. This verse clearly indicates that salvation is not to be secured by works, but is an instantaneous gift. In physical birth we are given, not one member alone - hands or feet - but the entire body and the life; our life operates, not to effect birth, but because we are born. Similarly works do not render us pure and godly or save us: we are first made clean and godly and receive salvation; then we freely perform good works to the honor of God and the benefit of our neighbor.
33. This, mark you, is the true knowledge of the pure grace of God. Thus we learn to know God and ourselves, to praise him and reject ourselves, to seek consolation from him and despair of ourselves. This doctrine is an occasion of much stumbling to them who presume to compel men to seek salvation by laws, commands and works.
34. For the sake of conveying a clearer understanding of this washing and this regeneration, Paul adds the word ”renewing,” because the individual is a new man, with a new nature. He is a new creature, with an altogether different disposition. He loves in a different way, and speaks, acts and lives in a manner unlike his former self. The apostle says (Gal 6, 15): ”For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision” - that is, no work of the Law has significance - ”but a new creature.” The thought is: It will not do to patch up, or mend, the life here and there with works. An entirely new disposition is necessary; the nature must be changed. Then works will follow spontaneously.
35. Concerning this birth, Christ also declares (Jn.
3, 3): ”Except one be born anew, he cannot see the
36. Much is said at various places in the Scriptures relative to the new birth. God refers to his Word and Gospel as the womb (”matricem” and ”vulvam”) of the new birth: ”Hearken unto me, 0 house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, that have been borne by me from their birth, that have been carried from the womb” (Is 46, 3), or under my heart, as women speak of bearing children. Whosoever believes the Gospel, is conceived and born of God. But more on this subject at some other time.
37. We see how all these sayings overthrow works and presumptuous human mandates, and make clear the nature of faith, how the individual instantaneously and fully receives grace and is saved, works not aiding him in the matter but following as a result. Salvation by grace would be perfectly illustrated were God to produce from a dry log a live, green tree, the tree then to bring forth natural fruit. God's grace is powerful and effective. It does not, as visionary preachers presume to teach, lie dormant in the soul; nor is it an accessory to works, as the paint is an accessory to the wood. No, not so; it carries, it leads, drives, draws, changes. It effects all in man, making itself felt. Though concealed, its works are manifest. Words and works show where it is present, as the leaves and the fruit indicate the nature of the tree.
38. To make faith no more than an aid or ornament to works, as the sophists Thomas and Scotus, and the people, erroneously and perversely do, is a doctrine wherein faith falls far short of its real significance. For it not only aids in the accomplishment of works, but effects them unaided. Indeed, more than that, it changes and renews the whole being. Its object is to alter the character of the individual rather than to accomplish works by him. It claims to be a washing, a regeneration, a renewing, not only of works, but of the whole man.
39. Note, Paul here freely and fully preaches the grace of God. He does not say God has saved us by works. He loudly proclaims that God has saved us by a regeneration and a renewing. To patch up with works is unavailing; conversion of our whole nature is necessary. Therefore, believers must suffer and die before grace can manifest itself and reveal its nature. Observe, David says in this connection: ”The works of Jehovah are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein,” Ps 111, 2. Who are these, his works? We are, sought out through grace in baptism. We are great works, new works, new born. It is indeed great that man is instantly saved, forever liberated from sin, death and hell. Hence, David says, ”They are sought out of all them that have pleasure therein” or desire what God designs to accomplish through them, and - God does all that man desires. But what can man desire more than to be saved, to be delivered from sin, death and hell?
40. Finally: the apostle terms this washing a ”regeneration,” a ”renewing of the Holy Spirit,” to fully express the power and efficacy of grace. This washing is a thing so vitally important it must be effected, not by a creature, but by the Holy Spirit. How completely, 0 holy Paul, thou dost reject the free will, the good works and the great merits of presumptuous saints! How high thou exaltest our salvation, at the same time bringing it so near to us! yes, even within ourselves. How plainly and purely thou dost preach grace. Let works, then, be here or there, to renew the man, to change the life, is impossible except by the washing of regeneration of the Holy Spirit.
41. That fact is plainly evident in the self-righteous. None are more intolerant, presumptuous, proud and faithless than they. In their old Adamic nature, which they clothe and adorn with good works, they remain intractable, unrenewed and obdurate, hardened and immovable; their evil nature is unchanged. They possess only outward works. Oh, they are a people of pernicious influence, and in the sight of God wholly destitute of grace, though they imagine themselves his nearest friends.
42. Paul's teaching here accords with that of Christ
in John 3, 5, where he says, referring to the washing of regeneration: ”Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot
enter into the
43. Note here also the apostle's apparent ignorance of the sacrament of confirmation. He teaches, as does Christ, the giving of the Holy Spirit in baptism; in baptism we are indeed born of the Holy Spirit. True, we read (Acts 8, 17) how the apostles laid their hands upon those who had been baptized, that they might receive the Holy Spirit. This incident has been construed to sanction confirmation, but its real purpose was to invoke the Holy Spirit as external evidence, and the gift of divers tongues for the preaching of the Gospel. But in course of time the ceremony was abandoned. It no longer exists except in ordination or consecration to the ministerial or preaching office. Even there it is deplorably abused. But more of this at some other time.
44. Observe, the Holy Spirit is not merely given, but ”poured out”; not only that, but ”abundantly poured out.”The apostle seems unable to sufficiently magnify grace and its works, while we, alas, estimate it so low in comparison to our works. It would be absurd for God to pour out upon us the Holy Spirit in such measure and yet to expect from us, and in us, something whereby we might be justified and saved; as if the superabundant divine works were insufficient.
45. Were such the case, Paul here must have spoken inconsiderately and might justly be accused of falsehood. But so bountifully does he represent to us the measure of grace, clearly no one can rely too much upon the washing of regeneration; it is of unlimited importance. No one can place too much confidence in it; there is always occasion for more. For God has embraced, in the Word and in faith, blessings too great for mortal life to comprehend or to receive were they to manifest themselves. As revelation begins, the individual dies; he passes out of this life, swallowed up in the blessings he now by faith apprehends in very limited measure. Thus more than abundantly are we justified and saved without works if we only believe. Peter says: ”Through Christ he hath granted unto us his precious and exceeding great promises; that through these ye may become partakers of the divine nature.” 2 Pet 1, 4. He does not say ”will be granted” but ”hath granted.” And Christ says: ”For 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. Notice, all who believe have eternal life. That being true, believers certainly are just and holy without works. Works contribute nothing to justification. It is effected by pure grace richly poured out upon us.
46. ”But,” you say, ”how is it, then, the Scriptures so frequently speak of salvation for them who do good? For instance, Christ says (Jn 5, 29): `And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.' And Paul declares (Rom 2, 7-8) that honor and glory are the reward of them who do good; indignation and wrath, of evil-doers. And he makes many similar declarations.” I answer: How are these passages to be interpreted? Not otherwise than as they read - without additions: He who does good shall be saved; he who does evil shall be damned. The difficulty lies in our error in judging according to external appearances in the matter of good works. The Scriptures teach not that way, but that no one can do good until he is himself good. He does not become good through works, but his works are good because he is good. He becomes good through the washing of regeneration and in no other way. This is the meaning of Christ's words (Mt 7,17): ”Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but the corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” And (Mt 12, 33): ”Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree corrupt, and its fruit corrupt.”
47. True, the self-righteous perform works similar to those of the regenerated; indeed, their works are frequently the more brilliant. They pray, fast, contribute money, erect institutions, make pilgrimages and conduct themselves with great ostentation. But Christ calls their works ”sheep's clothing” (Mt 7, 15) wherein move ravening wolves. None of the self-righteous are really humble, mild, moderate and good in their hearts. This fact is revealed when one crosses them and rejects their works. Then they bring forth their natural and identifying fruits: temerity, impatience, arbitrariness, obstinacy, slander and many other evil propensities.
48. Therefore it is true that he who does good shall be saved - his salvation shall be revealed; but he could do nothing good were he not already saved in the new birth. The Scriptures sometimes have reference to the external conduct of the good, and at others to their inner nature that prompts the outward works, teaching present salvation because of the inner nature, and a future salvation if good is done; that is, if the individual remains steadfast, his salvation shall be revealed in the future.
49. The works we performed in our old, unregenerate state, our Adamic nature, the apostle in this lesson rejects when he says ”not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves.” These may be good works, but not before God, who looks first for personal goodness and afterward for the works. In Genesis 4, 4-5, he had respect first unto Abel, and then unto his offering; and first rejected Cain, and then his offering. Cain's offering, however, was in external appearance good like that of Abel.
50. Paul significantly adds ”through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” The intent is to shelter us all under Christ, as young chickens are gathered under the wings of the hen. Christ himself says (Mt 23, 37): ”0 Jerusalem . . . how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”
51. In the phrase above is taught the nature of true, living faith. Such is the character of faith that it is not sufficient to salvation for you to believe in God after the manner of the Jews and many others, upon whom, however, he conferred many blessings and temporal advantages; but it is through Jesus Christ you must believe in God. In the first place, you must not doubt that he is your gracious God and Father, that he has forgiven all your sins and has saved you in baptism. In the second place, you must know, too, that all this has not been effected without cause - without satisfaction having been rendered to his righteousness. There is no reason for mercy and grace to operate upon and in us, to aid us to obtain eternal blessings and salvation. Justice must first be satisfied to the fullest extent. Christ says (Mt 5, 18): ”One jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law till all things be accomplished.” Whatever is promised of the grace and goodness of God must be understood as only for those who perfectly fulfil his commands. He says (Mic 2, 7) in reply to the Jews, when they presumed they were great in the sight of God and continually cried ”Peace, peace!” and ”Why should God be so angry? Why should his benign Spirit have departed from us?” - he replies, ”Do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?” No one, therefore, can attain God's abundant grace unless he shall have rendered full satisfaction to God's commands.
52. Now, enough has been said to show our works of no value in God's sight, and ourselves unable to fulfil the least of his commands, to perform a single work. How much more impossible is it, then, for us to render full satisfaction to his justice and become worthy of his grace! Even though we were able to keep all his commandments and to make full satisfaction to his justice, yet we would not for that reason be worthy of his grace and of salvation. He would not be under any obligation to confer them upon us. He might require it all as obligatory upon his creatures, who must serve him. Whatever he grants is of pure grace and mercy. This Christ clearly taught in the parable in Luke 17, 7-10: ”But who is there of you, having a servant plowing or keeping sheep, that will say unto him, when he is come in from the field, come straightway and sit down to meat; and will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt cat and drink? Doth he thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded? Even so ye also, when ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do.”
53. Now, if through grace and not of necessity heaven is given to those who do all they are under obligation to do; if to such - provided, such there be - heaven is given not by merit but through divine and gracious promises like that of Matthew 19, 17, ”If thou wouldest enter into life, keep the commandments”: shall we then presume upon our wretched good works? Why extol them as if their nature and not the pure promise, the gracious Word of God, makes them worthy of the kingdom of heaven?
54. In the first place, God has given a Being to fully satisfy divine justice for us all. In the second place, he has, through this same Being, poured out his grace and his rich blessings. So, then, notwithstanding grace is received by us without price and without merit on our part - indeed, in spite of great demerit and unworthiness - yet it is not bestowed without cause and deserved merit somewhere. As Paul teaches (Rom 5, 18), we fell into sin not of our own act or deserving, it being born in us from Adam in our natural birth; and on the other hand, in the new birth we enter into grace and salvation through Christ, without our merit or works.
55. Hence the apostle is careful in every place where he mentions grace and faith to add ”through Jesus Christ,” that no one may be able to say, ”I believe in God and am satisfied with that.” No, beloved friend, your belief must include a knowledge of how and through whom you believe. You must know that God requires you to fulfil all his commandments, to satisfy his justice, before he accepts your faith unto salvation; and that though you were able to render full satisfaction you would still have to await salvation through grace alone, and not receive it on account of any duties you perform, but rather your pride and presumption must fall to the ground before God.
56. Observe the advantages you have in Christ. Through him grace and salvation are conferred upon you, he having rendered full obedience to all the commandments of God, and satisfied God's justice, in your stead and for you. Grace and salvation are conferred upon you because he is worthy. This is true Christian faith. No faith is sufficient but the Christian faith, the faith that believes in Christ and accepts solely through him the two principles - satisfaction of divine justice, and the gracious bestowal of eternal salvation. Paul, speaking of Christ (Rom 4, 25), says, ”Who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification.” Not only was he given to put away sin and to fulfil the commandments of God, but also to render us worthy, through him, of possessing righteousness and of being children of grace. Again, Paul says of Christ (Rom 3, 25), ”Whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood.” It is not just ”faith” but ”faith in his blood.” With his blood, and in our nature, he has rendered full satisfaction and become for us a throne of grace. We receive absolution and grace at no cost or labor on our part, but not without cost and labor on the part of Christ.
57. We must, then, shelter ourselves under his wings (Mt 23, 37) and not fly afar in the security of our own faith, else we will soon be devoured by the hawk. Our salvation must exist, not in our righteousness, but, as I have often said, in Christ's righteousness, which is an outspread wing, or a tabernacle, to shelter us.
58. Our faith and all we may have received from God is insufficient to salvation, wholly inadequate, unless faith rests beneath the wings of Christ and firmly trusts that not we but he can render, and has rendered, full satisfaction to the justice of God for us; and that grace and salvation are not conferred upon us because of our faith but because of the will of Christ. The pure grace of God, promised, procured and bestowed upon us in Christ and through Christ, must be perfectly recognized. This is the teaching implied in John 14, 6, ”No one cometh unto the Father but by me.” Christ's sole effort in the whole Gospel is to draw us out of ourselves into himself; he spreads out his wings and calls us together beneath their shelter. To emphasize the grace of Christ is also Paul's design in the conclusion of this lesson, where he says:
59. He does not say ”justified by our faith” but ”justified by the grace of Christ.” Christ alone has favor with God. No one but he has done the will of God and merited eternal life. In view of the fact that he did it not for his own sake but for ours, all believers should be so perfectly one with Christ that all he has done for them will, through him and his grace, be regarded as if the believer himself had accomplished it. See what an inexpressibly beneficent thing Christian faith is - what inconceivably great blessings it brings to all believers!
60. Let us learn from this epistle how precious is the Gospel that proclaims these benefits, and what injury and destruction of souls they effect who silently ignore the Gospel and preach the works of the Law, yes, their own human doctrines. Guard, then, against false preachers and also against false faith. Rely not upon yourself, nor upon your faith. Flee to Christ; keep under his wings; remain under his shelter. Let his righteousness and grace, not yours, be your refuge. You are to be made an heir of eternal life, not by the grace you have yourself received, but, as Paul says here, by Christ's grace. Again, it is said in Psalm 91, 4, ”He will cover thee with his pinions, and under his wings shalt thou take refuge.” And in the Song of Solomon 2, 14, ”0 my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the steep place.” That is, in the wounds of Christ the soul is preserved. Observe, true Christian faith does not take refuge in itself, as the sophists dream, but flees to Christ and is preserved under him and in him.
61. It has been sufficiently stated that we are heirs of eternal life in hope, and that grace, regardless of works, instantaneously confers salvation, inheritance and all; yet, as said, ”in hope.” They are not revealed until death. Then we shall see what, in faith, we have received and possess.
62. This epistle lesson forcibly and in express terms contends against all humanly-devised righteousness, as well as against all human powers and free will. These are plain words, ”Not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us.” In fact, the words of the whole lesson oppose the righteousness of man. Paul attributes all efficacy to the washing of regeneration, to the renewing of the Holy Spirit, to Jesus Christ and his grace. In the face of such thunderbolts, how can there remain in us the least trace of presumption?
63. It matters not how brilliant may be secular and ecclesiastical laws; how attractive the station of priests, monks and nuns; how dazzling the titles of gentlemen of honor and ladies of uprightness, even if the wearers of them could raise the dead: without faith in Christ all is vain. Such hypocrisy as that just mentioned blinds and misleads the whole world, and obscures for us the holy Gospel and the Christian faith. These brilliant works and attractive stations of men assist as little in procuring our salvation as do the works of beasts or the common trades of mankind. Indeed, they perniciously obstruct salvation. Therefore, you should guard against wolves in sheep's clothing, and learn to cleave to Christ in true and firm faith.
Luke 2, 15-20
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen [it], they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard [it] wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered [them] in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
1. In the light of the exposition of the preceding Gospel this text is easily understood for it cites an example and the putting into practice of the doctrine taught there, in that the shepherds did, and found, all just as the angels had told them. Consequently it teaches what the results and fruit of the Word of God are, and what the marks are, by which we know whether the Word of God is established in our hearts and whether it is doing its work there.
2. The first and principal fruit of the power of the Word is faith. For had not these shepherds believed the angel they would never have gone to Bethlehem, they would moreover never have done one of the things related of them in this Gospel.
3. One, however, might say: Yes, I would also gladly believe if an angel thus from heaven were to preach to me. This is very foreign to the subject. Whoever does not receive the Word for its own sake, will never receive it for the sake of the preacher, even if all the angels preached it to him. And he who receives it because of the preacher does not believe in the Word, neither in God through the Word, but he believes the preacher and in the preacher. Hence the faith of such persons does not last long. But whoever believes the Word, does not care who the person is that speaks the Word, and neither will he honor the Word for the sake of the person; but on the contrary, he honors the person because of the Word, and always subordinates the person to the Word. And if the preacher perishes, or even falls from his faith and preaches differently, he will forsake the person of the preacher rather than the Word of God. he abides by what he has heard, although the person of the preacher may be what he will, and come and go as he may.
4. The true difference between godly faith and human faith consists also in this, that human faith cleaves to the person of the preacher, believes, trusts and honors the Word for the sake of him who spake it. But godly faith, on the other hand, cleaves to the Word, which is God himself; he believes, trusts and honors the Word, not because of him who preaches it; but because he feels it so surely the truth that no one can ever turn him again from it, even if the same preacher were to try to do it. This was proved by the Samaritans, John 4, 42, when they had heard first of Christ from the heathen woman and upon her word they went out of the city to Christ After they themselves heard Christ, they said to the woman, ”Now we believe, not because of thy speaking: for we have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.”
5. Moreover, all who believed Christ because of his person and his miracles, fell from their faith when he was crucified. So it is in our day and so has it always been. The Word itself, without any regard to persons, must be enough for the heart, it must include and lay hold of man, so that he, as if taken captive, feels how true and right it is, even if the world, all the angels, all the princes of hell said differently, yea, if God himself spake otherwise; as he at times tempts his own elect and appears as if he were different than he had before declared. So it was with Abraham when commanded to offer his son Isaac; with Jacob, while wrestling with the angel; and with David, when persecuted by his son Absalom; and other like examples.
6. This faith triumphs in life and death, in hell and heaven, and nothing is able to overthrow it; because it rests upon nothing but the Word without any regard whatever to persons.
7. These shepherds possessed such faith; for they agree with and cleave to the Word so fully that they forget the angels who declared it to them. They do not say, Let us go and see the word that the angels made known to us, but the word that the Lord hath made known unto us. The angels were soon forgotten and the Word of God only seized and retained. In like manner St. Luke speaks in the text of Mary, that she kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart. Without doubt she did not let the humble appearance of the shepherds trouble her, but esteemed all as the Word of God. Not only Mary, but all the others who heard these words from the shepherds, and wondered, as the text says. All clung to the Word.
8. And although it is the idiom of the Hebrew language that when it speaks of an historic fact, it says, ”they wish to see the word”, as St. Luke says here (because the history is embodied in words and is made known by means of words); so is it therefore thus provided by God that faith should be expressed as that which cleaves to the words and relies upon the words spoken concerning the history. For if Christ's life and sufferings were not embodied in the words by which faith is anchored, they would have been of no use, because all who saw them with their eyes received no benefit from them, or very little.
9. The second fruit is
the unity in the spirit. For it is the nature of Christian faith to unite
hearts into one, that they be of one mind and of one will, as Psalm 68, 6 says:
”God, the Lord, Christ our God, setteth the solitary in families.”
10. However those, who have the true faith, know that it depends only upon faith, in which they unanimously agree. Therefore they are never divided and disunited because of any outward calling, conduct or work. To them all external matters, however different they may be, are the same. Thus the shepherds here are of one mind, of one will, speak the same thought among themselves, use the same form of words and say: ”Let us now go even unto Bethlehem”, etc.
11. The third fruit is
humility, in that they acknowledge themselves to be human. Therefore the
Evangelist adds ”The shepherds”, etc. For faith immediately teaches that
everything human is nothing before God. Hence they despise self and think
nothing of themselves. This is true, fundamental humility and self knowledge.
Humility then brings with it that it does not inquire about things great and
high in the world. They consider themselves a humble poor and despised people,
12. Out of all this follows peace. For he who esteems nothing of all the external and great things, easily lets them pass and never quarrels with any one about them. He experiences something better inwardly in the faith of his heart. Unity, peace, and humility are also found among murderers, public sinners, even among hypocrites. It is however a unity of the flesh and not of the spirit; as Pilate and Herod became reconciled to one another and exercised a peaceful and humble spirit toward each other. Likewise the Jews, according to Ps. 2,2: ”The Kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together.” In like manner are, the pope, monks and priests one when they contend against God, who at other times are nothing but mere sects among themselves. Hence this is called a unity, humility and peace of the spirit, in that it is above and in spiritual things, that is, in Christ.
13. The fourth is love to your neighbor and a renouncing of self. The example of the shepherds proves this in that they leave their sheep and go forth, not to the great and high lords in Jerusalem, not to the aldermen in Bethlehem, but to the little company in the stable. They present themselves to the lowly and do whatever is required of them. Had they not had faith they would not have thus left their sheep; and they would not have abandoned their work, had not the angels before commanded them to do so. They did it of their own free will and of their own counsel, as the text teaches. They conferred with one another about it and came with haste, and the angels did not command them, but only pointed out what they would find, and left it to their own free will, whether they would go and seek.
14. Love acts in like manner. It knows no command, it does everything by virtue of its own impulse, it hastens and delays not, it is enough that its attention is only called to a thing, it needs no taskmaster, neither will it tolerate one. Oh, much might be said on this thought! So should the Christian live more freely in love, forget self and the things of self, only think and hasten to his neighbor, as St. Paul in Phil. 2, 4 says: ”Not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.” And Gal. 6, 2: ”Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
15. However, the pope and his bishops and priests have filled the world with laws and constraint, and there is nothing now in the whole world but mere driving and alarming. No voluntary order or calling exists any longer, since it has been proclaimed that love should be extinguished and the world be ruined by human doctrines.
16. The fifth is joy. This appears in the words that we gladly speak and hear about the things faith in the heart has received. So here the shepherds converse with one another joyously and kindly about that which they had heard and believed. They use very many words, as if they were talking to no purpose. They are not satisfied by saying: Let us go unto Bethlehem and see the saying that has come to pass; they add, which the Lord did and hath made known unto us. Is it not unnecessary talk that they say: What has come to pass there, that God has done? Could they not have easily spoken in fewer words thus: Let us see the saying, God has done there.
17. But the spirit's joy bubbles over with cheery words, and still none are useless, yea, all is too little, and the soul can not pour forth itself as it gladly would desire, like Ps. 45, 1 says: ”My heart overfloweth with a goodly matter,” as if he were to say, I would gladly tell it forth, but I cannot; it is greater than I can express, so that my speaking is hardly a hiccup. Hence the saying in Ps. 51, 17 and other places: ”My tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness,” that is, proclaim, sing and speak it forth with rejoicing and jumping. And Ps. 119, 171: ”Let my lips utter praise”, like a boiling pot wells and bubbles forth.
18. The sixth fruit: they
follow with acts. For it is as
19. The seventh fruit is, they freely confess and publicly preach the Word that was spoken to them concerning this child, which is the highest work in the Christian life. In this we are to risk our body and life, our wealth and honor. For to believe right and live a good life quietly and with yourself is not attacking the wicked spirit very hard; but when we go forth and publish the same abroad, confess, preach and praise for the sake of the welfare of others, that he will not permit. Therefore Luke adds here that the shepherds did not only come and see, but they also preached about this child what they heard in the field, not only before Mary and Joseph, but before everybody.
20. Do you not think there were many who thought they were fools and insane people, in that they attempted, as coarse and unschooled laymen, to speak of the angels' song and sermon? But the shepherds, full of faith and joy cheerfully became fools in the eyes of men for God's sake. A Christian also does the same. For God's Word must be considered as foolishness and falsehood in this world.
21. The eighth fruit is
Christian liberty. This is bound by no work, but all works are alike to a
Christian as they come to his notice. For these shepherds run to no desert, put
on no hood, never shave their heads, never change clothing, time, food, drink
nor any external work, they return again to their sheep cots and there serve
their God. For a Christian character consists not in outward conduct, neither
does it change any one as to his outward calling or position, but as to his
inner state, that is, he possesses another heart, another mind, will and
impulse that does even the work, which any person without such a mind and will
does. For a Christian knows that all depends entirely upon faith; therefore he
goes, stands, eats, drinks, clothes himself, works and lives as an ordinary man
in his calling, so that one can not see his Christianity; as Christ says in
Luke 17,20-21: ”The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation; neither shall
they say, Lo, here! or, there! for lo the
22. Against this liberty the pope and his spiritual offices contend with their laws and chosen dress, food, prayers, sacred places and persons; they take themselves and every person captive by their soul snares with which they filled the world, as St. Anthony saw in a dream. For they thought it depended upon our nature and works that we are saved. They call other people worldly, although they themselves are seven fold more worldly, since all their affairs are the doings of man, concerning which God has commanded nothing.
23. The ninth and last fruit of the Word is praising and thanking. For we are not able to give God any work or service for all the kindness and grace he bestows upon us, except praise and thanks which also spring from the heart, and do not need many organs, bells, and loud voices. Faith truly teaches such praise and thanks as are here related of the shepherds, in that they returned to their flocks glorifying and praising God. They are indeed contented, although they have not become wealthier, although they are not more highly honored, although they do not eat and drink better, and are not obliged to do their daily duties better.
24. See, in this Gospel you have a picture of a true Christtian life, first according to its outward character, so that it glitters outwardly not at all, or very little in the eyes of the people, yea, is falsehood and the work of fools in the eyes of most people; but inwardly it is nothing but light, joy and salvation. Hence we see what the apostle means, when in Gat. 5, 22 he relates the fruits of the Spirit and says: ”The fruits of the Spirit,” that is, the works of faith,” are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control;” here there is no mention of persons, seasons, food, clothing, places or like chosen works of human device as we see swarming in the life of the Papists.
25. But what it is to find Christ in such poverty, and what his swaddling clothes and manger signify, are explained in the previous Gospel; that his poverty teaches how we should find him in our neighbors, the lowliest and the most needy; and his swaddling clothes are the holy Scriptures; that in actual life we should incline to the needy; and in our studies and contemplative life only to the Scriptures; in order that Christ alone may become the man of both lives and that he may everywhere stand before us. We should shun the books of Aristotle, of the pope, and of all men, or read them in a way that we do not seek the edification of the soul in them; but with them make use of the time and this life, as one teaches a trade or civil law. However it is not in vain that St. Luke places Mary before Joseph and both of them before the child and says: ”And they found both Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger.”
26. Now we said before, Mary is the Christian church, Joseph, the servants of the church, as the bishops and pastors should be if they preach the Gospel. Here the church is preferred before the prelates of the church, as Christ also says in Luke 22, 26: ”He that is the greater among you, let him become as the younger,” although that is now reversed; it is also no wonder, since they rejected the Gospel and exalted the prattle of men. The Christian church retains now all the words of God in her heart and ponders them, compares them with one another and with the Scriptures. Therefore he who would find Christ must first find the Church. How should we know where Christ and his faith were, if we did not know where his believers are? And he who would know anything of Christ must not trust himself nor build a bridge to heaven by his own reason; but he must go to the Church, attend and ask her.
27. Now the Church is not wood and stone, but the company of believing people; one must hold to them, and see how they believe, live and teach; they surely have Christ in their midst. For outside of the Christian church there is no truth, no Christ, no salvation.
28. From this it follows that it is unsafe and false that the pope or a bishop wishes to have himself alone believed, and that he poses as a master; for they all err and are inclined to err. But their teaching should be subject to the congregation of believers. The congregation should decide and judge what they teach; their judgment should stand, in order that Mary may be found before Joseph, the church be preferred to the preachers. For it was not Joseph but Mary who retains the words in her heart, ponders them, gathers them together and compares them. The apostle also taught this in 1. Cor. 14, 29-30 when he says: ”And let not the prophets speak by two or three, and let the others discern. But if a revelation be made to another sitting by, let the first keep silence.”
29. But at present the pope and his followers have become tyrants, have reversed this Christian, godly and apostolic order, established an entirely heathen and Pythagorian order of things, that they may say, lulaffen and alfenzen, that is, they talk silly about whatever they wish. No one criticises them, no one will oppose them, no one tells them to be quiet. And in this way they have quenched the Spirit so that among them one finds neither Mary, nor Joseph nor Christ; nothing but the rats, mice, vipers and serpents of their poisonous doctrines and hypocrisy.
30. This is not a Gospel of strife; for it teaches Christian morals and works, it does not clearly and publicly establish the different articles of faith. Although in its spiritual teachings, (mysteriis), as has been shown, it is strong enough; but the spiritual teachings (mysteria) do not strive and contend. There must be clear, public, passages that plainly publish the articles of our faith.
God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions (at sundry times) and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds; who being the effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become by so much better than the angels, as he hath inherited a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, This day have I begotten thee? and again, I will be to him a Father, And he shall be to me a Son? And when he again bringeth in the firstborn into the world he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels winds, And his ministers a flame of fire but of the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; And the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity, Therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee With the oil of gladness above thy fellows. And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the works of thy hands: They shall perish; but thou continuest: And they all shall wax old as doth a garment; And as a mantle shalt thou roll them up, As a garment, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, And thy years shall not fail.
1. This is a strong, forcible, noble epistle, preeminently and emphatically teaching the great article of faith concerning the Godhead, or the divinity of Christ. The presumption that it was not written by Paul is somewhat plausible, because the style is unusually ornamental for him. Some are of the opinion it was written by Luke; others by Apollos, whom Luke represents as “mighty in the Scriptures,” opposing the Jews. Acts 18:24 and 28. Certain it is, no epistle enforces the Scriptures with greater power than does this. Hence it is evident the author was an eminent apostolic individual, whoever he was. Now, the object of the epistle is to establish and promote faith in the divinity of Christ, and, as already stated, scarce any portion of the Bible more strongly enforces this article of our creed. We must, therefore, confine ourselves to its words and treat it in regular order, item by item.
2. In the first place, it was the apostle’s design to bring the Jews to the Christian faith. As we shall learn, he presses them so closely they cannot deny that Christ is true God. Now, if he is God and the Son of God, and if he himself has spoken unto us and suffered for us, justice necessarily demands our faith. We have much more reason to believe in him than had the fathers who in time past believed when God spoke simply through the prophets.
3. Paul contrasts the ancient preachers and disciples with those of later times. The prophets and Christ are the preachers, the fathers and ourselves the disciples. The Son, the Lord himself, speaks unto us; his servants the prophets spoke unto the fathers. If the fathers believed the servants, how much more readily would they have believed the Lord himself! And if we believe not the Lord, how much more reluctant would we have been to believe the servants! Thus he makes one condition argue for the other: our unbelief contrasted with the faith of the Fathers is an awful disgrace; again, the faith of the fathers in contrast with our unbelief is deserving of very great honor. Our disgrace is yet greater when we recall the fact that God spoke to the fathers, not only once, but at different times, and not only in one way, but in different ways; and yet they always believed; while we are not induced by their example to believe, even in one instance, the message of the Lord himself. Observe, Paul proceeds with a powerful discourse in the effort to convert the Jews, yet the attempt avails nothing.
4. To me the particular and unlike meaning of these two phrases is this: “By divers portions” implies the succession of many prophets, and that all prophecies were not made through one man nor at one time; “in divers manners” signifies that through each individual prophet, to say nothing of the many, God spoke in different ways at different times. For instance, at times he expressed himself in plain, definite terms; and at other times figuratively or through visions. Ezekiel portrayed the four evangelists by the four beasts. Isaiah sometimes clearly states that Christ shall be a king; at other times he alludes to him as a rod and a branch from the stem of Jesse; again, as excellent fruit of the earth.
5. Thus the prophets speak of Christ
in “divers manners.” This latter phrase, moreover, may
also be understood as implying that God spoke in various ways when he gave the
6. How beautifully and gently the apostle invites and persuades the Jews when he reminds them of the fathers and the prophets, and of God himself! They had unbounded confidence in the record of these as they were in time past. But now they will not believe in God. They will not take to heart the fact of his speaking to the fathers, not once only, but often; not in one way, but in different ways. Yet they know well, and must confess that such was the case. They will not believe him now when he speaks at another time and in another way – a way he never before employed nor will again. The manner of speaking they ardently desire, will never be granted. God has never yet, not even in former time, spoken in a manner designated by them. That would be but to obstruct faith and frustrate God’s design. We must leave to him the time, person and manner of speaking, and be concerned only about faith.
7. The phrase “at the end of these days” is significant. From now to the end no other manner of preaching is to be adopted. This is the last time he purposes to speak, and the last method he will employ. He has commanded – left on record – that this Word, and only this, is to be preached until the end. Paul says ( 1 Corinthians 11:26): “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come.” He also arrests their expectation when he says “in these days;” they are not to look for other days to come. The clays when he speaks for the last time and in the last manner are already at hand.
8. Here Paul begins to extol Christ, the last teacher, speaker and apostle: with forcible and well-grounded Scriptural evidence he shows Christ as the real Son of God and Lord over all. We must first learn to truly understand the character of Christ, that he exists in a twofold nature – divine and human. This is a point where many err. Sometimes it is to manufacture fables from his words. Men apply to the divine nature the sayings really uttered with reference to his humanity; thus are they deluded by certain passages of Scripture. It is of the utmost importance first to determine which of the statements concerning Christ pertain to his divine nature and which to his human side. This settled, all else will be easily plain.
9. But first we must answer the
inquiry liable to be made, “If the voice of God today is the last message, why
is it said that Elijah and Enoch shall come, opposing Antichrist?” I answer:
Concerning the advent of Elijah, I hold that he will not come in a physical
manner. [As to the coming of Elijah I am suspended between heaven and earth,
but I am inclined to believe it will not take place bodily. However, I will not
contend hard against the other view. Each may believe or not believe it, as he
likes. Editions, A, C, D, E.] I well know
10. This view is demanded by the fact that immediately after his reference to the coming and office of Elijah, Christ speaks of his own sufferings: “It is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at naught.” If this prophecy concerning Christ was to be fulfilled after the coming of Elijah, then certainly Elijah must have already come. I know of nothing more to expect concerning the coming of Elijah unless it might be that his spirit will be manifest again in the power of the Word of God, as now seems probable. For I have no longer any doubt that the Pope, with the Turks, is Antichrist, whatever you may believe.
11. To return to Christ: We assert it is essential firmly to believe Christ true God and true man; and that the Scriptures – including Christ’s own words – sometimes have reference to the divine nature of Christ and at other times to his human nature. For instance, the declaration ( John 8:58), “Before Abraham was born, I am,” relates to his divinity; but the statement ( Matthew 20:23), “To sit on my right hand, and on my left hand, is not mine to give,” recognizes his humanity, which could not help itself even on the cross. Yet some expounders have desired here to show their great skill by abstruse interpretations made to oppose the here tics. It is his human nature that says: “The Father is greater than I.” John 14:28. Also: “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings.” Matthew 23:37. Again, the passage ( Mark 13:32) reading, “Of that day or that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father,” has reference to the man Christ.
12. The explanation which some have made, “The Son knew not; that is, he did not choose to reveal,” is superfluous. What is the advantage of that addition? The humanity of Christ, like that of any other holy mortal man, did not, at every moment, consider and utter, did not desire and note, how some made him a man with almighty power; they improperly combine the two natures and their operation. As he did not always see, hear and feel all things, so likewise he did not at every moment contemplate in his heart every matter; he recognized things as God moved him to do, as he brought them before him. Being filled with grace and wisdom, he was able to judge and to teach as occasion demanded; the Godhead, who alone sees and knows all things, was personally present in him. Finally: All reference in the Scriptures to the humiliation and exaltation of Christ must be understood of the man; for the divine nature can neither be humiliated nor exalted.
13. These words refer to Christ’s human nature. We must believe in his supremacy in that respect as well as in his divinity. All creatures are subservient to the man Christ. As God, he creates all As man, he creates nothing, yet all creation is subject to him. David says ( Psalm 8:6), “Thou hast put all things under his feet.”
14. Christ is our Lord and our God. As God, he creates us; as Lord, we serve him and he rules over us. The apostle refers to him in this epistle as true God, and also Lord over all. Though having two different natures, he is one person. What Christ does and suffers, essentially God does and suffers. In this case only one nature is involved. To illustrate: I speak of a “wounded man” when but a single limb is injured. The soul is not wounded, nor is the body as a whole; only a part of the body. But I speak as! do because body and soul constitute one person. Now, as I must recognize a difference between body and soul when! speak, so must I recognize the two natures of Christ. Again: It is not a misstatement if in the night I say I have no knowledge of the sun, when at the same time! have a thorough mental knowledge of it; for I have no physical vision. Similarly, Christ knows nothing concerning the last day, and at the same time has full knowledge of it.
15. Observe, by this same Son who in his human nature is “appointed heir of all things” – by him as God, the worlds were made. He is but one person, yet with two natures of unlike operation. There is one Christ, of two natures. The terms Paul here employs are in recognition of Christ’s highest nature. Now, the apostle plainly speaks of the Son who is appointed heir when he says that by him the world is made. If everything is made by him, he could not himself have been created. Consequently, it is plain that he is true God. For anything not created and yet existing must be God, Again, whatsoever is made must be a creature and cannot be God; for it does not exist of itself but derives its existence from its Creator. Now, all things are made by Christ, and he is not created. Hence he must have his existence from himself; not from any creature nor any creator.
16. Furthermore, if he is a Son he is not alone, his existence necessitates a Father. Through the Son God made the world, but God cannot himself be that Son. Consequently there must be two distinct persons, the Father and the Son, yet (because) the divine nature is only one; for there cannot be more than one God. Conclusively, then, Christ with the Father is true God. In one divine substance with him, he is Creator and Maker of the world. The only difference is, one is the Son and the other the Father. And Christ is not created by the Father, as the world was created; essentially he was begotten in eternity. Nor is he inferior to the Father. He is the same in every respect except that he is begotten of the Father, and the Father not begotten of him.
17. If these things are beyond the grasp of our reason, reason must surrender as a captive to these and like Scripture words, and believe. Could we comprehend this mystery by human reason, there would be no faith. Clearly enough, the words, “Through whom also he made the worlds,” make mentions of two Beings. And it is not less clear that the uncreated one through whom all things were made, also must be God. Just how this can be, the Scriptures do not teach. It must be received by faith. The Scriptures speak after this fashion: “The world is created through Christ, by the Father, in the Holy Spirit”; and though the meaning is not wholly clear, and easy of comprehension, there is good reason for the language. It is employed more by way of intimation than explanation – to imply that the Father derives not his substance from the Son, but the Son from the Father; and that the latter is the first original person in the Godhead. In the statement that the Father made the world through Christ, not Christ through the Father, the intent is to teach the Father’s title to the first person; he from whom, through Christ, all things have existence. John speaks in the same way ( John 1:3), “All things were made through him.” And Paul again ( Colossians 1:16), “All things have been created through him, and unto him;” and ( Romans 11:36), “For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things.
18. Note the aptness of the language where Christ is termed an “heir,” in reference to his humanity. For who should be more entitled to inherit the estate of God than his Son? He with the Father created it – created all creatures. But Christ is man and Son, and because of his Sonship he inherits; in both natures is he Son. But as to the origin of the apostle’s particular language, we shall learn that in the Gospel.
“Who being the effulgence [brightness] of his glory and the very image of his substance [person].”
19. Paul uses these figures to express with all possible clearness the fact that Christ is a person distinct from the Father, yet one, real, true God. But the German and Latin words are not just equivalent to the Greek terms employed by the apostle. The apostle speaks of Christ as the effulgence proceeding from the glory of the Father. Just as the illumination of the morning sun, the sun’s vital substance, is not a part of the effulgence, but the whole effulgence of the whole sun, proceeding from the sun and yet inherent in it. By the figure, “the effulgence of his glory,” is conveyed as in a word the birth of the Son, the unity of his nature and the Father’s, and the distinction of the persons. Christ, without limit of time, is eternally begotten of the Father, and ever proceeds, with that unweariedness represented by the sun in the morning rather than at midday or evening. But Christ is not the person of the Father, as the effulgence is not the sun. He is with and in the Father; not existing before nor after, but co-eternal with him and a part of him, as the effulgence is with and a part of the sun.
20. The apostle terms the Father’s effulgence “Doxa,” (glory) properly implying honor or glory. Therefore the divine nature is unqualified glory and honor, having all in itself and deriving nothing from another. It has the right to boast of and glory in itself. Now, Paul says Christ is complete light, the full effulgence of God’s honor. That is, he too has in himself the unlimited Godhead and has equal right with the Father to boast and glory. The only exception is, he derives his authority from the Father and not the Father from him. He is the effulgence proceeding from the paternal honor, he is God begotten and not God begetting, yet God complete and perfect as the Father is.
21. The Scriptures, you will observe, do not so speak of the saints, though they are also an honor to God; that is, they were created for his honor. But Paul says Christ is the brightness of the paternal honor; the words force the conclusion that the brightness constitutes the Father’s honor, else it would not be the effulgence of his honor. But what shall I say by way of explanation? These words are more easily understood by the heart than explained by tongue or pen. They are in themselves clearer than any commentary renders them, and in proportion as they are explained are they obscured. The substance of the clause is this: the whole Godhead is in Christ, and to him as to God all honor is due; yet he does not derive his Godhood from himself, but from the Father. The apostle implies two persons but one God; for the Holy Spirit is not mentioned here. When we have advanced far enough to comprehend two persons existent in one God, we will readily believe in the third person.
22. In the other figure the apostle styles Christ an image or sign of the substance of God. Despite its clearness I still claim the privilege of speaking plainly and clearly. An image created after the likeness of a person is not an image of the substance or nature of that person. It is not a being; it is mere stone or wood. It is an image formed from stone or wood substance in the likeness of man. But if I could handle the substance of the person as the potter handles clay and make therewith an image of the individual which should also perfectly contain his substance or nature, that would, as you perceive, be an essential image, or a likeness of the human substance. But such would be a creature. An image necessarily is constructed from a different substance than the thing imaged, and differs in nature. Here the Son is such an image of the Father substance, that the Father’s substance is the image itself. If we may so express it, the image is made from the Father’s substance. The image is not only like the Father resembling him, but fully contains his whole substance and nature; as it may be said of “the effulgence of his glory,” that the effulgence is constituted of the glory, and not only like it but embodying it perfectly, making the effulgence and the glory identical.
23. Now notice, as I say an image of man is formed of wood or stone, so I say Christ is a divine image: as truly as the former is but a material image, so truly is the latter God. Paul calls Christ the image of the living and invisible God. In the wooden image, this perfection is lacking. Though a wooden image, it is not an image of the wood but of an individual; it does not represent the wood, but the individual. Though the individual be faithfully reproduced in the wood, yet he himself is not wood; his substance is something different from the substance imaging him. In all cases the image differs in substance from the person imaged. It is impossible to furnish an image actually the substance of the individual. But in this verse we have an image and one imaged who are identical in substance, except that the Father is not an image. The Father is not fashioned from nor like the Son; but the Son from the Father, and is like the Father, in one simple, truly divine substance with him.
24. Such perfection is also wanting in the sun and its effulgence. The sun has its own splendor, and the same is true of its effulgence, but the effulgence derives its splendor from the sun. But in the figure before us, effulgence is splendor; of the splendor, if we may so speak, the effulgence is constituted. The splendor is essentially and perfectly the effulgence itself, with this difference that the effulgence has not its origin in itself but in the paternal splendor.
25. You will notice the verse is even now clearer than the explanation. “The image of his substance,” “the effulgence of his glory” – these Paul’s sayings are clear enough. The tongue should be silent here to allow the heart to reflect. The Hebrew mode of speaking is thus: “Pauperes sanctorum, i. pauperes sancti; Virtus Dei, i. virtus Deus; Sic, character substantiae, 1 character substantia, subsistens et impsemet Deus; Sic, splendor gloriae, i. splendor gloria ipsa.” Latin scholars may easily comprehend this, but for the Germans and the common people it suffices to call the likeness made from gold an image of gold. Similarly, they are to call Christ an image of God the Father because he is wholly of God in character, and there is no God beside him, though at the same time his Godhead and image have origin from the Father as the first person; but the two are one God. This is not true of creatures. The golden image represents not a golden nature, but the wholly different nature of the individual Though it is a golden image, it does not image the nature of gold. Another image is necessary to represent the nature of gold; as, for instance, a golden color, or something else not truly gold. But in our text the image is also the substance of the imaged, and no other image is requisite than its own substance. It is faith that is called for here and not keen speculation. The words are clear enough; they are positive and forcible. He who will not in them recognize the divinity of Christ, will not recognize it in any way. Christ is not here termed a common image in the ordinary sense of the word; the word used is “Character” – an image more characteristic than a portrait or any other likeness. Again, he is called “Apaugasma” – an actual brightness resembling nothing but the glory from which it proceeds.
26. For a third time Christ is represented as God. First, it is stated that the worlds were made by him; second, he is called the brightness and the image of God; and here he upholds all things. If he upholds all, he is not himself upheld. He is supreme, hence he must be God. To uphold all things is to support and maintain them. Not only are all things made by him, as stated in the preceding verse, but they are perpetuated and preserved by him. As Paul says in Colossians 1:17: “In him all things consist.” The word “upholding” is well chosen. Christ neither coerces nor restrains nor disturbs the peace; he gently sustains, permitting all creatures to enjoy his tender goodness. As it is written in the Wisdom of Solomon, Song of Solomon 8:1: “Wisdom reacheth from one end to another mightily; and sweetly doth she order all things.”
27. I am not fully decided as to the intent of the phrase “by the word of his power.” Were these the words of uninspired man, I would think the writer in error; for Christ is himself the Word, as the Gospel teaches, and acts in obedience to no word. Did they refer to the person of the Father, it would be perfect harmony with the Scripture teaching; for the Father made all things through his Word and upholds them in that Word. As said in Psalm 33:6, “By the word of Jehovah were the heavens made.”
28. I withhold my view to give place to another and better one. I merely venture the opinion that the apostle’s purpose in this manner of speaking may be to emphasize the unity of the persons in one Godhead. Since they are one God, we may understand here reference to the Father; God’s action is the action of each of the three persons. God upholds all things by his Word; Christ, or the Word here mentioned, is really God.
29. There are other places in the Scriptures where we have a sudden change of person. For instance, Psalm 2:6-7: “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will tell of the decree: Jehovah said unto me, Thou art my Son.” There the first verse represents the Father speaking concerning the Son: and the second verse, the Son concerning the Father. The reason for the sudden change of persons in this brief passage is, the two persons are one God. It may be that when our text declares that one is the image of God, the reference is to Christ; and that when it states one upholds all things by his word, reference is to the Father, no designation being made because the two are one God without distinction.
30. If this is not a satisfactory
conclusion, we might regard the expression in this light: we might understand
the term “word” as having somewhat the significance of an event or act. For
instance, in the Gospel ( Luke 2:15) we read of the
shepherds saying: “Let us now go even unto
31. Here the apostle touches upon the Gospel proper. Whatever we may be taught concerning Christ is without significance to ourselves until we learn we are the beneficiaries of the doctrine. What would be the advantage to us of preaching were it designed alone for Christ’s benefit? The fact is, these words concern only us; they have to do with our salvation. Let us, then, joyfully listen. The language is incomparably beautiful, telling that the supreme Christ, the heir of all things, the effulgence of God’s glory and the image of his substance; who upholds all things, not by extraneous power, not with assistance, but by his own power, his own act; who, in short, is all in all – that he has come to serve us, has poured out his love for us and made purification for our sins.
32. The apostle says “our,” “our sins;” not his own sin, not the sins of unbelievers. Purification is not for, and cannot profit, him who does not believe. Nor did Christ effect the cleansing by our free-will, our reason or power, our works, our contrition or repentance, these all being worthless in the sight of God’, he effects it by himself. And how? By taking our sins upon himself on the holy cross, as Isaiah 53:6 tells us.
33. But even this answer does not sufficiently explain how he cleanses us “by himself.” To go further: When we accept him, when we believe he has purified us, he dwells within us because of, and by, our faith, daily continuing to cleanse us by his own operation; and nothing apart from Christ in any way contributes to the purification of our sins. Note, he does not dwell in us, nor work our cleansing through himself, by any other way than in and through our faith.
34. Hearken, then, ye deceivers of the world and blind leaders of the blind; ye Pope, ye bishops, priests, monks, learned and idle talkers; who teach the purification of sins by human achievements, and that satisfaction for sins may be made by men; who issue indulgences and vend devised purifications of sins. Listen to the teaching here: Purification of sins is not effected by human effort, but solely in Christ and through himself. Christ is communicated to us, not through any work of ours, but through faith alone, as Paul teaches in Ephesians 3:17 that “Christ dwells in your hearts through faith.” Plainly, then, the purification of sins is faith, and he who believes that Christ has purged his sins, unquestionably is cleansed through that faith and in no other way. Appropriate, then, is Peter’s expression in Acts 15:9, “cleasing their hearts by faith.”
35. Having once possessed faith, and purification being effected in us by Christ, we are then to perform good works, hating our sins and repenting of them. Under these conditions our works are really good. Before faith is present, they avail naught; rather they induce false confidence and trust. So heinous an evil are our sins, and so enormous is the cost of their purification, it was necessary that one exalted as we here read Christ was, must intervene to purge them by himself. What could the poor, vain attempts of us who are creatures, and besides sinful, feeble, corrupt creatures, accomplish where the demand was of such magnitude? One might as reasonably presume to burn heaven and earth with an extinguished brand. Our sins can be expiated only by a price commensurate with the God they offend.
36. This statement refers to the human nature of Christ wherein he effected the purification of our sins; at the same time it is true the cleansing was an achievement of the Son of God. We must not, in making distinction of natures, try to make a distinction of persons. Again, we may truly say the Son of God sits on the right hand of the Majesty, though the passage is to be accepted only in the human sense, for in his divine nature he is himself the only Majesty, in unity with the Father, upon whose right hand he sits. But we will abandon these comments which but obscure, and keep to the clearer language of the text.
37. To “sit on the right hand of the Majesty” certainly implies a likeness to that Majesty. Wherever it is said that Christ sits at the right hand of God, there is fundamentally established his title to true God; for no one but God himself is like God. So, to say that the man Christ sits on the right hand of God is equivalent to saying he is true God. Psalm 110:1 declares, “Jehovah saith unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand.” That is, Jehovah said to Christ the man: Be like me; in other words, Thou shalt be recognized not simply as man but as God. It is with this thought the apostle cites the psalmist. Again, it is written ( Psalm 8:6), “Thou hast put all things under his feet.” That is, Thou hast made him equal with thyself. Not that Christ was not God until all things were put under his feet. But his humanity was not yet God and equal with God. For as soon as he began to be man, he began to be God. The Scriptures refer to Christ in terms more appropriately significant than we are accustomed to use. So far at times is the person lost sight of in the nature, or the natures so strongly distinguished, few rightly comprehend the words. I have myself frequently erred in passages of this character, attributing to the nature that which concerns the person, and vice versa. In Philippians 2:6-8 we read: “Who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man.” This passage, however, is obscure.
38. To return to our text: Note, the apostle now begins to cite the Old Testament for Scripture testimony that Christ is God. Up to this time he has given us his own views and used his own language, based on his interpretations of Scripture. He has told us Christ is far superior to the angels for he has become God and has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. His whole design is to show the man Christ, becoming God, being recognized and glorified as God.
39. This quotation is from the Second Psalm ( Psalm 2). To make plainer the apostle’s allusion to Christ, we cite the entire Psalm, as follows: “Why do the nations rage, and the peoples meditate a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against Jehovah, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens will laugh: the Lord will have them in derision. Then will he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure: Yet I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will tell of the decree: Jehovah said unto me, Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Now therefore be wise, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve Jehovah with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the son, lest he be angry, and ye perish in the way, for his wrath will soon be kindled. Blessed are all they that take refuge in him.”
40. We see plainly, the reference here is to Christ, against whom raged the Jews, with Pilate, Herod and the chief priests. To Christ, God says, “Thou art my Son.”
41. The Jews endeavor to evade this passage of the apostle by introducing wild interpretations. Unable to deny that the Psalm refers to a coming king and anointed one – or Christ, as “anointed” implies – they assert the allusion is to David, who was also a Christ. For they term all kings “messiahs” or “christs” – anointed ones. But their position will not hold. David never inherited the heathen, nor did his kingdom extend to the uttermost parts of the earth, as recorded of the king mentioned in the Psalm. Again, in no instance in the Scriptures is it said to any man, “Thou art my Son.”
42. Even when the Jews do admit the Psalm’s allusion to the Messiah they resort to two evasions. They maintain he is yet to come, that Jesus Christ is not the Messiah. Further, that despite being called the Son of God, he is not God. For, they say, it is written of the children of God in general ( Psalm 82:6): “I said, Ye are gods, and all of you sons of the Most High”; and many times in the Scriptures the saints are called the children of God ( Genesis 6:2; Psalm 89:27; Matthew 5:45; 1 John 3:2); Paul, too, in various places calls us children of God, and we in return call him Father, as in the Lord’s Prayer.
43. How shall we reply to them? Shall we leave the apostle unsustained, as if he had not given good, clear Scripture proof? To do so would be unjust. In the first place, we have the testimony of experience that Jesus is he of whom the Psalm speaks; in Christ the prophecy is fulfilled and become history. He was persecuted by kings and rulers. They sought to destroy him and only brought derision upon themselves in the attempt. They were themselves destroyed, as the Psalm says. Throughout the world Christ is recognized Lord. No king, before nor since, has ruled or can rule in equal extent. Now, if in Christ the Psalm is fulfilled, it cannot be made to refer to any other.
44. Admitting the saints are called “gods” and “the children of God,” the apostle’s reasoning based on the fact that nowhere is it said to any angel, much less to any man, “Thou art my Son,” sufficiently proves that Christ is God. He must be peculiarly God’s Son, having a relation unshared by men and angels. The fact that God does not include him among other sons but especially distinguishes him, indicates his superiority. He cannot be superior to angels without being true God, for angels are the highest order of beings.
45. Further, God begets all other children through some agency. For instance, James 1:18: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth.” Angels are not begotten, but are created. The Son, however, God did not create; he begot him through himself. He says: “I, myself – by myself I have begotten thee this day.” Such language is not employed with reference to any other. This personal bringing forth of a single Being embraces a natural birth. True, God says of Solomon ( 1 Chronicles 22:10), “He shall be my son;” but he does not make to him the personal declaration, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” David begat Solomon, but the one referred to was begotten by God alone.
46. Again, God says “this day;” that is, in eternity. Natural birth cannot be effected in a day, as witness the human species as well as the animals. To specify concerning this particular birth, God adds “this day.” He begets his Son instantaneously – eternally; begetting and bringing forth are simultaneous. God does not say, “I begat thee a year ago;” it is now – “Thou art my Son, I have begotten thee.” Essentially, then, it is a transcendental birth, a birth of an exalted nature and incomprehensible to man.
47. According to Hosea 11:1, God
says he called his son out of
48. Mark you, so much emphasis does the apostle lay upon Scriptural authority, we are under no obligation to accept anything the Bible does not assert. Were not this true, his argument, “Unto which of the angels said he at any time,” etc., would not be conclusive. The Jews might say, “Notwithstanding God did not in the Scriptures make such assertion to the angels, he may have otherwise asserted it; for the Scriptures do not record everything.” Now, if in the purpose of God we are under no obligation to accept anything not presented in the Scriptures, we are also to reject all doctrines not taught therein.
49. This conclusion operates against the presumption of the Pope and his followers, who shamelessly assert we must accept more than the Scriptures present. They claim it is not conclusive reasoning to say of a certain thing, “It is not in the Scriptures, therefore it is not authentic.” They oppose the apostle’s teaching even to greater extent than do the Jews, introducing their councils, teachers and high schools. Beware of their error. Be certain you have full Scripture authority for all you accept. Of whatever is not in the Scriptures, ask as does the apostle here, “When did God ever assert it?”
50. The Papists also impair the force of this passage. Apparently the purpose of their teaching is but to weaken the point of the Scriptures. They assert the verse has two meanings: first, it refers to Solomon as a figure of Christ; second, to Christ directly. But to admit the Scriptures to be of uncertain meaning would be immediately to make them not conclusive. The Jews might maintain that reference is to Solomon primarily. Then the apostle apparently would be overthrown and would establish nothing. So we should firmly hold that Christ alone is here spoken of, even as the preceding verse presents a Son peculiar and above all other sons. If the word was not spoken to angels, much less was it to Solomon. The apostle says this Son has obtained a more excellent name than the angels; therefore, by no means can the reference be to Solomon.
51. We are not to be content merely to accept the apostle’s statement; we are under obligation to show how he clearly and conclusively establishes his position. Know, then, he cites 2 Samuel 7:14 and Psalm 89:26. The books named are prophetic. In the passages adduced the reference is to Christ alone; not to Solomon. But in 1 Chronicles 22:10, a historical book, reference is had to Solomon alone: “He shall be my son, and I will be his father.” Even the Jews admit the true Christ is alluded to in Psalm 89:26-27: “He shall cry unto me, Thou art my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation. I also will make him my first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth.” Likewise is the reference to Christ in verse 6: “Who among the sons of the mighty is like unto Jehovah [the Lord]?” The meaning is: Among the sons of God is one who is God, and no one is like unto the Lord.
52. Though the passages in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles are in harmony, yet such are the circumstances forming the setting in the first passage, the word cannot be understood to refer to Solomon. The two texts must be two different declarations to David, one concerning Christ and one concerning Solomon. In the first instance ( Psalm 7:12), God says to David: “When thy days are fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, that shall proceed out of thy bowels.”
53. Now, Solomon was not set up king subsequent to David’s death, but while David yet lived. 1 Kings 1:30ff. David well knew the declaration was made concerning Christ. It is for that reason he expressed heartfelt praise to God, saying ( 2 Samuel 7:19): “O Lord Jehovah, thou hast spoken also of thy servant’s house for a great while to come.” While he himself lived, David ordained Solomon his successor. He says ( Chronicles 22:8-10): “The word of Jehovah came to me saying... A son shall be born to thee, who shall be a man of rest... He shall build a house for my name;” not thou who “hast shed blood abundantly.” In the passage from Samuel nothing is said about the shedding of blood. There God says he will build a house for David. Further argument for the idea advanced is found in the fact that in 2 Samuel 7:14-15 God freely unqualifiedly promises: “If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men; but my lovingkindness shall not depart from him.” He freely promises his grace for the things so bitterly bewailed in Psalm 89.
54. As Psalm 132:12 shows, the promise made concerning Solomon is made only upon the condition, “If thy children will keep my covenant,” etc. This David indicates in 1 Kings 2:4, and God makes it known to Solomon in the following chapter, verse 14. The passage from Samuel, then, should be understood particularly to refer to Christ, but not that from Chronicles. This is clearly and conclusively proven.
“And when he again bringeth in the firstborn into the world he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.”
55. Here we have cited a third
passage from Psalm 97 ( Psalm 97:7), which clearly
speaks of the
56. Experience and its fulfillment
explain this Psalm. It was completely fulfilled in Christ. He is preached in
all the world and reigns in the
57. The author of the epistle practically says. “I grant God has other sons, but it is the first-born son whom he brings into the world a king and whom the angels worship, which the angels would not do, nor would be commanded to do, were he not true God.”
58. True, we read of David and many others being worshiped, but not by angels. No angel ever yet adored any but God. This passage proves that he whom angels reverence must be God. For since even men worship on earth only what is superior to themselves, and with angels only God is superior, that king whom ministers herald in the world and angels worship must be God. That the apostle does not cite the whole Psalm literally is of no significance. The language of the Psalm is: “Worship him, all ye gods,” while the apostle says, “Let all the angels of God worship him.” The meaning, however, is the same. The thought is of future action – the angels shall worship him. If so, he must be God. The angels are his, though he is himself man. Note, however, in the Hebrew the passage reads: “Worship him, all ye ‘Elohim’; that is, all ye gods. The term is given to angels, and to saints in general, because they are the children of God.
“And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels winds [spirits], and his ministers a flame of fire.”
59. The apostle’s intent here is to show that in the Scriptures the angels are not spoken of in terms that make possible a reference to them in the statements, “Thou art my Son,” “He shall be my Son,” “All the angels shall worship him.” They are simply appointed messengers sent forth of God into the world. Although to them he has committed much, he does not constitute any among them Lord; they are characterized as wind and a flame of fire. He terms them “spirits,” “winds” and “a flame of fire” because in such form do they execute his bidding, moving with the ease and swiftness of the wind, and having the brilliance of lightning or a flame of fire, as much Scriptural evidence testifies. Yet no one of them is withal Lord of the world and heralded everywhere in the manner the king here mentioned is proclaimed Lord over all things. Even the Jews must confess that.
“But of the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; and the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.”
60. This fourth quotation is from Psalm 45:6-7. To me it most clearly and forcibly proves Christ to be God. Even the Jews cannot oppose that interpretation. Let us consider: In the first place, it is universally acknowledged the Psalm refers to Christ, even were we to grant he is yet to come, as the Jews erroneously presume. In the second place, the first sentence, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever,” necessarily relates to the true God to whom throne and government belong. Though saints are sometimes termed “gods,” as we learned from Psalm 82:1, yet government and throne are the prerogative of none but the one true and actual God. Is not this indisputably plain? So, then, this God upon the throne who reigns eternally is our true God.
61. Then the succeeding sentence is spoken of the same God: “Thou hast loved uprightness... therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee…above thy fellows.” What is implied? That the God upon the everlasting throne, who reigns eternally, is anointed by his God above all his fellows. He who here anoints must certainly be the true God; and also the anointed must be actual God because of his throne and eternal reign. Now, God does not anoint himself; the anointed is subordinate to the one anointing. “To anoint” here implies, to infuse the Holy Spirit, with his graces; something to be exercised only upon a creature.
62. Note that indisputably the first part of the passage makes the king in question true God, and the latter part true man. In his humanity he has fellows, for he is the head of all believers, and they are partakers of the Spirit he possesses abundantly and above all others. But in his divinity he has no fellows; for there is only one God – one God but not one person. The passage forces the conclusion that there are two persons, one who reigns and another who anoints and whose divinity will not admit of his being himself anointed. Hence we must conclude the King is the Son of God; his title is ascribed because he is God. His eternal throne is the kingdom introduced after Christ’s ascension. Yet he has fellows, is anointed, and deservedly anointed because he loves righteousness; things wholly characteristic of actual man.
63. The rod or scepter of the Son’s kingdom is the Gospel. It is a scepter of uprightness because aggressive for the right and taking a straight course. This declaration stands opposed to human doctrines, which abound in intricacies and perplexities and yet contribute nothing to salvation. It is another reminder that we are to accept nothing in all Christendom but the scepter of Christ’s kingdom, He would have his kingdom ruled by no other scepter than that righteous one, the Gospel.
64. It is necessary to use the word “God” twice in the latter part of the verse – “God, thy God” – because our language has but one word for that meaning. The Hebrew tongue has many, employing here these two, “Elohim” and “E1ohe.”
65. In the Old Testament are many similar passages, mysteriously used but unquestionably conclusive upon this matter; for instance, Genesis 19:24: “Jehovah rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from Jehovah out of heaven,” What can it mean – “Jehovah…from Jehovah,” – but that two persons are indicated, the Father and the Son? Again ( Zechariah 3:2), “Jehovah said unto Satan, Jehovah rebuke thee, O Satan.” Observe here, God himself speaks of another God. And again, in Psalm 68, where frequent mention is made of God, it is stated ( Psalm 68:18): “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led away captives.” With respect to ascension, however, reference is only to the man Christ. Again, in the same Psalm ( Psalm 68:28) we have, “Thy God hath commanded thy strength.” Further, it says God commands the power of God. And there are many similar passages.
“And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of thy hands; they shall perish; but thou continuest: and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a mantle shalt thou roll them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.”
66. How this quotation testifies
that Christ is God is riot at once apparent. As written, it easily seems to
refer to God as one person. But we must take into consideration the entire
Psalm. The Psalm speaks of the future
67. The Psalm concludes with, “And
thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth,” etc. The
psalmist’s evident conclusion is: The King whose servants have favored the
68. So we see this whole epistle lesson is simply armor to clearly maintain the article of faith that Christ is God, and Lord over all things even in his humanity. We note with amazement the perfect clearness of the Scripture teaching and that the defect is in ourselves, unperceived. Well does Luke speak ( Luke 24:32) of Christ’s opening the understanding of the disciples to comprehend the Scriptures. It was not the Scriptures he opened, but their understanding; the former is plain, but our eyes are not fully open.
John 1, 1-14:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name [was] John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all [men] through him might believe. He was not that Light, but [was sent] to bear witness of that Light. [That] was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, [even] to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
1. This is the most important of the Gospels of the church year, and yet it is not, as some think, obscure or difficult. For upon it is clearly founded the important article of faith concerning the divinity of Christ, with which all Christians ought to be acquainted, and which they are able to understand. Nothing is too great for faith. Therefore let us consider this Gospel lesson in the simplest manner possible and not as the scholastics did with their fabricated subtleties, conceal its doctrine from the common people and frighten them away from it. There is no need of many fine and sharp distinctions, but only of a plain, simple explanation of the words of the text.
2. In the first place, we should know that all that the apostles taught and wrote, they took out of the Old Testament; for in it all things are proclaimed that were to be fulfilled later in Christ, and were to be preached, as Paul says in Rom. 1, 2: ”God promised afore the Gospel of his son Jesus Christ through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures.” Therefore all their preaching is based upon the Old Testament, and there is not a word in the New Testament that does not look back into the Old, where it had been foretold. Thus we have seen in the Epistle how the divinity of Christ is confirmed by the Apostle from passages in the Old Testament. For the New Testament is nothing more than a revelation of the Old. Just as one receives a sealed letter which is not to be opened until after the writer's death, so the Old Testament is the will and testament of Christ, which he has had opened after his death and read and everywhere proclaimed through the Gospel, as it is declared in Rev. 5, 5, where the Lamb of God alone is able to open the book with the seven seals, which no one else could open, neither in heaven, nor on earth, nor under the earth.
3. That this Gospel may be clearer and more easily understood, we must go back to the passages in the Old Testament upon which it is founded, namely, the beginning of the first chapter of Genesis. There we read, Gen. 1, 1-3: ”In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light, and there was light,” etc. Moses continues how all things were created in like manner as the light, namely, by speaking of the Word of God. Thus: ”And God said, Let there be a firmament.” And again: ”God said, Let there be sun, moon, stars,” etc.
4. From these words of Moses it is clearly proved that God has a Word, through which or by means of which he spoke, before anything was created; and this Word does not and cannot be anything that was created, since all things were created through this divine utterance, as the text of Moses clearly and forcibly expresses it, when it says: ”God said, Let there be light, and there was light.” The Word must therefore have preceded the light, since light came by the Word; consequently it was also before all other creatures, which also came by the Word, as Moses writes.
5. But let us go farther. If the Word preceded all creatures, and all creatures came by the Word and were created through it, the Word must be a different being than a creature, and was not made or created like a creature. It must therefore be eternal and without beginning. For when all things began it was already there, and cannot be confined in time nor in creation, but is above time and creation; yea, time and creation are made and have their beginning through it. Thus it follows that whatever is not temporal must be eternal; and that which has no beginning cannot be temporal; and that which is not a creature must be God. For besides God and his creatures there is nothing. Hence we learn from this text of Moses, that the Word of God, which was in the beginning and through which all things were made and spoken, must be God eternal and not a creature.
6. Again, the Word and he that speaks it, are not one person; for it is not possible that the speaker is himself the Word. What sort of speaker would he be who is himself the Word? He must needs be a mute, or the word must needs sound of itself without the speaker. But Scripture here speaks in strong and lucid words: ”God said.” And thus God and His Word must be two distinct things. If Moses had written: ”There was an utterance,” it would not be so evident that there were two, the Word and the Speaker. But when he says: ”God said,” and names the speaker and his word, he forcibly states that there are two: that the speaker is not the word, and the word is not the speaker, but that the word comes from the speaker, and has its existence not of itself but from the speaker. But the speaker does not come from the word, nor does he have his existence from it, but from himself. Thus, the words of Moses point conclusively to the fact that there are two persons in the Godhead from eternity, before all creatures, that the one has its existence from the other, and the first has its existence from nothing but itself.
7. Again, the Scriptures
firmly and everlastingly maintain that there is only one God, as Moses begins,
saying: ”In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And Deut. 6,
4, ”Hear, 0
8. Again, who is there so subtle as to be able to contradict this doctrine? He must distinguish or keep apart the Word from God, the speaker; and he must confess that it was before all creatures, and that the creatures were made by it. Consequently he must surely admit it to be God, for besides the creatures there is nothing but God; he must also admit that there is only one God. Thus the Scriptures forcibly conclude that these two persons are one perfect God, and that each one is the only true, real, and perfect God, who has created all things; that the Speaker has his being not from the Word, but that the Word has its being from the Speaker, yet he has his being eternally and from eternity, and outside of all creation.
9. The Arian heretics intended to draw a mist over this clear passage and to bore a hole into heaven, since they could not surmount it, and said that this Word of God was indeed God, not by nature, however, but by creation. They said that all things were created by it, but it had also been created previously, and after that all things were created by it. This they said from their own imagination without any authority from the Scriptures, because they left the simple words of the Scriptures and followed their own fancies.
10. Therefore I have said that he who desires to proceed safely on firm ground, must have no regard for the many subtle and hair-splitting words and fancies, but must cling to the simple, powerful, and explicit words of Scripture, and he will be secure. We shall also see how St. John anticipated these same heretics and refuted them in their subterfuges and fabrications.
11. Therefore we have here in the Books of Moses the real gold mine, from which everything that is written in the New Testament concerning the divinity of Christ has been taken. Here you may see from what source the gospel of St. John is taken, and upon what it is founded; and therefore it is easy to understand. This is the source of the passage in Ps. 33, 6: ”By the Word of Jehovah the heavens were made.” Solomon in beautiful words describes the wisdom of God, Prov. 3, 22, saying that this wisdom bad been in God before all things; and he takes his thoughts from this chapter of Moses. So almost all the prophets have worked in this mine and have dug their treasures from it.
12. But there are other passages by this same Moses concerning the Holy Ghost, as for example in Gen. 1,2: ”And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Thus the Spirit of God must also be something different from him who breathes him into existence, sends him forth, and yet he must be before all creatures. Again, Moses says in Gen. 1, 28-31: ”God blessed the creatures, beheld them, and was pleased with them.” This benediction and favorable contemplation of the creatures point to the Holy Ghost, since the Scriptures attribute to him life and mercy. But these passages are not so well developed as those which refer to the Son; consequently they are not so prominent. The ore is still halfway in the mines, so that these passages can easily be believed, if reason is so far in subjection as to believe that there are two persons. If anyone will take the time and trouble to compare the passages of the New Testament referring to the Holy Ghost with this text of Moses, he will find much light, as well as pleasure.
13. Now we must open wide our hearts and understanding, so as to look upon these words not as the insignificant, perishable words of man, but think of them as being as great as he is who speaks them. It is a Word which he speaks of himself, which remains in him, and is never separated from him. Therefore according to the thought of the Apostle, we must consider how God speaks with himself and to himself, and how the Word proceeds from within himself. However, this Word is not an empty sound, but brings with it the whole essence of the divine nature. Reference has been made in the Epistle to the brightness of his glory and the image of his person, which constitute the divine nature, so that it accompanies the image in its entirety and thus becomes the very image itself. In the same manner God of himself also utters his Word, so that the whole Godhead accompanies the Word and in its nature remains in, and essentially is, the Word.
14. Behold, here we see whence the Apostle has taken his language, when he calls Christ an image of the divine essence, and the brightness of divine glory. He takes it from this text of Moses, when he says that God spoke the Word of himself; this can be nothing else than an image that represents him, since every word is a sign which means something. But here the thing signified is by its very nature in the sign or in the Word, which is not in any other sign. Therefore he very properly calls it a real image or sign of his nature.
15. The word of man may also in this connection be used in a measure as an illustration; for by it the human heart is known. Thus we commonly say: I understand his heart or intentions, when we have only heard his words; as out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks, and from the word the heart is known, as though it were in the word. In consequence of this experience the heathen had a saying: Qualis quisque est talia loquitur. (As a man speaks, so is he). Again: Oratio est character animi (Speech is an image of the heart). When the heart is pure it utters pure words, when it is impure it utters impure words. With this also corresponds the gospel of Matthew, 12, 34, where Christ says: ”Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” And again, ”How can ye, being evil, speak good things?” Also John the Baptist says, John 3, 31: ”He that is of the earth is of the earth, and of the earth he speaketh.” The Germans also have a proverb: ”Of what the heart is full, overfloweth out of the mouth.” The bird is known by its song, for it sings according to its nature. Therefore all the world knows that nothing represents the condition of the heart so perfectly and so positively as the words of the mouth, just as though the heart were in the word.
16. Thus it is also with God. His word is so much like himself, that the Godhead is wholly in it, and be who has the word has the whole Godhead. But this comparison has its limits. For the human word does not carry with it the essence or the nature of the heart, but simply its meaning, or is a sign of the heart, just as a woodcut or a bronze tablet does not carry with it the human being, but simply represents it. But here in God, the Word does not only carry with it the sign and picture, but the whole being, and is as full of God as he whose word or picture it is. If the human word were pure heart, or the intention of the heart, the comparison would be perfect. But this cannot be; consequently the Word of God is above every word, and without comparison among all creatures.
17 There have indeed been sharp discussions about the inner word in the heart of man, which remains within, since man has been created in the image of God. But it is all so deep and mysterious, and will ever remain so, that it is not possible to understand it. Therefore we shall pass on, and we come, now to our Gospel, which is in itself clear and manifest.
18. What beginning does the Evangelist mean except the one of which Moses says: ”In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth?” That was the beginning and origin of creation. Other than this there was no beginning, for God had no beginning, but is eternal. It follows, therefore, that the Word is also eternal, because it did not have its origin in the beginning, but it was already in the beginning, John says. It did not begin, but when other things began it was already in existence; and its existence did not begin when all things began, but it was then already present.
19. How prudently the Evangelist speaks; for he does not say: ”In the beginning the Word was made,” but it was there,” and was not made. The origin of its existence is different from the beginning of creation. Furthermore he says: ”In the beginning.” Had he been made before the world, as the Arians maintain, he would not have been in the beginning, but he would have himself been the beginning. But John firmly and clearly maintains: ”In the beginning was the Word,” and he was not the beginning. Whence has St. John these words? From Moses, Gen. 1, 3 ”God said, Let there be light.” From this text evidently come the words: ”In the beginning was the Word.” For if God spoke, there had to be a Word. And if he spoke it in the beginning, when the creation began, it was already in the beginning, and did not begin with the creation.
20. But why does he not say: Before the beginning was the Word? This would have made the matter clearer, as it would seem; thus St. Paul often says: Before the creation of the world, etc. The answer is, because, to be in the beginning, and to be before, the beginning, are the same, and one is the consequence of the other. St. John, as an Evangelist, wished to agree with the writings of Moses, wished to open them up, and to disclose the source of his own words, which would not have been the case had he said: ”Before” the beginning. Moses says nothing of that which was before the beginning, but describes the Word in the beginning, in order that he can the better describe the creation, which was made by the Word. For the same reason he also calls him a word, when he might as well have called him a light, life or something else, as is done later; for Moses speaks of a word. Now not to begin and to be in the beginning is the same as to be before the beginning. But if the Word had been in the beginning and not before the beginning, it must have begun to be before the beginning, and so the beginning would have been before the beginning, which would be a contradiction, and would be the same as though the beginning were not the beginning. Therefore it is put in a masterly way: In the beginning was the Word, so as to show that it has not begun, and consequently must necessarily have been eternal, before the beginning.
21. Where else should it have been? There never was anything outside of God. Moses says the same thing when he writes: ”God said, Let there be light.” Whenever God speaks the word must be with him. But here he clearly distinguishes the persons, so that the Word is a different person than God with whom it was. This passage of John does not allow the interpretation that God had been alone, because it says that something had been with God, namely, the Word. If he had been alone, why would he need to say: The Word was with God? To have something with him, is not to be alone or by himself. It should not be forgotten that the Evangelist strongly emphasizes the little word ”with.” For he repeats it, and clearly expresses the difference in persons to gainsay natural reason and future heretics. For while natural reason can understand that there is but one God, and many passages of Scripture substantiate it, and this is also true, yet the Scriptures also strongly oppose the idea that this same God is only one person.
22. Thus arose the heresy of Sabellius, who said: The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are only one person. And again Arius, although he admitted that the Word was with God, would not admit that he was true God. The former confesses and teaches too great a simplicity of God; the latter too great a multiplicity. The former mingles the persons; the latter separates the natures. But the true Christian faith takes the mean, teaches and confesses separate persons and an undivided nature. The Father is a different person from the Son, but he is not another God. Natural reason can not comprehend this; it must be apprehended by faith alone. Natural reason produces error and heresy; faith teaches and maintains the truth; for it clings to the Scriptures, which do not deceive nor lie.
23. Since there is but one God, it must be true that God himself is the Word, which was in the beginning before all creation. Some change the order of the words and read: And the Word was God, in order to explain that this Word not only is with God and is a different person, but that it is also in its essence the one true God with the Father. But we shall leave the words in the order in which they now stand: And God was the Word; and this is also what it means; there is no other God than the one only God, and this same God must also essentially be the Word, of which the Evangelist speaks; so there is nothing in the divine nature which is not in the Word. It is clearly stated that this Word is truly God, so that it is not only true that the Word is God, but also that God is the Word.
24. Decidedly as this passage opposes Arius, who teaches that the Word is not God, so strongly it appears to favor Sabellius; for it speaks as though it mingled the persons, and thereby revokes or explains away the former passage, which separates the persons and says: The Word was with God. But the Evangelist intentionally arranged his words so as to refute all heretics. Here therefore he overthrows Arius and attributes to the Word the true essential of the Godhead by saying: And God was the Word; as though he would say: I do not simply say, the Word is God, which might be understood as though the Godhead was only asserted of him, and were not essentially his, as you, Arius, claim; but I say: And God was the Word, which can be understood in no other way than that this same being which every one calls God and regards as such, is the Word. Again, that Sabellius and reason may not think that I side with them, and mingle the persons, and revoke what I have said on this point, I repeat it and say again:
25. The Word was with God, with God, and yet God was the Word. Thus the Evangelist contends that both assertions are true: God is the Word, and the Word is with God; one nature of divine essence, and yet not one person only. Each person is God complete and entire, in the beginning and eternally. These are the passages upon which our faith is founded and to which we must hold fast. For it is entirely above reason that there should be three persons and each one perfect and true God, and yet not three Gods but one God.
26. The Scholastics have argued much pro and con with their numerous subtleties, to make this doctrine comprehensible. But if you do not wish to become entangled in the meshes of the enemy, ignore their cunning, arrogance, and subtleties, and hold to these divine words. Press into them and remain in them, like a hare in a rocky crevice. If you come out and deign to listen to human talk, the enemy will lead you on and overcome you, so that you will at last not know where reason, faith, God, or even yourself are.
27. Believe me, as one who has experienced and tried it, and who does not talk into an empty barrel; the Scriptures are not given us for naught. If reason could have kept on the right road, the Scriptures would not have been given us. Take an example in the case of Arius and Sabellius. Had they clung to the Scriptures and disregarded reason, they would not have originated so much trouble in the church. And our Scholastics might have been Christians, had they ceased fooling with their subtleties and had clung to the Scriptures.
28. Has this not been put
clearly enough? Who would be surprised, if stubborn men reject every effort to convince
them of their error, however plainly and earnestly the truth may be told them,
when the Arians could evade this clear and explicit passage and say: All things
are made by the Word, but the Word was itself first made, and afterwards all
things were made by it? And this in opposition to the direct words: ”All things
were made through him.” And there is no doubt that he was not made and cannot
be counted among the things that were made. For he who mentions all things
excludes nothing, as
29. If nothing was made without him, much less is he himself made without whom nothing was made; accordingly the error of Arius should never have attracted any attention, and yet it did. There is no need of comment to explain that the Word is God and the real Creator of all created things since without him nothing was made that ever was made.
30. Some have been in doubt about the order of the words in this text; the words ”that was made”, they take with the following words, in this way: ”That which was made, was in him life.” Of this opinion was St. Augustine. But the words properly belong to the preceding words as I have given them, thus: ”And without him was not anything made that hath been made.” He means to say that none of the things that art; made, are made without him; so that he may the more clearly express that all things were made through him, and that he himself was not made. In short, the Evangelist firmly maintains that the Word is true God, yet not of himself, but of the Father. Therefore we say: Made through him, and Begotten of the Father.
31. On this passage there is generally much speculation, and it is often taken to mean something hard to understand in reference to the twofold existence of creation; in this the Platonic philosophers are famous. They maintain that all creation has its being first in its own nature and kind, as it was created. Secondly, all creation has its being in divine Providence from eternity, in that he has resolved in himself to create all things. Therefore as he lives so all things are living in him; and this creative existence in God, they say, is nobler than the existence in its own kind and nature. For in God things do live which in themselves have no life, as stones, earth, water, and the like. And therefore Saint Augustine says that this Word is an image of all creation, and like a bed- chamber is hung with images which are called Ideas (Greek for images), according to which the created things were made, each one according to its own image. Concerning these John is to have said: ”In him was life.” Then they connect these words with the preceding ones, thus: That which was made was life in him, that is, all that was ever created, before it was created, had its life in him.
32. But this is going too far and is a forced interpretation of this passage. For John speaks very simply and plainly, and does not mean to lead us into such hair-splitting, subtle contemplations. I do not know that the Scriptures anywhere speak of created beings in this way. They do say that all things were known, elected, and even ready and living in the sight of God, as though creation bad already taken place, as Christ says of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Luke 20,38: ”He (God) is not the God of the dead, but of the living; for all live unto him.” But we do not find it written in this sense that all things live in him.
33. This passage also implies something more than the life of the creature, which was in him before the world. It signifies in the simplest manner that he is the fountain and cause of life, that all things which live, live by him and through him and in him, and besides him there is no life, as he himself says in John 14, 6: ”I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Again, John 11, 25: ”I am the resurrection and the life.” Consequently John calls him in 1 John 1, 1. ”The Word of Life;” and he speaks especially of the life which man receives by him, that is, eternal life; and it was for this very life that John set out to write his Gospel.
34. This is also apparent from the context For he himself explains the life of which he speaks, when he says: ”And the life was the light of men.” By these words he undoubtedly shows that he speaks of the life and the light Christ gives to man through himself. For this reason also he refers to John the Baptist as a witness of that light. It is therefore evident how John the Baptist preached Christ, not in lofty terms of speculation, as some fable; but he taught in a plain, simple way how Christ is the light and the life of all men for their salvation.
35. Therefore it is well to remember that John wrote his Gospel, as the historians tell us, because Cerinthus, the heretic, arose in his day and taught that Christ did not exist before his mother Mary, thus making a simple human being or creature, of him. In opposition to this heretic he begins his Gospel in an exalted tone and continues thus to the end, so that in almost every letter he preaches the divinity of Christ, which is done by none of the other Evangelists. And so he also purposely introduces Christ as acting strangely towards his mother, and ”Woman, what have I to do with thee?” he said to her in John 2, 4. Was not this a strange, harsh expression for a son to use in addressing his mother? So also on the cross he said: ”Woman, behold thy son,”' John 19,26. All this he does in order to set forth Christ as true God over against Cerinthus; and this he does in language so as not only to meet Cerinthus, but also Arius, Sabellius and all other heretics.
36. We read also that this same pious John saw Cerinthus in a bathing-house and said to his followers: ”Let us flee quickly hence that we be not destroyed with this man.” And after John had come out, the bathing-house is said to have collapsed and destroyed this enemy of the truth. He thus points and directs all his words against the error of Cerinthus, and says: Christ was not only before his mother, nay, he was in the beginning the Word of which Moses writes in the very beginning, and all things were made by him, and he was with God and the Word was God, and was in the beginning with God; and thus he strikes Cerinthus as with thunderbolts.
37. Thus we take the meaning of the Evangelist in this passage to be simply and plainly this: He who does not recognize and believe Christ to be true God, as I have so far described him, that he was the Word in the beginning with God, and that all things were made by him; but wishes to make him only a creature of time, coming after his mother as Cerinthus teaches, is eternally lost, and cannot attain to eternal life; for there is no life without this Word and Son of God; in him alone is life. The man Christ, separate from, and without, God, would be useless, as he says himself in John 6, 55, 63: ”The flesh profiteth nothing. My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” Why does the flesh profit nothing, and yet my flesh is the only true meat? The plain reason is, because I am not mere flesh and simply man, but I am God's son. My flesh is meat not because it is flesh, but because it is my flesh. This is as much as to say: He who believes that I, who am man, and have flesh and blood like other men, am the Son of God, and God, finds in me true nourishment, and will live. But he who believes me to be only man, is not profited by the flesh, for to him it is not my flesh or God's flesh. He also says: ”Ye shall die in your sins, except ye believe that I am he,” John 8, 24. Again: ”If the son shall therefore make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” This is also the meaning of the following passage, ”In him was life.” The Word of God in the beginning, who is himself God, must be our life, meat, light, and salvation. Therefore we cannot attribute to Christ's human nature the power of making us alive, but the life is in the Word, which dwells in the flesh and makes us alive by the flesh.
38. This interpretation is simple and helpful. Thus St. Paul is wont to call the doctrine of the Gospel ”doctrina pietatis,” a doctrine of piety - a doctrine that makes men rich in grace. However, the other interpretation which the heathen also have, namely, that all creatures live in God, does indeed make subtle disputants and is obscure and difficult; but it teaches nothing about grace, nor does it make men rich in grace. Wherefore the Scriptures speak of it as ”idle.” Just as we interpret the words of Christ, when he says: ”I am the life,” so also should we interpret these words, and say nothing philosophically of the life of the creatures in God; but on the contrary, we should consider how God lives in us, and makes us partakers of his life, so that we live through him, of him, and in him. For it can not be denied that through him natural life also exists, which even unbelievers have from him, as St. Paul says: ”In him we live, and move, and have our being; for we are also his offspring.” Acts 17, 28.
39. Yes, natural life is a part of eternal life, its beginning, but on account of death it has an end, because it does not acknowledge and honor him from whom it comes; sin cuts it off so that it must die forever. On the other hand, those who believe in him, and acknowledge him from whom they have -their being, shall never die; but this natural life of theirs will be extended into eternal life, so that they will never taste death, as John says, 8, 51: ”Verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man keep my word, he shall never see death.” And again, John 11, 25: ”He that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live.” These and similar passages are well understood when we rightly learn to know Christ, how he has slain death and has brought us life.
40. But when the Evangelist says: ”In him was life.” and not, ”In him is life,” as though he spoke of things past, the words must not be taken to mean the time before creation, or the time of the beginning; for be does not say: ”In the beginning life was in him,” as he has just before said of the Word, which was in the beginning with God; but these words on earth, when the Word of God appeared to men and among men; for the Evangelist proposes to write about Christ and that life in which he accomplished all things necessary for our life. Just as he says of John the Baptist: ”There came a man, sent from God;” and again: ”He was not the Light, etc.;” even so he afterward speaks of the Word: ”And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us;” ”He was in the world;” ”He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not,” etc. In the same manner does Christ also speak of John the Baptist: ”He was the lamp that burneth and shineth,” John 5, 35.
41. So he says also, here : ”In him was life;” and Christ also says of himself: ”When I am in the world, I am the light of the world,” John 9, 5. The words of the Evangelist therefore simply refer to the sojourn of Christ on earth. For as I said at first, this Gospel is not as difficult as some think; it has been made difficult by their looking for great, mysterious, and mighty things in it. The Evangelist has written it for ordinary Christians, and has made his words perfectly intelligible. For whoever will disregard the life and sojourn of Christ upon earth, and will wish to find him in some other way, as he now sits in heaven, will always fail. He must look for him as he was and as he sojourned on earth and he will then find life. Here Christ was made our life, light and salvation; here all things occurred that we are to believe concerning him. It has really been said in a most befitting manner: ”In him was life,” not, that he is not our life now, but that he does not now do that which he then did.
42. That this is the meaning can be seen from the words of the text when it says: ”John the Baptist came for witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him.” It is sufficiently clear that John came solely to bear witness of Christ, and yet he has said nothing at all of the life of the creatures in God supporting the above philosophical interpretation; but all his teaching and preaching were concerning the life of Christ upon earth, whereby he became the Life and Light of men. Now follows:
43. Just as the word ”life” was interpreted differently from the meaning intended by the Evangelist, so was also the word ”light.” There has been much foolish speculation as to how the Word of God in its divinity could be a light, which naturally shines and has always given light to the minds of men even among the heathen. Therefore the light of reason has been emphasized and based upon this passage of Scripture.
44. These are all human, Platonic, and philosophical thoughts, which lead us away from Christ into ourselves; but the Evangelist wishes to lead us away from ourselves into Christ. For he would not deal with the divine, almighty and eternal Word of God, nor speak of it, otherwise than as flesh and blood, that sojourned upon earth. He would not have us diffuse our thoughts among the creatures which he has created, so as to pursue him, search for him, and speculate about him as the Platonic philosophers do; but he wishes to lead us away from those vague and highflown thoughts and bring us together in Christ. he Evangelist means to say: Why do you make such extensive excursions and search for him so far away? Behold, in the man Christ are all things. He has made all things; in him is life, and he is the Word by whom all things were made. Remain in him and you will find all; he is the life and the light of ail men. Whoever directs you elsewhere, deceives you. For he has offered himself in this flesh and blood, and he must be sought and will be found there. Follow the testimony of John the Baptist; he will show you no other life or light than this man, who is God himself. Therefore this light must mean the true light of grace in Christ, and not the natural light, which also sinners, Jews, heathen, and devils have, who are the greatest enemies of the light.
45. But let no one accuse
me of teaching differently from St. Augustine, who interpreted this text to
mean the natural light. I do not reject that interpretation, and am well aware
that all the light of reason is ignited by the divine light; and as I have said
of the natural life, that it has its origin in, and is a part of, the true
life, when it has come to the right knowledge, so also the light of reason has
its origin in, and is part of, the true light, when it recognizes and honors
him by whom it has been ignited. t however does not do this of itself, but
remains separate and by itself, becomes perverted, and likewise perverts all
things; therefore it must become extinguished and die out. But the light of
grace does not destroy the natural light. To the light of nature it is quite
clear that two and three make five. That the good is to be encouraged and the
evil avoided is also clear to it; and thus the light of grace does not extinguish
the light of nature, but the latter never gets so far as to be able to
distinguish the good from the evil. It is with him as one who wishes to go to
46. But this interpretation is out of place in this connection, because only the light of grace is preached here. St. Augustine was only a man, and we are not compelled to follow his interpretation, since the text here clearly indicates that the Evangelist speaks of the light of which John the Baptist bore witness, which is ever the light of grace, even Christ himself.
47. And since this is an opportunity, we shall further describe this deceptive natural light, which causes so much trouble and misfortune. This natural light is Ike all the other members and powers of man. Who doubts that man with all his powers has been created by the eternal Word of God like all other things, and is a creature of God? But yet there is no good in him, as Moses says, Gen. 6,5: ”Every imagination of the thoughts of man's heart was only evil continually.”
48. Although the flesh was created by God, yet it is not inclined to chastity, but to unchastity. Although the heart was created by God, it is not inclined to humility, nor to the love of one's neighbor, but to pride and selfishness, and it acts according to this inclination, where it is not forcibly restrained. So it is with the natural light; although it is naturally so bright as to know that only good is to be done, it is so perverted that it is never sure as to what is good; it calls good whatever is pleasing to itself, is taken up with it, and only concludes to do what it has selected as good. Thus it continues to pursue the evil instead of the good.
49. We shall prove this by examples. Reason knows very well that we ought to be pious and serve God; of this it knows how to talk, and thinks it can easily beat all the world. Very well, this is true and well said; but when it is to be done, and reason is to show how and in what way we are to be pious and serve God, it knows nothing, is purblind, and says one must fast, pray, sing, and do the works of the law; it continues to act the fool with works, until it has gone so far astray as to imagine that people are serving God in building churches, ringing bells, burning frankincense, whining, singing, wearing hoods, shaving their heads, burning candles, and other innumerable tomfoolery, of which all the world is now full and more than full. In this monstrously blind error reason continues, even while the bright light shines on, that enjoins piety and service to God.
50. When now Christ, the light of grace, comes and also teaches that we are to be pious and serve God, he does not extinguish this natural light, but opposes the way and manner of becoming pious and serving God as taught by reason. He says: To become pious is not to do works; no works are good without faith.
51. Then begins the fight. Reason rises up against grace, and cries out against its light, accuses it of forbidding good works, protests against not having its own way and standard of becoming pious, being thus set aside; but continually rages about being pious and serving God, and so makes the light of grace foolishness, nay error and heresy, and persists in persecuting and banishing it. See, this is the virtue of the light of nature, that it raves against the true light, is constantly boasting of piety, piety, and is always crying ”Good works!” ”Good works!” but it can not and will not stand to be taught what piety is and what good works are; it insists that which it thinks and proposes must be right and good.
52. Behold, here then you have the cause and origin of all idolatry, of all heresy, of all hypocrisy, of all error, of which all the prophets have spoken, on account of which they were killed, and against which all the Scriptures protest. ll this comes from the stubborn, self-willed arrogance and delusion of natural reason, which is self-confident and puffed up because it knows that we ought to be pious, and serve God; it will neither listen to, nor suffer, a teacher to teach them, thinks it knows enough, and would find out for itself what it is to be pious and serve God, and how it may do so. Therefore divine truth cannot and must not submit to reason; for this would be the greatest mistake and be contrary to God's honor and glory. In this way contentions and tribulations arise.
53. Therefore it is clear, I think, that John does not speak here of the false light, nor of that bright natural light, which rightly claims that we must be pious, for it is already here, and Christ did not come to bring it, but to dim and blind this false, selfwilled arrogance, and to set in its place the light of grace, to wit, faith. And this also the words themselves indicate when they say: ”The life was the light of men.” If it is the light of men, it must be a different light from the one that is in men, since man already has the light of nature in him, and whatever enlightens man, enlightens the light of nature in man, and brings another light, which surpasses the light that is in man. e does not say, that it is the light of irrational animals, but of man, who is a rational being. For there is not a man found in whom there is not the natural light of reason, from which cause alone he is called man and is worthy to be a man. If the Evangelist would have us understand by this light the natural light of reason, he would have said: The life was a light of darkness; as Moses writes in Gen. 1, 2: ”And darkness was upon the face of the deep.” Therefore this light must be that which was revealed in Christ on earth.
54. Notice also the order of the words. John puts the Life before the Light. He does not say: ”The light was the life of men;” but on the contrary: ”The life was the light of men;” for the reason that in Christ there is reality and truth, and not simply appearance as in men. St. Luke speaks of Christ's external life thus, 24, 19: ”He was a prophet mighty in deed and word;” and Acts 1, 1: ”Jesus began both to do and teach,” where ”doing” precedes the ”teaching”; for where there is only teaching without doing there is hypocrisy. Thus John says of John the Baptist, ”He was the lamp that burneth and shineth,” John 5, 35; for to be simply shining and not burning is deceptive. In order, therefore, that Christ may here also be recognized as the true, unerring light, John says that all things were life in him, and this same life afterwards was the light of men.
55. It follows then that man has no other light than Christ, God's son in the flesh. And whosoever believes that Christ is true God, and that in him is life, will be illumined and quickened by this life. The light supports him, so that he may remain where Christ is. As the Godhead is an eternal life, this same light is an eternal light; and as this same life can never die so also this light can never be extinguished; and faith in it cannot perish.
56. We may also especially notice that the Evangelist assigns life to Christ, as the eternal Word, and not to Christ the man; for he says: ”In him,” eminently in the Word, ”was the life.” Although Christ died as man, yet he ever remained alive; for life could not and cannot die; and consequently death was overcome and was swallowed up in life, so much so that his humanity soon again became alive. his same Life is the light of men; for he who recognizes and believes in such a life in Christ, indeed passes through death, yet never dies, as has been stated above. For this Light of life protects him, so that death cannot harm him. Although the body must die and decay, the soul will not feel this death, because it is in that light, and through that light, that it is entirely comprehended in the life of Christ. But he who does not believe this, remains in darkness and death; and although his body is united to him, even as it will be forever at the day of judgment, yet the soul will nevertheless taste and feel death, and will die eternally.
57. From this we may realize how great was the harm which Cerinthus threatened, and which all do who believe and teach that Christ is only man and not true God. For his humanity would profit us nothing if the divinity were not in it. Yet, on the other hand, God will not and cannot be found, save through and in his humanity, which he has set up as an ensign for the nations, gathering together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth, Is. 11, 12.
58. See now, if you will believe that in Christ there is such life that remains even in death, and has overcome death, this light will lighten you aright, and will remain a light and life within you even at the time of your death. It follows then that such Life and Light cannot be mere creatures, for no creature can overcome death, either in itself or in another. Behold, how easy and becoming this interpretation of the light is, and how much better it is for our salvation; but how very far they are from it who wish to make of this light only the natural light of reason. For this latter light does not improve any one, nay, it leads only farther away from Christ into creation and to false reason. We must enter into Christ, and not look at the lights which come from him, but gaze at his light, which is the origin of all lights. We must follow the streams which lead to the source and not away from it.
59. This passage has also been interpreted with such lofty ideas, and made to mean that reason has a natural light, as I have just mentioned, and that the same is kindled by God; and yet reason does not recognize, understand, nor feel him, the real Light, by whom it is kindled; therefore it is in darkness, and does not behold the Light from which nevertheless it receives all its vision.
60. 0, that this interpretation, that reason has a natural light, were rooted out of my heart! How deeply it is seated there. Not that it is false or wrong in itself, but because it is out of place and untimely in this Gospel connection, and it will not allow these blessed and comforting words of the Gospel to remain simple and pure in their true meaning. Why do they not thus speak also of the natural life? For even the natural life is surely quickened by the divine life, just as much as the light of reason is kindled by the divine light. hey might just as well say that life quickens the dead and the dead apprehend it not, as to say that the light illumines dark reason and reason apprehends it not. I might also say that the eternal will makes the unwilling willing, and the unwilling do not apprehend it; and in like manner we might speak of all our other natural gifts and powers. But how does reason and its light fall on such speculations? The Platonic philosophers with their useless and senseless prating first led Augustine to his interpretation. The glitter was so fascinating that they were even called the divine philosophers. Augustine then carried us all with him.
61. What more can their talk teach than this, that reason is illumined by God, who is inconceivable and incomprehensible light? Just so life is given by God, who is inconceivable life, and all our powers are made powerful by God, who is inconceivable power. And as he is near to the light of reason with his inconceivable life, and to the powers with his inconceivable power, as St. Paul says, ”In him we live, and move, and have our being”, Acts 17,28. Again, ”Am I a God at hand, saith Jehovah, and not a God afar off? Do not I fill heaven and earth?” Jer. 23, 23. 24. hus we have just heard in the Epistle that ”He upholds all things by the word of his power,” Heb. 1, 3. Therefore he is not only near to the light of reason and illumines it, but he is near also to all creatures, and flows and pours into them, shines and works in them, and fills all things. Accordingly we are not to think that St. John speaks here of the light of reason; he simply sets mankind before him, and tells what kind of light they have in Christ, aside from and above the light of nature.
62. It is also a blind and awkward expression to say of the natural light that the darkness apprehended it not. What else would this be than to say that reason is illumined and kindled by the divine light, and yet, remains in darkness and receives no light? Whence comes this natural light? There can never be darkness where a light is kindled; although there is darkness from the want of the light of grace. But here they are not speaking of the light of grace, and so they can not refer to like or spiritual darkness. Therefore it is a contradiction of terms to say that the light illumined the darkness, and the darkness apprehended it not, or the darkness remained. One might as well say that life is given to a dead person, and the dead person does not apprehend it nor receive it, but remains dead.
63. But if some one should say that we are not able to apprehend him who gives light and life, then I really hear, what angel does apprehend him? What saint apprehends the one who offers him grace? Verily he remains concealed and unapprehended: but this does not mean, as the Evangelist here says, that the Light is not apprehended in darkness; but as the words read, it means: The Light shineth into the darkness, but the darkness remains darkness and is not illuminated; the Light shines upon the darkness, and yet the darkness remains; just as the sun shines upon the blind, and yet they do not perceive it. Behold how many words I must waste in order to remove this foreign and false interpretation of our text!
64. Therefore let us
cling to the simple meaning the words convey when we do no violence to them.
All who are illumined by natural reason apprehend the light, each one being
illumined according to his talent and capacity. But this Light of grace, which
is given to men aside from and above the natural light, shines in darkness,
that is, among men of the world, who are blind and without grace; but they do
not accept it, yea, they even persecute it. This is what Christ means when he
says, John 3, 19: ”And as this is the judgment, that the light is come into the
world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light.” Behold, Christ was
upon earth and among men before he was publicly preached by John the Baptist;
but no one took notice of him. He was the Life and Light of men. He lived and
did shine; yet there was nothing but darkness, and the darkness did not
perceive him. Everybody was worldly blind and benighted. Had they apprehended
who he was, they would have given him due honor, as
65. Thus Christ has always been the Life and Light, even before his birth, from the beginning, and will ever remain so to the end. He shines at all times in all creatures, in the Holy Scriptures, through his saints, prophets, and ministers, in his word and works; and he has never ceased to shine. But in whatever place he has shone, there was great darkness, and the darkness apprehended him not.
66. St. John may have indeed directed these words thus against the followers of Cerinthus, so that they saw the plain Scriptures and the truth that enlightened them, yet they did not apprehend their darkness. So it is at all times, and even now. Although the Scriptures are explained to blind teachers so that they may apprehend the truth, yet they do not apprehend it, and the fact remains that the light shineth in the darkness and the darkness apprehends it not.
67. It is especially to be observed that the Evangelist here says the light shineth, phaenei, that is, it is manifest and present to the eyes in the darkness. But he who receives nothing more from it remains in darkness; just as the sun shines for the blind man, but he does not on that account see any better. So it is the nature of this light that it shines in darkness, but the darkness does not on that account become brighter. In believers, however, it not only shines, but it makes them transparent and seeing, it lives in them, so that it can properly be said that ”The life is the light of men.” On the other hand, light without life is a shining of darkness; therefore no light is of any use to unbelievers, for however clear the truth is presented and shown to them, they still remain in darkness.
68. Let us then understand all these sayings of the Evangelist as common attributes and titles of Christ, which he wishes to have preached in the Church as a preface and introduction of that which he proposes to write of Christ in his whole Gospel, namely, that he is true God and true man, who has created all things, and has been given to man as Life and Light, although but a few of all those to whom he is revealed receive him. This is what our Gospel lesson contains and nothing more. In the same manner St. Paul also composes a preface and introduction to his Epistle to the Romans, Rom. 1, 1. Now follows the actual beginning of this Gospel:
69. St. Mark and St. Luke
also begin their gospels with John the Baptist, and they should begin with him;
as Christ himself says: ”From the days of John the Baptist until now the
kingdom of heaven suffereth violence,” Math. 11, 12. And St. Peter says that
Jesus began from the baptism of John, by whom he was also called and ordained
to be a minister, Acts 1, 22. And
70. For, as we have heard, Christ is everywhere the Light which shines in the darkness and is not apprehended; so he was especially and bodily in his humanity present among the Jews, appeared to them; but he was not recognized by them. Therefore his forerunner, John, came for the sole purpose of preaching him, in order that he might be recognized and received. This passage therefore fittingly follows the former one. Since Christ, the shining Light, was not recognized, John came to open the eyes of men and to bear witness of the ever present, shining light, which afterwards was to be received, heard, and recognized itself without the witness of John.
71. It is my opinion that we have now passed through the most difficult and most glorious part of this Gospel; for what is said henceforth is easy, and is the same as that which the other Evangelists write of John and of Christ. Although, as I have said, this part is in itself not difficult, yet it has been purposely made so by natural and human interpretations. A passage naturally becomes difficult when a word is taken from its ordinary meaning and given a strange one. Who would not wish to know what a man is, and would not imagine all manner of wonderful things, if he were told that a man is something different from what all the world thinks? This is what happened here to the clear, simple words of the Evangelist.
72. Still John uses a peculiar style, since he always, because of Cerinthus, directs the testimony of John the Baptist to the divinity of Christ, which is not done by the other Evangelists, who only refer to Christ, without especially emphasizing his divinity. But here he says, John came to bear witness of the Light, and to preach Christ as the Life, the Light, and as God, as we shall hear.
73. What, therefore, was said about John the Baptist in Advent, is also to be understood here, namely that, like as he came before Christ and directed the people to him, so the spoken word of the Gospel is simply to preach and point out Christ. It was ordained by God for this purpose alone, just as John was sent by God. We have also heard that John was a voice in the wilderness, signifying by his office the oral preaching of the Gospel. Since the darkness was of itself unable to apprehend this Light, although it was present, John must needs reveal it and bear witness of it. And even now the natural reason is not able of itself to apprehend it, although it is present in all the world: the oral word of the Gospel must reveal it and proclaim it.
74. We see now that
through the Gospel this light is brought to us, not from a distance, nor do we
need to go far to obtain it; it is very near us and shines in our hearts;
nothing more is needed than that it be pointed out and preached. And he who now
hears it preached, and believes, finds it in his heart; for as faith is only in
the heart, so also this light is alone in faith. Therefore I say it is near at
hand and within us, but of ourselves we cannot apprehend it; it must be
preached and believed. This is also what
75. Again, as John did
not come of himself, but was sent by God, so neither the Gospel nor any sermon
on this Light can come of itself or from human reason; but they must be sent by
God. Therefore the Evangelist here sets aside all the doctrines of men; for
what men teach will never show Christ, the Light, but will only obstruct it.
But whatsoever points out Christ is surely sent by God, and has not been
invented by man. For this reason the Evangelist mentions the name and says: His
name was John. In Hebrew John means grace or favor, to signify that this
preaching and message was not sent on account of any merit of ours; but was
sent purely out of God's grace and mercy, and brings to us also God's grace and
76. From all this we learn that the Evangelist speaks of Christ in a manner that he may be recognized as God. For if he is the light which is everywhere present and shines in darkness, and it needs nothing more than that it be revealed through the Word, and recognized in the heart through faith, it must surely be God. No creature can to such a degree be so near in all places, and shine in all hearts. And yet the Light is God in a way as to be still man, and be preached in and by man. The words follow:
77. From what has now been said, it is clear that the Gospel proclaims only this Light, the man Christ, and causes the darkness to apprehend it, yet not by reason or feeling, but by faith. For he says: ”That all might believe through him.” Again: ”He came for a witness, that he might bear witness.” The nature of bearing witness is that it speaks of that which others do not see, know, or feel; but they must believe him that bears testimony. So also the Gospel does not demand a decision and assent according to reason, but a faith which is above reason, for in no other way can this light be recognized.
78. It was said plainly enough above, in what way the light of reason is in conflict with and rages against this Light, to say nothing of its being adhered to or apprehended by it. For it is positively written: ”The darkness apprehendeth the light not;” therefore reason with its light must be taken captive and blinded; as is said in Isaiah, 60,19: ”The sun,” that is, thy reason, ”shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee; but Jehovah will be unto thee an everlasting light and thy God thy glory,” that is, through the Gospel or Word of God, or through the witness of John, which demands faith, and makes a fool of reason. Consequently witness is borne of this Light through the Word, that reason may keep silent and follow this testimony; then it will apprehend the Light in faith, and its darkness will be illumined. For if reason were able to apprehend this Light of itself, or adhere to it, there would be no need of John or his testimony.
79. Therefore the aim of the Gospel is to be a witness for reason's sake, which is self-willed, blind and stubborn. The Gospel resists reason and leads it away from its own light and fancy to faith, through which it can apprehend this living and eternal Light.
80. Dearly beloved, why does he say this, and repeat the words that John was only a witness of the Light? 0, what necessary repetition! First of all to show that this Light is not simply a man, but God himself ; for, as I have said, the Evangelist greatly desires to preach the divinity of Christ in all his words. If John, the great Saint, be not that Light, but only a witness of it, then this Light must be something far different from everything that is holy, whether it be man or angel. For if holiness could make such a light, it would have made one of John. But it is above holiness, and must therefore be above the angels, who are not more than holy.
81. In the second place, to resist wicked preachers of man, who do not bear witness of Christ, the Light, but of themselves. For it is true indeed, that all who preach the doctrines of men make man the light, lead men away from God to themselves, and set themselves up in the place of the true Light, as the pope and his followers have done. Therefore he is the Antichrist, that is, he is against Christ, the true Light.
82. This gospel text allows of no other doctrine beside it; it desires only to testify of Christ and lead men to him, who is the Light. Therefore, 0 Lord God, these words, ”He was not the Light,” are truly worthy to be capitalized and to be well remembered against the men who set themselves up as the light and give to men doctrines and laws of their own fabrication. They pretend to enlighten men, but lead them with themselves into the depths of hell; for they do not teach faith, and are not willing to teach it; and no one teaches it except John, who is sent of God, and the holy Gospel. Truly much could be said on this point.
83. In short, he who does not preach the Gospel to you, reject and refuse to hear him. He, however, preaches the Gospel who teaches you to believe and trust in Christ, the eternal Light, and not to build on any of your own works. Therefore beware of everything told you that does not agree with the Gospel; do not put your trust in it, nor accept it as something external, as you regard eating and drinking, which are necessary for your body, and which you may use at your pleasure or at the pleasure of another; but by no means as something necessary to your salvation. For this purpose nothing is necessary or of use to you except this Light.
84. 0, these abominable doctrines of men, which are now so prevalent and which have almost banished this Light! They all wish to be this light themselves, but not to be witnesses of it. They advocate themselves and teach their own fancies, but are silent about this Light, or teach it in a way as to preach themselves along with it. This is worse than to be entirely silent; for by such teaching they make Samaritans who partly worship God and partly worship idols, 2 Kings 17,33.
85. Neither John nor any saint is the Light; but John and all evangelical preachers testify of the true Light. For the present enough has been said of this Light, what it is, how it is recognized by faith, and how it supports us eternally in life and death, so that no darkness can ever harm us. But what is remarkable is, that he says: ”It lighteth every man, coming into the world.” If this be affirmed of the natural light it would be contradicted when he says that it is: ”the true Light.” He had said before: ”The darkness apprehends it not”; and all his words are directed toward the Light of grace. Then follow the words: ”He was in the world, and the world knew him not,” and ”His own received him not.” But he whom the true Light lighteth, is illumined by grace, and recognizes the Light.
86. Again, that he does
not speak of the light of grace is evident when he says: ”It lighteth every
man, coming into the world.” This manifestly includes all men who are born into
87. And I cannot reject
this interpretation; for
88. If this were said of the natural light of reason, it would have little significance, since it not only enlightens all men who come into the world, but also those who go out of the world, and even devils. For this light of reason remains in the dead, in devils, and in the condemned, yea, it becomes brighter, that they may be all the more tormented by it. But since only human beings who come into this world are mentioned, the Evangelist indicates that he is speaking of the Light of faith, which lightens and helps only in this life; for after death no one will be illumined by it. The illuminating must take place in this life through faith in the man Christ, yet by his divinity. After this life we shall clearly see his divinity without the humanity and without faith.
89. Therefore the
Evangelist is careful to form his words so as not by any means to reject the
man Christ, and yet so as to declare his divinity. For this reason it was
necessary for him to say ”all men,” so as to preach only one light for all, and
to warn us not to accept in this life the lights of men or any other lights.
One man is not to lighten another, but this light alone is to lighten all men;
and ministers are to be only forerunners and witnesses of this Light to men,
that all may believe in this Light. Therefore, when he had said: ”Which
lighteth every man,” he realized that he had said too much, and so he added:
”coming into the world,” so that he might make Christ the Light of this world.
For in the world to come this light will cease and will be changed into eternal
90. Behold, you now know of what the Evangelist speaks, when he says that Christ is the Light of men through his humanity, that is, in faith, by means of which his divinity is reflected as by a mirror, or is seen as in a glass or as the sun shines through bright clouds. But let us remember that the Light is attributed to his divinity, not to his humanity; and yet his humanity, which is the cloud or curtain before the Light, must not be thought lightly of.
91. This language is sufficiently plain and he who has faith understands very well what is the nature and character of this Light. It matters not if he who does not believe does not understand it. He is not to understand it, for it is better that he knew nothing of the Bible and did not study it, than that he deceive himself and others with his erroneous light; for he imagines it to be the light of Scripture, which, however, cannot be apprehended without true faith. For this Light shines in the darkness, but is not apprehended by it.
92. This passage may also
mean that the Evangelist has in mind the preaching of the Gospel and of faith
in all the world, and so that this Light shines upon all men throughout the
world, just as the sun shines upon all men.
93. By this easy and simple interpretation we can readily understand how this Light lighteth every man, coming into the world, so that neither Jews nor anyone else should dare to set up their own light anywhere. And this interpretation is well suited to the preceding passages. For even before John or the Gospel bore witness of the Light, it had shone in darkness and the darkness apprehended it not; but after it has been proclaimed and publicly witnessed to, it shines as far as the world extends, unto all men, although all men will not receive it; as follows:
94. All this is said of Christ as man and refers especially to the time after his baptism, when he began to give light according to John's testimony. He was ever in the world. But what place of the world knew it? Who received him? He was not even received by those with whom he was personally associated, as the following shows:
95. This also is said of his coming as a preacher, and not of his being born into the world. For his coming is his preaching and illumining. The Baptist says: ”He it is who coming after me is preferred before me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose,” Math. 3, 11; Luke 3, 16; Mark 1, 7; John 1, 27. On account of this coming John is also called his forerunner, as Gabriel said to his father Zacharias: ”He shall go before his face in the spirit and power of Elijah; to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him,” Luke 1, 17. For, as has been said, the Gospels begin with the baptism of Christ. Then he began to be the Light and to do that for which he came. Therefore it is said that he came into the world to his own people and his own received him not. If this were not said of his coming to give light by preaching, the Evangelist would not thus reprove them for not having received him.
96. Who could know that
it was he, if he had not been revealed? Therefore it is their fault that they
did not receive him; for he came and was revealed by John and by himself.
Therefore John says, ”That he should be made manifest
97. He calls the Jews his own people because they were chosen out of all the world to be his people, and he had been promised to them through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David. For to us heathens or Gentiles there was no promise of Christ. Therefore we are strangers and are not called ”his own”; but through pure grace we have been adopted, and have thus become his people; though, alas, we also allow him to come daily through the Gospel and do not esteem him. Therefore we must also suffer that another, the Pope, comes in his place and is received by us. We must serve the bitter foe because we will not serve our God.
98. But we must not forget in this connection that the Evangelist refers twice to the divinity of Christ. First, when he says: ”The world was made through him.” Secondly, when he says: ”He came unto his own.” For it is the nature only of the true God to have his own people. The Jews were always God's own people as the Scriptures frequently declare. If then they are Christ's own people, be must certainly be that God to whom the Scriptures assign that people.
99. But the Evangelist commends to every thoughtful person for consideration, what a shame and disgrace it is that the world does not recognize its Creator, and that the Jewish people do not receive their God. In what stronger terms can you reprove the world than by saying that it does not know its Creator? What base wickedness and evil report follow from this fact alone! What good can there be where there is nothing but ignorance, darkness and blindness? What wickedness where there is no knowledge of God! 0, woe! What a wicked and frightful thing the world is! The one who knew the world and duly pondered this, would fall the deeper into perdition. He could not be happy in this life, of which such evil things are written.
100. We see now what kind of a Light that is of which the Evangelist has hitherto been speaking. It is Christ, the comforting light of grace, and not the light of nature or reason. For John is an Evangelist and not a Platonist. All who receive the light of nature and reason receive him according to that light; how could they receive him otherwise? Just as they receive the natural life from the divine life. However, that light and that life do not give them any power to become the children of God. Yea, they remain the enemies of this Light, do not know it, nor acknowledge it. Therefore there can be no reference in this Gospel to the light of nature, but only to Christ, that he may be acknowledged as true God.
101. From now on this Gospel is familiar to all, for it speaks of faith in Christ's name, that it makes us God's children. These are excellent words and powerfully refute the teachers of the law, who preach only good works. Good works never bring about a change of heart. Therefore, although the work righteous are ever changing and think they are improving their deeds, in their hearts they remain the same, and their works only become a mantle for their shame and hypocrisy.
102. But, as has often been said, faith changes the person and makes out of an enemy a child, so mysteriously that the external works, walk and conversation remain the same as before, when they are not by nature wicked deeds. Therefore faith brings with it the entire inheritance and highest good of righteousness and salvation, so that these need not be sought in works, as the false teachers of good works would have us believe. For be who is a child of God has already God's inheritance through his sonship. If then faith gives this sonship, it is manifest that good works should be done freely, to the honor of God, since they already possess salvation and the inheritance from God through faith. This has been amply explained heretofore in the sermon on the second Epistle for this day.
103. To explain himself, the Evangelist here tells us what faith does, and that everything is useless without it. Here he not only does not praise nature, light, reason, and whatever is not of faith, but forcibly overthrows each. This sonship is too great and noble to originate from nature or to be required by it.
104. John mentions four different kinds of sonship: one of blood, another of the will of the flesh, a third of the will of man, the fourth of this will of God. It is evident that the sonship of blood is the natural sonship. With this lie refutes the Jews who boasted that they were of the blood of Abraham and the patriarchs, relying on the passages of Scripture in which God promises the blessing and the inheritance of eternal salvation to the seed of Abraham. Therefore they claim to be the only true people and children of God. But here he says, there must be more than mere blood, else there is no sonship of God. For Abraham and the patriarchs received the inheritance, not for blood's sake but for faith's sake, as Paul teaches in Heb. 11, 8. If mere blood-relationship were sufficient for this sonship, then Judas, the betrayer, Caiaphas, Ananias, and all the wicked Jews who in times past were condemned in the wilderness, would have a proper right to this inheritance. For they were all of the blood of the patriarchs. Therefore it is said, they were born, ”not of blood, but of God.”
105. The other two relationships
or sonships, to wit, of the will of the flesh.” and ”of the will of man” I do
not yet sufficiently understand myself. But I see very well that the Evangelist
thereby wishes to reject everything which is of nature and which nature can
accomplish, and that he would retain the birth by God alone. Therefore there is
no danger in whatever manner we explain these two parts and variously attribute
them to nature outside of grace. It is all the same. Some understand the
sonship of the will of the flesh to come not of blood, but through the law of Moses He commanded that the nearest kin to the wife
of a deceased husband marry the widow, and raise a name and heir to the
deceased one, that the name of his friend be not put out of
106. But the Evangelist here calls by the name of flesh man, as he lives in the flesh, which is the common Scriptural designation. Therefore the meaning is: not as men have children outside of their own line of descent, which is carnal and human, and takes place in accordance with man's free will. But what is born in the line of ancestral blood, takes place without the free will, according to nature, whether a man wills it or not.
107. The third kind of sonship mentioned is ”of the will of man.” This is taken to mean the sonship of strangers, commonly called ”adoption,” as when a man chooses and adopts a strange child as his own. Though you were Abraham's or David's real child, or step-child, or you had been adopted, or you were a stranger, it would all be of no benefit to you unless you were born of God. Even Christ's own friends and relatives did not believe in him, as we are told, John 7, 5.
108. But those who wish may explain this relationship as follows: ”Those born of blood” may mean all those who belong to the blood-relationship, whether it be a full or a step-relationship; ”those born of the will of the flesh” may include all those who are not born of blood, or those who have been adopted into the relationship. But ”those who are born of the will of man” are spiritual children of those who are the disciples or followers of a teacher. Thus the Evangelist rejects everything that might be accomplished by blood, flesh, nature, reason, art, doctrine, law, free will, with all their powers, so that no one may presume to help another by means of his own doctrine, work, art, or free will, or be allowed to help any man upon earth to the kingdom of God; he is to reject everything, except the striving after the divine birth. I am also inclined to think that ”man” in the Scriptures usually means a superior, who rules, leads, and teaches others. These are properly and before all others rejected, since no relationship is more stubborn, more insolently presumptuous, and confides more in itself than this, and does most strenuously oppose grace at all times, and persecutes the Lord of grace. In this respect let every one have his opinion, as long as he bears in mind that nothing avails which is not born of God. For if something else would have availed anything, the Evangelist would without doubt have put it side by side with the divine birth, especially as he looks for it so carefully, and would not have exalted only this divine birth.
109. The divine birth is
therefore nothing else than faith. How can this be? It has been explained above
how the light of grace opposes and blinds the light of reason. If now the
Gospel comes and bears witness to the light of grace, that man must not live
and do according to his fancy, but must reject, put away, and destroy the light
of nature, if this man accepts and follows such testimony, gives up his own
light and fancy, is willing to become a fool, allows himself to be led, taught
and enlightened be will be entirely changed, that is, in his natural light. His
old light is extinguished and a new light, to wit, faith is kindled. He follows
this new light in life and in death, clings solely to the witness of John or
the Gospel, even should he be compelled to abandon all he had and could do
before. Behold, he is now born again of God through the Gospel, in which he
remains, and lets go his own light and fancy, as St. Paul says: ”For in Christ
Jesus I begat you through the Gospel,” 1 Cor. 4, 15; again, ”Of his own will he
brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits
of his creatures,” Jas. 1, 18. Therefore St. Peter calls us ”new born babes,” I
Pet. 2, 2. It is for this reason also that the Gospel is called the womb of
God, in which we are conceived, carried and born as a woman conceives, carries
and bears a child in her womb. Isaiah says: ”Hearken
unto me, 0 house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of
110. But this birth properly shows its power in times of temptation and death. There it becomes evident who is born again, and who is not. Then the old light, reason, struggles and wrestles and is loath to leave its fancies and desires, is unwilling to consider and resort to the Gospel, and let go its own light. But those who are born again, or are then being born again, spend their lives in peace and obedience to the Gospel, confide in and cling to the witness of John, and let go, their light, life, property, honor, and all they have. Therefore they come to the eternal inheritance, as real children.
111. But when this light,
reason and man's old conceit are dead, dark, and changed into a new light, then
the life and all powers of man must be changed and be obedient to the new
Light. For where the will goes reason follows, and love and pleasures follow
the will. And so the whole man must be hid in the Gospel, become a new creature
and put off the old Adam, as the serpent puts off its old skin. When the skin
becomes old the serpent seeks a narrow crevice in the rock, crawls through it,
sheds its old skin, and leaves it on the outside.Thus man must resort to the
Gospel and to God's Word, confidently trusting their promises, which never
fail. In this way he puts off the old Adam, sets aside his own light and
conceit, his will, love, desire, speech, and his deeds, and becomes an entirely
new man, who sees everything in a different manner than before, judges differently,
thinks differently, wills differently, speaks and loves and desires
differently, acts and conducts himself differently than he did before. He now
understands whether all the conditions and works of men are right or wrong, as
112. He now sees clearly what great fools they are who pretend to become pious through their good works. He would not give one farthing for all the preachers, monks, popes, bishops, tonsures, cowls, incense, illuminations, burning of candles, singing, organs, prayers, with all their external performances; for he sees how all this is simple idolatry, and foolish dissimulation, just as the Jews prayed to Baal, Astaroth, and the calf in the wilderness, which they looked upon as precious things in the old light of stubborn, self-conceited reason.
113. From this it is evident that no blood, nor relationship, nor command, nor doctrine, nor reason, nor free will, nor good works, nor exemplary living, nor Carthusian orders, nor any religious orders, though they were angelic, are of any use or help to this sonship of God; but they are only a hindrance. For where reason is not first renewed and in agreement with the new birth, it takes offense, becomes hardened and blinded, so that it will scarcely, if ever, be able to be righted; but thinks its doings and ways are right and proper, storming and raving against all who disregard and reject its doings. Therefore the old man remains the enemy of God and of grace, of Christ and of his light, beheads John and destroys his testimony, the Gospel, and sets up his own human doctrines. Thus the game goes on even now, in full splendor and power, in the doings of the pope and his clergy, who together know nothing of this divine birth. They prattle and speak nonsense in their doctrines and commandments of certain good works, with which they hope to attain grace, though still clad in the old Adam.
114. But what is here said remains unchangeable: Not of blood, not of the will of the flesh nor of man, but of God, is this new birth. We must despair of our own will, works, and life, which have been poisoned by the false, stubborn, selfish light of reason; in all things listen to the voice and testimony of the Baptist; believe and obey it. Then the true Light, Christ will enlighten us, renew us, and give us power to become the sons of God. For this reason he came and was made man, as follows:
115. By ”flesh” we understand the whole man, body and soul, according to the Scriptures, which call man ”flesh,” as above, when it is said: ”Not of the will of the flesh”; and in the Creed we say: ”I believe in the resurrection of the body” (German: flesh), that is, of all men. Again Christ says: ”Except those days had been shortened, there would be no flesh saved,” that is, no man, Math. 24, 22. Again: ”He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again,” Ps. 78,39. Again: ”Thou gavest him authority over all flesh, that to all whom thou hast given him, he should give eternal life,” John 17, 2.
116. I speak of this the more fully because this passage has occasioned so much offense on the part of heretics at the time when there were learned and great bishops. Some, as Photinus and Appollinaris, taught that Christ was a man without a soul, and that the divine nature took the place of the soul in him. Manichaeus taught that Christ did not have true, natural flesh, but was only an apparition, passing through his mother, Mary, without assuming her flesh and blood, just as the sun shines through a glass, but does not assume its nature. In opposition to all these the Evangelist uses a comprehensive word, and says: ”He became flesh,'' that is, a man like every other man, who has flesh and blood, body and soul.
117. Thus the Scriptures, one part after another, had to be tried and confirmed, until the time of the Antichrist, who suppressed them not in parts, but in their entirety. For it has been prophesied that at the time of Antichrist all heresy should be united into one parasitic whole and devour the world. This could not have happened at a better time than when the Pope set aside the whole Scriptures, and in their place set up his own law. Therefore bishops are now no more heretics, nor can they become heretics; for they have no part of the book by which heretics are made, to wit, the Gospel. They have piled up all heresy within and among themselves.
118. In times past, heretics, however bad they were, still remained in the Scriptures, and left some parts intact. But what is left since this divine birth and faith are no more acknowledged and preached, and in their stead only human law and works? What matters it, whether Christ is God or not God, whether he was flesh or a mere apparition, whether he had a soul or not, whether he had come before or after his mother, or whether all error and heresy which have ever been, would prevail? We would have no more of him than all those heretics and do not need him. He seems to have become man in vain, and all things written about him seem to be to no purpose, because we have ourselves found a way by which we may by our own works come to the grace of God!
119. Therefore there is no difference between our bishops and all heretics that have ever lived, except this that we name Christ with our mouth and pen, for the sake of appearance. But among ourselves we speak of him, and are as little benefited by him, as though he were one with whom all heretics might play the fool. Thus St. Peter has prophesied and said: ”These shall be false teachers among you, who shall privily bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them.” (2 Peter 2, 1).
120. What does it profit, though Christ be not what the heretics make him, if he is no more to us than to them, and does no more for us? What does it profit to condemn the heretics, and know Christ aright, if we have no different faith in him than they had? I see no reason for the need of Christ, if I am able to attain grace by my works. It is not necessary for him to be God and man. In short all that is written about him is unnecessary; it would be sufficient to preach God alone, as the Jews believe, and then obtain his grace by means of my works. What more would I want? What more would I need?
121. Christ and the Scriptures are not necessary, as long as the doctrine of the pope and his schools exist. Therefore I have said that pope, bishops, and schools are not good enough to be heretics; but they surpass all heretics, and are the dregs of all heresies, errors, and idolatry from the beginning, because they entirely suppress Christ and the Word of God, and only retain their names for appearance's sake. This no idolater, no heretic, no Jew has ever done, not even the Turk with all his violent acts. And although the heathen were without the Scriptures and without Christ before his birth, yet they did not oppose him and the Scriptures, as these do. Therefore they were far better than the Papists.
122. Let us be wise in these times in which Anti-Christ is powerful, and let us cling to the Gospel, which does not teach us that reason is our light, as men teach us, but which presents Christ as indispensable to our salvation, and says: The Word, by which all things were made, is life, and the life is the light of men. Firmly believe that Christ is the Light of men, that without him all is darkness in man, so that he is unable to know what to do or how to act, to say nothing about being able to attain the grace of God by his own works, as the foolish schools with their idol, the Pope, teach and deceive all the world.
123. He came that he might become the Light of men, that is, that he might become known; he showed himself bodily and personally among men and was made man. He is the light on the candle-stick. The lost piece of money did not of itself and with light in hand go after and seek the lighted candle, but the candle with its light sought the piece of money and found it; it has swept the house of this whole world in every nook and corner with its broom; and it continues to seek, sweep and find even until the last day.
124. But that the Word and not the Father was made flesh, and that both are one complete, true God, is a great mystery. Yet faith apprehends it all, and it is proper that reason should not apprehend it; it happened and is written that reason should not apprehend it, but become altogether blind, dazzled and stupefied, changing from its old false light into the new light.
125. Yet this article is not opposed to the light of reason, which says that we must serve God, believe, and be pious, which accords with this article. But if reason is called on to say exactly who this God is, it is startled and says: ”This is not God,” and so makes a God according to its fancy. Therefore when it is informed that this Word is God and that the Father is the same God, it doubts, hesitates and imagines the article to be wrong and untrue, continues in its conceit and fancy, and thinks it knows better what God is and who he is than any one else.
126. Thus the Jews continue in their opinion, and do not doubt at all that God is to be believed and honored; but who this God is, they explain according to their own fancy, claim to be masters themselves, and even make God a liar. See then, thus reason does to all of God's works and words, continues to cry that God's work and Word are to be honored, but claims that it is its privilege and judgment to say what is God's work and Word. It would judge God in all his works and words, but is unwilling to be judged by him. What God is or is not, must be according to its caprice.
127. Consider whether God does not justly express his anger in the Scriptures against such immeasurable wickedness, whether he does not rightly prefer open sinners to such saints. What would you think more vexatious than such wicked presumptuous? I say this that we may recognize the delicious fruit to which the pope and his schools attribute so much, and which of itself and by its own exertions, without Christ, provides the grace of God. They are God's greatest enemies, and would annihilate him, in order that they might be God themselves, and succeed in making men believe that the grace of God is obtained as they prescribe. This surely is real darkness.
128. See, in this way
reason must make idols, and cannot do otherwise; it knows very well how to talk
of God's honor, but goes and bestows the same honor on him whom it fancies to
be God. Such a one is certainly not God, but is reason's fancy and error, of
which the prophets in various ways complained. Nor does it improve the matter,
if any one were to say, as the Jews do: ”Yes, I mean the God who has created
the heavens and the earth; here I cannot be mistaken, and must be right.” In
Isaiah 48, 1 God himself answers: ”Hear ye this, who
swear by the name of Jehovah, and make mention of the God of
129. How is this to be accounted for? It happens thus that he who does not accept God in the particular manner in which God has revealed himself, will profit nothing, if he afterwards accepts God in the manner which he has selected for himself. If Abraham had said that it was neither God nor God's work that commanded him to sacrifice his son Isaac, but would have followed his reason and have said he would not sacrifice his son, but would serve the God who made heaven and earth in some other way, what would it have profited him? He would have lied; for he would in that very thing have rejected the God who created the heavens and the earth, and would have devised another God, under the name of the God who had created the heavens and the earth, and would have despised the true God, who had given him the command.
130. Behold, thus they all lie who say, they mean the true God who created the heavens and the earth, and yet do not accept his work and Word, but exalt their own opinion above God and his Word. If we truly believed in the God who had created heaven and earth, they would also know that the same God is a creator of their imagination, makes, breaks and judges it as he pleases. But as they do not allow him to be a creator of themselves and their fancies even in a small degree, it cannot be true that they believe him to be the creator of all creation.
131. Perhaps you will say: What if I were deceived, and he were not God? I answer: Do not worry, dear soul; a heart that does not trust in its own fancy God will not allow to be deceived; for it is not possible that he should not enter such a heart and dwell there. Mary says: ”He hath filled the hungry with good things,” Luke 1, 53. The Psalmist says: ”He satisfieth the longing soul,” Ps. 107, 9. But if any is deceived it is certain that he trusted in his own fancy, either secretly or openly. Therefore a hungry soul always stands in fear in those things that are uncertain, whether they be of God. But selfconceited persons are immediately taken with them, thinking it sufficient if the things glitter and take their fancy. Again what is certain to be of God, the simple accept at once, but the arrogant persecute it.
132. Now there is no surer sign of a thing of God than that it is against or beyond our fancy. Likewise the arrogant think, there is no surer sign that a thing is not of God than that it is against their fancy. For they are makers and masters of God, and so make those things God and of God which accord with their fancy. Therefore all those who depend upon themselves must be deceived, and all those who are simpleminded, and not preoccupied with themselves, are safe; they are they who keep the true Sabbath. Where this fancy goes so far as to employ the Word of God in defense of its arrogance and to apply the Scriptures according to its own light, there is neither hope nor help. Such people think the Word of God on their side, and they must safeguard it. This is the last fall, and is the real mischief of Lucifer, of whom Solomon speaks: ”A righteous man falleth seven times, and riseth up again; but the wicked are overthrown by calamity.” Prov. 24,16.
133. Of this there is now
enough; let us come back again to the Gospel. John says: ”And the Word became
flesh, and dwelt among us;” that is, he lived among men upon earth, as other
men do. Even though he was God, he became a citizen of
134. Now this ”likeness” and ”dwelling” of Christ must not be understood of his human nature, in which he has been made like unto men. But these words must be understood as referring to his external being and mode of living such as eating, drinking, sleeping, walking, working, resting, hearth and home, walking, and standing, and all human conduct and deportment, by which no one could recognize him as God, had he not been so proclaimed by John in the Gospel.
135. He says further: ”We behold his glory,” that is, his divinity through his miracles and teachings. The word ”glory” we have heard before in the Epistle, where it was said of Christ, that Christ is the ”brightness of the Father's glory,” which means his divinity. Our word ”glory” comes from the Latin ”gloria.” The corresponding word in Hebrew is ”Cabod” and the Greek word is ”Doxa.” Thus we speak of a ruler or a great man having achieved an accomplishment with great glory, and that everything passed off gloriously, when it has passed off well, successfully, and bravely. Glory does not only mean a great repute, or far-famed honor, but it means also the things which give occasion for the fame, such as costly houses, vessels, clothes, servants, and the like, as Christ says of Solomon: ”Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these,” Math. 6, 28-29. In the book of Esther we read: ”King Ahasuerus made a great feast . . . . when he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom,” 1, 3-4. Thus we say: This is a glorious thing, a glorious manner, a glorious deed, ”gloriosa res”. This is also what the Evangelist means when he says: ”We have seen his glory,” to wit, his glorious being and deeds, which are not an insignificant, common glory, but the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.
136. Here he expresses who the Word is, of whom he and Moses have been speaking, namely, the only begotten Son of God, who has all the glory of the Father. He calls him the only begotten, so as to distinguish him from all the children of God, who are not natural children as this one is. With these words is shown his true divinity; for if he were not God, he could not in preference to others be called the only begotten Son, which is to say that he and no other is the Son of God. This can not be said of angels and pious men. For not one of them is the Son of God, but are all brethren and creatures of a like creation, children elected by grace, and not children born out of God's nature.
137. But the expression, ”We beheld his glory”, does not refer only to bodily sight; for the Jews also saw his glory, but did not regard it as the glory of the only begotten Son of God: it refers to the sight of the faithful, who believe it in their hearts. Unbelievers, who beheld only the worldly glory, did not notice this divine glory. Nor can these two tolerate each other. He that would be glorious before the world for God's sake, will be glorious before God.
138. These two words are commonly used together in the Scriptures. ”Grace” means that whatsoever Christ does is ever pleasing and right. Furthermore, in man there is only disfavor and guile; all that he does is displeasing to God. In fact, he is fundamentally untrue and puts on a vain show, as the Psalmist says: ”All men are liars”, 116, 11. And again: ”Surely every man at his best estate is altogether vanity.” Ps. 39, 5.
139. This passage is opposed to the presumptuous Papists and Pelagians, who find something outside of Christ, which they claim is good and true; and yet in Christ alone is grace and truth. It is indeed true, as has been said above, that there are some things outside of Christ which are true and pleasing, as the natural light, which teaches that three and two are five, that God should be honored, and the like. But this light never accomplishes its end; for as soon as reason is to act, and make use of its light, and exercise it, it confuses everything, calls that which is good bad, and that which is bad good; calls that the honor of God which is his dishonor, and vice versa. Therefore man is only a liar and vain, and unable to make use of this natural light except against God, as we have already said.
140. It is unnecessary to look for the armor in this Gospel; it is all armor and the chief part, upon which is founded the article of faith that Christ is true God and true man, and that without Grace, nature, free will, and works are nothing but deception, sin, error and heresy in spite of Papists and Pelagians.
Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the
people. Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the
synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of
Cilicia and of
When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
1. It is necessary to the
understanding of this epistle lesson to introduce something of what is omitted
and to present in connection with the narrative the things which gave rise to
it. The dispute arose from Stephen’s assertion that whatsoever proceeds not
from faith does not profit, and that men cannot serve God by the erection of
churches, or by works independent of faith in Jesus Christ. Faith alone renders
us godly; faith alone builds the
2. Stephen, however, opposes them by citing Isaiah 66:1-2: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: what manner of house will ye build unto me? and what place shall be my rest? For all these things hath my hand made, and so all these things came to be, saith Jehovah.” This statement is clear and forcible beyond gainsaying. It shows God does not dwell in houses made with hands, for the essential elements of these are, in the first place, of his own creating and belong to him. Further, if heaven nor earth can contain him – and he here asserts that heaven is not his house but his throne, and the earth not his habitation but his footstool – how can he be expected to dwell in a house made by men? Solomon speaks to the same purpose in 1 Kings 8:27, referring to the house he has himself built.
3. Defeated by the power of this passage from Isaiah, and similar citations they could not gainsay, the Jews proceeded to misconstrue Stephen’s words, making out that he declared Jesus would destroy the temple and change the customs of Moses. Yet Stephen had no intention of giving such impression. He simply asserted that we are saved not by the Law or the temple, but by faith in Jesus Christ; and that having faith we may rightly observe the Law, whether there be temple or not. Stephen’s purpose was merely to remove the Jews’ false confidence in their own works and in the temple.
4. Similar to them, the Papists of today, when they hear it claimed that works are not effectual and that faith in Christ must precede and must be of sole efficacy, cry out that good works are prohibited, and God’s commandments blasphemed. Were Stephen a preacher of today he might not, it is true, be stoned, but he would be burned, or dismembered with tongs, by the enraged Papists.
5. Stephen replies to the false accusation of the Jews. Beginning with Abraham, he goes on through the Scriptures, showing how, previous to the time of Solomon who built a house for God, neither Abraham nor any other of the patriarchs ever built a house for his service, but they were not for that reason the less regarded of God. Then Stephen adds the quotation from Isaiah. He says: “But Solomon built him a house. Howbeit the Most High dwelleth not in houses made with hands; as saith the prophet, The heaven is my throne, and the earth the footstool of my feet: what manner of house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?”
6. After these words he rebukes them, saying: “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? and they killed them that showed before of the coming of the Righteous One; of whom ye have now become betrayers and murderers; ye who received the law as it was ordained by angels, and kept it not.”
7. Now follows the latter part of our lesson, beginning, “Now when they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.” Evidently, then, the dispute was in regard to faith and good works. But how is it with the Papists, who have not the least semblance of grounds for their position other than their own human laws and doctrines? If they could produce for themselves a shadow of support such as the Jews had in adducing that God gave the law of Moses and chose the temple at Jerusalem, they would instantly raise a cry of, “By divine right” (de jure divino), as in fact did their forefathers the Jews.
8. This epistle text seems to be not at all difficult; it is plain. It presents in Stephen an example of the faith of Christ. Little comment is necessary. We shall examine it briefly. The first principle it teaches is, we cannot secure the favor of God by erecting churches and other institutions. Stephen makes this fact plain in his citation from Isaiah.
9. But if we are to take this position and maintain it, we must incur the same risk Stephen did. Such position calls for the doing away with the bulls of the Pope, with innumerable indulgences, laws of the ecclesiasts and incessant preaching about churches, altars, institutions, cloisters, chalices, bells, tables, candles and apparel. Thus would the holiness of the Pope and his adherents be offended, and not without reason. For in consequence, luxuries of kitchen and cellar would be diminished, and all temporal possessions as well. In course of time idleness, voluptuousness and ease would have to give place to labor, poverty and unrest. The clerical order would be obliged to! study and pray, or support themselves like other people do. Such a course would not be agreeable to them. The holy Christian Church would be despised, as were Christ and the apostles. Her officials could no longer live in royal pomp, waging war, plundering, and shedding blood, all under the pretext of honoring God and exalting the holy Church. For this have the most holy fathers in God done, and still do.
10. We must not, however, be led to conclude it is wrong to build and endow churches. But it is wrong to go to the extreme of forfeiting faith and love in the effort, presuming thereby to do good works meriting God’s favor. It results in abuses precluding all moderation. Every nook and corner is filled with churches and cloisters, regardless of the object of church-building.
11. There is no other reason for building churches than to afford a place where Christians may assemble to pray, to hear the Gospel and to receive the sacraments; if indeed there is a reason. When churches cease to be used for these purposes they should be pulled down, as other buildings are when no longer of use. As it is now, the desire of every individual in the world is to establish his own chapel or altar, even his own mass, with a view of securing salvation, of purchasing heaven.
12. Is it not a miserable, a
deplorable, error and delusion to teach innocent people to depend on their
works to the great disparagement of their Christian faith? Better to destroy
all the churches and cathedrals in the world, to burn them to ashes – it is
less sinful even when done through ma-lice-than to allow one soul to be misled
and lost by such error. God has given no special command in regard to the
building of churches, but he has issued his commands in reference to our souls
– his real and peculiar churches. Paul says concerning them (
1 Corinthians 3:16-17): “Ye are a temple [church] of God If any man
13. But observe the holiness of the
Papists. The foundation of every soul is disturbed by their error, and the real
14. Especially is there
justification for so doing because of the worthless reason the Papists assign
for building churches. Christ preached for over three years, but only three
days in the temple at
15. But it must be that costly
buildings with magnificent arches are required for the false preachers and
diabolical teachers of today, though the Word of God could find in all
16. You see now some reason why lightning strikes the costly Papist churches more frequently than it does other buildings. Apparently the wrath of God especially rests upon them because there greater sins are committed, more blasphemies uttered and greater destruction of souls and of churches wrought than take place in brothels and in thieves’ dens. The keeper of a public brothel is less a sinner than the preacher who does not deliver the true Gospel, and the brothel is not so bad as the false preacher’s Church. Even were the proprietor of the brothel daily to prostitute virgins, godly wives and nuns, awful and abominable as such action would be, he would not be any worse nor would he work more harm than those papistical preachers.
17. Does this astonish you?
Remember, the false preacher’s doctrine effects nothing but daily to lead
astray and to violate souls newly born in baptism – young Christians, tender souls,
the pure, consecrated virgin brides of Christ. Since the evil is wrought
spiritually, not bodily, no one observes it; but God is beyond measure
displeased. In his wrath he cries, through the prophets, in unmistakable terms,
Thou harlot who invitest every passer-by! So little can God tolerate false preaching. Jeremiah in his prayer (
Lamentations 5:11) makes this complaint, “They ravished the women in
18. The false doctrines and works of the Papists are destructive not only of faith, but also of Christian love. The fool may always be known by his cap. Many a man passes by his poor neighbor who has a sick child or wife, or is otherwise in need of assistance, and makes no effort to minister to him, but instead contributes to endow some church. Or else while health remains he endeavors to heap up treasures, and when he comes at last to his deathbed makes a will bequeathing his estate to some certain institution. He will be surrounded by priests and monks. They will extol his act, absolve the religious man, administer the Sacrament and bury him with honors. They will proclaim his name from the pulpit and during mass, and will cry: “Here is worthy conduct indeed! The man has made ample provision for his soul. Many blessings will hereafter be conferred upon him.” Yes, hereafter but, alas, eternally too late.
19. But no one while he is living warns of the man’s sins in not administering to the wants of his neighbor when it lies in his power to relieve; in passing him by, and ignoring him as the rich man did Lazarus in the Gospel. And he does not himself recognize his sins. Hence they must remain unconfessed, unrepented of and unabsolved, however many bulls, indulgences and spiritual fathers may have served. This neglect is the very sin concerning which Christ on the day of judgment will say: “I was... naked, and ye clothed me not.” Matthew 25:43. The religious one will then reply, “I heaped up treasures to establish an institution for thee, in obedience to the Pope’s decree, and hence he has absolved me from all my sins.” What can individuals such as he expect to hear but the sentence: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire”? For by their works they destroy the Christian faith, and for the sake of mere wood and stone despise Christian love.
20. Let us, therefore, beloved friends, be wise; wisdom is essential. Let us truly learn we are saved through faith in Christ and that alone. This fact has been made sufficiently manifest. Then let no one rely upon his own works. Let us in our lifetime engage only in such works as shall profit our neighbors, being indifferent to testament and institution, and direct our efforts to bettering the full course of our neighbors’ lives.
21. It is related of a pious woman, St. Elizabeth, that once upon entering a cloister and seeing on the wall a fine painting portraying the sufferings of our Lord, she exclaimed: “The cost of this painting should have been saved for the sustenance of the body; the sufferings of Christ are to be painted on your hearts.” How forcibly this godly utterance is directed against the things generally regarded precious! Were St. Elizabeth so to speak today, the Papists assuredly would burn her for blaspheming against the sufferings of Christ and for condemning good works. She would be denounced as a heretic, though her merits were to surpass the combined merits of ten saints.
22. Stephen not only rejects the conceptions of the Jews in regard to churches and their erection, but also denounces all their works, saying they have received the Law by the disposition of angels and have not kept it. So the Jews in return reprove Stephen as if he had spoken against the temple and, further, blasphemed the law of Moses and would teach strange works. True, Stephen could not rightly have charged them with failure to observe the Law, so far as external works are considered. For they were circumcised, and observed the rules in regard to meats, apparel and festivals, and all Moses’ commands. It was their consciousness of having observed the Law that led them to stone him.
23. But Stephen’s words were prompted by the same spirit that moved Paul when he said ( Romans 3:20ff) that by the deeds of the Law no one is justified in the sight of God, faith alone being the justifier. Where the Holy Spirit is not present to grant grace, man’s heart cannot favor the Law of God; it would prefer the Law did not exist. Every individual is conscious of his own apathy and disinclination toward what is good, and of his readiness to do evil. As Moses says ( Genesis 8:21), “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Man, then, being unwilling, he has no real delight in doing the works of the Law. Lacking right motive, he is constrained to works through fear of punishment, of shame and hell, or else through gainful motive and hope of salvation; not through love of God and desire to honor him. All works so wrought are sheer hypocrisy, and in God’s sight are not good. But the Holy Spirit is promised to the believer in Christ, and through Christ’s grace the Spirit produces in the heart a desire for good. Under its influence the individual voluntarily and without expectation of reward performs his good works for the honor of God. Through faith and the Spirit he is already justified and in a saved condition, a state he could never have attained by any works. In accordance with this principle, we may readily conclude that all who lack faith and grace fail to observe the Law, even though they torture themselves to death with its requirements.
24. When Stephen declares the Jews always resist the Holy Spirit, he means to imply that through their works they become presumptuous, are not inclined to accept the Spirit’s aid and are unwilling their works be rejected as ineffectual. Ever working and working to satisfy the demands of the Law, but without fulfilling its least requirement, they remain hypocrites to the end. Unwilling to embrace the faith whereby they would be able to accomplish good works, and the grace of the Spirit that would create a love for the Law, they make impossible the free, spontaneous observance of it. But the voluntary observer of the Law, and no other, God accepts.
25. Stephen calls the Jews “stiff necked, uncircumcised in heart and ears” because they refuse to listen and understand. They continually cry, “Good works, good works! Law, Law!” though not effecting the least thing themselves. Just so do our Papists. As their forefathers did, so do the descendants, the mass of this generation; they persecute the righteous and boast it is done for the sake of God and his Law. Now we have the substance of this lesson. But let us examine it a little further.
26. First, we see in Stephen’s conduct love toward God and man. He manifests his love to God by earnestly and severely censuring the Jews, calling them betrayers, murderers and transgressors of the whole Law, yes stiffnecked, and saying they resist the fulfillment of the Law and resist also the Holy Spirit himself. More than that, he calls them “uncircumcised in heart and ears.” How could he have censured them any more severely? So completely does he strip them of every creditable thing, it would seem as if he were moved by impatience and wrath.
27. But who today would the world tolerate were he to attempt such censure of the Papists? Stephen’s love for God constrained him to his act. No one who possesses the same degree of love can be silent and calmly permit the rejection of God’s commandments. He cannot dissemble. He must censure and rebuke every opposer of God. Such conduct he cannot permit even if he risks his life to rebuke it. Love of this kind the Scriptures term “zelum Dei,” a holy indignation. For rejection of God’s commands is a slight upon his love and intolerably disparages the honor and obedience due him, honor and obedience which the zealous individual ardently seeks to promote. We have an instance of such a one in the prophet Elijah, who was remarkable for his holy indignation against the false prophets.
28. We must infer from Stephen’s example that he who silently ignores the transgression of God’s commands, or any sin, has no love for him. Then how is it with the hypocrites who applaud transgression? and with calumniators and those who laugh and eagerly listen to and speak about the faults of others?
29. That the Pope in his absurd laws
enjoins the Papists against censuring governors, is
not sufficient reason for any man to refrain from administering proper reproof.
Whom does Stephen censure here? Is it not the governors of
30. Similarly do the Pope, the bishops and all the Papists deserve public censure as stiff necked and uncircumcised hypocrites, resisting the Holy Spirit and dishonoring all God’s commandments, betraying and murdering Christian souls; thereby being betrayers and murderers of the Christ who bought them with his own blood.
31. We have just had occasion to state that Stephen was a layman, an ordinary Christian, not a priest. But the Papists sing his praises as a Levite, who read the epistle or the Gospel lesson at the altar. The Papists, however, pervert the truth entirely. It is necessary for us, therefore, to know what Luke says in Acts 4 and 5. He tells how the Christians in the inception of the Church, at Jerusalem, made all their possessions common property and the apostles distributed to each member of the congregation as he needed, But, as it happened, the widows of the Grecian Jews were not provided for as were the Hebrew widows; hence arose complaint. The apostles, seeing how the duty of providing for these things would be so burdensome as to interfere in a measure with their duties of praying and preaching, assembled the multitude of the disciples and said: “It is not fit that we should forsake the Word of God, and serve tables. Look ye out therefore, brethren, from among you seven men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will continue steadfastly in prayer, and in the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:2-4. So Stephen, in connection with six others, was chosen to distribute the goods. Thence comes the word “deacon,” servant or minister. For these men served the congregation, ministering to their temporal wants.
32. Plainly, then, Stephen was a steward, or an administrator and guardian of the temporal goods of the Christians his duty was to administer them to those in need. In course of time his office was perverted into that of a priest who reads the epistle and Gospel lessons. The only trace left of Stephen’s office is the slight resemblance found in the duty of the nuns’ provosts, and in that of the administrators of hospitals and of the guardians of the poor. The readers of the epistle and Gospel selections should be, not the consecrated, the shorn, the bearers of dalmatics and brushers of flies at the altar, but ordinary godly laymen who keep a record of the needy and have charge of the common fund for distribution as necessity requires. Such was the actual office of Stephen. He never dreamed of reading epistles and Gospels, or of bald pates and dalmatics. Those are all human devices.
33. As to the question that may arise whether an ordinary layman may be allowed to preach: Though Stephen was not appointed to preach – the apostles, as stated, reserved that office to themselves – but to perform the duties of a steward, yet when he went to the market-place and mingled among the people, he immediately created a stir by performing signs and wonders, as the epistle says, and he even censured the rulers. Had the Pope and his followers been present, they certainly would have inquired as to his credentials – his Church passport and his ecclesiastical character; and had he been lacking a bald pate and a prayer-book, undoubtedly he would have been committed to the flames as a heretic since he was not a priest nor a clergyman. These titles, which the Scriptures accord all Christians, the Papists have appropriated to themselves alone, terming all other men “the laity,” and themselves “the Church,” as if the laity were not a part of the Church. At the same time these people of boasted refinement and nobility do not in a single instance fill the office or do the work of a priest, of a clergyman or of the Church. They but dupe the world with their human devices.
34. The precedent of Stephen holds good. His example gives all men authority to preach wherever they can find hearers, whether it be in a building or at the market-place. He does not confine the preaching of God’s Word to bald pates and long gowns. At the same time he does not interfere with the preaching of the apostles. He attends to the duties of his own office and is readily silent where it is the place of the apostles to preach. True, order must be observed. All cannot speak at once. Paul writes in the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians ( 1 Corinthians 14) that one or two are to be permitted to speak, and that if a revelation be made to a listener the speaker is to keep silence. That such was the practice of the apostles is evident from Acts 15, where we read how, after the discourses of certain Pharisees, Peter preached, and when he ceased Barnabas and Paul followed, and lastly James. Each spoke in his turn. To a very slight extent the custom still exists in the debates of colleges, but at present sermons are only idle talk about Dietrich of Bern or some dream of the speaker.
35. A sermon proper should be conducted as a dissertation upon any subject at the social board. Christ, therefore, instituted the Holy Supper as an occasion where we might treat of his Word as we sit at table. But now all is perverted and divine order is superseded by arrangements merely human. But let this suffice on this point.
36. In the second place, Stephen’s conduct is a beautiful example of love for fellowmen in that he entertains no ill-will toward even his murderers. However severely he rebukes them in his zeal for the honor of God, such is the kindly feeling he has for them that in the very agonies of death, having made provision for himself by commending his Spirit to God, he has no further thought about himself but is all concern for them. Under the influence of that love he yields up his spirit. Not undesignedly does Luke place Stephen’s prayer for his murderers at the close of the narrative. Note also, when praying for himself and commending his spirit to God he stood, but he knelt to pray for his murderers. Further, he cried with a loud voice as he prayed for them, which he did not do for himself.
37. How much more fervently he
prayed for his enemies than for himself! How his heart must have burned, his
eyes have overflowed and his entire body been agitated and moved with
compassion as he beheld the wretchedness of his enemies! It is the opinion of
38. Stephen aptly chooses his words, saying, “Lay not this sin to their charge;” that is, make not their sin unremovable, like a pillar or a foundation. By these words Stephen makes confession, repents and renders satisfaction for sin, in behalf of his murderers. His words imply: “Beloved Lord, truly they commit a sin, a wrong. This cannot be denied.” Just as it is customary in repentance and confession simply to deplore and confess the guilt. Stephen then prays, offering himself up that abundant satisfaction may surely be made for sin.
39. Note how great an enemy and at the same time how great a friend true love can be; how severe its censures and how sweet its aid. It is like a nut with a hard shell and a sweet kernel. Bitter to our old Adam nature, it is exceedingly sweet to the new man in us.
40. This epistle lesson, by the example given, inculcates the forcible doctrine of faith and love; and more, it affords comfort and encouragement. It not only teaches; it incites and impels. Death, the terror of the world, it styles a sleep; Luke says, “He fell asleep.” That is, Stephen’s death was quiet and painless; he departed as one goes to sleep, unknowing how – unconsciously falls asleep.
41. The theory that the Christian’s death is a sleep, a peaceful passing, has safe foundation in the declaration of the Spirit. The Spirit will not deceive us. Christ’s grace and power make death peaceful. Its bitterness is far re. moved by Christ’s death when we believe in him. He says ( John 8:51), “If a man keep my word, he shall never see death.” Why shall he not see it? Because the soul, embraced in his living Word and filled with that life, cannot be sensible of death. The Word lives and knows no death; so the soul which believes in that Word and lives in it, likewise does not taste death. This is why Christ’s words are called words of life. They are the words of life; he who hangs upon them, who believes in them, must live.
42. Comfort and encouragement are further increased by Stephen’s assertion, “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” Here we see how faithfully and lovingly Christ watches over us, and how ready he is to aid us if we but believe in him and will cheerfully risk our lives for his sake. The vision was not given solely on Stephen’s account; it was not recorded for his profit. It was for our consolation, to remove all doubt of our privilege to enjoy the same happy results, provided we conduct ourselves as Stephen did.
43. The fact that the heavens are open affords us the greatest comfort and removes all terror of death. What should not stand open and ready for us when the heavens, the supreme work of creation, are waiting wide for us and rejoicing at our approach? It may be your desire to see them visibly open to you. But were everyone to behold, where would faith be? That the vision was once given to man is enough for the comfort of all Christians, for the comfort and strengthening of their faith and for the removal of all death’s terrors. For as we believe, so shall we experience, even though we see not physically.
44. Would not the angels, yes all creatures, lend willing assistance when the Lord himself stands ready to help? Remarkably, Stephen saw not an angel, not God himself, but the man Christ, he who most delights humanity and who affords man the strongest comfort. Man, especially when in distress, welcomes the sight of another man in preference to that of angels or other creatures.
45. Our artful teachers who would
measure the works of God by their own reason, or the seas with a spoon, ask: “How could Stephen look into the heavens when our
vision cannot discern a bird when it soars a little high? How could he see
Christ distinctly enough to recognize him for a certainty? A man upon a high
steeple appears to us a child, and we cannot recognize his person.” They
attempt to settle the question by declaring Stephen’s vision must have been
supernaturally quickened, permitting him to see clearly into infinite space. But
suppose Stephen had been under a roof or within a vault? Away with such human
nonsense! Paul when near
46. When God desires to reveal himself, heaven and everything else requisite are near. It matters not whether Stephen were beneath a roof or in the open air, heaven was near to him. Abnormal vision was not necessary. God is everywhere; there is no need that he come down from heaven. A vision, at close range, of God actually in heaven is easily possible without the quickening or perverting of the senses.
47. It matters not whether or no we fully comprehend how such a vision is effected. It is not intended that the wonders of God be brought within our grasp; they are manifested to induce in us belief and confidence. Explain to me, ye of boasted wisdom, how the comparatively large apple or pear or cherry can be grown through the tiny stem; or even explain less mysterious things. But permit God to work; believe in his wonders and do not presume to bring him within your comprehension.
48. Who can number the virtues
illustrated in Stephen’s example? There loom up all the fruits of the Spirit.
We find love, faith, patience, benevolence, peace, meekness, wisdom, truth,
simplicity, strength, consolation, philanthropy. We see there also hatred and
censure for all forms of evil. We note a disposition not to
value worldly advantage nor to dread the terrors of death.
49. True faith is a strong, active and efficacious principle. Nothing is impossible to it. It rests not nor hesitates. Stephen, because of the superior activity of his faith, performed not merely ordinary works, but wrought wonders and signs publicly – great wonders and signs, as Luke says. This is written for a sign that the inactive individual lacks in faith, and has no right to boast of having it. Not undesignedly is the word “faith” placed before the word “power.” The intention was to show that works are evidence of faith, and that without faith nothing good can be accomplished. Faith must be primary in every act. To this end may God assist us. Amen.
The teaching concerning reason and our natural light; four questions; and the teaching concerning faith.
Therefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: some of them shall ye kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of Abel the righteous unto the blood of Zachariah son of Barachiah, whom ye slew between the sanctuary and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. 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! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, ye ,hall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
1. This Gospel is severe against the persecutors of faith. Yet, the severer it is against them, the more comforting it is to the believers who are persecuted. It teaches how obstinate the natural light, our own fancy and reason is; for when it falls into works and commands, it no longer listens to any one, as is set forth in the following Gospel. But the work and fancy of reason claim to be in the right, and it does not matter how much is preached, how many prophets God sends to her; all must be persecuted and put to death, that oppose the great red murderess, as she is pictured in Revelation of St. John 17:4. Here she is called Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots, arrayed in purple and scarlet, sitting upon a beast, that was also red, and having in her hand a golden cup full of the abominations and the unclean things of her fornications, that is, the teachings of men, by which she leads pure believing souls from faith and puts them to shame and strangles every one that tries to restrain her.
2. Such stiff-necked murderous obstinacy is set forth in this Gospel; first, in that God tries to convert her in every way possible, sends to her all kinds of preachers, who are mentioned by three names; prophets, wise men, and scribes.
3. The prophets are those who preach, being moved only by the Holy Spirit, who have not taken their sermon from the Scriptures or from human reason, as were Moses and Amos. And these men are the highest and the best, they are wise, and they make others wise, write Scriptures, and explain them. Such were nearly all the fathers before and at the time of Moses, and also many after him, especially the apostles, who were laymen and common uneducated people, as Luke says in Acts 4:13: They were unlearned in the Scriptures.
4. The wise men are those who have received their message not only from God but also through the Scriptures and of men, and they are the disciples and followers of the prophets, but they themselves also preach and teach with their mouth and in living words. Such an one was Aaron, who spoke everything that Moses told him as we read in Exodus 4:15-16, that God says to Moses: “Thou shalt put my words in his mouth; and he shall be thy spokesman unto the people, and thou shall be to him as God.” So also all the priests are to be wise men, as we read in the eleventh chapter of Zechariah.
5. The writers or scribes are those who teach by means of writings and books, when they cannot teach in person or by the word of their mouth. Such men were also the apostles, and before them the Evangelists and their followers, and also the holy fathers; however, they do not write about or. treat of their own imaginations, but of God’s Word, which they have learned from the wise men and out of the Scriptures. These now are the three ways by which the truth may be revealed: by writing, by word, by thought; by the writing in books, by the words of their mouth, by thoughts of the heart. One can not in any other way grasp instruction save with the heart, the mouth, and writings.
6. Now all this is of no avail with obstinate reason; she listens neither to words, writings, nor to enlightenment, with which God tries to convert her. The writings and books she suppresses and burns as the King Jehudi did with the books of Jeremiah, Jeremiah 36:23. Reason forbids, silences and condemns words; enlightenment she banishes and slays together with the prophets. And it is remarkable that no prophet has been slain, banished, or persecuted, because he reproved the coarse sins of the people except John the Baptist, whom Herodias permitted to be put to death, because he had reproved the sin of her adultery. Such a great man had to die for the most disgraceful reason. Still the Jews also did not hate him because of this one fact, but because he had reproved their sins also, and therefore they said that he had a devil.
7. In like manner there has ever been numberless disputes about true and false worship. Abel was slain by Cain in order that his worship might not be acknowledged by God. In like manner have all the prophets, the wise and the educated, reproved that worship of God as idolatry, which springs from reason and human works, being without any faith; natural reason came and said that this worship was done for the honor of God and was right. Therefore the prophets had to die as such who prohibited and reproved the service and honor of God and good works; as Christ says in John 16:2, “Yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you shall think that he offereth service unto God.” In like manner all the idolatry of the Old Testament was started by them not because they wished to bow down to wood and stones, but because they thereby wished to worship the true God. Since, however, God had forbidden this, and since this had been a creation of their own fancy, independent of faith, it was certainly of Satan and not of God. Therefore the prophet said that this was not a service of God but one of idols. This, however, they would not suffer nor listen to, and so, according to God’s command, the prophets did not dare to be silent, hence they therefore had to die, be banished, and persecuted.
8. Therefore the whole dispute consists in this, that the false saints quarrelled with the true saints about the worship of God and good works, the former saying this is divine worship; the latter saying no, it is idolatry and unbelief. Thus it has been from the beginning, and it will also continue unto the end.
9. This same thing we see even in our day; the Papists themselves have devised good works and divine worship with their outward deeds and laws, all of which, however, are faithless things, founded only upon works and without God’s command, mere human prattle. So we say, they do not serve God, but themselves and Satan, as is the case with all idolatry; and they only mislead the people from their Christian faith and common brother love; but they will not suffer us to say that, and thus begins the misery that reigns now. Both agree that they are to serve God and do good works; but as to the definition, what is the service of God and good works, they will never agree. For these say, faith is nothing, nature with her works is good and right. Moreover, they also agreed that the open coarse sins, as murder, adultery, and robbery are not right; but in the principal works that pertain to divine worship, there they separate as far from one another as winter is from summer. The first hold to God and his mercy, and fear him; the others run to wood and stones, food and clothing, days and seasons and wish to win the favor of God by building, by bequests, by fastings, by their blaring voices and by their shaven heads. They fear nothing, are impudent and full of every kind of presumption. Oh! what a holy, wise, learned people, for whom God himself is neither sufficiently holy, wise nor learned, with all his prophets, wise men and scribes.
10. There are several questions which arise in this Gospel that we must examine. The first is, Why does Christ say that all the righteous blood from Abel on shall come upon the Jews, since they have not shed it all?
11. The answer is, that the words of
Christ are directed to the whole multitude and to the whole generation of all
those who from the beginning on have persecuted the prophets. This is proved by
the fact that he addressed not only those of his own time but entire
12. But why does he cite only these two, Abel and Zachariah? Zachariah was not the last whose blood was shed, but after him Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Uriah, and Micah, and nearly all those who received a divine call in the Scriptures. And indeed, Zachariah is the first among the prophets whose martyrdom is mentioned by name in the Scriptures. However, Christ does not speak here only of the prophets, but of the blood of all the righteous, of whom there were many under King Saul; likewise many prophets, whose names are not mentioned, were put to death under King Ahab.
13. In answer to this question I can say nothing except that Christ here holds to the usage of Scripture and places before us an example how we ought not to speak, hold, or mention what is not founded in the Scriptures. For although Isaiah and other prophets have been put to death, yet we find no mention in the Scriptures of the manner of death of any one after Zachariah. And thus, though he was not the last whose blood was shed, yet he is the last who is described by name how he preached in his days and suffered death. Thus Christ cites the first and the last righteous person, mentioned in the Scriptures, and thereby other righteous blood that was not mentioned, yet was shed before and after them. It has indeed been written of Uriah the prophet in Jeremiah 26:23, that he was slain by King Jehoiakim long after Zachariah, but this is told by others as a story which occured long ago. But at his time the Scriptures say nothing about him, they do not even mention that he ever lived, although they describe the time and history of the same king in the history of 2 Chronicles 36:4ff; 2 Kings 24:1ff. Therefore the Lord does not speak of him.
14. It is also asked: Why does Christ mention the son of Barachiah, since the Scriptures call him the son of Jehoiada; for thus the text reads in Chronicles 24:20-21, “And the Spirit of God came upon Zachariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people, and said unto them. Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of Jehovah, so that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken Jehovah, he hath also forsaken you, And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of Jehovah.” When he died he said, “Jehovah, look upon it, and require it.” He also was killed, because he reproved the worship they had established.
16. Finally it is asked: No one can withstand God’s will, why then does he say: “How often would I have gathered thy children together, and ye would not?” This passage has been interpreted in various ways. Some have founded it upon the free will and its ability, so that it really appears that not free will but obstinate will is reproved, and that it is base liberty that is only contrary to God, and is so severely condemned and reproved.
18. For, as I have often said, we must give special attention to the words of Christ, some of which refer to his divine, others only to his human nature. But here he introduces himself to us as God, since he says, “I send unto you prophets” etc.; for the sending of prophets is a work that belongs to God alone. And Luke 11:49 says he spoke thus: “Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send unto them prophets” etc. Moreover, his words read as if he not only wished to gather his children at the present time, but had also often wished to do so in the past, so that this is to be understood as referring to the divine will. Therefore we shall answer thus: These words are to be understood in the plainest and simplest manner as referring to the divine will, according to the usage of Scripture, which speaks of God as of a man for the sake of the simple minded; as we read in Genesis 6:6 that it repented Jehovah that he had made man on the earth, and yet there is no repentance in God. Also, that he was angry, yet in God there is no human anger. Likewise Genesis 11:5, that he came down from heaven and saw the building of the tower at Babylon, yet he remains ever sitting on his throne. And in Psalm 59:5-6, the prophet often says: “Awake, why sleepest thou so long?” Again: Arise, come to me, and similar passages; and yet he sleeps not, lies not down, is not far away. Again, Psalm 1:6: “Jehovah knoweth not the way of the unrighteous,” yet he knows all things. All these passages are uttered in harmony with our feelings and fancy, and not according to the real state of the divine nature. Therefore they are not to be perverted by lofty speculation as utterances of the divine nature; but should be understood as spoken to common people here upon earth according to our human understanding. For we are to feel that he does just as the words read; and this is a beautiful and comforting way to think of God, one which is neither terrifying nor difficult to understand. Thus also: “How often would I,” is also to be understood as meaning that he acted so that no one could think or feel otherwise than that he would gladly gather them, did gather them, as a man might do who eagerly wished to do such a thing. Therefore dismiss high things and remain by the milk and simple meaning of the Scriptures
19. In order, however, that we may all take our doctrine out of the Gospel, the Lord has given us here a lovely picture and parable of what he does for the sake of faith and believers so that I do not know of a more beautiful passage in all the Scriptures. He spoke in his anger and indignation very severe words to the Jews in this chapter, and pronounced his terrible woe upon their unbelief; therefore he does, as angry men are accustomed to do, and speaks to those ungrateful of his good acts and good will in the strongest terms possible; namely thus: I would gladly have imparted the heart in my body to them etc. Thus also the Lord here, in the most hearty way possible, emphasizes his good will and favor to the Jews, and says he would have gladly been their mother hen had they wished to be his little chickens.
20. Oh man! note well these words and this parable, how he pours it forth with great earnestness and with his whole soul. In this picture you will see, how you are to conduct your self towards Christ and to what end he is of benefit to you, how you should make use of him and enjoy him. Behold the hen and her chickens, and there you see Christ and yourself painted and portrayed better than any painter can portray them.
21. In the first place, it is certain that our souls are the chickens; and Satan and wicked spirits are the buzzards in the air; with only this exception that we are not as wise as the chickens to flee under our hen. The spirits of Satan are more subtle to rob us of our souls than the buzzards are to steal the chickens. Now it was said before in an Epistle how it is not sufficient that we are pious, do good works, and live in grace. For our righteousness cannot stand before God’s eyes and judgment, much less our unrighteousness. Therefore I have said: Faith, if it is true faith, is of such a nature that it does not rely upon itself nor upon the faith; but holds to Christ, and takes refuge under his righteousness; and he lets this righteousness be its shield and protection just like the little chicken never trusts in its own life and efforts, but takes refuge under the body and wings of the hen.
22. It is not sufficient for one who is to stand before the judgment of God, to say, I believe and have grace; for all that is within him is not able to protect him; but he proffers to this judgment Christ’s own righteousness which he permits to plead for him at the judgment seat of God. This stands in all honor before him forever, as Psalm 111:3, and Psalm 112:3, say: “His righteousness endureth forever.” Under this righteousness he creeps, crouches, and stoops, he confides in Christ’s righteousness and believes without the least doubt that it will sustain him and so it really comes to pass that he will be sustained by the same faith, not for his sake nor for the sake of such faith, but for the sake of Christ and his righteousness under which he takes refuge. Moreover faith that does not this, is not true faith. See that is the meaning of the Scriptures when they say in Psalm 91:1-7, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of Jehovah, he is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust. For he will deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover thee with his pinions, and under his wings shalt thou take refuge; his truth is a shield and a buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day; for the pestilence that walketh in darkness, nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.”
23. Behold all this is spoken
concerning faith in Christ, how it alone will stand and protect us from all
danger and ruin, false doctrine, bodily and spiritual temptations of Satan, on
the right hand and on the left, so that all others must fall and perish,
because they do not take refuge under the wing and shoulders of Christ and there
find shelter and anchor their trust. In like manner Malachi 4:2,
says: “But unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with
healing in its wings;” therefore
24. Now notice how the natural clucking hen acts; hardly any other creature is so anxious about her young. She changes her natural voice and takes a pitiable and complaining voice; she seeks, scratches, and calls her little chickens; when she finds anything, she does not eat it herself, she leaves it for her little ones; with all earnestness she battles and cries against the buzzard, and spreads her wings out so willingly and lets her chicks crawl under and upon her, and gladly suffers them to .stay there. This is indeed a lovely picture. So it is also with Christ. He has changed his voice to a pitiable tone, has sighed for us and preached repentance, pointed out to everyone their sins and misery, he scratches in the Scriptures and calls us unto them and permits us to eat; he spreads his wings with all his righteousness, merit and grace over us, and takes us so lovingly under his protection, warms us with his own natural heat, that is, with his Holy Spirit, who alone comes through him, and fights for us against the devil in the air.
25. Where and how does he do this? Without doubt he does it not bodily, but spiritually. His two wings are the two Testaments of the holy Scriptures; they spread over us his righteousness and bring us under his protection. This takes place in that the Scriptures teach this and nothing else, how Christ is such a mother hen, how we are to be sustained in faith under him and through his righteousness. Therefore the Psalm mentioned above, explains the wings and shoulders, and says; “his faithfulness or truth”, that is, the Scriptures embraced by faith “are a shield and a buckler” against all fear and danger. For we must lay hold of Christ in his Word and in the preaching of it and cleave to the same with a firm faith that he is just as is spoken now of him; then we are certainly in him, under his wings and truth, and shall be also well sustained under him
26. This Gospel therefore is also his wings or truth as well as all other Gospels; for they all teach Christ in this manner, yet in some places clearer than in others. Heretofore he was called a light and life; also a Lord and helper, now he is called a mother hen, and the emphasis is continually laid upon faith. Thus his body is himself, or the Christian church; his warmth, his grace and the Holy Spirit.
27. Behold, the church is the most loving hen, who is always anxious to gather us under her protection; she spreads her wings out and calls, that is, she preaches and lets both Testaments be preached, sends out prophets, wise men, and scribes to Jerusalem, yea into all the world. But what happens? We will not be her chickens; above all, the proud saints, who contended against her especially with their good works, who had no desire to know anything about faith, that it is so greatly needed and so blessed; and who neither know anything of their danger nor admit their doings to be unrighteous; yea, they themselves therefore become buzzards and swine, they devour and persecute the chickens along with their mother, tear their wings and body, slay the prophets, and stone those who are sent unto them. But what will be their reward? Listen, terrible things:
28. Oh! a terrible visitation! which is also illustrated in the instance of the Jews. They killed the prophets so long that God sent them no more; he suffered them to be without any preaching, without any prophets 1,500 years, he took his Word from them and his wings he drew to himself. And thus their house is left desolate and no one builds up their souls, God no longer dwells among them. It has happened to them as they wished; as Psalm 109:17 says concerning them: “Yea, he loved cursing, and it came unto him; and he delighted not in blessing, and it was far from him.” Here all the righteous blood shed upon the earth is come upon them, and this Gospel is fulfilled in them.
29. In like manner also Isaiah 5:5-6, speaks of them: “And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; I will break the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: and I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned nor hoed; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.” Terrible words! What can it mean that no rain shall come upon them, except that they should not hear the Gospel and learn of faith? They shall be neither pruned nor cultivated. What can this mean, except that no one shall punish them in their error and make manifest their transgressions? Therefore the vineyard is left to the doctrines of men, these tear and trample it under foot so that it must remain desolate, brings forth nothing but briars and thorns, that is, workrighteous people, who are without faith. They bear no fruit of the Spirit, but they grow and are prepared only for eternal fire.
30. However, all this we Gentiles may also take well to heart. We have also persecuted our mother hen and have not continued in faith. Therefore it has also happened to us that God has left our house lie desolate and our vineyard is forsaken. There is no longer any rain in all the world, the Gospel and faith are put to silence; here there is neither pruning nor grubbing; no one preaches against false works and the doctrines of men, and prunes off such unnecessary things; but he permits us to be torn and trodden under foot by the pope, bishops, priests and monks of whom the whole world is full, full, full; and yet they do no more than trample down and tear to pieces the vineyard. One who teaches this, another that, one treads down this place and another that; everyone wishes to establish his own sect, his own order, his own calling, his own doctrine, his own point, his own works. By these we are so trodden under foot that there is no longer any knowledge of faith, no Christian life, no love, no fruit of the Spirit; but mere firefuel, briars, and thorns, that is dissemblers, who by virtue of their vigils, masses, endowments, bells, churches, psalms, rosaries, saint-worship, celebrations, hoods, shaven-heads, clothing, fastings, pilgrimages and numberless other foolish works, presume to be Christians.
31. O, Lord God, we are too greatly torn to atoms, too sorely crushed; O, Christ, our Lord, we poor miserable people are too desert-like and too forsaken in these last days of thy wrath. Our shepherds are wolves, our watchmen traitors, our protectors enemies, our fathers murderers, and our teachers mislead us, Oh! Oh! Oh! When, when, when will thy severe wrath have an end? Finally comfort is spoken here to the Jews, when the Evangelist adds:
“Verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord”.
32. Christ spake these words on Tuesday, after Palm Sunday, and they form the conclusion and the last words of his preaching upon earth; hence they are not yet fulfilled but they must be fulfilled. True they did once receive him on Palm Sunday, but these words were not fulfilled on that occasion. “Ye shall not see me henceforth” is not to be understood in the sense that they never saw him afterwards in the body, because they did, in that they afterwards crucified him. He means, they shall not see him again as a preacher and as Christ, to which end he was sent; his office and he in his office were never seen again by them. In this he gave them his last, his farewell, sermon, and his office, for which he came, was now closed.
33. Thus it is certain, that the
Jews must yet say to Christ, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the
Lord.” This very truth Moses proclaimed in Deuteronomy 4:30-31: “In the latter
days thou shalt return to Jehovah thy God, and hearken unto his voice; for
Jehovah thy God is a merciful God; he will not fail thee, neither destroy thee,
nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.” It was also
preached in Hosea 3:4-5: “The children of Israel shall abide many days without
king, and without prince, and without sacrifice, and without pillar, and
without ephod or teraphim: afterward shall the children of Israel return, and
seek Jehovah their God, and David their king, and shall come with fear unto
Jehovah and to his goodness in the latter days.” Likewise Azariah declared this
truth in 2 Chronicles 15:2-5 thus: “If ye forsake Jehovah, he will forsake you.
Now for a long season
(SIRACH) ECCLESIASTICUS 15:1-8.
He that feareth the Lord will do good; and he that hath the knowledge of the law shall obtain her. And as a mother shall she meet him, and receive him as a wife married of a virgin. With the bread of understanding shall she feed him, and give him the water of wisdom to drink. He shall be stayed upon her, and shall not be moved; and shall rely upon her, and shall not be confounded. She shall exalt him above his neighbors, and in the midst of the congregation shall she open his mouth. He shall find joy and a crown of gladness, and she shall cause him to inherit an everlasting name. But foolish men shall not attain unto her, and sinners shall not see her. For she is far from pride, and men that are liars cannot remember her.
1. This lesson, apparently, is not designed to teach. Rather, its purpose is to present the advantages of right conduct. It does not enumerate certain works and the manner in which they are to be performed, but holds up the benefit accruing from right living. Its object is to admonish us and incite us to perform the duties we already recognize. Paul ( Romans 12:7-8) classifies all discourse under two heads, doctrine and exhortation. Doctrine present things we do not already know or possess. Exhortation recites and impels us to obey doctrine, and encourages to patience and perseverance. While the latter feature of discourse is less difficult than the former, it is no less necessary and profitable.
2. He who would incite one to action, would arouse, encourage, admonish him, must present good reason for action. This may be accomplished by reference to the need and the advantages, the pleasures and honors, consequent upon a certain course, or to the disaster and disgrace following neglect of it. Such is the method employed in this lesson. It points out numerous advantages and honors coming to them who fear God and love righteousness. Its message we will now consider.
3. No definition of righteousness and the fear of God is given here. We have frequently stated, however, that to fear God is not to depend upon ourselves, upon any goodness within us, nor to rely upon our honor, our power, our wealth, strength, advantages or skill – no, not even upon our good works and piety. We must be careful not to sin in any of these things. We are to fear – yes, we know – that should God deal truly and justly with us, we should a thousand times be lost. Therefore, we must not in any way exalt ourselves above the most insignificant individual on earth. We must be humble and gentle in all our conduct and purposes. No arrogance may we show toward anyone; we must be gentle and affable. Humility will render our works good. Peter says ( 1 Peter 5:5), “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” Whatsoever is done in that grace, then, is rightly done.
4. As we have heard, righteousness is simply faith. We experience faith in the following way: In the first place, being unable to stand before God’s judgment, man is filled with fear in all his nature and actions. Fear impels him to seek something outside himself whereon he may confidently build and stand. He finds that to be nothing else but the pure mercy of God, promised in Christ and revealed in him. Such reliance, such confident faith, renders us just and righteous before God. As Paul says ( Romans 1:17), “The righteous shall live by faith.”
5. In proportion as one distrusts himself, his own abilities, and feels he is in all things a sinner before a just God, will he find consolation outside himself, in the grace of God, and thus become righteous in all his works. The two must be kept together; where judgment is, fear must be; where grace exists, confidence is found. Judgment produces fear; grace begets trust and confidence. Through judgment, fear divests us of self with all its powers. But confidence invests us with God and his every attribute. Not our merits, then, but the blessings of God have praise. This teaching is endorsed by Psalm 147:11: “Jehovah taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his lovingkindness.”
6. If man’s faith be right, he will conduct himself toward his neighbor in the way he believes God deals with himself. He will do all from pure grace, forgiving his neighbor, for-bearing, endeavoring to alleviate his wretchedness, ministering to him, showing hospitality, denying him nothing, risking body, life, property and honor for his sake and conducting himself in all respects as God has done toward him. For faith tells him that God has dealt with him purely in grace, regardless of his demerits, and he is confident God will verify his faith in him. As God pours blessings upon him in disregard of his shortcomings, so will the individual pour all possible favor upon his neighbor, notwithstanding that neighbor may be an enemy and destitute of all merit. He is satisfied the favors he bestows will not impoverish him, for in proportion as he bestows will God pour out upon him; the more he does for his neighbor, the more will God bless him.
7. Such, you perceive, is the true faith, the faith that justifies before God. It is the Christian’s righteousness, which receives blessings from above and delivers them below. We find a beautiful illustration of it in the piece of land Caleb, the holy father, gave to his daughter Achsah ( Judges 1:13-15), from which issued beautiful fountains of water. The land was watered by springs above and springs below: hence it was very fertile and very valuable. As already stated, we cannot say too much concerning this faith.
8. The word “Achsah” means ornaments, or jeweled shoes. The lovely Maggie in scarlet shoes, the little daughter of God, is the believing soul The soul that trusts may be likened to the maiden who trips fearlessly along in her beautiful scarlet and golden shoes. Paul says ( Ephesians 6:15), “Having your feet shod” – with what? “With the preparation of the gospel of peace.” Note that when the heart, through faith, enters the Gospel and lives in the Word, it is Achsah, Maggie in her beautiful shoes. Solomon also speaks concerning the bride ( Song of Solomon 7:1), “How beautiful are thy feet in sandals, O prince’s daughter!”
Now, let us consider what is offered to incite and urge us to fear God and to love righteousness.
9. All the world talks about doing good, but if you would know how, listen: Do not as the fools who consider various works with intent to choose such as are in their own conceptions good, and to reject such as they deem bad, thus making a distinction of the works themselves. Do not so. Let works be alike; regard one the same as another. Fear God and be just – as already advised – and then perform the duty that presents itself. Then all will be well done, it matters not if it be the duties of a hostler or a teamster.
10. The text is unalterable: “He that feareth the Lord will do good” – no matter what he may do. His works are good, not because of their character, but because of the fear that inspires them. Here, you see, is great comfort. Immediately you abound in good works, and your whole life is good, if you fear God. Whether it be eating or drinking, walking or standing, seeing or hearing, sleeping or waking – all your works are good. Who would not, by such advantage, be incited to fear God? Note, they who fear God are the lambs of God, for whom everything is useful, all their works are profitable.
11. But they who make distinction of works, the nice saints with their choice, selected deeds, really perform no good works. Why? Because they do not fear God. Attaching great value to their own efforts, they do not trust in him. Consequently these same highly-prized works are evil. It is a fixed truth that his works are good who fears God, but the unbeliever’s works are evil. “He that hath the knowledge of the law shall obtain her.”
12. He who holds to righteousness will obtain her. The thought here is the same as in the first incentive, but differently expressed. To have a knowledge of the Law, to adhere to righteousness, is to persevere in faith. The individual of steadfast faith will apprehend righteousness – will make it his own. Having attained to the heritage of righteousness, being enabled to dwell in it, all his deeds, his whole life, will be right. Therefore, he who would do right and live in righteousness must believe; he must persevere in faith, and then perform, without distinction, such works as present themselves. Endowed with the prerogative faith, it is unnecessary for him to inquire how his works shall be good. They are good to begin with. They are performed without distinction. Righteousness is already apprehended. For he perseveres in faith.
13. But, whatever the works of the
unbelieving, righteousness will flee from them because they neglect faith. They
may catch at righteousness as a dog snaps at flies, still it will elude them. Paul
says of the Jews ( Romans 9:31), “
14. What is meant here? It is a Hebrew expression. The Hebrews are wont to speak of a child of wisdom, child of wickedness, child of wrath, child of condemnation; so here the thought, child of righteousness. The child of sin, of unrighteousness, must have a disgraceful mother, of whom he must be ashamed and in whom he cannot rejoice. But the child of righteousness has an honorable mother. Of her he may boast and in her he can rejoice. A human mother, if she be a reputable woman, is an honor, a glory and comfort to her child. On the other hand, if she be disreputable, she is a disgrace to the child. One can hardly suffer a more stinging reproach than to be reminded of a mother’s disgrace or to be accused of illegitimate birth or ill-breeding.
15. Now, the wise man intends to say that Righteousness deals affectionately with her own, as a mother meets the wants of her child. The mother is always ready to do for her child to the full extent of her knowledge and power. Solomon designs thus to illustrate the security, comfort, peace, joy and glory the heart experiences before God, through faith. The human mother caresses and kisses her child; she supports and carries it, always ready to meet its wants and grant its desires. The kindness of a mother toward her child is unsurpassed anywhere. Similarly, Righteousness embraces and supports man, meeting his wants in every way and purposing to have him rest in peace and security of heart. Man is entitled to this great privilege oŁ confidence and may boast of it before God, for he has an honorable mother.
16. What do these words imply? The meaning is similar to that of the preceding phrase. The object is to illustrate the anxious care Righteousness manifests for her child. Solomon represents Righteousness as having affections like those of a new bride, one never before a wife. He means to say, “Precisely as a virgin in her new wifehood feels toward her bridegroom, so is the attitude of Righteousness toward her child.” I shall leave the description of the bride’s affections to those who have experienced them. It is well known, however, that nothing surpasses the desire, love and concern of a young bride for her bridegroom. The Scriptures abound with references to the love of brides. Sirach says “a wife married of a virgin,” meaning one just married and for the first time knowing love for a husband. A widow becoming again a wife has not such feeling toward her second bridegroom.
17. Note how carefully and thoughtfully the wise man makes his admonition. Does he not present a vivid picture, a burning incentive to faith and godliness? What simile could he have introduced more expressive of affection than these of a virtuous mother’s love for her child and a new bride’s love for her bridegroom? Woman is naturally more affectionate than man. Now, we cannot by works obtain such favor, affection and care on the part of Righteousness for us. We must conceive it in the heart. Faith enables the conscience to feel in Righteousness all the security, desire and love that a child finds in its mother or a husband in his new bride.
18. Or, “She shall feed him with life and understanding.” To explain the process: Just as natural bread sustains the body and also nourishes and increases it in growth until it becomes hale, robust and strong to labor; so, too, righteousness nourishes man, making him daily increase in the Spirit and grow in the knowledge of things divine and human. We know this from experience. Without experience the passage would not be intelligible. He who is nourished by righteousness improves his mind with everything coming under his observation. He grows in knowledge and increases in life and wisdom, especially when contemplating the Scriptures.
19. Solomon had learned much, as his Proverbs and Canticles show. He puts the word “life” before the word “understanding,” for without life understanding would be of no significance. It is not that knowledge which is the product of the heathen and of natural reason, knowledge of temporal things – not this sort would Solomon have us regard; but the knowledge faith gives, concerning spiritual and divine things, knowledge making the soul alive before God. This sentence contains all necessary teaching in regard to salvation.
20. The import of this clause is similar to the foregoing sentence. It refers to the increase of the Spirit. Particularly does it present saving knowledge and exclude worldly knowledge, the knowledge of men, which is not profitable. This figure of drinking is to be understood similarly to the figure of eating. Man draws wisdom from everything he observes. All things in heaven and earth afford him pasture, but particularly the Scriptures. From them alone he derives meat and drink in a real, saving knowledge.
21. Hitherto Solomon has been
enumerating the blessings and advantages righteousness gives us to enjoy in
ourselves and in times of peace. Now he enumerates its blessings in times of
conflict, in contentions with enemies. He says, “He shall be stayed upon her.”
That is, righteousness will throw about us protections enabling us not only to
receive blessings but to guard them against all attempts to wrest them away. At
the same time, he recognizes here that he who fears God and would be godly must
encounter labor, conflict and many misfortunes. Crosses are bound to come. As
Paul tells us ( Acts 14:22), “Through many
tribulations we must enter into the
22. Thus Solomon meets the timid and faint-hearted who would readily be won by the great inducements presented, and would accept the benefits offered, were it not for their fear of having to risk property, honor, bodies, lives and all they have. Solomon does not deny the condition; he does not make any effort to relieve their minds on that point nor to offer flimsy comfort. But he strengthens them, admonishes them against viewing the matter from that standpoint and affords them the consolation that if they cleave to righteousness it will give courage and stability to endure all ill so
23. Another expression of the thought in “He shall be stayed upon her.” With ability to overcome all things, what more is to be desired? The selfrighteous have not that ability. They do not stand securely – have no firmness. They only yield and vacillate, for they rely upon their own efforts. Their achievements may be easily taken away and themselves with them. But the believing righteousness of the Christian hangs upon the immovable lovingkindness of God. They who rely upon that lovingkindness cannot be moved even though they be deprived of everything else.
24. That is, righteousness will sustain man’s honor. Solomon here acknowledges the pious believer must suffer many evils, and also endure shame and scandal. It is a peculiarity of the Christian’s sufferings that he not only has to endure the evils common to all men, but shame and scandal as the worst of evil-doers, just as Christ suffered. Such unmerited sufferings are called sufferings of Christ, or crosses. It is not so much temporal dishonor, but spiritual dishonor, disgrace of the conscience before God. All the martyrs were put to death, not for committing crime against the State, but as being extreme enemies and blasphemers of God. Lest anyone be deterred from Christianity by fear of spiritual dishonor, Solomon makes this declaration for the comfort and encouragement of all believers, an assurance of preservation, and of their ability to maintain their honor before God and the world.
25. This is the same as the last clause only more clearly expressed. Righteousness may, it is true, permit her child to be overtaken by shame and disgrace, but merely to test her power. [But she never leaves him helpless and prostrate, if he only cleaves to her. Editions A, B, C.] As the Wisdom of Solomon 10:12 says: “In a sore conflict she gave him the victory; that he might know that godliness is stronger than all.” The heart must be continually tempted. As sure as existence, it must experience disgrace. So sensible of shame will it be, it will tremble and waver as if God were to leave it in disgrace. But in this promise it finds help to maintain a firm confidence. So sustained, it overrides shame; all this the self-righteous can by no means do.
26. The Christian’s temptations and conflicts only give him distinction and elevate him in the minds of the people. Paul ( 1 Corinthians 11:19) says that by heresies the approved Christians are made manifest. Conflicts serve to distinguish the Christian, to raise him in the estimation of men unto great eminence and honor. In contrast with him, the self-righteous go on unnoticed, without experience, untried, dwelling in their own element and uninformed of the blessings and workings of God.
27. So the Christian’s experience makes him a good preacher and teacher. Faith helps him to a right understanding of all things, and conflict gives him the personal experience which brings perfect assurance. Therefore, he may speak with the utmost confidence and may instruct all men. Well may Tauler say the experienced Christian is able to judge and to teach the world. Without trials no one can ever become a successful preacher. He must remain a mere babbler, unknowing what to say or to what end to speak. As Paul has it ( 1 Timothy 1:7): “Desiring to be teachers of the law, though they understand neither what they say, nor whereof they confidently affirm.” He calls them useless babblers.
28. Solomon previously, in the third verse said, “With the bread of understanding shall she feed him, and give him the water of wisdom to drink.” The reference there is simply to receiving the gifts of God, while not yet exposed to temptations and trials. But after the Christian has experienced temptations, has been tried and proven, he shall have something more than the gifts of wisdom and understanding; the Giver of these gifts, the Holy Spirit himself, will fill him and render him wholly perfect. Not that the Holy Spirit did not before exist in the individual; assuredly where the gifts of the Spirit are, there he surely is. But while the individual is not exposed to temptations, he has not yet come to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit. He will not reach that position until he is tried and proven. Then, though previously endowed with gifts, he will be filled with the Spirit. His gifts will not, as before temptation, serve only himself; from the period of his trial they will render him useful to others, enabling him to bring to men the same grace he possesses. Formerly he was chiefly useful in a temporal way, in distributing favors to his neighbors, as mentioned. He was prompted by faith and the gifts received. His was not, however, a spiritual usefulness, but a temporal one. After his experience in temptation, the Spirit enters and effects something more than his being fed with the bread of wisdom and understanding as before; he enables him to open his mouth – to feed others with that bread, thus rendering them spiritual service. Before Christ’s sufferings the apostles were merely the Lord’s guests, eating of his understanding and drinking of his wisdom, and leading pious lives. But no one was affected but themselves. After his resurrection, however, they became hosts; they fed others and rendered them godly through the Spirit of wisdom and understanding that filled them after their temptation.
29. Righteousness will give the Christian an eminent reputation and a great name, far and wide; as God said to David: “I have made thy name great.” Righteousness will adorn the Christian until the world shall honor him for his wisdom and knowledge. “Honor” here means “glory,” which is a great and glorious name and distinction among men. Such honor Solomon terms a garment, for it adorns more than do ornaments and jewels.
30. Up to this time Solomon has spoken of the blessings the Christian shall enjoy in this life. Now he concludes with the blessings reserved to the future life – eternal joy and gladness. Here is the treasure Righteousness reserves for the Christian, an everlasting treasure.
31. Not merely during life, but after death, will the Christian’s name be perpetuated in honor. After such remembrance the self-righteous vainly strive. For they do not fear God and rely upon the righteousness of faith.
32. Note these precious fruits, these great blessings, so well calculated to give comfort and to constrain us to persevere in faith and in the fear of God. I have gone over this subject hastily, giving it the briefest consideration. An extended sermon might have been preached on each point, if one wished to develop it with the aid of Scripture passages.
33. We must not, however, infer from what has been presented that we are to fear God – believe in him – simply to secure the blessings named. That idea is deceptive. The passage is not written to induce us to seek these blessings; it is merely an assurance that such blessings await the believer. They alone shall receive them who do not seek them; that is, who fear God without seeking their own honor, and who constantly rely upon the grace of God. To them the blessings come unsought. The self-righteous with all their pretense cannot obtain them.
34. This epistle lesson harmonizes beautifully with the Gospel selection. Here Righteousness receives the individual as a virtuous mother receives her child, or the bride her bridegroom. Thus, too, Christ took John to his breast as the beloved disciple. In both selections the nature of faith is commended and illustrated.
Two doctrines, and the spiritual meaning of the gospel.
Now thus he spake, signifying by what manner of death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; who also leaned back on his breast at the supper, and said, Lord who is he that betrayeth thee? Peter therefore seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me, This saying therefore went forth among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, that he should not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, ,what is that to thee? This is the disciple that beareth witness of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his witness is true.
1. When Christ asked Peter three times whether he loved him, and Peter answered three times, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee,” he commended unto him three times his sheep and said: “Feed my sheep.” Immediately afterwards he announced to Peter his death, and says: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.” Closely joined to this is to-day’s Gospel: “Follow thou me,” as if to say: Since this is to be your lot, ponder it well and follow thou me and yield willingly to death. It is evident enough that this following signifies his death, and all the disciples understood it so, and it is a lucid and easy Gospel.
2. However as some were greatly worried to know whether St. John was dead or still alive, the Evangelist shows clearly enough that Christ did not wish to let us know, therefore we should not pry into the matter. He says: Jesus did not say he should not die, neither does he say that he should die. He thus lets it hang in doubt. If Christ had said: I will that he tarry till I come, it might have been understood that he would die on the last day. But that he says, “If I will, that he tarry”, it is still much more in the dark, in that he does not say right out whether he will or will not.
3. But in doing thus Christ taught us a beautiful and touching lesson for the sake of which Christ dismissed Peter in this manner.
The teaching is as follows: Nothwithstanding the examples and lives of all the saints every person should attend to the work entrusted to him and guard the honor of his calling. Oh, this is truly a needed and wholesome teaching. “It is very misleading, and it is almost universal, that we so highly esteem the works and lives of the saints. If we wish to imitate them, we think it to be a very precious work to do so. The useless babblers aid and urge this, who preach the lives of the holy saints and present them to the people for examples in the wrong way.
4. Here Christ works and speaks against this very thing. Peter is a type of such wild wanderers; when Christ had commanded him at once to follow him, he turns about and looks after another, worries as to where he is going whom Jesus had loved. Just so these persons do, they let drop what has been commanded them, and look after the lives and works of those God loved, namely his saints, therefore Christ reproves Peter, and says: What is that to thee, where he is wandering? Follow thou me, I will attend to him; how, if I wish him to tarry, wilt thou also tarry? Do you imagine I wish the same from you as from him? No, not so; you attend to your duties. I desire to have many kinds of servants, but not all to be at the same work.
5. Alas, many persons are found, who like Peter do everything except what is commanded them. Many a one hears that certain saints made pilgrimages, for which they are praised; then he like a fool starts off, leaves wife and children sitting, who are entrusted to him by God, and trots to St. Jacob, or here and there, not knowing that his calling and mission are quite different from that of the saint he is imitating. In the same way they do with their bequests, fastings, clothing, holidays, priestcraft, monasteries and cloisters. All that is nothing but looking around to the saints Christ loved, and turning their backs to the commission and calling to follow Christ. Then they boast they did well, in that they followed the saints.
6. Therefore take heed, that the way of God leads into the right road, First, it tolerates no human doctrine and way or command, secondly, it does not allow of any works, sought and devised by self. Thirdly, God’s way cannot recognize the examples of the saints; but its anxiety is to be faithful, as God leads, in what he requires of us; as the prophet says in Psalm 25:8-12: “God shall instruct him in the way that he shall choose.” Likewise: “And the weak will he teach his way,” etc.
7. Then you may reply: But how if I am not called, what shall I do then? Answer: How is it possible that you are not called? You have always been in some state or station; you have always been a husband or wife, or boy or girl, or servant. Picture before you the humblest state. Are you a husband, and you think, you have not enough to do in that sphere to govern your wife, children, domestics and property so that all may be obedient to God and you do no one any wrong? Yea, if you had five heads and ten hands, even then you would be too weak for your task, so that you would never dare to think of making a pilgrimage or doing any kind of saintly work.
8. Again: are you a son or daughter, and do you think you have not enough work with yourself, to continue chaste, pure and temperate during your youth, obey your parents, and offend no one by word or deed? Yea, since the custom of honoring such commands and callings has been abandoned, people go and pray with their rosaries and do like things, not belonging to their station in life, and no one ever thinks he is not faithful in his state or station.
9. Again: Are you a domestic or servant, and do you think you would go idle if you were to serve your lord or mistress with all faithfulness as your station and orders require, and also keep your youth under control as with a bridle?
10. And again: Are you a prince, a lord, spiritual or secular; who has more to do than you, in order that your subjects may do right, preserve peace, and wrong is done by no one? Why, do you think, the proverb originated: A prince or lord is a wild deer in the heavens? Only because they have their office and wish to rule far off when they cannot govern even themselves; afterwards they wish to atone for their folly by masses, bequests, rosaries, prayers and indulgences, as if God were a dealer in old clothes, or a child that permits himself to be fooled with a penny.
11. The very same way the bishop and spiritual prelates also act, who should feed the sheep of Christ and follow Christ, and even suffer death for their sake; instead, they observe their seven canonical hours for prayers, hold mass, and then allow themselves to be called pious people. But if one of the bishops enters heaven then a different heaven must be created. All bishops at present are nothing but fire works of hell, in that they do not administer their office, not even a hair’s breadth of it.
12. See, as now no one is without some commission and calling, so no one is without some kind of work, if he desires to do what is right. Every one therefore is to take heed to continue in his calling, look to himself, faithfully do what is commanded him, and serve God and keep his commandments; then he will have so much to do that all time will be too short, all places too cramped, all resources of help too weak. For the evil spirit furiously attacks this way and makes it bitter for man so that it is all he can do to continue in it. But if Satan brings man to this point that he forgets and lets go his calling, then he no longer attacks him so hard, he has brought him out of the public highway, and he lets him at times hunt a prairie or timber path, that is, do a startling good little deed. Then the fool thinks he is on the right road and anticipates a great reward in heaven. The longer he wanders the farther he strays from the highway until he comes into the most pernicious delusions that he thinks we are to deal with God by means of his works, like King Saul did. Oh no, beloved mortal, God is not concerned about your works, but about your obedience, as Samuel 15:22 says; “To obey is better than sacrifice.” Hence it is, that if a pious maid-servant goes forth with her orders, and sweeps the yard or cleans the stable; or a man-servant in the same spirit plows and drives a team: they travel direct to heaven in the right road; while another who goes to St. Jacob or to church, and lets his office and work lie, travels straight to perdition.
13. Therefore we must close our
eyes, not look at our works, whether they be great, small, honorable,
comtemptible, spiritual, temporal or what kind of an appearance and name they
may have upon earth; but look to the command and to the obedience in the works.
Do they govern you, then the work also is truly right and precious, and
completely godly, although it springs forth as insignificant as a straw. However,
if obedience and God’s commandments do not dominate you, then the work is not
right, but damnable, surely the devil’s own doings, although it were even so
great a work as to raise the dead. For it is decreed that God’s eyes look not
to the works, but to the obedience in the works. Therefore it is his will, that we look to his command and our calling, of which
14. What a glorious state of things
would reign, if it were thus that each tended to his own affairs and yet
thereby served others, and thus traveled together to heaven in one flock in the
15. Do you then reply: Alas, shall we not follow the lives and examples of the holy saints? Why are they then preached? Answer: One should preach them so as to praise God in them, to stir up one another, and to comfort one another by his goodness and grace and not show forth their works, but their obedience in their works. However in our days they let obedience lie and lead us so deeply into works, that we have completely drifted from obedience, and we gape at works and despise our own mission and calling. Hence there is no doubt it is Satan’s own doings that divine worship is confined only to churches, altars, masses, singing, reading, offerings and the like, as if all other works were vain or of no use whatever. How could Satan mislead us more completely from the right way than when he confines God’s worship within such narrow limits, only to the church and whatever is done in it ?
16. Be on your guard, look in front of you, Christ will not suffer Peter to look around, not even to the disciple he still loves. Do you think it was for naught that the very disciple, whom Jesus loved, was preferred here to all the other disciples? It was for some purpose that he was not mentioned by name. He might indeed have said: Peter turned and saw John; but he said, “whom Jesus loved” etc. But he wished to meet this evil and banish from their sight the works of the saints, in order that nothing but pure obedience might always abide there, and no one might glory or excuse himself in that he had followed the example of the saints.
17. Notice, we also read in the Scriptures that God did not wish David to build his church, although David took it in hand to do so; because there was no command before that he should build it; but he wished Solomon to build it, and to him he also gave a command to this end. It has been the spring of all kinds of idolatry that the people had respect to the works of the saints and not to their obedience. They witnessed how Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob offered to God upon altars; they heedlessly went ahead and desired to imitate them, and idolatry was the result. The Scriptures typify such persons by the monkeys. They are an animal with a nature that looks only to works, they wished to imitate everything, still nothing is commanded them.
18. Therefore let us well grasp the words: “Follow thou me.” Thou, thou; let others attend to their affairs, you attend to yours, they will indeed come. For it is not in vain that there is added in this Gospel, that the disciple whom Peter saw, was also following; but he was following without Peter’s looking. This whole gospel lesson has been written for the sake of these words and their teaching; for it does not contain much on the doctrine of faith, but on the following and the works of faith. In the person of Peter Christ here lectures all spiritual prelates and instructs them in their office; of this the whole Gospel ought to be made to treat, but these prelates wish perhaps to be untaught by us. Therefore we must pass it by, and stick to our own duties.
19. The other lesson from this Gospel is, that everyone should be satisfied with his own part and not begrudge another anything, nor murmur although he is unlike him. For here, although John alone is called the disciple Jesus loves, still none of them murmured, neither did anyone envy him. in like manner, that he should not die, as they thought, grieved no one, and not a murmur went forth from them; but as the text says: “This saying therefore went forth among the brethren,” they, (we understand all the disciples and Christians) spoke of this as brethren and wished him well.
20. And this is no mean virtue; for even the holy patriarchs were lacking in this virtue and they could not stand the government of Joseph, their brother.
21. Moreover it is a common plague that no one can be satisfied with his own lot, so that the heathen say: How does it happen that there is always better fruit in another’s field, and that the neighbor’s cow gives more milk than our own? Again, –how does it come that no one allows himself to be content with his own state, each thinking that of another is better than his own? Whoever is a merchant praises the lot of a mechanic, that he sits at home and rests, while he must wander around in the country as if going astray. On the other hand, the mechanic praises the lot of the merchant, because he is rich and is out among the people, and so on. Every person is tired of his own lot and sighs for a change. Is one married, then he praises the state of the one who has no wife; has he none, then he praises the married state. Is he in a spiritual calling, then he likes the secular; is he in a secular calling, then he prefers the spiritual; and so it is impossible for God to deal with them so that they are satisfied. If they serve God in the lot God gave them, it would be neither bitter nor heavy for them; but now they are tired and no one burdens them but themselves. Without the least need or cause they themselves make their lives bitter.
22. And if God allowed one to change his lot with all his will, to atone for his dissatisfied state; even then he would be like every one else, yea, become more tired and at last stay with his own. Hence one must not think of changing his lot, but of changing his spirit of discontent. Cast aside and change your restless spirit, then the lot of one would be like that of another, and all would be prized alike, as you have experienced that you neither needed nor wished a change.
23. Thus some heathen have thought if the evils of all people were brought together on a heap, and one then distributed them equally, it would come to the point that every one would prefer to retain his own. God rules the world so very evenly, that to every advantage is attached a like disadvantage. Every person sees no more than how sleek the shoe fits on another, but does not see where it pinches him; on the other hand the one who wears the shoe, thinks not how neatly it fits, but how sorely it pinches. The world rushes on in the folly that everyone looks only at his own evil and another’s good; but when he beholds only his own good and also anothers evil, then he will thank God, be satisfied in a most resigned manner, however humble and bad it may be about him.
24. To avoid such unrest, discontent and disgust in one’s self, is helpful and necessary to faith, which is of the firm conviction, that God governs all alike, places each one in the lot, that is the most useful and suitable for him, and that it could not be better arranged, even if he did it himself. This faith brings rest, contentment, peace and banishes the tired spirit. But where it does not exist, and man judges according to his own feelings, thoughts and experiences, behold, there is a weary and discontented spirit, for he experiences only the evil of his own lot and not that of his neighbor; on the other hand, he does not see his own good side nor the bad side of his neighbor. Hence there follows out of this feeling weariness, dislike, worry and labor, and he becomes thereby impatient and dissatisfied with God. Then praise, love and thanks to God are silenced in him, and he remains his whole life a secret murmurer against God, like the Jews in the wilderness. Yet, the only thing he reaps from it, is that he makes his own life bitter, and merits hell thereby besides.
25. Hence you see, how faith is needed in everything and how it makes everything easy, good and sweet, even if you were in prison or in death, as the martyrs prove. And without faith all things are difficult, evil and bitter, although you possessed the pleasure and joy of the whole world, as all the great lords and wealthy prove, who at all times lead the most wretched lives.
26. Some say: Yes, if I knew that neither my folly nor Satan had led me, and I were assured that God himself took care of me, I would gladly be joyful, satisfied and contented. Answer: That is a foolish and unchristian pretense, which reveals a faithless heart. Christ says in Matthew 6:28: “Consider the lillies of the field, how they grow.” Again, not a leaf falls from the tree without the will of your heavenly Father, and not a bird comes upon the earth without his will; of how much more value are you than birds, you who are of much more value than they; the very hair of your head are all numbered, Matthew 10:29.
27. If then your existence is a state that in itself is not sinful, although you have come into it through sin and folly, the same existence or state will not therefore be the less displeasing to God; for God takes pleasure in all things, as Genesis 1:31 says, except sin. Therefore, where you are in a calling that is not sinful in itself, you are certainly placed there by God, and in the state that is pleasing to God; be only on your guard and do not sin in it. If you fall from a loft and break a bone the room or the bed therefore is not the worse or God more displeasing, into which the fall brought you and constrained you to remain, although another came there without such a fall.
28. When I speak of a calling, not sinful in itself, I do really pleasing to God, if you experience his disgust and displeasure; God is surely present there, he lets the wicked spirit attack and try you, if you are wavering or steadfast, or not, and offers your faith an occasion to battle and to exercise itself.
29. When I speak of a calling, which in itself is not sinful, I do not mean that we can live on the earth without sin. All callings and estates sin daily; but I mean the calling God has instituted or its institution is not opposed to God, as for example, marriage, man-servant, maid-servant, lord, wife, superintendent, ruler, judge, officer, farmer, citizen etc., I mention as sinful stations in life; robbery, usury, public women, and as they are at present, the pope, cardinals, bishops, priests, monks and nuns, who neither preach nor listen to preaching. For these callings are surely against God, where they only say mass and sing, and are not busy with God’s Word, so that an ordinary woman may much sooner enter heaven than one of these.
30. To be spiritual and not busy with God’s Word, which should be your special work, is like being married and never being together; but one running out here, the other there, to dissipate. Hence in order to lead such a life many chapters and cloisters have become houses of harlots and houses of villains for the service of Satan, to be pious in the body and outwardly, but in the soul there is nothing but sin.
31. With these two lessons we shall
be satisfied for the present.
32. But I, in my coarse manner of thinking, take it that the life of reality must not only cease bodily, but also die spiritually; that is, it must be discarded by the world, and man must not rely on his works, however good and necessary they be, but live alone by faith and rely on Christ; thus he will be the disciple whom Christ loves. Here the Gospel, so to speak, bursts open and pours forth the rays of its spiritual meaning too numerous for me to catch. Christ by his Word and life urges the performance of good works, but in reality has in view only faith.
33. Let us then take John to mean faith, or the inner life of the soul in faith; St. Peter, works, or the outer life in works –taking care, however, not to separate the two from each other in one person. Thus we shall behold mysterious things and understand the lives real and contemplative, with their death or continuance.
34. Firstly, we read that this was the disciple whom Christ loved. This means that faith alone makes the truly beloved disciples of Christ, who receive the Holy Spirit through this very same faith, not through their works. Works indeed also make disciples, but not beloved disciples: only temporal hypocrites who do not persevere. God’s love does not uphold and keep them, for the reason that they do not believe.
35. Secondly, this is the disciple
who at the supper leaned back on Christ’s breast. It is surely something great
and admirable that faith owns the heart of Christ, that is, it possesses all
that Christ has and all right understanding. I have often said before that
faith makes Christ and the believer one, both having the same things in common.
That which Christ is and has becomes the property of the believer; and again,
36. Behold what abundant treasures the faith in Christ is and contains: it leans ever on Christ, bedding then safely and most gently, so that they fear nothing, neither sin, death, hell, the world, nor the devil; for they rest on life, on grace, and on eternal bliss, possessing all things in heaven and on earth–only in faith, however not manifestly as yet. This is indicated by the fact that St. John leans back on Christ’s breast not after his resurrection or in the morning, but before the resurrection and at supper, that is to say in this life, which is an evening-meal, denoting the end of the world, when souls are nourished by the Gospel and the Easter-Lamb, that is prepared, served and eaten by faith and through the preaching of the Word.
37. Thirdly, he particularly
mentions the breast, not the lap or the arms, indicating thereby that faith
possesses all the wisdom of God and understands all things rightly. The same is
also said by
38. Behold, thus through faith in Christ man not only possesses all things, but also rightly, certainly and wisely understands, knows and judges all things. This is typified by Moses in the law, Leviticus 9:31, where it is taught that of all animal offerings the breast is due and belongs to the priest. Priests however are all believers and Christians as we are told in 1 Peter 2:9. And therefore faith gives them all treasures and all wisdom, so that because of their treasures they are rich kings and have plenty, and that because of their wisdom they are great priests who can judge, distinguish and teach all the world.
39. Fourthly, this is the disciple who said to Jesus: “Lord, who is he that betrayeth thee?” What does this signify? Judas the traitor was a type of the pope, the bishops and all those priests who abandon the Word of God and prefer their own doctrines and works, at the same time uprooting all Christian truth. Yet their life has a fine spiritual semblance with all their religious doings and carrying on, and natural reason cannot comprehend how they can be mistaken, aye it even praises and supports them.
40. Now, since true faith and boastful works never go together, and since no one may rely on God’s grace and lean on the breast of Christ who relies on his works and doings; therefore grace and truth, when boastful works are exalted, decline equally much. Thus it comes about that through these traitors, the priests, truth steadily and secretly declines, so secretly in fact that true believers do not become aware of it, unless they diligently seek after truth. Has not Christ told us, Matthew 24:24, that even the elect, if possible, may be led astray? And therefore John is not content with leaning on the breast of Christ but anxiously and urgently he requires who may be the traitor.
41. Thus do the true believers, by exploring Christian truths and divine grace, learn who is the traitor; for noticing, as they do, that only grace– that is, Christ–and nothing but grace affords any help and that nothing else is to be relied upon, they easily see, by thus comparing and balancing grace and nature, that everything except grace is misleading. Then grace assures them and they behold that all such are traitors as set aside and uproot grace, who, in opposition to grace, establish doctrines and works, claiming thereby to make people religious and pious.
42. The betrayers of Christ therefore are the hypocrites who walk about with the semblance of a holy life and a spiritual estate, while at the same time they annihilate within themselves and in everybody else the truth of Christianity and the light of grace, leaving nothing but human folly. This is recognized only by such as have true faith, and even by such only when they pay special attention to it, investigate, examine and compare one with the other; otherwise they also will allow such works to pass, thinking in their simplicity that they are done in good faith, since, forsooth, they so closely resemble genuine Christian works. And for this the traitor’s name is Judas Iscariot. Judas means “confessor,” for all such saints confess Christ, do not openly deny him and even, in their lives, appear better than the true confessors. Iscariot however means “reward,” for such saints are only hirelings, egotists and seekers after pay; everything that they do they do for themselves and nothing freely, for the honor of God, even as Judas with his carrying of the purse only looked out for his advantage. Behold, thus the world abounds with religious people who, at heart, are nothing but Judas Iscariots, advantage-seekers and profit-servers, who with their outward semblance lead all the world astray and away from the right path of faith, despising and selling Christ, that is to say Christian truth and grace. Of this more anon during Lent.
43. Now you see why
44. Now we see what it means that
this disciple is to remain and Peter to follow as said above. Faith remains
until Christ comes, then it ceases; but works must perish and be despised. The
world can take all things from us and destroy them, even our good works and
good lives; but our faith it must permit to remain in our hearts,
and it will remain even unto the last day. From all this it follows that
45. It is likewise a good sign that
St. Peter turned to look at
Galatians 4, 1-7:
Now I say, [That] the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
1. This text is very characteristic of the apostle Paul. It is not generally understood. Not because of any obscurity in itself, but because the doctrine of faith, a doctrine it is very necessary to understand if we are to comprehend Paul, for his energetic and zealous mind is, in all his epistles, occupied with the subject of faith - because, I say, this doctrine is almost obsolete in the world today. A lengthy exposition is necessary to make it plain. To gain space to treat the subject clearly, we will let this suffice for the introduction.
2. We must know it is one thing to handle the subject of good works and another that of justification; just as the nature or personality of an individual is one thing and his actions or works another. Justification has reference to the person and not to the works. It is the former, not the latter, which is justified and saved, or is sentenced and punished.
3. Therefore, it is settled that no one is justified by works; he must first be justified by other means. Moses says (Gen 4, 4-5), ”Jehovah had respect unto Abel and to his offering.” First, he had respect to Abel the person, and then to his offering. Abel being godly, just and acceptable in person, his offering was acceptable. The sacrifice was accepted because of the person, and not the person because of the sacrifice. ”But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect.” In the first place, God had not respect unto Cain the person; hence later he respected not his offering. From this quotation we may conclude it is impossible for any work to be good in God's sight unless the worker first be good and acceptable. Conversely, it is impossible for any work to be evil before God unless the worker first be evil and not acceptable.
4. Now, let it be sufficiently proven for the present that there are two kinds of good works; some precede and others follow justification. The former merely appear to be good and effectual; the latter are really good.
5. Now, this is the point of contention between presumptuous saints and God. Right here carnal nature contends, even rages, against the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures everywhere treat of this contention. Therein God concludes all man's works, previous to his justification, evil and ineffectual; he requires justification and goodness on the part of the individual first. Again, he concludes that all persons in the state of nature and of the first birth are unjust and evil. As said in Psalms 116, 11, ”All men are liars.” And in Genesis 6, 5, ”Every imagination of the thoughts of man's heart was only evil continually.” Hence the natural man can perform no good work, and all his attempts will be no better than Cain's.
6. Here Madam Huldah with her scornful nose - human nature - steps in and dares to contradict her God and to charge him with falsehood. She bangs upon herself her old frippery, her straw armor - natural light, reason, freewill and human powers. She introduces the heathenish books and doctrines of men, and proceeds to harp upon these, saying: ”Good works do precede justification. And they are not, as God says, the works of Cain. They are good to the extent of justifying. For Aristotle taught that he who does much good will thereby become good.” To this doctrine Madam firmly cleaves, perverting the Scriptures and presuming that God must first respect the works and then the doer. This satanic doctrine universally reigns at present in all the high schools and other institutions, and in the cloisters. Its advocates are but Cain-like saints, disregarded of God.
7. In the second place, Madam Huldah, basing her position simply on works and attaching very little importance to the justified individual, proceeds still further and attributes all merit and supreme righteousness to the works following justification. She quotes James 2, 26, ”Faith apart from works is dead.” Not understanding this statement, she undervalues faith. Consequently she continues to hold to good works, presuming to require of God acceptance of the doer for the sake of the works. So the two continually strive against one another. God respects the individual, Cain the works. God rewards the works for the sake of the doer; Cain would have the doer crowned because of his works. God will not yield his just and righteous position, and the young nobleman Cain will never while the world stands allow himself to be convinced of his error. We must not reject his works, slight his reason or look unto his freewill as powerless; for so he will become angry with God and slay his brother Abel, a fact to which all history gives abundant testimony.
8. Do you ask: ”What then am I to do? How shall I make myself good and acceptable in person to begin with? how secure that justification? The Gospel replies: ”Hear Christ and believe in him, utterly despairing of yourself and resting assured you will be changed from a Cain to an Abel and then present your offerings.” just as faith is proclaimed without merit or work on your part, it is also bestowed regardless of your works, without any of your merits. It is given of pure grace. Note, faith justifies the individual; faith is justification. Because of faith God remits all sins, and forgives the old Adam and the Cain in our nature, for the sake of Christ his beloved Son, whose name faith represents. More, he bestows his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit changes the individual into a new creature, one with different reason and different will, and inclined to the good. Such a one, wherever he is, performs wholly good works, and all his works are good; as taught in the preceding epistle lesson.
9. Then nothing else is necessary to justification but to hear and believe in Jesus Christ as our Saviour. But that is not a work of the natural man; it is a work of grace. He who presumes to attain justification by works, only obstructs the way of the Gospel, of faith, grace, Christ, God and all good. On the other hand, nothing but justification is necessary to render works good. The justified man and none other does good; all he does, being justified, is good, without distinction of works. Therefore, the order of man's salvation, the beginning and the sequel, is first to hear and then believe God's Word as supreme, and then to act. Thus shall man be saved. He who perverts this order and acts accordingly is certainly not of God.
10. Paul prescribes this order where he says (Rom 10, 13-15): ”Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach, except they be sent?” Christ teaches us to pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest; that is, faithful preachers. When they come they preach the true Word of God. Hearing it, we are enabled to believe, and such faith justifies us and renders us godly; then we call upon God and do only good. Thus are we saved. So then, the believer shall be saved, but he who works without faith shall be damned. Christ says (Mk 16, 16), ”He that disbelieveth shall be condemned;” here works avail nothing.
11. Now, observe what people commonly do and say. ”Yes,”' they tell you, ”I expect to become godly. Yes, we must be godly.” But if they are asked what we are to do to accomplish it, they go on to say, ”Indeed, we must pray, fast, attend Church, abstain from sin, and so on.” One will enter a monastery, another some order. One will become a priest, another will don a hair-garment. One will punish himself in a certain way, and another in another way. They are like Cain and do the works of Cain. Personally they are as at first - without justification. They but assume an external change, an alteration of works, clothing, condition and habits. They are really apes, assuming the habits of saints but remaining unholy. Unmindful of faith, they rush along with their good works toward heaven - as they imagine - torturing themselves. Relative to them, Christ in the Gospel (Lk 13, 24) says: ”Strive to enter in by the narrow door: for many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” And why not? Because they do not recognize the narrow door. It is faith. Faith humbles one, reduces him to nothing, until he must despair of all his good works and cleave only to God's grace; for that he must forsake all else. But the Cain-like saints imagine good works to be the narrow door. Hence they do not humble themselves. Nor do they despair of their good works; no, lading themselves with the cumbersome bundles of their collected deeds, they strive to pass through the door. They will pass as the camel with his great hump passes through the eye of the needle.
12. Mention faith to them and they scoff and laugh, saying: ”Are we Turks or heathen that we must first learn what faith is? Is it possible that our multitude of monks, nuns and priests do not know? Who can be ignorant of what believing is when even they who openly sin know its meaning?” As if having finished with faith, they imagine they must henceforth devote themselves to works. As before said, they regard faith of slight importance; for they do not understand that it is our sole justifier. To accept as true the record of Christ - this they call faith. The devils have the same sort of faith, but it does not make them godly. Such belief is not Christian faith; no, it is rather deception.
13. In the preceding epistles we have heard that to be a Christian it is not enough simply to believe the story of Christ true - the Cain-like saints possess such faith - but the Christian must without any hesitancy believe himself one to whom grace and mercy are given, and that he has really secured them through baptism or through the Holy Supper. When he so believes, he is free to say of himself: ”I am holy, godly and just. I am a child of God, perfectly assured of salvation. Not because of anything in me, not because of my merits or works, am I saved; it is of the pure mercy of God in Christ, poured out upon me.” To such extent will he appreciate God's precious mercy, he cannot doubt that it renders him holy and constitutes him a child of God. But he who doubts, disparages to the utmost his baptism and the Holy Supper, and censures as false God's Word and his grace in the sacraments.
14. The Christian should entertain no fear - he should not doubt - that he is righteous and a child of God through grace. Rather he needs to entertain anxiety as to how he shall endure steadfast to the end. There is where all fear and anxiety are due. For while he assuredly is given to possess full salvation, it may be somewhat doubtful whether or no he will steadfastly retain it. Here we must walk in fear. True faith does not hang upon works nor rely upon itself; it relies only upon God and his grace. Grace cannot forsake the individual so long as reliance continues. But he knows not how long it will continue. Should temptation force him to lose his confidence, grace also will fail. Solomon (Ecc 9, 1) says: ”The righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God; whether it be love or hatred, man knoweth it not; all is before them.” He does not say it is uncertain at present, but in the future, because man knows not whether he will withstand the attacks or temptation.
15. When the Cain-like saints hear the doctrine of faith, they cross themselves, both with hands and feet, and exclaim: ”God forbid! How could I call myself holy and righteous? How could I be so egotistical and presumptuous? No, no; I am a poor sinner.” You see how they make faith of no value to themselves, and so must regard as heresy all doctrine based upon it. Thus they do away with the whole Gospel. These are they who deny the Christian faith and exterminate it from the world. Paul prophesied concerning them when he said (1 Tim 4, 1): ”In later times some shall fall away from the faith.” The voice of faith is now silenced all over the world. Indeed, faith is condemned and banished as the worst heresy, and all who teach and endorse it are condemned with it. The Pope, the bishops, charitable institutions, cloisters, high schools, unanimously opposed it for nearly four hundred years, and simply drove the world violently into hell. Their conduct is the real persecution by Antichrist, in the last times.
16. Tell them what the prophet says in Psalm 86, 2: ”Preserve my soul; for I am godly”; and Paul's words in Romans 8, 16: ”The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God;” and they reply: ”Yes, but the prophet and the apostle did not mean by these statements to establish a doctrine or leave an example of what others may claim. They were enlightened and their holiness was revealed to them.” Similarly, they construe every passage relating to the subject as not doctrinal in design, but exhibiting a remarkable miracle, a special prerogative of certain individuals not to be possessed by every believer. This explanation is a mere invention of their own minds. Themselves unbelievers, tasting not the Spirit, they think no one else should so believe or taste. By such conduct - their own fruits - they may be clearly identified as thorns and thistles; not as Christians, but as enemies and destroyers of Christians, and persecutors of the Christian faith.
17. Such, however, is the character of their own faith, they are led to believe they are made godly and holy through their works, and that therefore God must save them. Note, in their opinion, to become godly through works is Christianity; but to become godly through divine grace is heresy. Apparently their works are of greater importance and value than the grace of God. Their faith can rely upon works, but not upon God's grace. Since they reject the rock and build upon the sand, they but get their deserts when they fall into the error of their own works and torture themselves to death, to the devil's advantage. It is all because they will not rely upon the grace of God and render him reasonable service.
18. They who possess the Christian faith must in consequence of it be confidently happy in God and his grace. They will even delight in good works. The prayers the Cain-like ones offer, and the costume they affect, are not good works. Only such works as minister to the profit of a neighbor are good, as we said in the last Gospel lesson. Yes, Christians will readily suffer everything, for they doubt not God's presence with them, and his favor. These are they who honor God and are useful to man.
19. But the Cain-like people profit not God, the world nor themselves. They are mere useless burdens to the earth, harmful to themselves and everyone else. Lacking faith, they do not serve nor honor God. They do no work that contributes in any way to the benefit of their neighbor's body or property, his honor or his soul. Their works exclusively their own, consisting in certain gestures, apparel and meats and performed in honor of certain places and times. Tell me, how does it benefit me for you to affect a large bald pate or to wear a gray cowl? Who profits by your fasting on a certain day and observing a certain other day as holy? by your abstaining from particular meats, and secluding yourself in a certain place, to read and mutter so much every day? So doing, you simply murder yourself to please the devil, leaving a pernicious example, that others may follow in the same life and conduct as if it were good, and consistent with the principles of Christianity. Having not a Christian belief, you cannot pray in a Christian manner. Hence your fasting is not, as it should be, a mortification of the body; it is performed as a good work. Such a life is nothing else than the idolatry of Baal and of Moloch formerly practiced among the Jews, who tortured, burned and otherwise murdered their children for the devil's honor.
20. Perhaps you ask, ”If it is true that we are justified not by works, but by hearing of Christ and believing in him as ours personally, what is the need and use of the commandments? Why has God so urgently taught them? I answer: We come now to this our epistle lesson. It tells us the object of the commandments. The Galatians first learned the Christian faith from Paul. Afterward, being perverted by certain false teachers, they turned back to their works, imagining they must become righteous through the deeds of the Law. In our lesson Paul recalls them from their works unto faith, and with multiplied terms points out to them the two kinds of works of the Law. His conclusion is: the works preceding justification - or faith - are unprofitable and merely constitute us servants; but faith makes us children of God - his sons - whereupon really good works must follow.
21. But we must acquaint ourselves with Paul's language, his distinction between the servant and the child. The self-righteous he terms a servant. Concerning that individual much has been said heretofore. The believer in Christ he calls a child. The believer is and will be justified by faith alone - without works. This distinction is based upon the fact that the self- righteous one does not serve in the same spirit that actuates the child and heir conscious of his own inheritance. He renders his service in the spirit of a day-laborer upon another's property. Although the works of the two may be precisely of the same character, the spirit that moves them - the conscience, and faith - makes a difference. The child confidently expects to remain heir to the estate. The servant, recognizing his ultimate dismissal, does not await inheritance. As Christ declares (Jn 8, 35): ”The bondservant abideth not in the house for ever: the son abideth for ever.”
22. Now, the Cain-like saints have not, as they themselves confess, the Christian faith which would assure them of being the children of God. They protect themselves from that awful heretical presumption by making the sign of the cross. So they continue to hang in doubt. As they believe, so is it with them. They are not children of God and never will become his happy children in the way they are going, notwithstanding they may perform the requirements of the Law, may faithfully put it into practice. Observance of the Law will constitute them servants, and servants will they continue to be securing no more than a temporal reward - a competence on earth, and rest, honor and pleasure. We see this in the spiritual orders, where all the wealth, power, pleasure, honor and favors of the world are enjoyed. Here is the reward of the self-righteous. They are servants and not children; therefore in the hour of death they will all be cast out from the eternal inheritance which they refused in this life to believe in and to receive through faith. You see, so far as the works are concerned, there is scarcely a difference between the child and the servant. Faith, however - the spirit of service - makes the distinction.
23. The apostle's design is to make plain the fact that, lacking faith, the Law, with all its works, constitutes us simply servants. Only faith can make us children. Not the Law, nor the works of the Law, nor human nature can create faith within us; the Gospel alone brings it. It is present when we give ear to the Gospel, the Word of grace, which Word is accompanied by the Holy Spirit when preached and heard in quiet sincerity. Witness the example of Cornelius and his family (Acts 10, 44), who received the Holy Spirit simply upon hearing Peter preach.
24. The Law was given merely to reveal to man his graceless and servile condition and his lack of filial affection; to show him how he serves God without faith and confidence, and a free, spontaneous spirit. The self-righteous saints confess to their utter want of confidence; and, if they would but make further confession, they must admit that they prefer to have no Law, and do not submit to it from choice. Destitute of faith as they are, their whole conduct is regulated by restraints. They must acknowledge the Law powerless to yield them any higher perfection. Let them learn from the Law their condition as servants and not as children, and be led to come out of their servitude into the prerogative of the child, regarding their own efforts ineffectual. Thus through faith and the grace of God they may attain their rightful place in life.
25. Such is the right way to view the Law; such is the use we are to make of it. It is calculated simply to convict and vanquish all who presume to fulfil it without faith. For these, being servants, undertake its requirements with no free, spontaneous spirit and with no reliance on grace. The Law is designed to try men, to teach them by defeat in the conflict with it how unwilling, how faithless, they are, and thus lead them to seek help elsewhere and not to presume by their own strength to meet its demands. A voluntary spirit is necessary, and only the child of God can fulfil the Law. The Law is an enemy to the unwilling and to servants.
26. But the self-righteous go so far as to acknowledge their utter lack of faith, yes, they reject the faith which would constitute them children; they are sensible of their unwillingness, and really prefer freedom from the Law; yet they presume by their own works to render themselves godly; they desire to remain servants instead of children, but at the same time to cleave to the inheritance, so perverting all order. Though, as we said, the purpose of the Law is to bring them into conflict and teach that they are servants lacking a voluntary spirit, and to lead them to despair of their own efforts and cleave to faith, which would afford grace and constitute them children - notwithstanding all this, they pervert the Law to the extent of undertaking to fulfil its demands by their works. Thus they frustrate the end of the Law and its true meaning, striving against faith and grace, to which the Law points, even urges, them. So they remain forever a blind, perverse, laboring and servile people. Such is the teaching of Paul where he fearlessly says (Rom 3, 20), ”By the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified in his sight.” Why not? He answers (Rom 7, 7), Because the Law effects only the knowledge or experience of sin.
27. Beloved, how does the Law do this? Study a Cainlike individual and you will see. In the first place, only with great pains and labor does he perform all his works in obedience to the Law. Yet, as he readily confesses, he does not believe himself a child of God and holy. Indeed, as before said, he condemns such faith as the most abominable presumption and heresy. He continues in doubt, expecting to become a child through his own works.
28. You see plainly, that individual is not good nor righteous, for he is destitute of faith, in fact is an enemy to faith. Being an enemy to faith, he is an enemy to righteousness. Consequently his works are not meritorious, no matter how admirable they may appear judged by the standard of the Law. So you see Paul is right when he says, ”By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight.” In God's sight the doer must be good before his works are good. True, his works may justify him before men, who judge according to the deeds performed and not according to the doer's spirit - the state of his heart. While men judge individuals by their works, God judges the works by the individual.
The first commandment of the Law demands that we have one God and honor him, that is, trust and confide in him, build upon him. This is true faith, whereby we are made children of God. Thus the Law clearly reveals the sin of the Cain-like - their unbelief. In like manner you experience whether you believe or not. Without such a law no one could experience or know this. Note, this is what Paul calls knowledge of sin by the Law.
29. You cannot extricate yourself from unbelief, nor can the Law do it for you. All your works in intended fulfilment of the Law must remain works of the Law and powerless to justify in the sight of God, who regards as just only believing children. For only these fulfil the first commandment and hold him true God. Though you torture yourself to death with works, yet they will not afford your heart the faith this commandment requires. Indeed, as before stated, works neither know nor tolerate faith. They do not recognize that the Law requires faith. Therefore, he who puts his trust in works must continue the devil's martyr and a persecutor of faith and the Law through those very works wherein he trusts, until he comes to himself, knows himself and, despairing of himself and his works, gives honor to God; until, perceiving his own worthlessness, he ardently desires pure grace, driven to it by God, through the Law. Then faith and grace come to fill the empty heart, to feed the hungry soul. Then follow really good works. These works are not of the Law; they are works of the Spirit of grace, in the Scriptures styled the works of God - works he produces in us. All not produced in us by God through grace, all that we perform of ourselves without grace, is really wrought of the Law and avails nothing to justification. Rather it is evil and opposed to God, because of the unbelief in which it is wrought.
30. In the second place, one like Cain never performs his duty willingly and voluntarily unless he is hired and is permitted to exercise his own pleasure, to have his own desires. He is precisely like the servant who will not do his duty unless he is driven, or is given his own way. Now, servants that have to be driven or coaxed or flattered are very disagreeable. Likewise the Cain-like are displeasing, and by no means acceptable in the sight of God. For they perform no work of the Law unless driven by fear of punishment and of hell; or only after being coaxed and given their own way; or again, unless they do it to secure from God a competence to use as they desire. You see they are not actuated by heartfelt love for the Law, but by the expectation of reward or fear of punishment. Being with all their hearts enemies to the Law, evidently they would prefer that the Law did not exist. If the doer be evil, the work is also evil. It is merely extorted by fear, or secured by conceding the doer his own pleasure in the matter; just as entreaty and persuasion move one to action.
31. The Law teaches us to recognize the unwillingness and perversity of our minds. They are wholly sinful before God. Where is the holiness in performing with the hands required duties when our hearts are unkindly disposed toward the Law and the Law-giver? Indeed, ill-will toward the Law is very sinful. Note, what Paul calls knowing sin by the Law, is coming into conflict with it, feeling and experiencing the perversity of our hearts and in consequence shuddering, despairing of ourselves, and eagerly striving after grace. Grace removes disinclination and generates a willing, cheerful spirit, a spirit giving us sincere good-will for the Law and enabling us to perform our duties voluntarily, without constraint, our only motive being pure delight in righteousness and the Law, while we are uninfluenced by expectation of reward or by fear of punishment. Thus, of the slave, the child is made; of the bond-servant, an heir. The faith of Christ alone can create such a spirit, as sufficiently stated before. Now let us consider the epistle.
32. Paul introduces a figure from material life. As we know, a minor, a child, who is heir to an estate left from parents or bequeathed by will, is reared in restraint like a servant so far as control of the estate is concerned. He is powerless to exercise his own pleasure in regard to it. He is kept under restraint and discipline, being permitted to derive from the estate only enough for food and raiment, notwithstanding the property is really his own. In the matter of his own possessions, he is but as a stranger and a servant.
33. Similarly, in spiritual matters God made a testament when he gave Abraham the promise (Gen 22, 18) that in his seed, Christ, should all the nations of the earth be blessed. This testament was afterward established by the death of Christ; and after his resurrection it was published through the Gospel. The Gospel is merely a revelation, a manifestation, of this testament wherein it is declared to the world that in Christ, the seed of Abraham, grace and blessing are willed and given to all men, and may be received by every one if only he believes it.
34. Before this testament was opened and published, children of God were under the Law, burdened and constrained by its works. Nevertheless, their works did not justify; rather they were servile and unprofitable. But because God's children were predestined to a future faith which should constitute them children, they were unquestionably heirs of the grace and blessing conveyed in the testament; though not then in possession of it and able to appropriate it, but, like others without faith, servile and occupied with works. just so, it is the case now, and always has been, that many believe, and acknowledge faith, after having been previously overwhelmed with works and in ignorance of faith; after having been, with hypocrites, occupied in works. From the fact of their now apprehending faith and receiving the inheritance, they certainly must have been all the time heirs and predestined of God, though in ignorance of the fact, and though servants, self-righteous and Cain-like.
35. So some who are now occupied with works and whose holiness is like Cain's, who are servants as he was, are nevertheless future heirs and children, because they will yet believe. Faith will enable them to lay aside their servility, to surrender their works and to obtain the great blessing, the vast inheritance, of justification. And being justified, righteousness and salvation are theirs without works. Then will they voluntarily do all their works to the honor of God and the benefit of their neighbors, without expectation of reward or intent to secure righteousness or a reward. For they are in possession of the inheritance and blessing; they have what Christ has bequeathed to them in his testament and caused to be opened, proclaimed and distributed through the Gospel, all of pure grace and mercy.
36. Abraham and every other patriarch, you will observe, recognized God's testament or covenant. It was delivered to them just as much as to us, although not at that time read and proclaimed to the world as after Christ's ascension They obtained the very same thing that we and all God's children obtain, and through the very same faith. The grace, the blessing, the testament, the faith - all are the same; the Father is one and the same God of us all.
37. Note, Paul everywhere teaches justification, not by works, but solely by faith; and not as a process, but instantaneous. The testament includes in itself everything - justification, salvation, the inheritance and great blessing. Through faith it is instantaneously enjoyed, not in part, but all. Truly is it plain, then, that faith alone affords such blessings of God, justification and salvation - immediately and not in process as must be the case with works - and constitutes us children and heirs who voluntarily discharge their duties, not presuming to become godly and worthy by a servile spirit. No merit is needed; faith secures all gratuitously - more than anyone can merit. The believer performs his works gratuitously, being already in possession of all the Cain-like saints vainly seek through works and never find - justification and divine inheritance, or grace.
38. These guardians and stewards are they who bring up the heir on his father's estate, restraining him from a wild and vagabond life. Though they withhold from him control of the inheritance, they are necessary and benefit the heir in various ways. In the first place, as stated before, they keep him at home on the estate, to better fit him for enjoyment of it. Secondly, the fact of his being carefully and closely restrained will inspire in him stronger desire for control of the inheritance; when he arrives at the age of discretion he will yearn for freedom and be unwilling to continue under others' control.
39. The same is necessarily true of everyone still occupied with works under the Law, and a servant. The Law is his guardian, his steward. He is under its control as one in constraint of another. The Law is designed, in the first place, to train him and keep him in bounds; to restrain him externally, through fear of punishment, from committing evil works; to save him from becoming wholly dissolute, from risking everything and altogether shutting himself out from God and his salvation, as do the profligate. The Law is intended, in the second place, to teach man to know himself; to bring him to reason, where he may recognize his unwilling allegiance to the Law, how he performs no work willingly as a child, but by constraint as a bondservant. The Law gives him experience as to his shortcomings; it shows him his lack of a free, new and everwilling spirit - a spirit the Law and its works cannot give. Indeed, the more he works, the more unwillingly is it done; and the harder is it to work, for he is influenced by a grudging spirit.
40. Being made aware of his unwilling attitude, he sees that his works are only an external observance of the Law, while in his heart he is an enemy and opposer of the Law, so far as cheerful obedience is concerned. Hence he truly is constantly at heart a sinner against the Law, and externally a saint according to the Law; in other words, a real Cain, an egregious hypocrite. Manifestly to himself, his works are works of the Law, but his heart is a heart of sin. His heart being not disposed to the Law, it is disposed to sin, while merely his hands are constrained to observe the Law's requirements.
41. Very aptly has Paul styled works without faith ”works of the Law.” For the Law forces them; they are simply compulsory works. Now, the Law demands the heart also. It desires a willing obedience. A willing obedience may be said to be not only ”a work of the Law,” but ”a heart of the Law”; not only ”hands of the Law,” but”will, spirit and all the powers of the Law.” As Psalm 1, 1-2 declares:”Blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of Jehovah; and on his law doth he meditate day and night.” Such a spirit the Law demands, but it does not create it; nor is human nature able of itself to produce it. Hence the Law oppresses the soul and condemns it to hell as disobedient to God's commandments. Anguish and distress of conscience follow, but there is no help. This is the time appointed of the Father. Now the child of God will crave grace and help. He will confess his wretchedness, weakness and guilt. He will let go his claim to security in works, and despise himself. For he recognizes that between himself and public sinners there is no difference except as to external conduct. In his heart he is as much opposed to the Law as any other sinner; in fact, his heart may be even more embittered toward it. For the sinner of actual practice may find less desire to sin and may become somewhat inimical to sin, in consequence of the resulting unpleasantness and injury he must meet. The child of God, hindered and restrained by its tutor the Law, may really burn and rage in his desires and lusts for sin, though he dare not commit the deed. Thus, in expression he may be more righteous than the public sinner, but in heart more wicked.
42. Now, it is easily apparent to everyone that to give our hands to the Law and our whole hearts to sin, is a very unequal division of service; for the whole heart means vastly more than the works of the hands. What is such a proceeding but giving the chaff to the Law and the grain to sin, or the shell to God and the kernel to the devil? This explains how, as taught in the Gospel, the sin of the public transgressor is but a mote, while that of the secret offender is a great beam.
43. Now, where circumstances are such that Cain does not see this beam and does not learn to know himself in this sense of the Law, but continues obdurate and blind in his works, disregarding his inner wickedness - where such is the case, he proceeds very inconsistently to judge with malice the world in general, despising sinners as did the Pharisee in the Gospel - presuming to regard himself godly in contrast with others. If any attempt to rebuke him, and justly to condemn his conduct, he rages and raves, kills Abel and persecutes all men, claiming that he does it for the sake of good works and righteousness, to the praise of God. He expects to merit much as a persecutor of blasphemers, heretics, offenders and wicked ones who would lead him astray and lure him from good works. Right here all Scripture denunciations of these venomous spirits come in. Christ calls them serpents and a generation of vipers. Mt 23, 33. They are like Cain, and will continue like him. Servants are they, and will remain servants.
44. But the prospective Abels and future children learn to recognize themselves by the Law, to discover how little heartfelt delight they have for that Law. Ceasing to rely upon their own presumption, they let go their hold and with this knowledge are completely helpless in their own eyes. Just here the Gospel comes in. Here is where God gives grace to the humble. These children of God lay hold of the testament and believe. With and in this faith they receive the Holy Spirit. He gives to them a new heart, a heart delighting in the Law and hating sin; and doing right voluntarily and cheerfully. Works of the Law are now superseded by hearts of the Law. This is the time appointed of the father for the heir to come into his own - no longer to be a servant nor under a guardian. Now we understand what Paul means by the words:
45. The apostle uses a word familiar to us - ”rudiments.” But we are not to understand here the four rudiments or elements of nature - fire, water, air and earth. That is not its Scriptural meaning. That use of the term originated in heathen philosophy, and in such sense it would be entirely inadmissible in the Scriptures. The apostle means by ”rudiments” the literal characters - the letters - of the Law. In both the Latin and the Greek languages, letters are terms the ”rudiments” of the language. Similarly, Paul says (Heb 5, 12), ”When by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that some one teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God.” And (Col 2, 8): ”Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” Again (Gal 4, 9-10), ”How turn ye back again to the weak and beggarly rudiments, whereunto ye desire to be in bondage over again? Ye observe days, and months, and seasons, and years.”
46. It is in a rather contemptuous sense that Paul terms the Law ”rudiments,” or letters; it is ”weak and beggarly” because it can afford no relief. It renders us likewise weak and beggarly, for it demands service of the heart and mind; and the heart and mind are not present. Hence the conscience grows weak and beggarly, confessing it has not and can not have what it should have. As the apostle expresses it (2 Cor. 3, 6), ”The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”
47. Some understand by ”rudiments” not the letter of the law, but the ceremonials and outward forms of worship incident to the religious life, and which we early teach children. In that connection, ”rudiments” implies the first crude, childish forms of worship.
48. Paul qualifies ”rudiments” by the phrase ”of the world,” because the self-righteous, while boasting obedience to the Law, observe it only in external and worldly things, such as days, meats, apparel, places, persons, vessels and the like. These are all creatures of this world, and such, practically, is the extent of the works of the Law. [Therefore we rendered the meaning in German by ”Aeuszerliche Satzung,” outward or worldly laws. Editions of 1540 and 1543.]
49. But faith, independent of the world, hangs upon God, his Word and his mercy; and justifies us, not by works or any other worldly thing, but by the eternal, invisible grace of God. To the Christian, one day is like another; and meats, places, apparel and all worldly things are alike. They neither help nor hinder his salvation and justification, as they do in the case of Cain and the self-righteous. Therefore, the Christian gives no heed to the rudiments of this world, but regards the fullness of the eternal blessings. So, though the Christian has to do with external, temporal affairs, yet he is indifferent to worldly things. He is free to disregard them. All are alike to him - persons, places, days, meats, apparel, etc. He makes no particular choice. Doing the duty that presents, he is unconcerned about what does not. His external conduct does not represent something select and peculiar.
50. The Cain-like take a different course. They must make some distinction - must be recognized by some peculiarity. They eat no meat, wear nothing black, pray not in houses, observe days. One is bound to one custom, another to another. Yet these are all temporal and transitory things. The observers are servants of the rudiments of this world. Nevertheless, their practices are styled holy orders, good morals and real ways to salvation. Upon this point Paul says (Col 2, 20-23): ”If ye died with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, do ye subject yourselves to ordinances, Handle not, nor taste, nor touch (all which things are to perish with the using), after the precepts and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility.”
51. From this quotation and from our foregoing arguments, clearly all orders, institutions and cloisters, now styled ecclesiastical positions, are directly opposed to the Gospel and to the freedom of Christian life; and they who are bound by them are in greater danger than are actual worldlings. The things they devise are mere rudiments of this world. They pertain only to apparel, persons, conditions, times, forms, meats and vessels - solely worldly and temporal things. Adhering to these as having power to make them pious and spiritual, faith is excluded and they are not Christians. Their whole life is but sin and corruption.
52. These ecclesiasts have more need than anyone else to guard against such dazzling devices. They have especial need to adhere stedfastly to faith, the righteousness of which is beyond the world and worldly things. The glitter and show of works tear away from faith with greater violence than do gross, open sins, and place the doers in the condition to which Paul here refers when he says, ”So we also, when we were children, were held in bondage under the rudiments of the world.” When we were ignorant of faith and occupied with the works of the Law, we performed - yet unwillingly and as servants - works relating to temporal things, presuming thereby to become righteous and saved. It was a false idea, and made of us children and servants. The mere works would have been harmless had it not been for the idea that excluded faith and the doctrine of godliness only through grace, and had all temporal things been left optional.
53. Now, since the law cannot effect justification nor faith, and human nature with all its works cannot merit them, Paul introduces him who merited faith in our stead, and who is master of justification - and justification was not secured without price; it cost much, even the Son of God himself. Him Paul introduces, saying: ”When the fulness of the time was come”; that is, at the expiration of the time when we were children and servants. The apostle follows a usage of the Scriptures in speaking of the expiration of the time as its ”fulfilment.” For instance, Acts 2, 1: ”When the day of Pentecost was [fulfilled] fully come”; that is, when it was completed. And Exodus 23,26, ”The number of thy days I will fulfil,” meaning, ”I will not shorten them; I will give their full measure.” Also Luke 1, 57: Now Elizabeth's time was fulfilled that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son.”
54. Hence the learned doctors erred in interpreting this passage by Paul to mean that the time of fulfilment was the time of grace following Christ's birth. This is directly contrary to the apostle, who does not say, ”the time of the fulfilment,” but ”the fulfilment of the time,” meaning the previous time appointed of the Father for the heir, - the period of his guardianship.
55. Like as the time of the bondservant was fulfilled for the Jews by the bodily advent of Christ, so is it still daily fulfilled for the individual when he is enlightened by faith, and his period of servitude in legal works terminates. Christ's bodily advent would have been to no purpose had it not effected a spiritual advent, the advent of faith. The purpose of the former appearance was the establishment of the latter one. Christ came spiritually to all who, whether previously or subsequently, believed in his bodily advent. Hence, because of their faith, he was always present with the ancient fathers; but he has not yet come to the Jews of today because of their unbelief. Everything, from the beginning of the world to the end, depends on that bodily advent. Faith therein terminates the state of servitude whenever, wherever and in whomsoever it exists. Therefore, the time is fulfilled for each individual when he begins to believe in Christ as the promised one now come.
56. So rich in meaning is this verse, I am not sure I shall be able to do it justice in my explanation. It is not enough merely to believe that Christ is come; we must believe also what Paul here states: that he is sent of God and is the Son of God; that he is true man; that his mother was a virgin; that he alone has fulfilled the Law, and not for his own sake but for our good - to secure grace for us. These points we will examine in order. On the first point John's entire Gospel insists, as we said on the selection for Christmas. John continually proves Christ the Son of God and sent of the Father. He who does not believe that Christ is true God is lost; witness John ”Except ye believe that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” And (Jn 1, 4): ”In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” And again (Jn 14, 6): ”I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” And the reason that we must believe if we would be saved, is this:
57. The soul cannot, and should not, be content with anything but the Highest Good - its Creator and the fountain of its life and salvation. Now, God chose to be himself that one on whom the soul should rely and believe. No one but God deserves the creature's confidence. Therefore, he himself came to earth as man, gave himself for man, and draws man unto himself, inviting him to believe in him. No necessity on God's part demanded that he come to earth as man; the necessity was ours - it was for our benefit. Now, if we were not to cleave by faith unto Christ as true God, God would be robbed of the honor due him, and we of life and salvation. It is our duty to believe in God only, who is the Truth; without him we cannot live or be saved.
58. The apostle says, ”God sent his son.” The fact of sending necessitates previous existence of the Son. Christ must have existed before he manifested himself on earth in human form. Again, if he is a Son, he must be greater than an angel. Being more than man and more than angels, the highest creatures, he must be true God. To be the Son of God is to be superior to an angel, as said in the Epistle for Christmas day. Further, Christ being sent by God, and being God's Son, he must be a distinct person from him who sends. Thus Paul teaches here the existence of one God in two persons, Father and Son. We shall speak later of the Holy Spirit.
59. For the second point: We are also to believe Christ to be true, natural man, and the Son of man. Paul says he was born of a woman, or made of a woman. Now, he who is born of a woman must be truly a natural man. A woman can bear only according to her nature - bear true man. In John 6, 53, Christ says: ”Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves.” Eating and drinking here means simply believing that Christ, the Son of God, had a true flesh-and-blood nature, like other men. This is also the testament or covenant of God to Abraham (Gen 22, 18), ”In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” To be the seed of Abraham, Christ must surely have Abraham's flesh and blood - must be his natural child.
60. No one, then, must presume by his own devotion, his own efforts, to institute a way of approach to God. It is futile to call on God in the manner of the Jews and the Turks. We must approach him through the seed of Abraham, and be blessed through that seed, according to God's covenant. God will not make a special way for you. He will not, because of your service, annul his covenant. You must abandon your own efforts and cleave to the seed he mentions, to that flesh and blood; otherwise you will be lost with all the spiritual skill and wisdom you may have gained from God. Christ says (Jn 14, 6), ”No one cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
61. Because of the exalted and incomprehensible character of the divine nature, God has for our good manifested himself in the most familiar form - in our own nature. In this character he awaits us. Here, and nowhere else, he may be found. Whosoever calls upon him in this relation will be heard at once. Here is the throne of grace, where no one who comes is excluded. But they who permit Christ to dwell here in vain, and presume in some other way than through his humanity to serve and call upon God, the Creator of heaven and earth, may see their sentence already pronounced in Psalm 18, 41, where it is said of such: ”They cried, but there was none to save; even unto Jehovah, but he answered them not.”
62. In the third place, we must believe that Christ's mother was a virgin. The apostle makes this plain when he declares the Son of God was made of a woman - not of man like other children. He alone among men is born of woman only. The apostle is not disposed to say ”born of a virgin,” because ”virgin” is not naturally consistent here. But ”woman” represents a state in nature - the natural instrumentality for bearing fruit, for bringing forth children. The mother of Christ is truly woman by nature, who brought forth the divine fruit; yet from herself alone, not by man. Therefore she is a virgin woman - not simply a virgin.
63. Paul attaches more importance to the birth of Christ than to Mary's virginity. He passes over in silence her virginity, merely a peculiar personal grace that benefited none but herself, and points out her womanhood, advantageous not only to herself but to her fruit. Her virginity ministers not so much to Christ as does her womanhood. She was selected in her virginity not for her own sake, but for Christ's sake. He chose to be born of a virgin that he might be born without sin. A sinless birth was impossible except through the instrumentality of a virgin woman who was able to conceive and bring forth without the aid of man.
64. Such seems to be included in God's covenant, declaring that all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in the seed of Abraham. From the fact of a blessing being promised, it is evident that men must be under a curse because of their physical birth in sin resulting from Adam. Should this seed of Abraham be a blessing to all, it could not itself be under a curse; therefore, the Saviour could not come of Adam's birth, which is altogether under the curse.
65. Further, to verify the testament or covenant of God who cannot lie, Christ must be the natural child of Abraham - his flesh and blood. But to what is such reasoning leading us? Christ is to be a natural child, born of flesh and blood, and yet not to be a child of carnal birth. The inconsistency of the reasoning is removed by the fact that a woman alone, independent of man, was chosen to effect the birth. Thus it was possible for a real, natural child, one truly the seed of Abraham, to be born sinless, of a woman, and productive of abundant blessings. In him, then, mankind, under the curse in consequence of its own sinful birth, may be blessed. Thus the requirements of God's covenant are fully met; the carnal birth of Adam with its inordinate desire is avoided, and a physical birth in spiritual manner really effected.
66. If to Mary, the holy virgin, is due great honor for her virginity, infinitely greater honor is due her for her womanhood. For her procreative powers were instrumental in the fulfilment of God's covenant, and in making the blessed seed of Abraham the blessed fruit of her womanhood. Her mere virginity would have been insufficient to accomplish it; in fact, entirely futile.
67. In the fourth place, we must believe that none but Christ has fulfilled the law. He says (Mt 5, 17), ”Think not that I came to destroy the law . . . but to fulfil.” Such, too, is the meaning of the covenant that says the whole world is condemned, and shall be blessed in Abraham's seed. Gen 22, 18. Now, if all men are condemned and unblessed, the individual cannot be good; he is only Cain-like. Consequently his works cannot be good, as said before. God does not regard the works, but the persons - Abel and Cain. And the works of the law render no one righteous.
68. The fact that Christ rejects all works of the Law and demands that the person first be good and blessed, may seem to teach that he rejects good works and designs to destroy the Law altogether. But in reality Christ teaches us to perform good works. For the very purpose of correcting error on this point, he says (Mt 5, 17): ”Think not that I came to destroy the Law” because I reject the works of the Law. Rather I design its fulfilment through men's faith in me, which first renders the individual good and then enables him to do really good works. Similarly Paul says, rejecting all works of the Law and exalting faith alone: ”Do we then make the law of none effect through faith? God forbid: nay, we establish the law.” Rom 3, 31. Of us at the present day also it is said that we forbid good works when we condemn the practices of the cathedrals and cloisters in the matter of works. Nevertheless, our actual desire for the people is that they first embrace true faith whereby they may become personally good, and be blessed in Christ the seed of Abraham, and thus be enabled to do good works contributing to the mortification of the body and to the good of mankind. To this end the things wrought in cathedrals and cloisters contribute nothing, as already fully stated.
69. Observe, no one is able to fulfil the Law until he first is liberated from it. We must become accustomed to Paul's peculiar phraseology in his reference to some being ”under the Law” if we would know who is really under it and who is free. All who perform good works simply because commanded, and from fear of punishment or expectation of reward, are under the Law. Their piety and good deeds result from constraint, and not from a willing spirit. The Law is their master, their driver, and they its bondservants and captives. Such is the attitude of all men without Christ the blessed seed of Abraham. Our own experience and the voice of everyone's conscience teach this. Were it not for the restraint of Law - the fear of punishment or the expectation of reward - were each individual left to his own inclinations and there were no punishment or reward, he would do evil and neglect good, particularly under the influence of temptation and allurements. But when the Law with its threats and its promises interposes, man abstains from evil and endeavors to do good; not from love of good and hatred of evil, but through fear of punishment or hope of reward. Thus the Cain-like saints are under the Law, controlled by it, like servants.
70. But they who are liberated from the Law do good and avoid evil, regardless of the threats and promises of the Law - not from fear of punishment or expectation of reward. They act voluntarily, from love for the good and hatred of the evil, because they delight in the Law of God. Even were there no Law, they would not have it otherwise, and be prompted by the same spirit to do good and abstain from evil. Such are really children. Human nature cannot create that spirit; it has origin with the seed of Abraham. The blessing of Christ gives the willing disposition. Willingness is the result of his grace and of the influence of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, ”not under the Law” does not mean liberty to do evil and to neglect good as we feel inclined. It means doing good and avoiding evil, not in consequence of fear, not from the restraints and requirements of the Law, but from pure love and a willing spirit. Freedom from the Law involves a spirit which would voluntarily do only good, as if the Law did not exist and our nature were prone to do good. It is a freedom paralleled by that of the body, which willingly eats, drinks, assimilates, sleeps, moves and performs all natural functions. No law, no compulsion, is necessary. It acts voluntarily and seasonably, without fear of punishment or expectation of reward. It may truly be said that the body is under no law, still it performs its functions; it acts spontaneously.
71. Mark you, we must have within ourselves a ready, natural willingness that will incline to good and recoil from evil. This is spiritual liberation, or redemption from the, Law. Thus is explained Paul's words (1 Tim 1, 9): ”Law is not made for a righteous man.” From his own impulse the righteous man inclines to good and abstains from evil; it is with no fear of penalty or hope of recompense. Again, we read (Rom 6, 15), ”We are not under law, but under grace.” That is, we are children, not bondservants; we incline to good readily, without constraint. Again (Rom 8, 15), ”Ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear; but ye received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” The Law produces a spirit of fear; a servile, Cain-like spirit. But grace produces a free, filial, Abel-like disposition, through Christ the seed of Abraham. To that spirit, Psalm 51, 10, has reference: ”Create in me a clean heart, 0 God; and renew a right spirit within me.” Again, in Psalm 110, 3, it is said concerning the people of Christ: ”Thy people offer themselves willingly . . . in holy array.”
72. Thus Christ fulfilled the Law and did all, of his own free will; not because of the compelling or restraining power of the Law. No other has ever fulfilled it, nor will any fulfil it, except in and through him. So Paul here says that Christ as ”born under the law, that he might redeem them that are under the law.”
73. In the fifth place, we are to believe that Christ's motive was to benefit us. He desired to make children of us servants. What is meant by the phrase ”that he might redeem them that were under the law”? Unquestionably, that he might redeem us from under the Law. But how does Christ effect that? As said before, not by the threats or the rewards of the Law, but by bestowing a voluntary spirit; a spirit prompted neither by compulsion nor restraint; a spirit that regards not the terrors nor the rewards of the Law, but proceeds as if no Law existed and all action were voluntary, as was the case with Adam and Eve before the fall.
74. But what is the process whereby Christ gives us such a spirit and redeems us from under the Law? The work is effected solely by faith. He who believes that Christ came to redeem us, and that he has accomplished it, is really redeemed. As he believes, so is it with him. Faith carries with it the child-making spirit. The apostle here explains by saying that Christ has redeemed us from under the Law that we might receive the adoption of sons. As before stated, all must be effected through faith. Now we have discussed the five points of the verse.
75. The question, however, still arises: How can Christ be under the Law if to be ”under the Law” is to be prompted to obedience only by its restraints and compulsion, and if no one under the Law can fulfil it since God requires a voluntary conformity to its demands? I answer: The apostle seems to make a distinction when he says that Christ was put, or made under the Law; that is, he voluntarily placed himself under the Law. Again, with his voluntary consent, the Father placed him under the Law, though properly he was not subject. We, however, were made subject against our desires. We, as Paul says, were naturally and essentially in forced subjection. While Christ was voluntarily, not by nature, under the Law, we were by nature, not voluntarily, in subjection.
76. There is a marked
difference between being placed under the Law and being of choice under the
Law; just the difference there is between volition and the compulsion of nature.
Acting according to the pleasures of the will differs materially from obeying
the impulses of nature. What is performed by pleasure of the will may be
omitted; it is not compulsory. But what is wrought in obedience to the impulses
of nature is of necessity; it is not optional. One may go to the
77. To illustrate: Peter, the apostle (Acts 12, 6-7), lay captive in the prison of Herod, bound with chains to two soldiers, while the keepers stood guard at the door. The angel of God entered the prison in a brilliant light, awoke Peter and led him past all the keepers and out the door, leaving the chains in the prison. This event is an illustration of how Christ liberates us from the Law. Let us analyze it. Peter was an inmate of the prison not willingly; he was kept there by force. He knew not how to deliver himself. The angel also entered the prison, but willingly. He was not compelled to be there. He was not there for his own sake, but for the sake of Peter. And he knew how to deliver himself. Now, Peter, when he followed the angel obediently, was liberated. The prison represents the Law, in which our consciences are unwillingly held captive. For no one voluntarily effects the good required by the Law or omits the evil it forbids. Man acts through fear of punishment or hope of reward. The fear or threat and the reward, or rather the expectation of reward, are the two chains that hold us in prison under the Law. The keepers are the teachers of the Law, who explain it to us. Thus we remain - yes, unwillingly lie- in the Law. Christ is the angel who voluntarily approaches us in prison - approaches us under the Law; he does willingly the works we unwillingly perform. His motive is to benefit us; he would attach us to himself and liberate us. Christ well knows how to liberate, for he is himself independent of will. Then, mark you, if we cleave to him and follow him, we too shall be liberated.
78. But how is this done? We cleave to Christ and follow him when we believe that he effects all for our benefit. Such faith introduces the Spirit. Having faith, we too shall perform the requirements of the Law voluntarily, unfettered and liberated from the prison of the Law. The two chains, fear of punishment and hope of reward, will no longer restrain us. All our acts will be spontaneous, prompted by pure love and a cheerful spirit.
79. To further understand how Christ was put under the Law: Observe, he placed himself in subjection in a twofold manner. In the first place, he put himself under the works of the Law. He permitted himself to be circumcised and to be presented and purified in the temple. He was submissive to his father and mother, and all those things, when no obligation required. For he was Lord over all laws. He acted voluntarily in this respect, unprompted by fear of punishment or expectation of reward as far as he was himself concerned. When we consider the question of mere external works, we can perceive no difference between his conduct and that of individuals actuated by compulsion and restraint. His liberty and free will were concealed from men, just as the imprisonment and unwillingness of others were not apparent. Thus Christ acts under the Law, though properly not under the Law. He conducts himself like those in bondage to it, but he is himself free. His will being free, he is not under the Law. In the matter of works, which he voluntarily performs, he is subject. But we, both as to our wills and to our works, are under the Law; for we effect works by constraint of will.
80. In the second place, Christ willingly put himself under the penalty of the Law. He did more than perform the works of the Law to which he was not obligated; he willingly and innocently suffered the penalty threatened and inflicted of the Law upon all who fail of observance. Now, the Law adjudges to death, condemnation and eternal punishment every transgressor of its commands. Paul, quoting from Deuteronomy 27, 26, says: ”Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them.” Gal 3, 10.
81. We have now made sufficiently plain the fact that no individual out of Christ is able to keep the Law; all of that class are under the Law, like servants, and fettered and constrained. Consequently, the disregarder of the Law deserves its judgment and penalties. He who is under the Law in the first respect - in the matter of works - must also be subject in the second respect - the matter of punishment. Now, first, all our works are sinful because not performed from a willing spirit but rather in opposition to our will. And second, we are adjudged to death and condemnation.