Martin Luther's

Church Postil 1544

 

Summer Postil

 

Sermons from 13 - 26. Sunday after Trinity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY

GALATIANS 3:15-22.

 

 

GALATIANS 3:15-22.

Brethren, I speak after the manner of men: Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet when it hath been confirmed, no one maketh it void, or addeth thereto. Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. Now this I say: A covenant confirmed beforehand by God, the law, which came four hundred and thirty years after, doth not disannul, so as to make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no more of promise: but God hath granted it to Abraham by promise. What then is the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise hath been made; and it was ordained through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one; but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could make alive, verily righteousness would have been of the law. But the scripture shut up all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

 

GOD’S TESTAMENT AND PROMISE IN CHRIST

1. This is a keen, severe epistle, one that is unintelligible to the ordinary man. Because the doctrine it contains has not hitherto been employed and enforced, it has not been understood. It is also too long and rich to be treated briefly. But it is fully explained in the complete commentary on this epistle to the Galatians, where those who will may read it. The substance of it is, that here, as in the whole epistle, Paul would earnestly constrain the Christian to distinguish between the righteousness of faith and the righteousness of works or of the Law. In order that we may note to some extent the main points Paul makes in this text, we remark that he emphasizes two things. He treats first of the doctrine that we are justified by faith alone, and he maintains this, after giving many reasons and proofs, by saying in effect:

 

2. In this connection you should note that no one, whether Jew or gentile, is justified by works or by the Law. For the Law was given four hundred and thirty years after the promise of a Savior had been made to Abraham (who was to be the father of all the people of God) and the assurance that all nations should be blessed in him. It was given after it had been testified of Abraham that his faith was imputed to him for righteousness. And as he was justified and received the blessing by reason of his faith, so also his children and descendants were justified and received the blessing through the same faith in that seed for whose sake the blessing had been promised to all the world. For in his dealings with the Jews and with the whole world, God always promised his grace and the forgiveness of sins (and that means to be blessed of God) even when there was as yet no Law by which they might pretend to become righteous, and before Moses was born.

 

3. Therefore the Law, being given to this people only after the lapse of so long a period, could not have been given to them for justification; otherwise it would have been given earlier. Or if it had been necessary for righteousness, then Abraham and his children up to that date could not have been justified at all. Indeed God designed that the Law should be given so long after Abraham. Undoubtedly he would have been able to give it to the fathers much earlier if he had seen fit to do so. Apparently he desired thereby to teach that the Law was not given to the end that God’s grace and blessing should be acquired through it, but that these come from the pure mercy of God which was promised and bestowed so long before upon Abraham and those who believed.

 

4. Therefore Paul concludes: How could the Law produce righteousness for those who lived before Moses, since Moses was the first through whom the Law was given; and since even before his time there were holy people and people who were saved? Whence did they derive their righteousness? Certainly not from the fact that they had offered sacrifice at Jerusalem, but from the fact that they believed the Word in which God promised to bless them through the coming seed, Christ. Hence, those also who lived afterwards could not have been justified by the Law; for they did not receive the grace of God in a different way from that in which those who went before had received it. God did not annul or revoke by the Law the promise of blessing which he had made and freely bestowed without the Law.

 

5. Here some might desire to show their wisdom and say to Paul: Although the fathers did not have the Law of Moses, they had the same Word of God which teaches the ten commandments and which was implanted in the human heart from the beginning of the world, whence also it is called the law of nature or the natural law; and the same law was afterwards given publicly to the Jewish people and comprehended in the ten commandments. It might also be said that Moses borrowed the ten commandments from the fathers, to which Christ testifies in John 7:22. For it is certain that the fathers from the beginning taught them and urged them upon their children and descendants. With what consistency, then, does Paul conclude that the fathers were not justified by the Law because it was not given until four hundred years after Abraham’s time; as if the fathers before that time had no Law?

 

6. To answer this question we must observe the meaning and purpose of Paul’s words; for he so speaks because of the boasting of the Jews, who placed their dependence on the Law and claimed that it was given to them that they might be God’s people. They considered their attempts at keeping his Law, sufficient to procure justification. Why else did God give the Law, they said, and distinguish us from all heathen peoples, if we were not thereby to be preeminent before God and more pleasing to him than they who have it not? They made so much of this boasting that they paid no respect at all to the promise of blessing in the coming seed, given to the fathers, nor thought that faith therein was necessary to their justification. Thus they practically considered it as annulled and made void, excepting for a temporal interpretation which they put upon it – that the Messiah would come and, because of their Law and piety, give to them the dominion of the world and other great rewards.

 

THE JEWS GOD’S PEOPLE BY PROMISE

7. To rout such vain delusions and boasts, and to show that the Jews were not justified through the Law and did not become God’s children thereby, Paul cites the fact that the holy patriarchs, their fathers, were justified neither by the Law of which they boast, because it was not yet given, nor by their own deeds, whether of the natural law or the ten commandments.

God had based no promise of blessing or salvation on their works. He had promised out of pure grace to give them the blessing freely (that is, to give them grace or righteousness and all eternal blessing), through the coming seed, which had been promised also to our first parents without their merit, when by their transgression they had fallen under God’s wrath and condemnation. Therefore, although the fathers had a knowledge of the Law, or God’s commandments, these did not help them to become righteous before God. They had to hear and apprehend by faith the promise of God, which was based not on works but only on the coming seed. For if they had been able by means of the Law or of good works to become righteous, it would have been wholly unnecessary to give the promise of blessing in Christ.

 

8. Now, if Abraham and the fathers could not be justified by works, and in fact were not justified by them, no more were their children and descendants justified by the Law or by works. They were justified in no other way than by faith in the promise given to Abraham and to his seed, a promise by which not only the Jews but all the heathen (through the same faith) were blessed.

 

9. This truth Paul now further enforces and establishes on the basis of these two particulars – God’s promise, and his free grace or gift – in opposition to the boasting of the Law and our own merit. First, he makes a declaration concerning the value and weight which every testament or promise of the last will possesses. Likewise in the fourth commandment is implied an ordinance that the last will of parents should be honored by their children and heirs.

 

10. In regard to this subject he asserts that the rule is, if a man’s testament be confirmed (and it is confirmed by his death) no man dare alter it nor add to it nor take away from it. So the jurists declare it to be a divine law that no one should break a man’s last will. How much more then should God’s testament be honored intact? Now, God has made a testament, which is to be his final last will; namely, that he will bless all nations through the seed which at first he promised to the fathers. This he determined upon, and assured to Abraham, and in him to all the world – to us all. And he has confirmed it by the death of this seed, his only Son, who had to become man and die (as was typified by the sacrifice of Isaac on the part of Abraham) in order that the inheritance of the blessing and eternal life might be bestowed upon us. This is God’s last will. He does not desire to make any other. Therefore, no man can or dare change it or add anything to it. Now, it is adding to it, it is breaking or revoking it – since this testament has been opened and the blessing proclaimed to all the world – if anyone claims that we must first earn that blessing through the Law, proceeding as if, without the Law, this testament, by mere virtue of its promise and will, had no force at all.

 

11. In short, this testament, Paul concludes, is a simple promise of blessing and sonship with God. Accordingly, there is no law which we must keep in order to merit it. Here nothing avails but the will which promises saying, I will not regard your deeds, but promise the blessing – that is, grace and eternal life – to you who are found in sin and death. This I will confirm by the death of my Son, who shall merit and obtain this inheritance for you. Now, God made this testament in the first place without the Law, and has thus confirmed it; therefore, the Law, published and confirmed long afterwards, cannot take aught from it, much less annul or revoke it. And he who declares or teaches that we are to be justified by the Law – are to obtain God’s blessing by it – does nothing else but interfere with God’s testament and destroy and annul his last will. This is one argument of Paul, based on the word “promise,” or “testament,” and is readily understood; for no one is so stupid that he cannot distinguish between these two – law or commandment, and promise.

 

12. The second argument of Paul is based on the words, “God gave it to Abraham by promise.” Here also it is easy for one who is possessed of common sense to perceive there is a marked difference between receiving something as a gift and earning it. What is earned is given because of obligation and debt, as wages, and he who receives it may boast of it, rather than he who gives it, and may insist upon his right. But when something is given for nothing and, as Paul here says, is bestowed freely – out of grace – then there can be no boasting of right or of merit on the part of the recipient. On the contrary, he must praise the goodness and kindness of his benefactor. So Paul concludes: God freely gave the blessing and the inheritance to Abraham by promise. Therefore, Abraham did not earn it by his works; nor was it given to him as a reward, much less to his children.

 

13. It is evident enough to even a child that what is earned by works as a reward is not identical with what is promised or bestowed gratis, out of grace and pure free will. There is a distinction between them. God has stopped the mouth of all the world and deprived it of all occasion for boasting that it has received God’s grace by reason of the Law. For he promised and bestowed that as a gift, before the Law or merit through the Law had any existence. In his dealings with his own people, with Abraham and his descendants, God promised to bless the patriarch and all his race and said nothing of any law, works or reward; he based all solely on the coming seed.

 

14. In the faith of this promise they lived and died – Abraham himself and his children’s children – till over four hundred and thirty years had elapsed. Then only did God give the Law, institute an outward form of worship, a priesthood, etc., and direct them how to live and govern themselves. They had now become a separate people, released from foreign domination, and brought into their own land, and they needed an external form of government. It was not intended that only now and by means of these gifts they should obtain forgiveness of sins and God’s blessing.

 

15. This is the substance of the first part of this epistle. In teaching how we are to be justified before God, Paul would have us distinguish well these two points, promise and law; or again, gift and reward. If we teach that God, out of pure grace, and not because of any law or merit, bestows forgiveness of sins and eternal life, the question at once presents itself: Why is the Law given, or of what use is it? Shall we not perform any good works? Why do we teach the ten commandments at all? Paul takes up this matter and asks the question, “What then is the Law?” Then he proceeds to discuss at length what is the office and use of the Law, and shows the difference between it and the Gospel. Of this enough has been said elsewhere, in other postils.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.

LUKE 10:23-37.

 

 

Contents:

How Christ praises the time of the gospel; preaches on truly good works; and how the kingdom of Christ is represented here in a beautiful picture.

 

 

King James Version

Luke 10:23-37

And he turned him unto his disciples, and said privately, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him. And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.36. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

 

I. HOW CHRIST PRAISES THE DISPENSATION OF THE GOSPEL

1. This Pericope contains especially three lessons. First, that Christ praises the time when the Gospel was revealed and published, which is rightly and justly called the time of grace. Secondly, what truly good works are according to the command of God, which he pictures by the beautiful example or history of the Samaritan ‘s actions to the one wounded by robbers. In the same history he sets forth as in a loving picture the third lesson, a portrayal of the kingdom of Christ, or of grace, which the preaching of the Gospel makes known. The first lesson is given in these words: “Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: for I say unto you, that many prophets and kings desired to see the things which ye see, and saw them not; and to hear the things which ye hear, and heard them not.”

 

2. The Evangelist says Christ spoke these words especially to his disciples, and just at the time when he was greatly moved with joy in his soul or with spiritual delight, and therefore he thanked and praised his heavenly Father from his heart for the revelation of the Gospel. Here we see that he was especially anxious to speak thus with his disciples, since their own salvation also depended upon that revelation. And such words are nothing more than praise of the Gospel, that they lived in the time (and now hear and see) of the revelation of the Gospel, which brings to the world deliverance and salvation from sin and all misery. And of this time or revelation the beloved prophets formerly prophesied in a glorious manner, and they longed and cried for it beyond measure in their very souls, as is manifest especially in the Psalms and in the Prophesy of Isaiah. Therefore, you are blessed and more than blessed; for you enjoy now the truly golden year, the pure kingdom of grace and the blessed time; therefore only see to it that you retain it and make good use of it.

 

3. For such praise is true admonition, yea, an earnest discourse of lamentation; for he exhorts to thanksgiving for such grace. And on the other hand he laments over the great ingratitude of the world, that there are so few people who know and receive this, while so many despise it, therefore he says Christ turned especially to the disciples and praised them; as if he wished to say: Yes, your eyes and ears are indeed blessed, which see and hear this; for, alas! on the other hand there are many eyes and ears that do not wish to see or hear it, although they have it right before their eyes and ears. Christ thus shows however great and superabundant the treasure is and however comforting the preaching of it may be, yet among the great mass of people it is only despised and persecuted.

 

4. And now the times are changing, since the beloved fathers and prophets in their day would have given their body and life had they been able to live to see it, and had they experienced it their hearts would have blossomed to fruit in their bodies because of joy and they would have thought they were walking where there were only roses. As the pious, aged Simeon, Luke 2:28f., embraced in his arms the Savior while he as an infant could not yet speak nor walk, and with all joy entrusted his life to him, and no longer cared for this life nor for anything in it. Dear mother Eve also, Genesis 4:1, earnestly prayed and longed for this salvation, and was glad when God gave her a firstborn son; for she thought he would be the Savior; but when her hope in him failed, she longed still more for it. And later the hearts of all the fathers clung to and sighed for the same deliverer until he came and permitted himself to be seen and heard. Then the whole world should have received him at once with all joy and gloried in being saved; just as he himself praises this grace.

 

5. Joyfully and with his whole heart aglow pious David thanks God when he heard the first time from the Prophet Nathan God’s promise, Samuel 7:12f., that he would establish not only a dynasty and a permanent kingdom with his descendants; but also that he would let Christ be born of his body and thus he would found an eternal kingdom of his grace and mercy. And because of this’ his great joy he did not know what he should say before God and how he should thank him, and hence he composed so many beautiful Psalms about it, especially the 89, and besides in his last words and testament he praises this kindness in the highest manner and says: “He hath made with me an everlasting covenant; ordered in all things and sure: for it is all my salvation and all my desire,” etc. 2 Samuel 23:1. But now the dear, blessed time has come, and there is a change, I say, so that people live and appear who wish neither to see nor to hear, neither to know nor to tolerate this rich grace and this highest favor of God bestowed so gratuitously.

 

6. Just as we also see at present and easily understand how those who wish to be the Church and to be called Christians, the Pope and bishops with their followers, who should lift their hands to heaven and thank God for their deliverance from darkness and blindness that they have again the pure light of the Gospel; these bring fire and water, wet their sword and polish their weapons to exterminate from the earth those who teach and confess the pure Gospel, and there are so many unthankful, false Christians among us just like them, who despise this salvation in the most defiant manner. Formerly, when we were captives under the Pope’s tyranny, burdened with the preaching of lies, relating to indulgences, purgatory and all the dreams of the monks, what a sighing and longing there was then in all the world for the true preaching of the Gospel. How gladly would one then have given, labored and suffered all things possible to secure true instruction and comfort, and to be delivered with a good conscience from the fearful martyrdom of the confessional and other oppressive burdens imposed by the Pope! And how happy were many pious people at first because of this deliverance who learned it and thanked God for it! But now, how many are there who rejoice from their hearts and acknowledge how blessed they are in that they can see and hear this? How soon they took offense at this blessed treasure and then sought something else, when they forgot all they had received, and the world became again filled with fanaticism and false teachings.

 

7. Indeed it really depends upon seeing and hearing; it is fully revealed and it stands forth clearly in the light before our eyes and ears; but the great mass of the world can not see nor understand it, even if it were stuck in their eyes and continually rung and hammered into their ears. For if they could hear and see a little of it, then it would accomplish something among them and improve them, so that they would become more reasonable and would not thus oppose the truth.

 

8. What did it help all the Pharisees that Christ himself preached the Gospel to them? And what would it help all the fanatics and critics even if it were preached twice as clearly, how we obtain the forgiveness of sins and true consolation of the conscience, likewise how a Christian should live in every calling of life and should know that he pleases God. Of all this they heretofore knew and heard nothing, so that they themselves acknowledged that the teaching was indeed excellent, but at the same time they remained stone-blind and it never entered their hearts that they could walk and live in harmony with it, all is strange to them that they hear, read or they themselves speak concerning it For they are too completely chilled and choked with other thoughts of their own self-conceit and pleasure about things dear to them, so that aside from these they can neither see nor hear anything. Thus among them it is fulfilled as the prophets and Christ spoke before to the Jewish people and all like them, that with eyes to see they shall not see and with ears to hear they shall not hear, in order that they may change and be saved. This is the highest, the most horrible and the most fearful punishment they can bring upon themselves, and in addition be tormented in that they must daily see and hear the word and work of God, that is offered to all men for their salvation; and yet they have not the grace to receive it, Matthew 13:14; but only hear and see in it their vexation and thus become so bitter against it that they would rather hear and see the devil from hell.

 

9. On the other hand it is great grace and a precious treasure for him who receives this teaching that he sees and hears it aright, so that we should indeed declare such a one saved. For the seeing and hearing that enter the heart bring and give a fullness and richness of possessions in understanding, enlightenment, comfort, strength and growth of spirit, joy and life, that we can never hear and see enough of it and prefer to hear, to learn and to know this above everything else that may be preached, taught, sung or said, that it should help to our salvation. Yea, it lets all other things pass as if it heard and saw them not, although in civil government and life it must see and hear much, yet it clings alone to this light and knowledge, which is so great that it completely fills the eyes and heart, and darkens and blinds everything else.

 

10. In like manner the sun at its rising so completely fills the world with light that the moon and stars are no longer seen or thought of, although they give their light every night. Just so let those, who can, give light also here, be they learned, wise, holy people, even Moses, the Prophets. the fathers, or St. John the Baptist himself; yet they all should yield to Christ, yea, bear witness that he alone is the light, by whom all men are to be enlightened and that they themselves must become partakers of that light, and that in Christendom all light, wisdom and teaching aside from Christ must cease, or be found alone in him.

 

11. In the same manner should the beautiful sound and the lovely music of the Gospel of Christ so engage and fill our ears, that we may hear nothing else, as when a great bell or a kettledrum and trumpet sound and resound, the air is so full that whatever else is spoken, sung or cried cannot be heard. So should Christ’s words constantly in all our lives and actions have the upper hand in our hearts through faith, and know of comfort, righteousness and salvation from none other. These would indeed be blessed eyes and ears that could thus make use of the blessed time or dispensation of the Gospel, and know what God has given them in it; for such eyes and ears God himself esteems as an excellent and precious treasure and a sacred and holy possession, which could not be purchased by the whole world even if it had many more and brighter lights and suns.

 

II. THE SERMON OF CHRIST ON TRULY GOOD WORKS

12. This is an admonition of Christ to his dear disciples, yea, a consolation and encouragement heartily to stand by the Gospel, since he esteems and praises it to be so precious.

 

13. But how it is esteemed by others who are not true disciples of Christ, but are much smarter and holier themselves than that they should need his teaching, the lawyer shows, who stands by (as they were all together with Christ wherever he came, and they heard whatever he spoke); he had heard that Christ speaks earnestly to his disciples that they hear and see what was never seen nor heard before. This lawyer could no longer retain his great skill and wisdom, he had to step forward and let himself be heard, and try if he could not put him to shame, and carry off the glory, that Christ was nothing, but he was the highly educated Rabbi, in that he propounds to him a much higher theme, Hence he steps forward and proposes to him this question: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

 

14. That these are not the eyes and ears of one who hears and sees what Christ is, he himself makes manifest by his own words, as all must do, if they in the most perfect way prove themselves to be such. For he hereby confesses he knows nothing more nor higher than the doctrine that treats of our own doings and works; of God’s grace, Christ’s office and work he knows nothing, he has as yet never understood anything about them, although he had heard Christ speak of them; he at once imagines he knows much better than Christ can teach him; he wished to say like our fanatics and critics: that which I have hitherto heard from you, is common; you must ascend much higher to interest us. Dear sir, teach the people once to do something, by which man is saved. But Christ lets such a tempter rush ahead and gives him a good handle by which he in a masterly manner ensnares himself in his own words, bids him to report and answer himself, since he wishes to be so learned and clever, and says: “What is written in the law? how readest thou?”

 

15. As if he would say: I hear indeed that you profess to have higher wisdom than I. Come, deliver yourself, I will be a pupil of your discourse and consider you a teacher. In his answer Christ however forces him into the Scriptures, when he says: “How readest thou?” For it is not Christ’s pleasure for people to propound and preach their own arrogance; and hereby he shows this lawyer (as he later draws from him through his own confession with the question, who is his neighbor etc.), that he does not understand the Scriptures, even in that part where they speak of our own works; therefore much less does he understand the other higher teachings. Here he must not and cannot answer differently than as Moses in Deuteronomy 6:5 comprehended in the shortest form the summary of all God’s commandments, how we should live in our relations both to God and men. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.”

 

16. That is teaching truly of high order; yea, the greatest thing that can be required of a man; as Christ himself confesses and confirms, when he says:” Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.” But it is nevertheless a teaching that is common, that is well known to all the Jews as to the words, although they did not rightly understand them, and the disciples of Christ had also certainly heard them. Hence this critic should have indeed known that Christ spoke of another, a higher theme, since he said his disciples were especially blessed in that they see and hear what others did not. But all such hypocrites and fanatics must prove that they esteem Christ and his Gospel as nothing, and let themselves imagine they know everything much better.

 

17. Now, this commandment has often been explained and there is still much to be said about it; for it is indeed the highest art and wisdom, it is never learned perfectly, much less perfectly fulfilled and lived; so that God’s Son had therefore to come from heaven, shed his blood and give us the Gospel, so that this commandment might be kept. Although here in this life it makes only a little beginning among Christians; yet in the life beyond we will constantly and forever have it in our eyes and hearts, and live it. In short, it is far too high above the mind, heart and sense of all mortals what the words mean, to love God with all thy heart, with all thy strength, with all thy soul and with all thy mind. For as yet no one experiences it, except those a little, who have the Gospel and embrace Christ by faith, and receive the comfort and power of it in times of need, temptation and prayer, and thus experience a taste of it; yet these persons themselves feel and lament, like all the saints and Paul himself, that they are still far from it and their flesh and blood feel nothing but sin and death; which of course would not be the case if this commandment had gone fully into practice and life.

 

18. Therefore such proud, godless spirits are shameless and troublesome, as this latter who went forward so boldly, that they esteem nothing at all, neither the high and earnest command of God nor do they wish to hear and know the doctrine of the Gospel: they imagine, it is enough if they have heard and can say the words: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and thy neighbor as thyself.” They do not perceive that God wants such doctrines not only heard and spoken, but put into practice, and where one does not esteem this, it will bring upon him higher and unbearable condemnation, as Christ says in Luke 12:47: “And that servant, who knew his Lord’s will, and made not ready nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes,” etc. Therefore Christ gave this lawyer no other reply than this: “Thou hast answered right; this do and thou shalt live.”

 

19. That means, preaching the law aright and delivering a good strong lecture, yea, snaring him with his own words and taking hold of him at the right place, to show him where he was lacking. The doctrine he says is precious and true; but, dear sir, do it also; I would gladly see the doer of the law, then be a master and let your work of art be exhibited; for you all have spoken, written and known it; and you need nothing more; but just here you and others are lacking, that you do not do what you profess, but imagine it is enough to speak and think the words. No, in this way no one will live or be saved. The commandments must be kept and done, or the wrath of God and eternal death instead of life will abide upon you.

 

20. Such is the judgment upon the critics, who wish to know so much and teach everybody the way of salvation, yet they know nothing more than their own doings and works, and despise the teaching of the Gospel; so that such talk is nothing but mere empty, wicked and vain nonsense, since nothing follows from it; as St. Paul says of these doctrines of the law and of works in Galatians 6:13: “For not even they who receive circumcision do themselves keep the law.” Hence one may justly say to them, as Christ here says to this lawyer: Dear Teacher! Do yourself what you tell and teach others; and also as St. Paul, Romans 2:19-23, says: “Thou art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind,” etc. “Thou therefore that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?” “Thou who gloriest in the law, through thy transgression of the law dishonorest thou God?”

 

2l. Thus one sees in the papal sophists, fanatics and all who are not of the pure Gospel teaching, what great and excellent works they profess and how they adorn themselves in the highest degree with them, as the saintly monks do; and yet they accomplish nothing. Yea, they only transgress God’s law and oppose it; as is proved in their case and Christ shows in the following parable that no persons are more unmerciful, more unpleasant and of course more unloving to their neighbor, more destitute of love to God, than such hypocrites.

 

22. Yea, “this do” are the words of Christ, the eternal lesson and sermon that is here spoken and preached to all men, also to the saints, and it accuses them, that they cannot and dare not glory before God on account of their works, merits and sanctity. But they must, if they would know themselves aright and stand before God, condemn themselves and their manner of life; so that here no saint has ever been able to stand upon this foundation, neither in the Old nor in the New Testament. They must all be mirrored in these words, “this do,” which mean nothing more than: See, you have not yet done this, nor fulfilled it. Like Moses himself, who had the honor of being faithful in all the things of God, and God called him his friend, with whom he spake by word of mouth and face to face; yet he had to say to God, Exodus 34:6-7: “Oh, Lord God of all spirits and of all flesh! Thou art merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness, thou forgivest iniquity, transgression and sin, and before thee none is guiltless. Here he casts away both his own holiness and that of all men and pleads guilty before God.”

 

23. In like manner the prophet Isaiah, Isaiah 6:5-6, when he stands before God and sees his glory confesses that he is unclean, and must be comforted by an angel that his sins are forgiven him, etc. And Jeremiah, when he prayed before God and gloried in opposing his persecutors, Jeremiah 17:16-17: “Lord, thou knowest: That which came out of my lips was before thy face”; here he is holy and happy; and yet soon after he turns and says: “Be not a terror unto me; thou art my refuge in the day of evil.” Likewise, Jeremiah 10:24: “Oh, Jehovah, correct me, but with measure”, that is, with grace; “not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing.” Where is here the pious and holy man with whom the Lord is never angry? Why then does he fear that he will bring him to naught?

 

24. Thus also Daniel confessed his own sin and the sin of all his people and said in Daniel 9:18: “We do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousness, but for thy great mercies’ sake.” And David himself, when he received the forgiveness of his sins and sure consolation, that he had a gracious God, often glories, especially in Psalm 119:97f., how he did what is right and pleasing to God; and God himself bears witness of this concerning him, 1 Samuel 13:14, that he had found a man after his own heart. Yet he prays and sings Psalms of the greatest fear and anxiety: “O Jehovah, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure,” etc. Psalm 6:1. Likewise Psalm 143:2. “O Jehovah, enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight no man living is righteous.”

 

25. In the same manner also St. Peter opens his mouth boldly in Acts 15:10 and says of the whole law: “Now therefore why make ye trial of God, that ye should put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” This he says of all saints, fathers, prophets, apostles and he should in this manner exclude all from heaven; as must have happened on account of the law and their doings, had they not remained under the heaven of grace, as he in verse 11 further says: “But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in like manner as they.” And St. Paul in Acts 13:38-39: “Through this man is proclaimed unto you remission of sins; and by him every one that believeth is justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.”

 

26. Now if the saints must confess this, who still have grace and the Holy Spirit, how will or dare the other blind, poor spirits presume and imagine that they have kept the commandments of God, when they form human thoughts and dream they love God and their neighbor. And yet they are so far from it that they do not understand nor know what God’s commandment requires and how it is kept. This they prove when they are put to the test, when they are to exhibit in a becoming manner love to their God and their neighbor. As when they are required to suffer anything for God’s sake, as injury and disgrace, either from men or when God himself visits them with his rod; then one sees that the thoughts springing from their own brain are really nothing, yea, they work only the opposite, they rage, murmur. curse and blaspheme against God, as if God did them an injustice, etc. In like manner they act to their neighbors. Where they know not how to enjoy a neighbor or to secure some advantage and honor from him, but should serve him gratuitously and help the poor, as this Samaritan did the wounded one by the wayside, or expect also harm and ingratitude for extending the helping hand; then there is not only no spark of love, but at once they seek revenge, turn the people over to satan and think they do right in this and are under no obligation to love such persons.

 

III. A BEAUTIFUL PICTURE OF THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST

27. Even this blind hypocrite is of the same mind, he never thinks and speaks of what he owes his neighbor, and yet he wants to be considered saintly and holy, because he is a lawyer and knows how to speak of the law. And although he was indeed reproved by Christ, and he surely knows he was hit and was told he did not keep the law; yet notwithstanding he is so bold and impudent as to despise God’s word, so that he beautifully adorns himself and shines brightly and begins to ask: “And who is my neighbor?”

 

28. He feels that he made a mistake in speaking and that he opened his mouth too wide against himself. He is now Caught and taken captive by the Lord’s answer, and he drives a pin before his tongue so that he is not able to take it back. Yet he was not so pious that he did Christ and God the honor to humble himself and confess the truth, that he did not keep these commandments etc.; but he forges ahead and desires to be viewed as having done all, especially all that is due to God. Hence he does not even think of asking if he is indebted more to God, but desires no more than that Christ shows him who his neighbor is, to whom he should still be indebted anything and he has not performed it.

 

29. It is shameless presumption on the part of such saints of satan, that they are so very certain in their knowledge when God judges them: and even when they have been moved by the law, and it is sufficiently proved to them that they did not keep the law, they are not changed by it until they once meet the judgment and the wrath of God in their severity, so that they are compelled to feel them. However the lies and shame of such hypocrites are hereby sufficiently uncovered; although they will not be ashamed; nor turn red for it, so that they must show by their own confession that they do not yet understand what Moses and the law require; because those who still wish to be masters of the Scriptures prove themselves to be guilty in that they do not know or do not appreciate who their neighbor is, as he is clearly enough set forth by Moses and in this commandment. Therefore Christ also shows the same to this lawyer clearly and plainly enough; not from the Scriptures, but by means of a plain parable and picture, so that he himself must seize it and let fall upon him the judgment to his own shame that he did not wish to know or understand it. “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers,” etc.

 

30. Now the lawyer hears for the first time the appropriate text that puts him and all hypocrites like him to shame, and publicly he is convinced that he never kept the law, yea, that he did not understand it, even in the smallest point referring to his neighbor, because he still doubts and does not know, whom to consider as his neighbor, otherwise he is inclined to love his neighbor. But thus it serves them right, who wish to master this man Christ and his word. And because they are very anxious to approach Christ with the law and plan to present it to him in a high and sharp manner, so they find also sharp opposition and they are obliged to depart in shame, and they see that he also knows something to say about the law, and that he lays hold of it and has Moses in his eye in a different way than they.

 

31. In brief, Christ shows here that he will not and cannot be caught by questions and debates relating to the law, and it is hurtful to no one but to those who let themselves fall into such questions and become entangled by them so that they can never get out again. For this surely happens to all, who deal with the law independent of faith and the right understanding of the Gospel. For where Moses alone with his shining light and rays, which are the horns going forth from his countenance, strikes us in our eyes, no one can stand before him. In short, whoever allows himself to be driven to Moses and will deal with the law, is lost; so that here even Christians must battle until they get out and are again wrapped up and enclosed in Christ, concerning which I have said more elsewhere.

 

32. Now in their folly and blindness all hypocritical saints resemble this lawyer, in that they not only fail to keep an iota of the law, however high they praise it; but as to its fundamental meaning they understand nothing about it; nor do they know how to make the right use of it, unless they learn to repeat its words like crows. As St. Paul also says of them in Timothy 1:7: “Desiring to be teachers of the law, though they understand neither what they say, nor whereof they confidently affirm.” Yea, verily it is true that no man on earth knows, except by the Spirit of Christ, either what God is, how he should honor and thank him, or who his neighbor is. For just as all the world make their own gods and never happen to produce the true God, but is divided into innumerable idolatries; so is the world also blind here in that it never meets its neighbor, whom it sees ever before its eyes; passes by him, lets him suffer in distress and hunger, whom it should serve and help, since it in other ways gives very much and does many great works.

 

33. And especially are the Jewish hypocritical interpretations hereby reproved and rejected, which paint and polish their neighbor according to their own fancy, consider him a neighbor whom they like, that is, he who is a friend, who has well merited and is worthy of a kindness and of love, whom they have enjoyed or hope yet to enjoy; they imagine they are not indebted to serve and help the stranger, the unacquainted, the unworthy, unthankful enemies, etc.

 

34. Against such hypocrisy Christ answers with the history of this poor, wounded man, who fell among robbers and was lying half dead, whom the Samaritan alone receives, serves and helps, and whom both the priest and the Levite pass by and leave lying helpless. Here the lawyer himself must answer that neither the priest nor the Levite was a neighbor to this man, but he who extended to him a kind helping hand was. The hypocrite did not dare to mention the Samaritan by name; for the Jews were bitter enemies to the Samaritans. their neighbors, considered them to be the worst people, like we look upon heretics or fallen Christians. By this, without any praise to himself, yea, against his own will, he is obliged to confess and say, who is a neighbor to another.

 

35. And truly it sounds strange that he should be called a neighbor who does a good act and loves another, since otherwise (to speak after the manner of the Scriptures and of this commandment) he is called a neighbor who needs a favor or should be served and shown love; but both belong together and both are comprehended as in the predicate of relationship (praedicamento relationis) and they bind us all together so that every one is a neighbor to another. However to be such neighbors among one another is twofold: the first only in tame and with words, the other in deed and with works of love.

 

36. In this sense the Samaritan was neighbor to the wounded man, not the priest nor Levite, who by right should have been and were under obligation to be. For in this respect all men are debtors to one another and have the same commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor”, etc. Hence there is no difference, and in brief the meaning of this example is as Christ forces this hypocrite to confess, according to the common understanding of men, that they are neighbors, who before God belong together, where one needs help and another can give it, and here no one is excused nor free, be he priest or Levite.

 

37. And Christ is here especially sarcastic and vexed so that he attacks the priest and Levite, the most holy persons and the commissioned servants of God, and accuses, shames and scorns them by the example of the Samaritan, before whom they had a horror and an aversion as before a condemned criminal. But by this he shows that those who are the greatest and boast most of keeping God’s commandments and teaching others, and should go ahead with good examples, in brief, those who are considered to be the high, the wise, the influential, and the best, have the least neighbor love; especially to the poor, forsaken, persecuted Christians, who suffer for the sake of God and his Word. For with their eyes centered constantly on their own sanctity, wisdom, and great talents they imagine every person is obligated to serve them, they do not think, that which they have is given by God only for the purpose that they might let their righteousness, wisdom, honor and possessions serve the needy, ignorant, sinful and despised. Hence this Samaritan is justly praised to the everlasting shame of the priests, the Jewish saints and also this hypocrite, for he showed such kindness and love to this stranger and wounded man, who was doubtless a Jew; while his own priest, Levite and scribes left him lying in his misery and wretchedness and as far as they were concerned, dying and perishing.

 

38. But by Christ making the Samaritan a neighbor of him who had fallen among the robbers, is meant especially to prove that he himself is and desires to be neighbor, who fulfils the law in the right sense and shows his love to the poor, wretched, and before God wounded and perishing consciences and hearts of all men. And by this he also is an example that his Christians should do as he does, who is considered as a Samaritan before the whole world and especially in the eyes of the great saints, his own Jewish countrymen; that they do the same, since other people do it not, also that they take to themselves the need of the poor, forsaken and helpless, and know what they do to them they do to Christ as their neighbor.

 

39. Now here in this Samaritan Christ pictures and makes known the kindness, help and comfort, which he ministers in his kingdom through the Gospel; which is the same of which he spoke to his disciples at the beginning: “Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see”, etc. He paints in the most Comforting manner what faith possesses in him, and how far his Gospel differs from the doctrine of the law of the priests and Levites; concerning which I have said so much heretofore. We see in this picture how we, who have fallen in sin against God, he under the wrath of God and must die the eternal death, are again rescued only by him, in that we receive God’s grace and comfort, and a quickening of conscience, and we begin to keep the law.

 

40. This is the principal article of the doctrine of faith, that says we cannot save ourselves, neither can anything we do nor the doctrines of the law; but he must begin faith in us, who does not force the law upon our attention, when we feel our sins and misery; for that is the work of the secure spirits like this lawyer, who resent being reproved as sinners. But he has tender mercy upon us, besides is friendly and consoling through his Word, and himself binds up the sores of the wounded, places him on his own beast, nurses and looks after him. For he had to accomplish our redemption alone and take our place, bear in his own body our sins and need; he himself publishes this and gives us the comforting word, by which our wounds are bound up and healed.

 

41. This is called pouring wine and oil into the wounds, both of which are good medicines for the injured. The wine preserves the flesh clean and fresh that the wounds may not corrupt or fester; likewise this balsam is especially given to the land of the Jews, namely, the noble, precious oil, that is, the best remedy known for all kinds of injuries. It is the preaching of the holy Gospel, which does both; it keeps the penitent conscience in the knowledge of its sins and’ wickedness, that it neither becomes secure nor ceases to long for grace, and besides he comforts the conscience by grace and forgiveness, and thus ever makes man better until he is again well and begins again to do the work of a healthy man.

 

42. And to this end he now makes use of the office and service of the Church, as Christ commands her to expect and take care of such by means of the same office and spirit, which he bestows, and asks her to be faithful in everything that ministers to their strength and improvement, to comfort, admonish, restrain, chastise, etc.; and assures her what she does and sacrifices in such cases, he will reward.

 

43. Behold, this is the doctrine and the power of the Gospel and the treasure by which we are saved; which brings us to the point that we also begin to fulfill the law. For where the great unfathomable love and favor of Christ are known and believed, thence flows forth also love both to God and to our neighbor. For by means of such knowledge and consolation the Holy Spirit moves the heart to love God, and gladly does what it should to his praise and thanks, guards against sin and disobedience and willingly offers itself to serve and help everybody, and where it still feels its weakness it battles against the flesh and satan by calling upon God, etc. And thus while ever rising in faith it holds to Christ, where it does not do enough in keeping the law, its comfort is that Christ fulfills the law and bestows and imparts his fullness and strength, and thus he remains always our righteousness, salvation, sanctification, etc.

 

44. This is the right way to secure the observance of the law, of which our blind critics know nothing; but Christ beautifully shows by this, that one must hear the Gospel and believe in Christ before he can fulfill the law; otherwise there is nothing but hypocrisy and nothing but pure boasting and talking about the law without any heart and life in it all.

 

45. Here we should also answer those, who misuse today’s Gospel to support their blasphemous doctrine, when Christ says of the Samaritan, he commended the sick to his host, and when he gives him the half dollar, says to him: “Whatsoever thou spendest more, I, when I come back again, will repay thee.” For the monks and sophists have invented from these words their lies about works which they call the works of supererogation, works in excess or more than are required, when one does more than God commands him, which he is otherwise not obligated to do. And such lies they confirmed by other blasphemies in making rules from the sermon of Christ in which he explained the ten commandments, Matthew 5:21f.; and later applied them to their monastic life as if the monks were the greatest saints, for whom it was too insignificant a thing to keep God’s commandments. As if they did on a higher plane many and great excessive works in their orders; for which God was obliged to give much more than heaven not only to themselves, but to other people to whom they wished to impart their works of supererogation, namely, to sell their lies and blasphemies for money. Their god the pope confirmed this and canonized and exalted these his saints as those who hereby strengthened his godhead and influence also over the dead in purgatory.

 

46. This blasphemy is however entirely too base and shameless, far above the blindness and presumption of this lawyer and those like him; for they do not only wish to be praised for keeping God’s commandments, none of which they understand, nor think of keeping the least one in earnest. But they wish to be considered as having done much higher and many more works than all the saints whom God himself praises in the Scriptures; all of whom nevertheless confess that they have not kept the law for themselves, and must therefore, because they did not fulfill the law, seek and pray for grace and forgiveness with Christ.

 

47. What a shame! that people in the Church of Christ dare speak of works and spheres of influence which should be superfluous, and they be said to have done more than God’s command required; and still Christ said publicly of the lives of all men in Luke 17:10: “Even so ye also, when ye shall have done all’ the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have clone that which it was our duty to do.” Thus you hear that it is purely a debt and a duty, even if one should reach the point, which no saint on earth can, that he had done all, and he would then have nothing of which to boast, and for which God would be obliged to thank him. Still what better and higher work will one find or name that should have been commanded by God? For although they have now for a long time driveled about virginity, I ask if such work can be better than what God calls here to love God with the whole heart, yea, if independent of this command it can succeed or be done, should it be good and well pleasing to God in a different or extraordinary way? How is it then possible to have an excess of good works or do anything better than God has commanded? For what good can you do that you do not do either to God or to man out of love, which you are indebted to do by reason of your eternal condemnation. What can father and mother do more for their child, yea, what more can God himself and Christ do for us, than to love us. What does it mean then to advance such shameless lies and foolishness about certain works, which are an excess over those that are commanded when no one has as yet fully attained to the measure of the ten commandments here upon earth?

 

48. It is true the Papists are now ashamed of such slabbering, with which they have poured all their books full, but yet they cannot quit their blasphemy. Since they see now that this lie will not stand, they fall upon another interpretation that is just as blasphemous as the first; they turn the words, “Whatsoever thou spendest more”, from the life and works to the doctrine, and say we must do not only what the Scriptures teach, but hear also what the Church teaches and decrees concerning the same. For the Apostles and bishops are commanded to add more to the two shillings, namely, to the Old and New Testaments.

 

49. Yet see how the devil juggles and distorts himself by his sophistry and blind tricks in that he adorns and colors his lies. They have heard and learned something of us that in this parable the two shillings apply to the office of the ministry in the Church. For Christ is speaking of the office that should attend and care for the sick, and is administered for their relief and recovery. Hence, the two shillings are the Holy Scriptures or rather the pound as Christ calls them in another place, that is, the understanding of the Scriptures in the measure and the gifts of the Spirit, given to each one; all which is still the one and the same understanding without one having it in a richer degree than another. These sophists wish now to cite these words to support the foundation of their lies, that in Christendom we must teach, believe and hold as essential for salvation more than Christ has given and commanded us to teach. They are blind, mad, perverted persons who always seek something different and more, both to do and teach, than God’s Word require, and yet they do not do it nor teach it, but let that be realized which they wish to have taught and practiced.

 

50. Therefore we tell you here again as before: Beloved, what can you do or what do you know that is better and more necessary to teach, than what Christ taught or commanded to teach? And what do we need more, to minister to the consciences in every thing that is necessary for them, to instruct, admonish, comfort, strengthen, correct and in short to do all that is necessary for salvation, than the doctrine of the Scriptures, namely, both of the law and of the Gospel? as St. Paul also shows in 2 Timothy 3:16- 17:” Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.” In these words you hear that the Scriptures richly contain and offer everything that serves to right living and good works; why will you then feign or seek something different that is to be taught above or along side of the Scriptures? Beloved, first explain the two shillings Christ gives and practice well the doctrine they teach, then we will see later what more you are able to explain or teach.

 

51. For this excess or explanation of the two shillings we may without danger and in harmony with the meaning of the Scriptures also interpret as the growth and exercise in the true doctrine and the understanding of it; as St. Paul admonishes in 1 Timothy 4:13-15: “Give heed to reading, to exhortation, to teaching, neglect not the gift that is in thee,” etc. “Be diligent in these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy progress may be manifest unto all.” For the more one practices and exercises himself in the doctrines of the Scriptures, the more learned, gifted and powerful he becomes in them, as is the case in other arts. Therefore the explanation of this excess is, where one practices this doctrine among the people, as every one is bound to do, and according to his faithfulness in doing it he is either weak or strong, and needs more comfort, admonition, etc., than another.

 

52. But it is not the intention and the zeal of these sophists ‘to be so faithful and diligent that they correctly explain the two shillings, that is, that they teach diligently what Christ commanded, since they do not wish to do or to know this, for they shun the Scriptures like they shun satan, they neither understand the teaching of the law nor of the Gospel. But they fill the Church with their prattle and human doctrines, pervert and counterfeit God’s Word, as the devil advocates that this explanation of the two shillings must teach them something different than the Gospel teaches; as they do nothing but propagate another and contrary doctrine of their cursed lying prattle against the faith of Christ among the people.

 

53. The summary is, since Christ himself and the Apostles everywhere forbid the introduction of other doctrines, it cannot stand the test that one should desire to confirm a different doctrine by this parable or allegory; so Christ will not expect of such sick persons anything different than he himself gives to them; and that which can be further explained must not be anything different, but be in harmony with that which Christ himself has given. However it is possible that one should study a doctrine more and harder than another and thus he explains more; as St. Paul says of himself in 1 Corinthians 15:10, that he labored more and accomplished more than all the other Apostles. And St. Ambrose also applies this explanation to himself and says: He did with his sermons and writings, which indeed are nothing more than Christ commanded him to teach, fill his measure to overflowing and he accomplished thereby more than others; but of himself and other preachers he says: God grant that we might make use of and compute what we have received of Christ.

       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity;

Luke 17:11-19

 

The Ten Lepers

 

Luke 17:11-19

And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.

 

1. St. Luke excels the other Evangelists in that he not only describes Christ's work and doctrine like they, but also observes the order of his journeys and circuits. His Gospel to the thirteenth chapter shows how Christ began at Capernaum to preach and do wonders, whither he moved from Nazareth and where he made his home, so that Capernaum is called his city in the Gospel. From there he went out everywhere, into cities and villages, preaching and working miracles. After he had accomplished all his work and had preached over the whole country, he prepared to go up to Jerusalem. This journey to Jerusalem he describes from the end of the ninth chapter to the close of his Gospel, how Christ during this journey preached and worked miracles. For this is Christ's last journey, and was finished in his last year at the close of his life. This is what he means here when he says: ”And it came to pass, as they were on the way to Jerusalem, that he was passing along the borders of Samaria and Galilee.” That is to say, this miracle he performed during his last journey to Jerusalem.

 

2. Now this was not the direct road from Capernaum to Jerusalem. For Galilee is north of Jerusalem, and Samaria is south of Galilee, and Capernaum is in Galilee. The Evangelist with special pains desires to show that he did not journey on the usual road, as he mentions Samaria and Galilee, and adds that he went through between them, and not across their borders the nearest way. Christ journeyed from Capernaum eastward to the Jordan and southward from Galilee to Jerusalem, which was a tiresome, far and circuitous route, in doing which he took his own leisure and time. For he did not journey thus for his own sake, but in order to preach as much as possible and be of service to many. Therefore he journeyed on the borders of these lands to appear publicly, that people might come to him from all sides to hear him and obtain his help. For he was sent to offer his services to every one, that all might freely enjoy his favor and grace. Thus the Evangelist now describes the miracle and says:

 

”And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, who stood afar off; and they lifted up their voices, saying, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”

3. One might ask the Evangelist how these lepers could stand afar off and lift up their voices, as lepers could not as a rule speak loud, and therefore they had to make a noise by rattling or clapping something? Of course he would answer they did not stand a mile away, only that they were not as near to him as those following him; and that all lepers are not so entirely voiceless that they cannot be heard even at a distance. However, the Evangelist, according to the custom of Holy Writ, desires hereby to indicate the great earnestness of their desire, that the voice of their heart was great that compelled them to cry out bodily as loud as they could.

 

4. This entire Gospel, however, is a plain, simple history or transaction, which requires little explanation. Yet as plain as it is, great is the example it presents to us. In the leper it teaches us faith, in Christ it teaches us love. Now, as I have often said, faith and love constitute the whole character of the Christian. Faith receives, love gives. Faith brings man to God, love brings man to his fellow. Through faith he permits God to do him good, through love he does good to his brother man. For whoever believes has every thing from God, and is happy and rich. Therefore he needs henceforth nothing more, but all he lives and does,  he orders for the good and benefit of his neighbor, and through love he does to his neighbor as God did to him through faith. Thus he reaps good from above through faith, and gives good below through love. Against this kind of life work-righteous persons with their merits and good works terribly contend for they do works only to serve themselves, they live only unto themselves, and do good without faith. These two principles, faith and love, we will now consider as they appear in the lepers and in Christ.

 

5. In the first place it is a characteristic of faith to presume to trust God's grace, and it forms a bright vision and refuge in God, doubting nothing it thinks God will have regard for his faith, and not forsake it. For where there is no such vision and confidence, there is no true faith, and there is also no true prayer nor any seeking after God. But where it exists it makes man bold and anxious freely to bring his troubles unto God, and earnestly to pray for help.

 

6. Therefore it is not enough for you to believe there is a God, and pray many words as the wretched custom now is. But observe here in the leper how faith is constituted, how without any teacher at all it teaches us how our prayers may be truly fruitful. You here observe how they had a good opinion of and a comforting assurance in Christ, and firmly thought he would be gracious to them. This thought made them bold and anxious to bring their troubles to him, and to cry for help with great earnestness and a loud voice. For if they had not previously possessed this fancy and expectation, they would undoubtedly have remained at home, or would not have gone forth to meet him, nor would they with raised voices have cried to him, but their doubt would have advised them thus: What shall we do? Who knows whether he would like to have us ask him? Perhaps he will not notice us!

 

7. O such wavering and doubt offer sluggish prayers, it does not raise the voice nor go forward to meet Christ! It indeed murmurs many words and chants many songs very unwillingly. But it does not pray, and only desires first to be sure it will be heard, which is nothing else than to tempt God. But true faith does not doubt the good and gracious will of God. Wherefore its prayer is strong and firm like faith itself. St. Luke does not relate three things of them in vain; first, that they went to meet him; second, they stood; third, they lifted up their voices. By these three things their strong faith is commended and presented to us as an example.

 

8. The going forth to meet him is the boldness excited by comforting assurance. The standing is the firmness and sincerity against doubt. The lifting up the voice is the great earnestness in prayer, growing out of such confidence. But powerless doubt does not go forth, nor stand, nor call, but turns and twists and hangs the head, grasps it in the hands, opens the mouth wide and stammers forth perpetually: Who knows? Who knows ? If it were certain? How if it would fail? and similar faint-hearted expressions. For it has no favorable conception or thought of God, expects nothing of him, and hence will receive nothing, as James says, 1, 6-7: ”But let him ask in faith, nothing doubting; for he that doubteth is like the surge of the sea driven by the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord.” Afterwards they come like the foolish virgins who spilt their oil, with their empty lamps, that is with their works, and think God should hear them knock and open to them. But he will not.

 

9. Behold this good inclination or comforting trust, or free presumption toward God, or whatever you may call it, in the Scriptures is called Christian faith and a good conscience, which man must have if he desires to be saved. But it is not obtained by human works and precepts, as we shall see in this example, and without such a heart no work is good. Therefore be on your guard, there are many lecturers who want to teach faith and conscience, and know less about them than a common blockhead. They think it is a sleepy, lazy thing in the soul, that it is enough for the heart to believe that God is God. But here you observe what a thoroughly living and powerful thing faith is. It creates wholly a new heart, a new man, who expects all grace from  God. Therefore it urges to walk, to stand, makes bold to cry and pray in every time of trouble.

 

10. The second characteristic of faith is that it does not desire to know, nor first to be assured whether it is worthy of grace and will be heard, like the doubters, who grasp after God and tempt him. Just as a blind man runs against a wall, so they also plunge against God, and would first gladly feel and be assured that he can not escape out of their hands. The Epistle to the Hebrews says, 11, 1: ”Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.” This clearly means faith holds fast to what it does not see, feel or experience, either in body or soul, but as it has firm trust in God it commits itself to and relies upon it without any doubt but its hope will be realized. Thus it will also certainly be realized, and the feeling and experience will come to it unsought and unsolicited, even in and through such hope or faith.

 

11. For tell me, who had given these lepers a letter and seal that Christ would hear them? Where is there any experince and feeling of his grace? Where is the information, knowledge or certainty of his goodness? Nothing of the kind is here. What then is here? A free resignation and joyful venture on his imperceptible, untried and unknown goodness. Here there is no trace in which they might discover what he would do, but his mere goodness alone is kept in view, which fills them with such courage and venture to believe he would not forsake them. Whence, however, did they receive such knowledge of his goodness, for they must have known of it before, be they ever so inexperienced and insensible of it? Without doubt from the good reports and words they had heard about him, which they had never yet experienced. For God's goodness must be proclaimed through his Word, and thus we must build upon it untried and inexperienced, as will hereafter appear.

 

12. The third characteristic of faith is, that it allows of no merit, will not purchase the grace of God with works, like the doubters and hypocrites do, but brings with it pure unworthiness, clings to and depends wholly on the mere unmerited favor of God, for faith will not tolerate works and merit in its company, so entirely does it surrender, venture and raise itself into the goodness for which it hopes, that for its sake it cannot consider either good works or merit. Yea, it sees that this goodness is so great, that all good works compared with it are nothing but sin. Therefore it finds only unworthiness in self, that it is more worthy of wrath than of grace; and it does this without any dissimulation, for he sees how in reality and in truth it cannot be otherwise.

 

13. These lepers here prove this clearly, who hope for the grace of Christ without the least merit. What good had they ever done to him before? They had never seen him, how then could they have served him? Besides they were lepers, whom he could justly have avoided according to the law, Levit. 13, and kept himself free from them as was just and right. For in reality and truth there was unworthiness, and reason why he should have nothing to do with them nor they with him. For this cause they also stand far off, like those who well knew their unworthiness. Thus faith also stands far from God, and yet it goes to meet him and cries out, for it knows itself in the reality of truth to be unworthy of his goodness, and has nothing on which to depend, except his highly renowned and loudly praised goodness. And such a soul also seeks Christ's favor, while it stands far off and is empty; for it cannot in the least tolerate in its company our merit and work, and comes freely like Christ into this village to the lepers, in order that its praise may be free and pure.

 

14. Observe how everything agrees perfectly that God's love gives its favor freely, does not take nor seek anything for it, and how faith also receives quite freely and pays nothing for it, and thus the rich and the poor meet together, as the Psalms say, To this their words also testify when they say: Have mercy on us! He who seeks mercy of course neither buys nor sells anything, but seeks pure grace and mercy, as one unworthy of it, and evidently having greatly deserved the contrary.  15. Behold, here is a good, real, living and true example of Christian faith, that sufficiently teaches us how we must be disposed if we would find grace, piety and salvation. Now, in addition to this doctrine follows the incentive or inducement to faith, that we should gladly believe as we are at present taught to believe. This incentive, however, consists in that we observe how such faith never fails, that as it believes so it comes to pass, and that it is certainly heard and answered. For Luke describes how graciously and willingly Christ beheld and heard the lepers, and says:

 

”And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go and show yourselves unto the priests.”

16. How very friendly and lovingly the Lord invites all hearts to himself in this example, and stirs them to believe in him! For there is no doubt that he desires to do for all what he here does for these lepers, if we only freely surrender ourselves to him for all his favor and grace. Just as true faith and a Christian heart should do and delight to do; so these lepers also do and teach us to do. For how earnestly the Lord desires that we should joyfully and freely venture to build on his favor before we experience or feel it, he has here sufficiently testified that he hears them willingly, without any hesitation, that he does not first say he will do it, but as though it were already done, he did as they wished. For he does not say: Yes, I will have mercy on you, ye shall be cleansed; but merely: ”Go and show yourselves unto the priests.” As though he would say: There is no use of asking, your faith has already acquired and obtained it, before you began to ask; you were already cleansed in my sight when you began to expect such things of me; it is no longer necessary, only go and show your purity to the priests; as I consider you and as you believe, so you are and shall be. For he would not have sent them to the priests, if he had not considered them clean, and so wished to deal thus with them, as those who had become cleansed.

 

17. Behold, so powerful is faith, to obtain all it wants of God, that God considers it done before the asking. Of this Isaiah says, 65, 24: ”And it shall come to pass that, before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” Not as though faith or we were worthy of it, but in order that he might show his unspeakable goodness and willing grace, thereby to stir us to believe in him, and comfortingly look to him for every good thing, with joyful and unwavering consciences, which do not stumble after him nor tempt him. So now you also see that Christ hears these lepers before they call, and before they cry out he is prepared to do all their hearts desire. ”Go,” he says, I will not add a word, for it has succeeded in your case farther, no promise or consent is necessary; take what you ask and go. Are not these strong incentives that make the heart joyful and eager? Behold, then his grace permits itself to be felt and grasped, yea it grasps and satisfies us. This has been said on the first part, namely, faith.

 

18. Now we must also examine the other part of this example of the nature of Christianity, love. The lepers have instructed us how to believe; Christ teaches us to love. Love does to our neighbor as it sees Christ has done to us, as he says in John 13, 15: ”For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you.” And immediately afterwards he says in verse 34: ”A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” What else does this mean than to say: Through me in faith you now have everything that I am and have: I am your own, you are now rich and satisfied through me; for all I do and love I do and love not for my but only for your sake, and I only think how to be useful and helpful to you, and accomplish whatever you need and should have. Therefore consider this example, to do to each other as I have done to you, and only consider how to be useful to your neighbor, and do what is useful and necessary for him. Your faith has enough in my love and grace; so your love shall also give enough to others. 

 

19. Behold, this is a Christian life, and in brief it does not need much doctrine nor many books, it is wholly contained in faith and love. Thus also says St. Paul, Gal. 6, 2: ”Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ.” And to the Phil. 2, 4 he says: ”Not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.” And there he gives us Christ as an example, v. 6: ”Who existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Who, although he was true God, yet became our servant and served us, and died a scandalous death for us. This Christian, free and joyful life has the evil spirit as its enemy, who with nothing else does such great injury as with the doctrines of men, as we shall hear. For truly the manner of Christian's life; is briefly marked out in the words, have good heart toward God and a good will toward your fellow man, here it consists entirely within us.

 

20. His good heart and faith naturally teach him how to pray. Yea, what is such faith, but pure prayer? It continually looks for divine grace, and if it looks for it, it also desires it with all the heart. And this desire is really the true prayer, that Christ teaches and God requires, which also obtains and accomplishes all things. And because it does not trust or seek comfort in self, its works or worthiness, but builds upon God's pure grace, therefore whatever he believes, desires, hopes and prays, also comes to pass; so that the holy Prophet Zechariah justly calls the Spirit a Spirit of grace and of prayer, where God says, Zech. 12, 10: ”And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and supplication.” Because faith recognizes and desires God's favor without any intermission.

 

21. Again, love naturally teaches him how to do good works. For they alone are good works which serve your neighbor and are good. Yea, what is such love but only good deeds continually shown toward your neighbor, so that our work is called love, our faith is called prayer? Thus Christ speaks in John 15, 12-13: ”This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” As though he would say: So completely have I done all my works for your benefit, that I also gave my life for you, which is the greatest of all love, that is, the greatest work of love. If I had known a greater love, I would have manifested it to and for you. Therefore you should also love each other, and do all good deeds to one another. I require no more of you. I do not say you are to build for me churches, make pilgrimages, fast, sing, become monks or priests, or that you are to enter into this order or rank; but you do my will and service when you do good to each other, and no one cares for himself but for others, on this all entirely depends.

 

22. And these he calls ”friends.” By this he does not mean that we should not love our enemies. For he says clearly: ”Who lays down his life for his friends.” ”His friends” are more than mere ”friends.” It may come to pass that you are my friend, and yet I am not your friend, or I may love you and receive you as a friend and offer you my friendship, and yet you may hate me and remain my enemy. Just as Christ says to Judas in the garden: ”Friend do that for which thou art come.” Mat. 27,50. Judas was his friend, but Christ was Judas' enemy, for Judas considered him his enemy and hated him. Christ loved Judas and esteemed him as his friend. It must be a free, perfect love and kindness toward every one.

 

23. See, this is what James means when he says, 2, 26: ”Faith apart from works is dead.” For as the body without the soul is dead, so is faith without works. Not that faith is in man and does not work, which is impossible. For faith is a living, active thing. But in order that men may not deceive themselves and think they have faith when they have not, they are to examine their works, whether they also love their neighbors and do good to them. If they do this, it is a sign that they have the true faith. If they do not do this, they only have the sound of faith, and it is with them as the one who sees himself in the glass and when he  leaves it and sees himself no more, but sees other things, forgets the face in the glass, as James says in his first chapter, verses 23-24.

 

24. Now let us observe the works of the love of Christ in this example of the ten lepers. But what is in Christ besides pure love? Everyone can easily find out for himself. First, why is it necessary for him to travel between Samaria and Galilee? Or who paid him anything for doing this? Or who requested him to do so? Is it not manifest, that he does all this freely, willingly, without receiving anything for it, and comes of himself uninvited, that no one can say that he deserved such a visitation or acquired it by prayer. Thus we see here that he does nothing whatever for himself or for his own sake, but all for the sake of others, unrequested and altogether freely, out of mere grace and love.

 

25. In like manner, that he had just gone into this village, why did he need to do this? Who asked him to do so? Who paid him anything for it? Is it not true that he came before any merit was possible, any prayer could be said; and offers his love and kindness freely and gratuitously, and seeks nothing of his own in it but only serves others thereby, so that he might draw all hearts unto himself to believe in him? Behold, such virtue has love, that it does only good and lives for the benefit of others, seeks nothing with selfish motives, does all freely and gratuitously, and surprises everyone. Such life and work you must observe and direct your life accordingly, if you would be a Christian, and banish all such works and power from your view that are not of this nature, even if they be so great as to remove mountains, like the Apostle says, I Cor. 13, 2.

 

26. Note in the second place how Christ does good without harm to others, yea, by preventing harm to others. For there are some who do good in a way that is harmful to others, as the proverb runs, they offer our lady a penny and steal her horse. So they who give alms from illgotten goods, as God says in Is. 61, 8: ”For I, Jehovah, love justice, I hate robbery for burnt offering.” Of this nature are nearly all monasteries and cloisters that devour the sweat and blood of the people, and then pay God with masses, vigils, rosaries, or monasteries and holidays, and at times they also give an alm. This is to love with the goods of others, and to serve God in prosperous days and in the fullness of wealth with an all sufficiency. This disgraceful welldoing is indeed a far reaching plague. But here Christ does no one harm, but prevents injury rather, and directs the lepers to the priests, so that they may be deprived of none of their rights.

 

27. Thus he bestows his kind deeds upon the lepers, as though he went into this village for this purpose; he looks upon them graciously and willingly, and gladly helps them. Besides he thereby also prevents any disadvantage to the priests, although he is under no obligation to them. For as he cleansed the lepers in a supernatural manner without the priests doing anything, he was indeed not obliged to direct them to them, and could say: Inasmuch as you have not performed your office toward these according to the law, therefore you should also not have the emoluments of the office, which is just and right. But love does not look on what is right nor does it contend, it is present only to do good, and so it does even more than it is obliged to do, and goes beyond what is right. herefore St. Paul says in 1 Cor. 6, 1, that among Christians there should be no lawsuits at court, because love does not seek or demand its rights, nor cares anything for them, but is bent only on doing good. Although he says at another place, I Cor. 13, 1: ”If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.” Thus are truly the learned of our day, who teach much about rights, which is only unchristian and opposed to love. I do not speak of those who are forced to contend for their rights; for as right is preferred by some unchristian people, they must be present and defend the right so that nothing worse occurs. It is not Christian, to hang or to crush under the wheel; but in order to restrain murderers, such things must also be done. It is not Christian to eat and drink, nevertheless man is compelled to do both. These are all necessary works, which do not concern the inner nature of Christianity. Therefore a person should not be satisfied in doing them, as though the doing of them made a Christian. The work in the married state is not distinctively Christian, yet it is necessary to avoid evil. Other examples might be given.

 

28. Thirdly, Christ shows love is still greater, in that he exercises it where it is lost and receives ingratitude from the majority; ten lepers were cleansed and only one thanks him, on the nine his love is lost. If he would have made use of justice here instead of love, as men are accustomed to do and nature teaches, he would have made them all lepers again. But he lets them go and enjoy his love and kind deed, although they return to him enmity instead of thanks. Nor did he prevent the priests from enjoying their own, but  gave them their honor and rights, although without any need and obligation to do so. And the priests thank Christ by alienating from him the lepers, so that they believed Christ did not cleanse them, but their offering and obedience to the law did it. And thus they destroy the faith in the lepers, and cause Christ to be despised and hated by them, as though he had taken to himself an office that did not belong to him.

 

29. That the priests had examined these lepers one may readily believe, and this the text also suggests. Therefore they must have trumpeted into these lepers many wicked words against Christ, and highly praised the works and offerings of the law, so that they might root out of them their great and noble faith, and establish themselves in place of Christ in their heart. And the lepers accepted this, and regarded Christ as the priests told them, so that they became his enemies, and ascribed their purification to God as obtained by virtue of their offerings and merit, and not by Christ and his pure grace. And while they were thus released from bodily leprosy, they thereby fell into spiritual leprosy, which is a thousand times worse. But Christ permits both parties to go and enjoy his goodness, is silent about his rights, receives hatred and displeasure for praise and thanks; that we may hereby learn how we often pray, and that it were better for us if our prayers were not answered. It would have been better for these lepers if they had remained unclean than that by their bodily cleansing they should become diseased with a more dangerous spiritual leprosy.

 

30. Now study this example and incite your life that you may do your good works not only without harm to others, but also to their advantage, and not only to friends and the good, but consider that the greater portion will be lost, and that you will receive ingratitude and hatred as your reward. Then you will walk the right road in the footprints of Christ your Lord. Until you have accomplished this, you should not regard yourself a true, perfect Christian, it matters not whether you wear ten hairy shirts and fast every day, or celebrate mass every day, and pray the psalter, make pilgrimages, and establish churches or yearly festivals. For Christ wishes to have such works done, if they are done in the right spirit. Behold, this is truly a Christian life.

 

[But now you see whither Christ's works tend. Therefore attend to this with all diligence, and view your own life aright. If you find a work of yours, which you need or think you need for your salvation, stamp it under your feet, guard yourself as in the presence of all the devils, and never rest until you are delivered from such a spirit or work, and strive that your life may be useful and serviceable not to your, but only to your neighbor's need. Cursed be he who lives and works only for himself, for Christ did not wish to do his own will nor live for himself! For your own works will certainly lead you away from love and faith. You have no other work that is necessary and useful for thy salvation than to believe, and daily to exercise yourself in this faith, and see to it that you continue steadfast in it, and not allow the priests to deprive you of it, as they did these nine lepers, for they have slick tongues and a beautiful color. Only let all other works go in one bundle, be they lost or well applied, let that not trouble you; you remain in the faith Christ gives you, here you have many times enough; and in love, which gives you to your neighbor, you will have enough to do, for which you will find yourself many times deficient. For what you do in this is nothing, even if you should possess all the works of the saints. Hear what St. Paul says, 1 Cor. 13, 3: ”And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing.” It is not enough to help the poor and torment yourself, you must love your enemy and cast your goods with yourself into the waste heap, and not choose one rather than another to whom to do good.

 

Here you might say: Alas, what will now become of the spiritual orders, the priests, the monks and the nuns? Are they of service to no one, and do they perform only their own works? Answer: Why do you ask about priests and monks? Has not Christ ordered you to follow him, and not priests and monks? If their works are not done in the sense  before mentioned, that one should serve the other and cling to faith, you are never to doubt that they are opposed to Christ, and are as the foolish virgins with their empty, dark lamps. For their sake another Christ will not come. Of this St. Peter prophesies, 2 Pet. 2, 1: ”There shall be false teachers among you, they will bring forth destructive sects,” that is, spiritual orders and ranks, in which souls will only be condemned. And St. Paul, in 2 Thess. 2, 10-11: ”Because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie, that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” In these words the spiritual orders and ranks are set forth, how they are constituted and whence they come. For they pretend to be something extraordinary and better than other callings and stations in the Christian life, while they are farther from the Christian life than any other calling or any other people on earth, and need more to bring them to the true Christian life. Some of these callings and their governments are well ordered, for there are wife and child and subject, who exercise and give occasion for love, and likewise insist that you must not live or work for yourself, but are compelled to work only for the good of others. If you only know the faith and really live according to it, you then have no work of your own and you will have so much to do that you will be obliged to forget your own work. For in that you fast, labor, eat, drink, sleep, take a wife, in short do everything for the needs of your body and estate, is all done that you may live here and support the body in order that you may serve others. Behold, this is truly a Christian life. Therefore St. Paul says, in Rom. 13, 8: ”Owe no man anything, save to love one another,” and in love to serve each other. From this you may know why all the world is full of spiritual orders, that is, dens of hell and murder, but no one knows any longer what a Christian life is, not to mention that one should find an example of it. This is all the fault of the Pope and his cursed law, which has given us God's wrath for our masters, as St. Peter and St. Paul have declared.]

 

This is enough on the first part of our Gospel, let us now examine its second part. The Evangelist says:

 

II. A PICTURE OF THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER IN ITS DEVELOPMENT AND GROWTH.

 

”And it came to pass, as they went, they were cleansed.”

31. Thus far we have learned how faith works, its nature, whence it comes, what its beginning is, what it brings, and how acceptable it is before God. All this is said of the beginning of a Christian life. But it is not enough to begin, we must increase and continue steadfast, for Christ says, Mat. 24, 13: ”But he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” And Luke 9, 62: ”No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Therefore this second part treats of the increase and perfection of faith.

 

32. The faith or confidence of the heart in God is a very tender and sensitive thing indeed, and it may very easily be injured, so that it begins to tremble and despair, when it is scarcely yet exercised and established. And thus it has countless attacks and dangers from sin, from nature, from reason and self-conceit, from human doctrine, from the examples of the saints and from devils. In short, it is attacked without intermission from all sides, in front and in the rear, so that it trembles and despairs, or falls to trusting in good works. Hence St. Peter truly says, I Pet. 4, 18: ”The righteous is scarcely saved.” And the Prophet Zechariah compares the righteous to a brand plucked from the fire, that he may not be entirely consumed; and Amos the Prophet to a sheep's ear that the shepherd delivered from the jaws of the wolf. So malignantly temptations rage about a believing heart.

 

Therefore St. Paul says to the Corinthians, I Cor. 10, 12: ”Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” And in all places he teaches how we should walk  with watchfulness and fear, and always take good care of our faith, for, as he says in 2 Cor. 4, 7: ”We have this treasure in earthen vessels,” which are very easily broken if God does not preserve us.

 

33. Therefore we should not be secure but stand in the fear of God and pray with Jeremiah, 17, 17, that God might protect our faith, and not permit us to tremble or be frightened in the presence of our faith. This Gospel also sufficiently shows this danger by a terrible example, that among these ten lepers who believed, nine fell away, and in the end only one stands and continues steadfast. It is here as with a beautiful tree in full bloom, that we think cannot bear all its fruit; but later so many blossoms are destroyed by storms, the fruit becomes wormeaten and falls, that scarcely one tenth of it ripens. So there are many who receive the Word and begin to believe; but as the Lord says, Mat. 13, 10-21, the soil is stony and not deep enough, or faith stands among thorns and thistles; that is, by reason of temptations and enticements they fall and continue not steadfast. For as soon as things go wrong with them and God afflicts them, they forget his goodness and see only his anger. Hence faith vanishes, and there remains a wavering, discouraged and frightened conscience, that flees from God, not to mention that it should go to meet him, as indeed it did at first.

 

34. [ § 34 to § 39 is found in Edition c and pamphlets.] Thus we see here that the lepers began to believe, and expected help from Christ, who then further awakens their faith and tries it, does not immediately make them well, but speaks a word to them, to show themselves to the priests. If there had been no faith in them their reason and natural fancy would have spoken thus and immediately murmured: What is this? we expected great kindness from him, and heartily believed in him, that he would help us; but now he does not touch us, as is his custom, and as he did to others, but only looks at us and passes on. Perhaps he despises us, besides he neither promises nor denies whether he will cleanse us or not, but leaves us in doubt, and says no more than that we should show ourselves to the priests. Why should we show ourselves to them, they already know we are lepers?

 

We see that nature would thus become angry and lukewarm against him, because he does not immediately do her bidding, and he does not with certainty tell what he will do. But here is faith, that strengthens itself and only increases through such temptation, and cares naught how unkind or uncertain the actions and words of Christ sound, but clings fast to his goodness, and does not permit itself to be frightened away. And of a truth, there was in them a strong, rich faith, that upon his word they promptly went forth; for had they doubted they certainly would not have gone, and yet they had here no clear promise.

 

35. And this is the method God employs with us all to strengthen and prove our faith, and he treats us so that we know not what he will do with us. This he does for the reason, that man is to commend himself to him and rely on his mere goodness, and not doubt that he will give what we desire or something better. So also these lepers thought: Very well, we will go as he commands, and although he does not tell us whether he will cleanse us or not, this shall not influence us to esteem him any the less than before. Yea, we will only esteem him so much the more and higher, and joyfully wait, if he will not cleanse us, he will do still better for us than if we were cleansed, and we will not on that account despair of mercy and favor. Behold, this is the true increase of faith.

 

36. Such trials continue as long as we live, therefore we must also continue to grow just as long. For when he tries us in one instance in which he makes us uncertain how he will treat us, he afterwards always takes another and continually enlarges our faith and confidence, if we only remain unmovably steadfast.

 

Behold, this is what St. Peter calls growth in Christ when he says, 1 Pet. 2, 2: ”As newborn babes, long for the spiritual milk which is without guile, that ye may grow thereby unto salvation.” Again in the latter part of 2 Peter, verse 18: ”But grow in the grace and knowledge of our  Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” And St. Paul in all places desires we should increase, continue and become rich in the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ. This is nothing else than in this manner to become strong in faith, when God conceals his kindness and appears as Christ does here to the lepers, so that we do not know what to expect of him. For faith must be (argumentum non apparentium) an argument not an appearance, and be certain and not doubt in the things that are concealed and are not experienced. Heb. 11, 1.

 

37. Therefore observe that when God appears to be farthest away he is nearest. This word of Christ reads as though we cannot know what he will do, he does not refuse nor promise anything, so that the lepers, who previously certainly relied on his kindness for all things, might have become offended at it, and begun to doubt, and taken quite a different sense of it than Christ meant. Christ speaks it out of an overflowing kindness that he thinks it unnecessary to tell them that they have already obtained what they want. But as the sense was not clear to them they might have thought he was entirely of a different opinion, and farther from them than before.

 

38. Thus are all his superabundant kindnesses, works and words, that we may think that he was previously more kind and gracious than afterwards, when he first had anything to do with us.

 

Thus it also happened to the people of Israel in the desert, they thought God did not bring them out of Egypt, upon whom nevertheless they called and they knew while in Egypt that he would help them. But all this is done that we may not remain in weakness when we first begin to believe, but grow and ever increase until we be able to take the strong nourishment and become satisfied and full of the Spirit, that we may not only despise and triumph over riches, honor and friends, but also over death and hell.

 

39. Hence it is with the faithless and unbelieving as with unfortunate mine workers, who begin to prospect with great confidence, and dig extensively. But when they are about to strike the treasure, which would have taken but a little more labor, they give up, and look at what they did as in vain, and think, there is nothing in it. Then comes another worthy of the task, who had never yet made a beginning, but he strikes away boldly and finds what the former hunted and dug for him. Thus it is also with the grace of God; he who begins to believe and will not continually grow and increase, from him grace will be taken and given to another who begins with it; if he, too, will not continue it will be taken also from him and given to another. It only wants to be believed. And here our high schools speak wholly blind, mad, and poisonous things about faith, when they teach that the beginning of faith is enough for salvation, and is only a small degree or step from it.

 

40. So these words of the text, ”And it came to pass, as they went, they were cleansed,” would say: It is impossible for faith to fail, it must take place as it believes. For if these lepers had not believed and remained steadfast, of course they would not have gone. Therefore, not for the sake of their going, but on account of their faith they became cleansed, because of which they also went.

 

41. All this I say in order that some blind teacher may not come to this text and stick his eyes into good works without seeing the faith; and afterwards pretend that works make us acceptable and save us, because these lepers went forth and thus became cleansed. This error must be opposed, that one may rightly see the faith of these lepers, and thus it will appear that their work of going did not obtain the cleansing, but faith did. [So also the Lord opposes the same error in that he cleanses them before they accomplish the work assigned them. For he did not only command them to go, but to show themselves to the priests. Now they evidently became cleansed before they arrived at the priests and before they had finished the work. If they had first become cleansed after they had arrived and brought the offering, the priests might have had ground for the pretense that they were cleansed by their offering and works, as they even did, and misled the poor people.]

 

42. Now I have often said that works are twofold; some before and without faith, others come out of and after faith. For as little as nature without faith can be idle and inactive, so much less also can faith be idle. And as nature's works do not precede or make nature, but nature must first be present and do the works out of and by virtue of herself; so also the works of faith do not make faith, but they follow and spring from faith. So there must be works, but they have no merit nor saving power, but all salvation and merit must first be present in faith.

 

43. This is also the reason that the works of faith are free and spontaneous, and not premeditated. For these lepers were also free, and if Christ had commanded them to do something else, they would have done it. And if they had been asked whether they went in order to be cleansed, they would have replied, no. This must have been so, if the cleansing took place because of their works. Just as if you should ask the hypocrites whether they work in order to be saved, they would say: Yes, and without works they would not want to be saved. [But these lepers would not speak thus, they hope he will cleanse them out of pure kindness, without considering their work of going, which they do only because he wills it to satisfy the law, although unnecessary. For all lepers might also go to the priests, and yet they would not on that account be cleansed, which nevertheless must be, if the work were necessary and useful for the cleansing. Just as the work-righteous persons think, that he who works will be saved; so it must also be here, he who goes will be cleansed. But now as the cleansing takes place only because of the presence of faith, so salvation comes also on account of faith alone.] But as the lepers must go not for their own sakes, but for the sake of the priests, that they might be satisfied, although they were not obliged to go to them; so all believers must work, not for their own sake, but for the sake of others, to serve them. Although they owe them nothing, but freely do good as Christ has done to them, about which enough has been said above in the first part.

There follows further in the text:

 

”And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, with a loud voice glorifying God.”

44. The returning of one must have taken place after he and the others had shown themselves to the priests. But the Evangelist is silent as to how they came to the priests and what took place there. However, from the return and thankfulness of this one, he gives us to understand how it went. He without doubt very unwillingly returned alone, for as with all his heart he thanks Christ and is kind to him, the conclusion is clear how he persevered, admonished, urged, prayed and did his utmost for the others that they should go with him and acknowledge the great kindness; and no doubt it grieved him that he could not prevail upon the nine and had to leave them with tears and grief. All these and similar things force us to think of the love he had for Christ, that leaves nothing unattempted, fears no one, regards no one, if they only worthily honor and praise Christ.

 

45. What kind of a tempest visited the nine, that they so firmly separated from the one; as we have heard they all made a good beginning and grew in the faith of Christ? Of their own accord they would not have fallen so completely; some one must have first overthrown their faith, so that the honor which they previously gave Christ so freely and honestly, they now divert from him and rob him of this honor, and turn their friendship into enmity. Nor was it a weak falling away, that so severely offends and opposes the one leper with all his admonitions and regrets. Behold, the priests did this, they could not bear that the honor be given to Christ; hence they no doubt preached a strong sermon against him to root out their faith.

 

46. But what might they have said to them? Because they fought against Christ and the faith it is easy to think what they said and did, namely, what is contrary to faith; that is, they heralded into these poor lepers that they should not believe that Christ cleansed them, but should thank God, who had regard to their offering and the prayers of the priests, and heard them, and on this account cleansed them; and whatever else they said to draw away the hearts of the  lepers. But the one leper did not permit himself to be drawn from Christ; he remained steadfast and overcame all the assaults of faith.

 

47. [§§ 47 to 72 are found only in edition c. and pamphlets.] Therefore with two strong assaults their hearts were changed. First, to cleanse one from leprosy is impossible for a creature, and it is certainly only the work of God, therefore it cannot be in any way attributed to Christ, whom they saw and regarded as a man and not as God; therefore they should beware by no means to blaspheme God, and make a god out of a mere creature. O what a fine pretense and powerful stroke this was! What a great faith must be there to stand, when it is opposed by God himself, by his honor and work, with which one is threatened not to deny God! What heart does not think, that it would be the very best to yield to a temptation like this?

 

48. The next stroke was to bring forth the law of Moses, where it was commanded to hearken unto the priests at the risk of death, what they judged according to the law, Deut. 17, 12. As the priests here judged the cleansing was from God and not from Christ, they powerfully caught their consciences, and crushed faith to powder in the nine, for to act against the law, is also to act against God.

 

49. Here observe what a terrible opposition this was, when bodily and eternal death is placed in opposition to the conscience, together with the anger of God and man, the highest and greatest sins, with the greatest punishment. What heart would not fall before such terrors, or never tremble, especially when the law of God is offered as the signal of truth? With this these nine fell, and had sooner denied ten Christs than offend God and transgress the Law, and thought they did well by doing so.

 

50. Then an ugly contention arose first of all concerning the one, who alone stood opposed to the priests; while all his companions fall and join his opponents. Then they also exercised diligence, prayed and threatened, that he should by no means offend God, believe the priests, nor despise the law of Moses, and beware that he be not put to death as a blasphemer. Here the poor child must be a fool or insensible, so good he has it, or a heretic and apostate; he has become cleansed, but he must on that account risk body and life, goods and honor, friends and companions; and besides had to allow them the name that they were pious, did good and honored God, while he must be a sinner and dishonors God. And because he was a Samaritan they esteemed him perhaps the less, and thought: Let him go, he is but a Samaritan, a man lost and not of Israel; or they had mercy on him, as a man mad and possessed. See, this is the last and greatest opposition to faith. But he who continues steadfast, abides indeed forever, for here is overcome the fear of death and hell with all their terrors, in this world and in the world to come.

 

51. Thus the name of God must at all times do the greatest evil and be a cover for the greatest scandal through its misuse by the devil and wicked men. For as they know that man does not fear and honor anything so much as God's name and glory, especially among good hearted people; therefore they take just such a one and bring him to their mind, that what they pretend is God; then the poor crowd follows that thinks nothing else than that a man must fear and accept all this, by which God's name or Word is presented. Therefore an extensive knowledge is necessary in such opposition, that a man may not err, although he be threatened by the name of God. For idols have even assumed the name and honor of God. Thus the Pope always employs the name of God for every sin and shame, and all his disciples and false teachers follow him, and especially the priests who pretend that their unchristian, unbelieving orders and works are divine and Christian.

 

52. But it is still harder when the evil spirit torments the conscience in the throes of death, and pretends God is angry and does not care for you; of this David says, Ps. 3, 2: ”Many there are that say of my soul, There is no help for him in God.” Or as the Jews spoke to Christ while on the cross, Mat. 27, 43: ”He trusted on God; let him deliver him now, if he desireth him: for he said, I am the Son of God.”  As though they would say: It is impossible for God to help him, he is wholly lost.

 

53. Or when God himself thus tries and forsakes a man, so that he feels nothing else in his conscience than that God has forsaken him, and will never welcome him, as David says, Ps. 31, 23: ”I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes.” This also tempted Abraham, Gen. 15, 12; and Jacob, Gen. 32, 24.

 

Here faith suffers its greatest distress, and is in the pangs of hell. Here it is necessary to hold fast and not suffer yourself to err, when God himself is pictured before you. Behold, this is the last and greatest trial of faith; he who remains firm here abides firm forever, for here is overcome the fear of death and hell with all the terrors in this world and the world to come. They are the strongest Christians and the greatest spirits, who resist this temptation.

 

54. All this I say that we may learn to hold fast to faith, in which we have begun, and ever remain in the same firm conviction that looks to God for every good thing, and not permit ourselves to be forced or driven from it by man, the devil, sin, the law, the name of God or God himself, which we will be able to do if we only abide in the true nature of faith, as St. Paul says, Heb. 11, 1: ”Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen;” but not the substance of things fleeing away, nor the evidence of things seen; that is, the nature of faith is, that it relies on the goodness of God and thinks of nothing else than to hope for and desire it. The contrary of this is to flee from it, which is terrible, and that is not an example of faith, but of assault and temptation; for God has not built our faith or good conscience, or confidence on wrath, but on grace, therefore all his promises are lovely and gracious; on the contrary his threats are terrible and bitter, which we must also believe; but on his threats Christian faith cannot build, it must have before it only that which is good.

 

55. Secondly, man should possess assurance. The good for which faith looks and on which it depends, must not be seen or experienced. Therefore everything a person feels, whether of pleasure or pain, he must know it is not that which he is to believe, but it is the opposition and temptation, over which he must leap and jump, close his eyes and all his senses, and cling only to the good which he neither sees nor hears, until the contention ceases. Just as Elijah wrapped his face in a mantle, when the great earthquake, wind and fire passed by.

 

56. The blows and assaults against this leper were much greater, besides he was left alone; but he stood firm. So far is his faith greater and more perfect, and was quite ripe. Without doubt it is an example for us, that we, too, may not permit ourselves to be influenced by like priests and saints, even though the great crowd of all the world go with them. It was indeed a great sight, that the priests withstood him, whose duty it was to teach other people the right way, and who should by rights have been the most learned.

 

57. And here we learn a good answer for the Pope, the priests and the wise, when they appear with their power, government, office and dignity, and pretend that we must believe them, and only hear what they say; who know well enough what it is, when Christ directs the lepers to the priests, but appear as though they could not see how this lonely man, who was not a priest but a common layman, nor was he even an Israelite, but a Samaritan, and yet he pronounces judgment on the priests' doctrine and opinion, and is more learned than they all put together; nor does he worry about being alone, and the crowd being on their side. Now, if this had been sufficient, as our Papists say, that they are the priests, the learned, the rulers and the power, and besides they have the multitude with them, and that a man should not oppose what the government, dignity, power and multitude offer, then this Samaritan did what was not right. But God preserve us! For this Gospel here teaches that scarcely no one is so accustomed to err and go astray as just these very priests, the clergy, the most learned, the rulers, the most dignified and the greatest crowd, wherefore we are scarcely to avoid any one more than just these very ones.

 

58. But since Christ directs the lepers to the priests, he gives them to understand it is not their office, but the misuse of their office that is to be avoided, and draws the line how far we are to believe and follow them, namely, when they teach according to the law we are to hear them, as Moses, Deut. 17, 11, 12, clearly declares, that the priests shall judge according to the law, and then, whoever will not hear is to be stoned; but when they without law offer their own doctrine, we shall regard neither their office nor power, and abide alone with the Scriptures. Of course the people say, that no one writes false things except the scribe; so no one preaches false doctrine except the preachers; and again as the common saying runs: The learned are the perverted! If then the priests who are placed in their offices by divine order to teach God's Law, often and most grievously err; what shall our popes, cardinals and bishops do, who are not placed in their offices by God nor man, but by themselves, who neither preach nor study, and produce nothing but human doctrine and their own dreams? Therefore neither their office nor doctrine is any good here, they are nothing but error from head to foot, that is only to be avoided, for little of their doctrine and character is subject to controversy; for they are not the priests referred to here, as we shall hear.

 

59. But why does St. Luke say that this single person saw that he was cleansed; did not the others see it too, as all ten were surely cleansed? So the nine, as we have heard, with the priests, also praised God, and held him in high esteem, so that they would not give the honor to Christ as to a creature; why then does he say that this one only greatly praised God with a loud voice?

 

60. In the first place this is said by Luke according to a general custom, as when one says of the unthankful: he does not see the kindness done him; that is, he will not see it nor take it to heart, nor think that he ought to be thankful, but acts as though he knew nothing about it, he despises it and regards it not. Thus these nine did not want to see and consider the kindness of Christ, and despised him as though he did nothing for them. On the contrary he who is thankful will and cannot forget, and does not cease to recognize and acknowledge his benefactor and kindness. With such eyes did this Samaritan see his cleansing.

 

61. On the other hand, the nine also praised God, but with their tongues, and at the same time blasphemed him in Christ. It would not have been punishable, if even at that time they had not regarded Christ as God; for he was not, yet glorified, as St. John says, 7, 39. And this one also, perhaps, still held him as a mere man. But they wanted Christ to be looked upon as a sinful man and a blasphemer, and to be regarded with the utmost contempt. Such was the poison they brewed into the nine. Christ at that time sought nothing more than that they should receive him as sent to them from God, and that they should believe that God dwelt, spoke and worked in him. This they did not wish, and would not allow others to receive him thus; but he was to be looked upon as coming from the devil, and speaking and working through the devils. And such faith the nine permitted to be driven into them.

 

But this one remained firm in spite of them, that God must be with Christ, who spoke, worked and dwelt through and in him. Therefore his praise and thanks are mentioned and the praise of the others ignored. Through what strife and opposition he remained in his faith, we have heard above. It was a great faith that held so firmly to him who was despised, condemned and blasphemed by the priests, the learned, the rulers, the best, the greatest and the largest number among all the people. Who dare thus hold Christ at present, when the Pope, the bishops, doctors, monks, priests, princes, with all their host, have condemned him, and issued a bull against him, as we see they publicly do?

 

62. And here this Gospel teaches what works tried and experienced faith produces, and what is the true worship and honor man may give to God. Some build churches for him, some arrange masses, some ring bells for him, some light candles for him that he may see; and act no differently than as though he were a child, who is in need of our gifts and services. Although the building of churches and holding of masses at first arose from the Christians coming together to conduct the true worship; afterwards the same worship disappeared and was entirely omitted. Since then we have continued to cling to charitable foundations, buildings, singing, ringing, lighting, clothing, smoking, and as many more such preparations as there are for worship, that we have come to consider such preparations as the chief divine worship, and know nothing of any other. And we do wisely, as he who, builds a house and spends all his money on the scaffolding, and during his whole life should get no further, not even to lay a single stone for the foundation. Pray tell, where will he dwell at last, when the scaffolding is torn down?

 

63. But the true worship is to return and praise God with a loud voice. This is our greatest work in heaven and on earth, besides it is the only worship we may bring to God; for he needs none of the other kind, and is not capable for it: he will be only loved and praised by us. Concerning this Psalm 50, 12-14 speaks: ”For the world is mine and the fulness thereof. Offer unto God the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and pay thy vows unto the Most High.” Do you think God would drink the blood of goats, or eat the flesh of bulls? Thus he might also say now to the founders of charitable institutions, smokers, singers, ringers and candle lighters: Do you think that I am blind and deaf, or that I have no house for shelter? You shall love and praise me, this is the incense you are to burn to me and the bells you are to ring for me.

 

64. The returning means, to bring home again to God the grace and goods received, not to keep them, not to boast of them or exalt self above others, or praise self on their account, not to reap honor thereby nor wish to be better than others, not to be satisfied with self, not to have joy in them, but to have all such joy, pleasure, honor and praise, only in him who has given them, and stand there willing and quite composed, when he shall again take them from you, and none the less just then to love and praise him. O how few there are who thus return, of course scarcely one among ten. If one has more beautiful hair than another, he delights in himself because of it above others; what then will he do with the great gifts of reason, spirit, etc.? These are the ravens of Noah that flew out of the ark, and did not return, Gen. 8, 7. To sum up all: To return embraces these two thoughts: not to cling to God's gifts, but only to himself, who gives them.

 

65. Thus the great praise of God includes two parts - The first is to esteem him highly in the heart, and to have a lovely disposition toward him, so that we taste and experience how sweet the Lord is, of which St, Peter speaks, 1 Pet. 2,3, and Psalm 34,8: ”O taste and see that Jehovah is good.” All this faith, that has been tried, teaches and brings us at the end of the conflict. For as long as the strife and conflict endure, faith is in labor, and all is painful and bitter, it experiences and tastes no sweetness in God. But as soon as the evil hour is past, if we persevere and remain firm, then the sweetness of God will be ours. God will become so lovely, satisfactory and sweet to the heart, that it will desire nothing more than to battle and to seek to try his faith, and now as it were thirsts and longs for suffering and misfortune, which all the world fears, and which he also himself previously feared, of which Psalm 26, 2 speaks: ”Examine me, O Jehovah, and prove me; try my heart and my mind.” Out of this valiant faith comes quite a different man with a different taste, so that henceforth he does not feel well without suffering, and as it were lives contrary to all the world, so that he rejoices where the world mourns, and mourns where the world rejoices, until he becomes an enemy of this whole life and becomes eager for death.

 

66. This is what St. Paul means when he says, Gal. 6, 14: ”Through which the world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” That is, my joy and life are the suffering and death of the world, and her joy and life are my suffering and death. Therefore he says again, Phil. 1, 23: ”Having the desire to depart and be with Christ.” To this taste and knowledge no hypocrite can come, for conflict and suffering they do not want, and so they must remain faithless and wholly unexperienced in spiritual things.  67. The other part is to break forth with the voice, and to, confess before the world what the heart within believes of God. This is nothing else than to bring down upon one's self the enmity of the world, and to send many messengers after death and the cross. For he who would praise and honor God with his voice, must condemn all the praise and honor of the world and say that all the works and words of man are nothing, with all the honor they have from. them, and that God's work and Word alone are worthy of praise and honor. But you see that the world cannot tolerate this, and so you must bear the brunt and be a heretic, a deceiver, a blasphemer, while you promise many good works and a spiritual life in all your divine services. Then they will command your silence, or make it hot for you. And it is not possible for them to suffer it from you, for their pet affairs they will not allow you to reject. So is it also impossible for you to cease and be still, but with loud voice like this leper you rather confess God's praise and honor alone in his works and words; and thus you then go to pieces and become ashes. Then the Pope goes to work and enlarges his almanac with red ink, and makes them saints in heaven, and blots you out of the book of life, and casts you four thousand miles on the other side of hell, and you are now a rotten member cut off from holy Christendom, that you may not infect the holy church with the poison of your foul odor and your satanic doctrines.

 

68. Christ speaks of this in Mat. 24, 9: ”Ye shall be hated of all the nations for my name's sake.” Why for my name's sake? They would and might not tolerate the name, praise and honor of God, for then they and their whole cause would be put to shame. And if God alone were wise, good, just, faithful and strong, then they would be fools, wicked, unjust, liars, false and impotent. Who would bear this great injustice, the devilish heresy, that so much divine service and godly life should for God's sake be abolished and changed as a foolish, unjust, false and impotent thing? Not so, it must not be God, but the devil who pretends this. Behold, upon the highways all the prophets are murdered and Christ himself. The world does not want to be a fool nor to be unjust. But God will not suffer this from it, and hence he sends his messengers to punish it. And thus the saints must then shed their blood on account of it. Therefore it is a great act to praise God and to raise a free and loud voice before the world.

 

69. However, the false saints and murderers of Christ also now praise and extol with a loud voice God and his works, yea, they preach and cry more about God than the true saints do. As we even now see every corner full of preachers, who highly extol and praise God, that he alone is worthy of praise and honor, and use the very same voice and Word which the true preachers use. Why then is it not valid? Or what is the matter with it? Without doubt nothing else than that they with this leper do not fall down at the feet of Christ to thank him, but want Christ to fall down at their feet and thank them. For the Jews give all honor to God, but of Christ they will know nothing. So it is with these; as long as we leave their cause alone and do not reject it they cry and praise us very highly. But if one also judges them by their doctrine, and their own cry falls upon them, that they are nothing and their whole cause nothing but falsehood and foolishness; then their praise and cry are gone, and their false heart breaks forth and is revealed, so that they praise and honor God only with the mouth and themselves with the heart.

 

70. It is not enough that you loudly call and cry that God does all things and our work is nothing; you must also suffer such things to be said of you and your affairs. You can agree that Christ's and your enemy is nothing, and all he does is rejected, and you think it is right and well done; for his cause is not from God, but against God. But you do not wish to be rejected with him. Your cause is to be God himself and unrejected; how then is it possible that you should tolerate the rejected Christ, not to mention falling at his feet and regarding yourself as unworthy, when with him you would be rejected? Now as God has concealed himself in the despised man Christ, and will dwell there,  you must not undertake to find him anywhere else, except in contempt; yea, you must reach the point to rejoice that you are found worthy to be despised, and must also fall at his feet and thank him for the contempt, which will not suffer your cause to be anything, so that it be not words but deeds; that you say: God alone is to be praised and not man, such instruction is first to be proved by you, you suffer such things just for the sake of his doctrine, and you consider yourself unworthy of all this.

 

71. Thus Christ also taught the same and praised God's name alone; and also suffered first and most of all, that he became as nothing, so that no one can be compared to him in this. O this is a rich, great example, of which much might be said. But now it is sufficient that we may see a little how great a cause it is to prove God's praise by our actions, and fall upon our faces at the feet of Christ, the man despised; as the Apostles were glad, Acts 5, 4, that they were worthy to suffer dishonor for the 'Name, of which it is said, Ps. 72, 9, that the enemies of Christ are to bow before him, and lick the dust from his footprints. That is as St. Paul also says, they shall boast in his sufferings and cross, that shall come upon them on account of the praise of God and the punishment of men. For as Christ himself thus suffered, suffering has become so precious that no one is worthy of it, and it is to be regarded and esteemed as great grace.

 

72. From this we see how far a Christian life is above the natural life. First, it despises self; secondly, it loves and thirsts for contempt; thirdly, it punishes everything that is unwilling to be despised, by which it resigns itself to all misfortune; fourthly it is also despised and persecuted on account of such contempt and punishment; fifthly, it does not think itself worthy to suffer such persecution. Now from the very first part the world and nature flee, when then will they come to the last? But there is still another and a greater behind it, concerning the falling at the feet of Christ, which the priests neither understand nor want; for not every faith is sufficient for it, but the faith of Christ must be there, that truly humiliates us. Of this we will treat later under the spiritual interpretation.

 

”And he was a Samaritan.”

73. Why was it necessary for the Evangelist to write, rather than something else, that this one leper was a Samaritan? By this he opens our eyes and warns us that God has two kinds of people who serve him. One, that has the appearance and name of having a great, spiritual, holy life, is employed almost wholly in it, and yet it is all in vain. They are nothing more than ravenous wolves in sheep's clothing. Yet they have the honor of it, and are regarded by every one as the true worshipers of God; therefore goods, honor, friendship flow to them, and everything the world has, for God's sake; for they think he is there, and he who thinks differently is worse than a heathen, heretic and an apostate.

 

74. The others are without any show and name, yea, they are of the opposite appearance, as though no one were less God's people than they, and in short, they are thorough Samaritans; a word that sounds as badly among the Jews, as if at present you should revile one as a Turk, Jew, heathen or heretic. For the Jews alone had the name of being God's people, and they alone had God and his worship for themselves in preference to all other people on the earth. And they hated the Samaritans above all nations, for they too claimed to be God's people along with the Jews; therefore a Samaritan was to them as an apostate Christian is among us. And although it be true that the Samaritans did not rightly believe, and that the Jews had the true law of God, it was according to human custom that they boasted alone of Judaism and despised the Samaritans, who were less Jews and worse Samaritans, than the natural Samaritans. But now, as God loves the truth and is an enemy of hypocrisy with all its boasting, he turns it round and accepts the Samaritans and lets the Jews go. Thus it occurs that they are not his people who still have the name, the appearance and honor of his people. Again, those who are  his people and have the name and appearance, are heretics, apostates and the devil's children.

 

75. So it is even at the present time. The clergy, priests and monks call themselves and are regarded as the servants of God, and no one is a Christian who does not believe as they believe, whereas no one is less a Christian and God's people than just those who thus turn up and boast themselves among them. Again, those whom they hold are heretics, many of whom they have also burned and exiled, like John Huss and his followers they dare not be Christians, although they alone are the true Christians. Here then this Gospel is so powerful that no one returns, no one exalts God with a loud voice, no one falls on his face at the feet of Christ, except the Samaritans, the despised, the condemned, the accursed, who must be heretics, apostates, errorists and Satan's own children. Therefore let us guard against everything that makes only a show, it certainly is deceiving; and let us not reject what does not make a display, so that we do not go and reject Christ and God, as the Jews did. This Christ also desires when he says:

 

”And Jesus answering said, Were not the ten cleansed? but where are the nine? Were there none found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger?”

76. The stranger does it, he sincerely gives God all the glory. 0, what a terrible example is this! Among ten only one, and he among the least and most worthless. How entirely does God indeed overlook that which is great, wise, spiritual and honorable! And yet such people have no fear, but become hardened and petrified in their nature. It is also terrible that the Lord knows ten of them were cleansed, of this they did not think. To it he is not silent, he inquires after and seeks them: Where are the nine? 0, what a frightful thing it will be when they at some future time will feel this inquiry and must answer whither they went, that they did not give God the glory. Then they will say: Well, we have nevertheless praised and thanked God, and thus our priests have taught us! Then it will appear whether it will help us to follow the doctrines of men in the name of God, and to forsake the doctrine and will of God. We are sufficiently warned in the Gospel, therefore no excuse will help us if we allow ourselves to be deceived. In Baptism we have all vowed to follow Christ and his doctrine; no one has vowed to follow the Pope, the bishops and clergy. Thus Christ has thoroughly rejected and forbidden the doctrines of men.

 

77. However, Christ here comforts his poor Samaritans, who for his name's sake must risk their lives with the priests and Jews, and strengthens their hope with the sentence and judgment that he demands the nine and judges them as God's thieves, who steal God's glory, and justifies the Samaritan. For this hope gives them strong courage, that their cause before God will be rightly maintained and will stand, but the opposite cause will be condemned and will not stand, it matters not how great they were and what right they had on earth.

 

78. Therefore observe, before Christ justifies the Samaritan, he judges the nine, that we should be certain not to hasten or desire revenge, but leave it only to him, and go our way. For he is in himself so careful to defend the right and punish the wrong, that he first takes up the latter before he rewards his Samaritans.

 

79. Besides, he uses many more words in this sentence than to the Samaritan; so that we see how greatly he is concerned about it, and he by no means forgets their wrongs and our rights. Nor does he wait long to have them accused before him, but of his own free will summons them, so that without doubt the cause of the unbelievers influences him more and sooner than it strikes or harms us. Of this God speaks in Moses, Deut. 32, 35: ”Vengeance is mine, and recompense.” And St. Paul says to the Romans, 12, 19: ”Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto wrath.” Now the words which the Lord says to the Samaritan, when he adjusts his affairs, are the following:

 

”And he said unto him, Arise, and go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole.”

80. Behold, is not this a wonderful expression, that he  attributes his cleansing to faith? This is opposed to the judgment of the priests who told the nine that their offering and obedience to the law had cleansed them. But Christ's judgment stands and triumphs, that they were not cleansed because they went to the priests, nor because of their offering, but alone on account of their faith. Therefore, as said above, faith will not tolerate any work, that it should help man to be justified and saved. For this faith more than all other things must and will do it alone, and he employs his works elsewhere, namely, to help his neighbor, as Christ has helped him.

 

81. And in conclusion we observe that this Gospel sufficiently teaches and represents the entire Christian life with all its events and sufferings; for the two chief things are faith and love. Faith receives the good; love gives the good. Faith offers us God as our own; love gives us to our neighbor as his own. Now when such life begins, God goes to work and improves it by trials and conflicts, through which a man increases more and more in faith and love, that through his own experience God becomes to him so heartily dear and precious, and he no longer fears anything.

 

Then hope grows which is certain that God will not forsake her, of which St. Paul speaks, Rom. 5, 3-5: ”We also rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh steadfastness; and steadfastness, approvedness; and approvedness, hope; and hope putteth not to shame.” And Paul always treats of these three principles in his Epistles. To the Colossians he speaks thus, 1, 3-5: ”We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have toward all the saints, because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens.” And still more beautiful he says to the Thessalonians, 1, 2, 3: ”We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father.

 

82. How beautifully he divides the three principles, that faith goes forth in trusting, love in laboring, and hope in patience and suffering. As though he would say: Your faith is not a dream nor a fancy, but it is life and action; and your love is not passive nor is it idle, but it serves well for your neighbor. All this takes place in prosperous days, while your hope is exercised in suffering and patience, and all this in Christ; for there is no faith, nor love, nor hope outside of Christ, as I said above. Thus a Christian life goes through good and evil until the end, and yet it does not seek revenge, and only grows more and more in faith, love and hope.

 

83. And love, which naturally follows faith, is divided into two parts: it loves God, who does so much for her through Christ in faith; it loves its neighbor, and does to him, as God does to her. Therefore, all the works of such a man go to his neighbor for God's sake who loved him, and he does no work relating to God except to love and to praise, and he confesses this freely before the world. For God does not need other works. Thus, all worship is with the mouth; although that is also called a service of God which is done to our neighbor. But I speak now only of the service rendered to God, in which the one part man can take is to love and to praise; but in this he must resign himself wholly and entirely in all adversity. Behold, what more would you know as to how to be a Christian? Have faith and love, continue in these, then you have and can do all things; the rest will all be taught and given to you without any exertion on your part: This Gospel of the Ten Lepers is further expounded in a special book or postil, which examine for additional information. There you will also find the allegorical interpretation. or the spiritual meaning of it.

 

 

       

 

   

 

 

FIFTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.

MATTHEW 6:24-34.

 

 

Christians should not be anxious for things of this life, but seek the kingdom of god.

 

 

MATTHEW 6:24-34.

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? Or, what shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

 

1. This Gospel is a part of the long sermon Christ delivered to his disciples on the mount, in which among other things he especially warned and admonished his disciples against the infamous vice of avarice and anxiety for daily bread, the legitimate fruit and proof of our unbelief. This does great harm in Christendom when it takes possession of those in the office of the ministry, who should be occupied by nothing except teaching the Word of God and faith aright, and chastising the error and sin of the world; or when it possesses these it should confess God’s Words before all persons and be prepared to serve everybody for the sake of God, even if they be obliged on that account to lose their riches, honor, body and life.

 

2. Christ wishes also to teach here how he desires to have his kingdom distinguished from the civil life and government, that he will not govern his Christendom upon earth so that it be conceived and vested as a government where Christians are first of all to be amply provided with temporal goods, riches and power, and who need not fear any need or danger; but he wishes to provide them with spiritual treasures and what their souls need, so that they may have his Word, the consolation of his grace, and the power and strength of the Holy Spirit against sin and death unto everlasting life. Moreover whatever they need of temporal things for this life and the necessaries for present wants they are to expect also from him, and they are not to be terrified if they do not see this before their eyes and have it prepared for the future, and are tempted by want and need. On the other hand they are to know that their God and Father will care for them and will surely give them all if they with firm faith are only anxious about and seek how they may continue faithful to his word and in his kingdom, and serve him there.

 

3. Therefore Christ makes a distinction in this sermon, by which he separates his Christians from the heathen and unbelievers. For he does not deliver this doctrine to the heathen as they do not accept it, but to those who are already Christians. He does not however consider those Christians, who only hear his word and can repeat it, like the nuns do the Psalter. In this way Satan also hears the Gospel and the Word of God, yea, he knows it better than we, and can preach it just as well as we, if he only wished to do so. But the Gospel is doctrine that is to be a living power and put into practice; it should strengthen and comfort the people and make us courageous and aggressive. Therefore they who only hear the Gospel thus, so that they know and can speak about it, are not to be classed among Christians; but those who believe and do as the Gospel teaches are righteous.

 

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other: or else he will hold to one and despise the other.”

4. Now he, who tries to serve two masters, will do it in a way that cannot be called serving at all; for it will certainly be as the Lord here says. One can indeed compel a servant to do a certain work against his will and he may grieve while doing it; but no one can compel him to do it cheerfully, and mean it from the bottom of his heart. He of course does the work as long as his master is present, but when he is absent, he hurries away from his task, and does nothing well. Hence the Lord desires our service to be done out of love and cheerfully, and where it is not done thus, it is no service to him: for even people are not pleased when one does anything for them unwillingly. This is natural, and we experience daily that it is so. Now, if it be the case among human beings that no one can serve two masters, how much more is it true in the service of God, that our service cannot be divided; but it must be done unto God alone, willingly and from the heart; hence the Lord adds:

 

“Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

5. God cannot allow us to have another Lord besides himself. He is a jealous God, as he says, and cannot suffer us to serve him and his enemy. We find very few, who do not sin against the Gospel. The Lord passes a severe judgment and it is terrible to hear, that he should say this of us; and yet no one will confess, yea, no one will suffer it to be said that we hate and despise God, and that we are his enemies. There is no one, when asked if he loves God and cleaves to him, who would not reply: Dost thou take me to be such a desperate character as to be an enemy of God? But see how the text here closes, that we all hate and despise God, and love and cleave to mammon. For it is impossible that he, who loves gold and riches and cleaves to them, should not hate God. Christ here holds the two opposed to one another and as enemies, and says: If you love one of these two and cleave to the same, then you must hate and despise the other. However well a man may live here upon the earth, if he clings to riches it cannot be otherwise than that he must hate God. And whoever does not trust in gold and worldly riches, loves God. This is certain.

 

6. But who are they that love God, and cleave not to gold and worldly possessions? Take a good look at the whole world, also the Christians, and see if they despise gold and riches. It requires an effort to hear the Gospel and to live according to it. God be praised, we have the Gospel; that no one can deny, but what do we do with it? We are concerned only about learning and knowing it, and nothing more; we think it is enough to know it, and do not care whether we ever live according to it. However, on the other hand, one is very anxious when he leaves lying in the window or in the room a dollar or two, yea, even a dime, then he worries and fears lest the money be stolen; but the same person can do without the Gospel through a whole year. And such characters still wish to be considered as Evangelical.

 

7. Here we see what and who we are. If we were Christians, we would despise riches and be concerned about the Gospel that we some day might live in it and prove it by our deeds. We see few such Christians; therefore we must hear the judgment that we are despisers of God and hate God for the sake of riches and worldly possessions. Alas I that is fine praise we should be ashamed of ourselves in our inmost souls; there is no hope for us! What a fine condition we are in now! That means, I think, our names are blotted out. What spoiled children we are!

 

8. Now the world cannot conceal its unbelief in its coarse, outward sins, for I see it loves a dollar more than Christ; more than all the Apostles, even if they themselves were present and preached to it. I can hear the Gospel daily, but it does not profit me every day; it may indeed happen, if I have heard it a whole year, the Holy Spirit may have been given to me only one hour. Now when I enjoyed this hour I obtained not only five hundred dollars, but also the riches of the whole world; for what have I not, when I have the Gospel? I received God, who made the silver and the gold, and all that is upon the earth; for I acquired the Spirit by which I know that I will be kept by him forever; that is much more than if I had the church full of money. Examine now and see, if our heart is not a rogue, full of wickedness and unbelief. If I were a true Christian, I would say. The hour the Gospel is received, there comes to me a hundred thousand dollars, and much more. For if I possess this treasure, I have all that is in heaven and upon earth. But one must serve this treasure only, for no man can serve God and mammon. Either you must love God and hate money; or you must hate God and love money; this and nothing more.

 

9. The master uses here the Hebrew, which we do not. “Mammon” means goods or riches, and such goods as one does not need, but holds as a treasure, and it is gold and possessions that one deposits as stock and storage provisions. This Christians do not do, they gather no treasures; but they ask God for their daily bread. However, others are not satisfied with this, they gather a great store upon which they may depend, in case our God should die to-day or tomorrow, they might then know a way out. Therefore St. Paul says, in Ephesians 5: 5 and Colossians 3:5, riches and covetousness are the god of this world and are idolatry, with this Christ here agrees and calls it serving mammon.

 

10. Now, how does it come that the Gospel and St. Paul call especially covetousness and not other sins idolatry; since uncleanness, fornication, lust, base desires, unchastity and other vices are more opposed to God? It is done to our great shame, because gold is our god, that we serve, in that we trust and rely upon it, and it can neither sustain nor save us, yea, it can neither stand nor walk, it neither hears nor sees, it has no strength nor power, with it there is neither comfort nor help. For if one had the riches of the whole world, he would not be secure for one moment before death.

 

11. Of what help are his great treasures and riches to the Emperor when the hour of death arrives and he is called to die? They are a shameful, loathsome, powerless god, that cannot cure a sore, yea, it cannot keep and take care of itself, there it lies in the chest, and lets it’s devotees wait, yea, one must watch it as a helpless, powerless, weak thing. The lord who has this god must watch day and night lest thieves steal it; this helpless god can aid no one. You should have contempt for this lifeless god that cannot help in the least, and is yet so scrupulous and precious; it lets its devotees wait in the grandest style and protects itself with strong chests and castles, its lord must wait and be in anxiety every hour, lest it perishes by fire or otherwise experiences some misfortune. Does this treasure or god consist m clothing, then one must be careful and on his guard against the smallest little insects, against the moth, lest they ruin or devour it.

 

12. The walls of our rooms should spit upon us in contempt that we trust more in the god the moth eat and the rust corrupt, than in the God, who creates and gives all things, yea, who holds in his hand heaven and earth, and all that in them is. Is it not a foolish thing on the part of the world to turn from the true God and trust in base and low mammon, in the poor, miserable god, who cannot protect himself against rust. Oh, what a disgraceful thing this is on the part of the world! God visits gold and worldly possessions with many kinds of enemies, to bring us to see and confess our unbelief and godless character, that we thus trust in a powerless and frail god, we who could at once so easily approach and cleave to the true, powerful and strong God, who gives us everything, money, goods, fruit and all we need; yet we are so foolish and make gods out of his gifts. Shame on thee, thou cursed unbelief.

 

13. Other sins give us a little pleasure, we receive some enjoyment from them, as in the case of eating and drinking; in unchastity one has pleasure for a little while; likewise anger satisfies its desire, and other vices more so. Only in this vice one must incessantly be in slavery, hounded and martyred, and in it no one has any pleasure or joy whatever. There the money lies on a pile and commands you to serve it; in spite of it letting any one draw from it a thimble full of wine there comes rust and devours it, and yet he dares not attack it, lest he angers his god. And when his servants have protected their god a long time they have no more than any poor beggar. I have nothing, yet I eat and drink as heartily as any one who has a large supply of mammon. When he dies he takes just as much along with him as I do. And it is certainly the case that these people never live as well nor as richly as the poor people often do. Who arranges this thus? God, the Lord, does it. Here some have a certain affliction of the body that they have no appetite; there others are internally unsound and never relish what they eat; here their stomach is out of order; there their lungs and liver are diseased; here is this, and there is that sickness; here they are weak and afflicted at one point, there at another, and they never have an enjoyable hour to relish what they eat or drink.

 

14. Thus it is with those who serve this god, mammon. The true God is still of some use, he serves the people, but mammon does not, it lies quiet and lets others serve it. And for this reason the New Testament calls covetousness idolatry, since it thus desires to be served. However, to love and not to enjoy may well vex the devil. This all now experience who love the god, mammon, and serve him. Whoever has now no sense of shame and does not turn red, has a brazen face.

 

15. Thus now it is with the word, “serve.” For it is not forbidden to have money and possessions, as we cannot get along without them. Abraham, Lot, David, Solomon and others had great possessions and much gold, and at the present day there are many wealthy persons who are pious, in spite of their riches. But it is one thing to have possessions and another to serve them; to have mammon, and to make a god out of it. Job also was wealthy, he had great possessions and was more powerful than all who lived in the East, as we read in the first part of the book of Job: yet he says, in Job 31:24-25: “If I have made gold my hope, and said to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence; have I rejoiced because my wealth was great, and because my hand had gotten much?”

 

16. The sum of all is, it is God’s will that we serve not gold and riches, and that we be not overanxious for our life; but that we labor and commend our anxiety to him. Whoever possesses riches is lord of the riches. Whoever serves them, is their slave and does not possess them, but they possess him; for he dare not make use of them when he desires, and cannot serve others with them; yea, he is not bold enough to dare to touch it. However, is he lord over his riches, then they serve him, and he does not serve them; then he teaches in 1 Corinthians 7:32. Hence he aids the poor with his wealth and gives to those who have nothing. When he sees a person without a coat, he says to his money: Go out, Messrs. Dollars, there is a poor, naked man, who has no coat, you must be of service to him! There lies one sick, who has no medicine. Go forth, Squires Anneberger and Joachinesthaler, you must hasten and help him! Those, who act thus with their riches, are their lords; and all true Christians surely do this. But those who save piles of money, and ever scheme to make their heap larger instead of smaller, are servants and slaves of mammon.

 

17. He is a lord of mammon who lays hold of and uses it for the sake of those who need it and lets God rule, who says in Luke 6:38. Give, and it shall be given unto you; have you nothing more, you surely have me still, and I have still enough, yea, I have more than I have given away and more than can ever be given away. We see here and there many pious poor people only for the purpose that the wealthy may help and serve them with their riches. If you do it not, you have the sure proof that you hate God. He, whom the sentence does not terrify, that he will hear on the day of judgment, can be moved by nothing. For he will hear then from God: Behold, thou hast hated me and loved that which could not protect itself against rust and moth. Ay, how firmly you will then stand!

 

18. Hence the sense is, we must own some possessions, but are not to cleave to them with our hearts; as Psalm 62:10 says: “If riches increase, set not your heart thereon.” We are to labor; but we are not to be anxious about our existence. This the Master says here in our Gospel in plain and clear words, when he thus concludes:

 

“Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink: nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.”

19. And he now uses a reasonable and natural form of speech, by which to close, that they are not to be anxious for the nourishment of their lives; for reason must conclude and yield that it is as Christ says, when he gives the ground and reason of his discourse by asking:

 

“Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment!”

20. As if he would say: You turn it just around, the food should serve your life and not your life the food. The same is true in respect to raiment; the clothing should serve the body, thus the body serves the clothing. The world is so blind that it cannot see this.

 

21. Now we must here have a high esteem for the words of the Lord. He says, “Be not anxious;” he does not say, Labor not. Anxiety is forbidden, but not labor; yea, it is commanded and made obligatory upon us to labor until the sweat rolls down our faces. It is not God’s pleasure for man to tramp around idly; therefore he says to Adam in Genesis 3:19: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken.” And as Psalm 104:22-23 says: “The sun ariseth. man goeth forth unto his work and to his labor until the evening.” We are not to be anxious, this is forbidden; for we have a rich God who promises us food and clothing; for he knows what we lack, before we are concerned and begin to pray.

 

22. Why then does he not give us what we need without our labor? Because it is thus pleasing to him; he tells us to labor and then he gives it; not because of our work, but out of kindness and grace. This we see before our eyes; for although we labor every year in the field, yet God gives one year more than another. Therefore, we are fools, yea, we act contrary to God’s will, when we are worried as to how to scrape together gold and riches, since God gratuitously and richly promises that he will give us all and will abundantly provide for our every want.

 

23. However, one may say: Does not St. Paul tell us to be diligent, as in Romans 12:8: “He that ruleth, with diligence,” and there immediately follows verse 11, “In diligence, not slothful?” In like manner to the Philippians 2:20, he says of Timothy: “For I have no man likeminded, who will care truly for your state.” And Paul himself in 2 Corinthians 11:28 boasts that anxiety for all the churches presses upon him. Here you see how’ we are nevertheless to be anxious. Answer: Our life and a Christian character consist of two parts, of faith and of love. The first points us to God, the other to our neighbor. The first, namely faith, is not visible, God alone sees that; the other is visible, and is love, that we are to manifest to our neighbor. Now the anxiety that springs from love is commanded, but that which accompanies faith is forbidden. If I believe that I have a God, then I cannot be anxious about my welfare; for if I know that God cares for me as a father for his child, why should I fear? Why need I to be anxious, I simply say: Art thou my Father, then I know that no evil will befall me, as Psalm 16:8 says: “I have set Jehovah always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” Thus he has all things in his hand; therefore I shall want nothing, he will care for me. If I rush ahead and try to care for myself, that is always contrary to faith; therefore God forbids this kind of anxiety. But it is his pleasure to maintain the anxious care of love, that we may help others, and share our possessions and gifts with them. Am I a ruler, I am to care for my subjects; am I a housefather, I must take care of the members of my family, and so forth, according as each one has received his gifts from God. God cares for all, and his is the care that pertains to faith. We are also to be interested in one another and this is the care of love, namely, when something is given to me, that I be diligent so that others may also receive it.

 

24. Here we must be guarded, lest we make a gloss, instead of understanding simply the words as they read: Be not anxious for your life. God says: Labor, and if you accomplish nothing, I will give what is needed; does he give then see that you rightly distribute it. Do not be anxious to get, but see to it that your domestics and others also receive of that which God has given to you, and that your domestics labor and receive a Christian training.

 

25. Am I a preacher, my anxiety should not be where to receive what I am to preach; for if I have nothing I can give nothing. Christ says in Luke 21:15: “I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to withstand or to gainsay.” But if I have that I ought to be anxious for others to receive it from me, and that I endeavor to impart it to them in the best form possible, to teach the ignorant, to admonish and restrain those who know it, rightly to comfort the oppressed consciences, to awaken the negligent and sleepy, and put them on their guard, and the like, as St. Paul did ( 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1, Titus 3:1) and commanded his disciples Timothy and Titus to do. My anxiety should be how others are to receive something from me; but I am to study and pray to God. Studying is my labor, this is the work he desires me to do, and when it is his pleasure he will give. It can indeed happen that I may study a long time and he gives nothing, a year or more, and when it is his pleasure, he gives as long as it is pleasing to him. Then he gives copiously and to overflowing, suddenly in an hour.

 

26. Thus a housefather also does, he attends only to that which is commanded him, and lets our Lord God arrange as to how he will give. When he gives, then man is concerned how to impart it to his family, and he sees that they have no need as to the body and the soul. This is what the Lord means, when he says we are not to be anxious for our food and raiment; but he certainly requires us to labor. For thou must be a long time behind the oven until something is given to thee if thou dost not till the soil and work. True it is, God can easily nourish thee without thy work, he could easily have roasted and boiled corn and wine grow on thy table; but he does not do it, it is his will that thou shouldst labor and in doing so to use thy reason.

 

27. In like manner it is with preaching and all our affairs. God gives us the wool, that he grows on the sheep; but it is not at once cloth, we must labor and make it into cloth; when it is cloth, it does not at once become a coat, the tailor must first work with the cloth before it is a coat; and so God does with all things, he cares for us, but we must toil and work. We have plenty examples of this before our eyes, and God relates especially two here that should really make us blush with shame, namely, those of the birds and the lilies in the field. Pointing to the birds he says:

 

“Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them.”

28. As if the Lord would say: You have never yet seen a bird with a sickle, with which it harvested and gathered into barns; yea, the birds do not labor like we; and still they are nourished. By this the Lord does not however teach that we are to be idle; but he tries by this example to take all anxiety from us. For a bird cannot do the work of a farmer as we do; yet, it is not free from labor, but it does the work for which it was created, namely, it bears its young, feeds them and sings to our Lord God a little song for the privilege of doing this. Had God imposed more labor upon it, then it would have done more. Early in the morning it rises, sits upon a twig and sings a song it has learned, while it knows not where to obtain its food, and yet it is not worried as to where to get its breakfast. Later, when it is hungry, it flies away and seeks a grain of corn, where God stored one away for it, of which it never thought while singing, when it had cause enough to be anxious about its food. Ay, shame on you now, that the little birds are more pious and believing than you; they are happy and sing with joy and know not whether they have anything to eat.

 

29. This parable is constantly taught to our great and burning shame, that we cannot do as much as the birds. A Christian should be ashamed before a little bird that knows an art it never acquired from a teacher. When in the spring of the year, while the birds sing the most beautifully, you say to one: How canst thou sing so joyfully, thou hast not yet any grain in thy barn! It would thus mock you. It is a powerful example and should truly give offense to us and stir us to trust God more than we do. Therefore he concludes with a penetrating passage, and asks:

 

“Are not ye of much more value than they?”

30. Is it not a great shame that the Lord makes and presents to us the birds as our teachers, that we should first learn from them? Shame on thee, thou loathsome, infamous unbelief! The birds do what they are required to do; but we not. In Genesis 1:28 we have a command that we are to be lords over all God’s creatures; and the birds are here our lords in teaching us wisdom. Away with godless unbelief! God makes us to be fools and places the birds before us, to be our teachers and rule us, in that they only point out how we serve mammon and forsake the true and faithful God. Now follows the other example of the flowers in the field, by which the Lord encourages us not to worry about our raiment; and it reads thus:

 

“And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life? And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? 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. But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?”

31. As if to say, your life is not yours, nor is your body, you cannot make it one cubit longer or shorter; neither be anxious as to how you are to clothe yourself. Behold the flowers of the field how they are adorned and clothed, neither do they anything to that end; they neither spin nor work, yet they are beautifully clothed.

 

32. By this illustration the Lord again does not wish to have us cease to sew and work, but we should labor, spin and sew, and not be overanxious and worry. The evil we have is our toil; will we in addition worry, then we do like the fools; for it is enough that each day has its own evil. It seems to me, this is disdain that is commanded, that the flowers stand there and make us blush and become our teachers. Thank you, flowers, you, who are to be devoured by the cows! God has exalted you very highly, that you become our masters and teachers. Shame, that this earth bears us! Is it an honor for us? I do not know. We must here confess that the most insignificant flower, that the cattle tread under foot, should become our teacher, are we not fine people? I think so. Now Christ places alongside of this the richest and most powerful king, Solomon, who was clothed in the most costly manner in purple and gold, whose glory was not to be compared with that of the flowers, 1 Kings 10:1. Is it not remarkable that the adornment of the flowers in the field should be esteemed higher than all the precious stones, gold and silver?

 

33. However, we are so blind that we do not see what God designs thereby and what he means. The flower stands there that we should see it, it strikes us and says: If thou hadst the adornment of the whole world even then thou wouldst not be equal to me, who stand here, and am not the least worried whence this adornment comes to me. I do not however concern myself about that, here I stand alone and do nothing and although thou art beautifully adorned, thou art still sickly and servest impotent mammon; I however am fresh and beautiful and serve the true and righteous God. Behold, what a loathsome, vicious thing is unbelief!

 

34. These are two fine and powerful examples of the birds and the lilies. The birds teach us a lesson as to our daily food; the flowers as to our raiment. And in the whole New Testament our shame is no where so disclosed and held to view, as just in this Gospel. But they are few who understand it. From these examples and parables the Lord now concludes and says:

   

“Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first his kingdom and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow; for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

35. As I said at the beginning Christ delivered this sermon to his Christians, especially to those in the office of the ministry or to those who otherwise either had nothing or never could acquire and gather for themselves riches and mammon, as the rest of the world does; in order that they might know, from what source they could nourish and support themselves and their families. Yea, they are compelled to live in the danger of being robbed of the little earthly goods God gave them and thus they are without the least doubt compelled to live entirely upon the help that God sends them and they expect from him, since the world gives them nothing.

 

36. This is indeed painful to flesh and blood, and is very burdensome to them, yea, no one can bear or do it, unless he is a believing Christian. For the world is so disposed that it will not take the least risk in temporal matters for the future; but it must be sure of them, order beforehand and have in store and ready for use whatever it needs, as food, peace, protection and insurance, so that it can live and depend upon neither God nor the people; but as it is evident that the world enriches no one because of his faith and piety, they think they must act and live as others do, in order that they may nevertheless have also something.

 

37. Against this he herewith comforts and strengthens his Christians, and again repeats: They shall therefore not worry nor doubt nor wriggle in such unbelief, saying: Oh, what is to become of us? Who is going to give us anything? Where in this world are we Christians to get food, protection, peace? But they must know that their heavenly Father provides for this, and will also give it to them, he who for this very reason is called their Father (not the unbelievers’, although he feeds all the world, and gives everything), in order to show that he will also not leave his children, tie leads them into God’s high work of the whole creation, that they may see how he nourishes and supports all things which he creates, after having ordered and regulated each one – also all the birds in the air, which, as you know, do not fret about their food nor know beforehand whither they shall take it. Aye, especially also the little flowers does he so deck and adorn that such beauty and :finery might more fittingly be supplied elsewhere; for does it not seem quite useless, since they only bloom for perchance a day? Must he not therefore much more think and care for his Christians, how they may be fed and clad, and where they might dwell and stay as long as they have to live on earth?

 

38. This he admonishes them to believe; and to impress them most strongly with it, not by many but by earnest words, he suddenly breaks off after having held up to them the examples from daily life and God’s work among his Creatures; and closes with these words: Shall he not much more do such things for you, O ye of little faith? He wishes to say: Well, you ought to be ashamed of yourselves, if you are Christians and know that you have a Father in heaven, to let me do so much preaching about this! Yes, ashamed you ought to be, and not permit that such things be said of you. But must I not say it, that ye are so small and have so little faith, and that ye so little confide without doubt and care in the living God, who gives you his Word and promise and has chosen you as his children – that he would nourish and support your body and life? How then Will ye stand without shame and disgrace, not alone before God but before all his creatures, if that is to be said of you, and you yourselves by your own confession must testify that you, having so plentifully God’s word and grace, so little trust him with caring for your miserable maggot-sack and stinking belly?

 

39. Still more strongly does he speak to them by saying: “After all these things do the Gentiles seek” etc. This ought surely to deter a Christian, when he hears the public and terrible verdict spoken that those who worry and hanker after mammon are heathen, that is, people who really have no God; who, instead of God, serve mammon, in which there is only God’s name and naught but lies and vanity; who therefore are wholly cut off from God, deprived of all divine knowledge, comfort, grace and bliss. These are none other than the most miserable, most unfortunate, condemned people, who have never any salvation or comfort to hope for.

 

40. Here you see the world pictured, what sort of a thing it is, namely the big, mighty crowd – excepting a very few Christians – who, as soon as they have grown up, turn altogether away from God and serve mammon, the god of lies. Him do they hold as the great, aye, the only god, because the crowd that follows him is so great; nevertheless he is nothing, a mere powerless name. So a Christian should truly be horrified and shocked, when thinking of such blindness and misery of the world; he should with sighs and tears strive and work for it to be far removed from such shameful practices, and run from it, as run he can, as it were out of a fire, aye, out of the midst of hell.

 

41. Thirdly, in order in the most loving and comforting way to entice us to believe he again says: “Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.” Is he not your father, and only your father – not the birds’, the geese’ or ducks’, nor the godless heathens’ father! Then trust him to be so loving that he will as a father care for you and neither forget nor leave you; aye, that he has long before known what he should give you, and has provided therefor ere you yourselves think of it or feel your wants. For who but he has before known or thought what you would be or need, ere you were born into this world? Therefore honor him so far as to believe that he sees and knows such things and, knowing them, will act with you as a father.

 

“But seek ye first his kingdom and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

42. That is the chief passage in this sermon, and states the right rule and manner how we are to proceed in order to get both the divine or eternal gift, and what we need for this life. Would you rightly and well take care whereof it behooves you to take care, then let this be the first, aye, indeed, your only care, that you strive according to God’s Word to do your duty, to serve him in his kingdom as his Word teaches you – for in this consists the righteousness belonging to this kingdom – and to prize this more highly than all pertaining unto this temporal life. If you do this you have done and provided well and need not take any further burdens upon you nor cherish any cares in your heart; indeed, it should be much too small a thing for you to care for so slight a matter as the wants of your belly, and therefore to aggrieve yourselves. Rather do this for the honor of God, and furthermore for your own use and benefit, that you strive after the great and eternal good; which if you attain and keep, the rest will surely take care of itself. Neither can you in any better way arrive at obtaining it from God, than in this wise that you first seek and ask of him the great things.

 

43. For this is to his liking, that we ask great things of him, and that he be able to give great and many things. And for the reason that he gladly gives great things, he will also not stint the small things, but throw them to boot into the bargain. This God has constantly caused many pious people to experience, who, following this rule and precept, have striven to help in building God’s kingdom, have served the church, furthered God’s Word, and given thereto of their means. He then on the other hand has richly blessed them with goods, honor, etc. This is evidenced by the old examples not only of the Scriptures, but also by the history of some of our pious kings and princes, who, first having given plentifully for parishes and pulpits, for the support of the holy ministry and for schools, have thereby not become poorer, but were much more richly blessed and endowed by God, so that they have reigned in good peace, with victory and good fortune.

 

44. This he would gladly still do, if the world could or would haply for its own good follow the well-meant advice which he here gives, and not with unbelief, greed and unchristianlike scheming rage against his Word, to its own harm and ruin. So must he turn this Word with her and prove the contrary; that he who will not strive after God’s kingdom and his righteousness, but despises the same and reckons to provide for himself, against God’s will, by means of his own wisdom and plotting, must be deprived both of the eternal and of the temporal, and either not obtain the temporal or at least not be satisfied and happy with it.

 

“Be not therefore anxious for the morrow; for the morrow will be anxious for itself Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

45. The world is always anxious about the future, and therewith thinks to assure its fate and to bring this much about that it may be removed from danger, protect and support itself. They see not the vanity thereof, and that their projects go wrong; that it be true, and experience testifies, as Christ here says, that each day brings its own misfortune and evil. Thus it comes to pass that, with such plottings and prudence of their own, whereby they mean to ensure themselves and to forestall all coming danger, the world only causes the more woe and harm. For whenever they see that things do not go as they expected, or that an accident happens, then they begin to despond, think of one remedy and another, and imagine they must, wherever and as best they can, look for help, protection and safety; thus they patch for themselves and think to help matters by all sorts of strange craftiness and practices, whereunto they are driven by unbelief, against God and their conscience, thus to carry out what they have in mind, albeit they see that God does not prosper such things. Hence springs so much misfortune, misery, murder, war, and all mischief and misdoing of the wicked world. Each one means to carry out his affairs without God, to oppress and choke whosoever would hinder him, and rather to throw all things higgledy-piggledy on a heap than to desist from his mind. Thereby in all affairs and governments all good things perish and naught but evil grows; as all history and daily experience more than amply show.

 

46. Against this Christ would caution his believers, that they may not waver nor stake their affairs on that which is uncertain, vainly caring for the future, but at all times and daily do that which is right; that they may not worry how things will come out, nor permit themselves to be swerved by future and uncertain good or evil things; but rather commend care to God, and then take everything that occurs to them in good part and overcome it with faith and patience. For it cannot be on earth otherwise than that each one daily in his office, estate and calling meet with other things than he gladly welcomes, which causes him much trouble and labor. Hence does also Christ call this life daily evil or misfortune, that is to say, all sorts of misfortune, resistance, hindrance; that we may know it and be prepared for it, so as not to be frightened by any of them from doing good, neither yet to hanker after the world and become partakers in its unrighteous and evil affairs – thereby leading ourselves and others into ruin and damnation.

       

 

 

 

 

SIXTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY

EPHESIANS 3:13-21.

 

 

 

EPHESIANS 3:13-21.

Wherefore I ask that ye may not faint at my tribulations for you, which are your glory. For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, and that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fullness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen.

 

PAUL’S CARE AND PRAYER FOR THE CHURCH

1. Up to this time Paul has been extolling the office of the ministry, which proclaims the Gospel of the New Testament. In lofty and impressive terms he introduces its purpose, power and wisdom – in a word, the great benefits the office effects, since God thereby bestows upon us abundantly all manner of wisdom, strength and blessings, all which things, in heaven or earth, are of his dispensing. The Gospel proclaims to us life from death, righteousness from sin, redemption from hell and all evil, and brings us out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. So sublime is the whole subject, Paul does not venture to compass it with words but in the loftiest of language suggests much.

 

2. In the first part of the text he shows the depth of his concern that the Ephesians should retain the Gospel preaching received from him, not allowing themselves to be torn away from it. To this end he employs two expedients: first, he consoles and admonishes; second, he prays and desires.

 

 

PAUL CONSOLES HIS CONVERTS

“Wherefore I ask that ye may not faint at my tribulations for you, which are your glory.”

3. Having been imprisoned at Rome by order of the emperor, Paul thus consoles his beloved converts at Ephesus, admonishing them to cleave to the doctrine learned from him; not to be frightened from it by beholding his fate, nor permit themselves to be alienated by such comment as this: “This man Paul in his preaching to you made great pretentions to being commissioned of Christ himself, and to outdoing all the other apostles. And you made your boast in him and relied upon him as if he were the only and all-deserving one. Where is he now? What assistance can he render you? There he lies in Rome, by the Jews condemned to death; more than that, he is in the hands of that cruel tyrant, Emperor Nero. Did we not long ago tell you he would meet such fate? Presumably this puts an end to his boastings over every other man.”

 

4. To prevent the offense that threatened, Paul writes from his prison, and his message is, in effect, this: “Dear friends, you see I am imprisoned; the devil and the world have me in their hands. This may perhaps alarm you, and rouse in you the evil suspicion, ‘If his doctrine were all right and if he were the great apostle of Christ he claims to be, God would not permit him to suffer such fate.’” For some of the false apostles thus taunted Paul’s disciples. “But I entreat and exhort you,” Paul would say, “not to be offended, or alarmed, not to grow faint, though I am in prison. Whether we be tempted and suffer tribulation, whether we be honored or dishonored, no matter what comes, only cleave to the doctrine I have preached to you – the Gospel, God’s sure Word, as you know.” He reminds them, as before he has done, of that whereunto God has called them, and of what they have received through his preaching.

 

5. Such admonition is still, and will ever be, necessary in the Christian community. The weak must endure severe conflicts in the tribulations the Gospel inevitably entails. The trial is especially hard when they must lose their leaders and teachers, and in addition hear the shameful, bitter taunts of the calumniators. We in this day have to expect that some will be offended when teachers are assailed. We should therefore be prepared, and when any of our number fall away from our faith to flatter tyrants and the Pope, and to become liars and knaves, we must individually lay hold of the Gospel in a way to enable us to stand and say: “Not because a certain one has so taught, do I believe. It matters not what becomes of him or what he may be, the doctrine itself is right. This I know, whatever God may permit to befall myself or others because of it.”

 

THE CHRISTIAN’S CONFIDENCE MUST BE IN GOD

6. So have I personally had to do, and must still do. Otherwise I would have been terrified and enervated when I saw the Pope, and bishops, emperors, kings and all the world, opposed to the doctrine they ought to sustain. I would have been overwhelmed, thinking, “They, too, are men and cannot all be followers of the devil.” How could I comfort myself and stand firm unless I were able to say: “Though ten other worlds and everything great, lofty, wise and prudent, and all my dear friends and brethren as well, should turn from me, the doctrine still remains true. It stands; it will not, like men, totter and fall. I will adhere to the Word of God, stand or fall what may.”

 

7. The Christian must be discerning enough to strip the individual of his mask – f his great pomp and majesty – and distinguish it from the Word. He who cannot so do, cannot stand under temptation; let one fall, and he will soon follow suit.

 

8. Such is the nature of the Church in its earthly government that human wisdom must stumble thereat; various sects of the offended must rise in opposition to the faith. But God delights to rule, not with the sword or with visible power, but through weakness and in opposition to the devil and the world. Seemingly, he would permit his Church to be utterly overthrown. Guard against and resist offenses as well as we may – and the practice is not without its efficacy – still we must ultimately be driven to say defiantly: “He who established the Church and has to this time preserved it, will continue to protect it. Man would not rule it wisely, but the living Christ is seated upon the throne whereon God placed him, and we shall see who can pull him down and destroy his Church.”

 

PAUL’S SUFFERINGS FOR THE CHURCH’S GOOD

9. When the trying hour arrives, we are able to accomplish about as little against the enemy as Paul when he lay in chains powerless to succor a soul. He was obliged to commit his cause to the Lord. At the same time, as a faithful apostle, he ceased not, though removed from his followers, to admonish and warn to the full extent of his power. Well he knew that many false apostles were ready, so sure as he said a word, to pervert it and to fill the ears of the people with their own empty words and poisonous teaching. He elsewhere complains ( 2 Timothy 1:15) that by the influence of this class all Asia was turned away from him. He had reference to the nearest neighbors of the Ephesians in Asia.

 

10. For the sake of affording his converts comfort and strength, Paul proceeds to make his sufferings and tribulations pleasing to them by speaking of these afflictions in unusual and beautiful terms. He presents a view quite opposed to the opinion of the world and the judgment of calumniators. “My sufferings and tribulations,” says Paul, “which to you and the world, viewed in a fleshy way, are most disastrous, really work you no injury nor disadvantage, notwithstanding what the pernicious babblers claim about such trials. Rather, they are beneficial to you and me. Though your enemies seek thus to injure you to the fullest extent, benefits they never foresee will accrue to us. “My sufferings are not for my own sake, but yours. They work your benefit; it is better for you as it is, than for me to be present and preach to you. And how so? Because I suffer only for the sake of the ministry, for that Gospel I delivered you. I risk my life and all I have that you may hold it fast; such is my earnest desire. I contend for and cleave to, at the risk of my life, that which Christ gave me and enjoined upon me. Thus by my chains and bands I honor and establish the Gospel, that you may be strengthened and may cleave more firmly to it.

 

11. “So we shall joyfully transform the tribulation imposed by the world in an attempt to inflict great evils: God will have to pronounce the sentence: ‘Hear, O world, devil, emperor, tyrant! Thou hast imprisoned my apostle Paul for the sake of my godly Christians. What injury have they done thee? what fault committed? With no wrong on their part, thou persecutest them. It is simply because I gave them my Word; therefore thou art opposing and defying me. What shall I say but that thou hast imprisoned and bound, not Paul, but me? Is it not insupportable that a perishable worm, be he emperor or prince, should presume to apprehend God in heaven? But thinkest thou I will remain silent and unprotesting? Thinkest thou I will not break chains, stocks and bands, and give command: Hold thou, devil and tyrant, and submit! Let me rule, substituting for one Paul, ten; and for one Church at Ephesus establishing thirty, yes, a hundred.’”

 

12. And as in Paul’s time, so today: when our enemies get hold of an evangelical preacher, either he must secretly be drowned or murdered, or he must publicly be hanged or burned. Why is it? Because of the Christians to whom he has taught his doctrine. For a while God looks on serenely. He says: “Beloved lords, be not enraged. Know you whom you have apprehended and murdered? It is I, the Divine Majesty. It was not their own word and command but mine which these preachers taught and my Christians believed. You cannot deny the fact. I must, then, consider how to secure myself against your wrath. How shall I do it? Indeed, by way of returning your favors and kindnesses, I must so arrange that where one town had a minister and the Gospel, ten, yes twenty, towns must have their pastor and preachers. I will, O Pope and bishops, invade your own dioceses and you must tolerate and accept the Gospel, whether to your joy or your grief. If you begin to rave, I will give you cause for alarm, for you shall be overthrown, bishops, hats and all.”

 

13. Note, when Paul says he suffers for the Ephesians, he means that his suffering is for their profit, to teach them they have nothing to fear in suffering. They, not he, are the subjects of concern in this matter. His pains are not merely those of Paul – upon whom not so much depends – but of an apostle or preacher of the Church of Christ. When the latter name is associated with the suffering, when it is not John or Peter who is cast into prison – that God might tolerate – but a minister of the Church, then the deed is a too gross jesting with the majesty of God; it is tempting him too far, yes apprehending him.

 

14. It was necessary that Paul give his converts this admonition: “Dear children, fear not. Do not be alarmed at my arrest and intended execution. Let our enemies put forth their utmost effort. You shall see how I will rend the cords and burst the prison, humiliating them until they lie in ashes; the place of one resister of the Gospel will be filled by ten who preach it.”

 

CHRIST PERSECUTED IN CHRISTIANS

Since Paul’s enemies refuse instruction and will not cease their raging, since they refuse to learn against whom they rage, he must make known to them who is the object of their persecution. It is neither Paul nor an apostle, but he to whom it was said (Psalm 110:1), “Sit thou at my right hand.” It is a perilous thing to take liberties with him. He is now seated where he will brook no suffering. The enemies of the Christians must behold such things as did the Jews who delivered Paul into the Emperor’s hands, and as the Romans witnessed. Soon after Paul’s execution, Jerusalem lay in ashes, and not a great while after, the city of Rome was destroyed. For when Christ was oppressed, when in the person of his apostles and martyrs he was seized and put to death, he had no alternative but to destroy a whole city. And Germany may expect a similar fate.

 

NO MAN CAN MERIT ETERNAL LIFE FOR ANOTHER

15. It is unnecessary here to reply to those wicked and illiterate dolts, the Papists and Anabaptist factions, who explain Paul’s words, “my tribulations for you,” and similar passages, as teaching that one Christian can by his sufferings merit or aid in the salvation of others. Paul does not say, “My tribulations for you are designed to secure for you forgiveness of sins and salvation.” He clearly declares, as the Scriptures everywhere do, that only Christ’s sufferings are thus effective and for all men. Paul’s thought may well be expressed – and every minister may say the same – in these words: “My preaching and my suffering are for your sake.” Just as a parent may say to a child, “I must do or endure this for you.” True, works wrought and sufferings endured for another’s sake are productive of the good and comfort of that one or of many, but the worker or sufferer does not thereby merit, either for himself or another, God’s grace and eternal life. No, these things demand the offices of a being of another order – Christ. He through his sufferings exterminates your sins, and through his death gives you life. Then again, Paul is addressing those already Christians and having forgiveness of sins and all the requirements of a Christian; yet he suffers for them; that is, for their good – that in proportion as his enemies seek to oppose the Gospel, its influence may be widened and the faith of his followers strengthened.

 

16. In the effort to comfort and strengthen the Ephesians, Paul yet further glorifies and extols his tribulations in the words “which are your glory.” What unheard of talk is this? Is it not much rather, as reason dictates and as all the world affirms, a disgrace to his followers that he lies there in prison? What greater dishonor can Christians suffer than to have their ministers and pastors – their instructors and consolers – shamefully arrested? So it seems to the world, it is true; but I tell you, in God’s sight and in reality, this trial is a great honor to you, one of which you may proudly boast. This very disgrace and provocation you may turn squarely to your good, saying: “From the very fact of our disgrace, I know the doctrine is true and divine. For it is the lot of the Word of God and of salutary doctrine, together with the supporters of the same, to be defamed and persecuted by the world and the devil.” Such persecution is but glory and honor to Christians. Paul says in Romans 5:3, “We rejoice in our tribulations.” In other words, we regard them as glorious, beneficial, precious, blessed.

 

CHRISTIANS TO REJOICE IN PERSECUTIONS

17. Christians should not, and cannot, have their glory in the things the world esteems and honors; for the world will not, nor can it, honor even God and his Word. Christ’s followers, then, should not be terrified at such treatment as Paul received nor feel disgraced. Let them rather rejoice, deriving comfort and glory therefrom, as did the apostles. We read ( Acts 4:13) of their boldness, and ( Acts 5:41) that they rejoiced in being “counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name.” So it fared with Christ himself, and Christians ought to be grieved if it be otherwise with them and if the world regard them in a kindly way. In proportion as the world persecutes them and heaps upon them its malice, should they rejoice. Let them accept persecution as a good indication, regarding themselves blessed, as Christ teaches in Matthew 5:11. So much for the first part of our text; now follows the second:

 

 

PREACHING MUST BE FOLLOWED BY PRACTICE

“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father [of our Lord Jesus Christ], from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”

18. Having comforted his followers concerning his tribulations, Paul tells them it is his earnest petition, his longing, that God would grant them power to cleave in firm faith to the Gospel, not forsaking it or growing weary when they have to endure affronts and tribulations, but firmly resisting these. It is not enough merely to accept the Gospel, or even to preach it. Acceptance must be followed by that spiritual power which renders faith firm and manifests steadfastness in conflicts and temptations; for “the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power,” as Paul says, Corinthians 4:20. There must be a motive force consisting of the inner belief of the heart and the outward proofs of faith: not mere speaking, but doing: not mere talking, but living. Conditions must be such that the Word does not simply remain on the tongue and in the ears, but becomes operative and accomplishes something. In the Old Testament dispensation, Moses preached much indeed, and the people practiced little; but here Paul desires that much be done and little said. He would not have the Gospel preached in vain, but desires that it accomplish the object of its revelation.

 

19. Note how Paul devotes himself to the welfare of the Christian community. He sets an example, to us ministers in particular, of how to effect the good of the people. But we do not rightly heed his example. We imagine it sufficient to hear the Gospel and be able to discourse about it; we stop at the mere knowledge of it; we never avail ourselves of the Gospel’s power in the struggles of life. Unquestionably, the trouble is, we do not earnestly pray. We ought constantly to come to God with great longing, entreating him day and night to give the Word power to move men’s hearts. David says ( Psalm 68:33), “Lo, he uttereth his voice, a mighty voice.”

 

20. Not only preachers, but all Christians, should constantly entreat the God who grants knowledge to grant also efficacy; should beseech him that the Word may not pass with the utterance, but may manifest itself in power. The prevailing complaint at present is that much preaching obtains, but no practice; that the people are shamefully rude, cold and indolent, and less active than ever, while at the same time they enjoy the strong, clear light of revelation concerning all right and wrong in the world. Well may we pray, then, as Paul does here. He says, in effect: “You are well supplied: the Word is richly proclaimed to you – abundantly poured out upon you. But! bend my knees to God, praying that he may add his blessing to the Word and grant you to behold his honor and praise and to be firmly established, that the Word may grow in you and yield fruit.”

 

21. Feelingly does Paul speak of praying for his followers. He seems to say: “I must lie here imprisoned, not privileged to be with you or to aid you in any way but by bending my knees – that is, entreating and imploring God earnestly and in deep humility – to the end that God may grant you, may effect in you, what neither myself nor any other human being can accomplish – what I could not do even were I free and ever present with you.”

 

TRUE PRAYER CONSISTS NOT IN OUTWARD THINGS

22. Observe, the apostle alludes to his prayer by naming its outward expression – bending the knees. But the external posture, if accompanied by nothing else, is sheer hypocrisy. When prayer is genuine, possessing the fire by which it is kindled, prompted by a sincere heart which recognizes its need and likewise the blessings that are ours as proclaimed in the Word, and when faith in God’s Word – in his promise – revives, then the individual will be possessed with a fervor prompting him to fall upon his knees and pray for strength and for the power of the Spirit. When the Spirit of prayer is enkindled and burns within the heart, the body will responsively assume the proper attitude; involuntarily, eyes and hands will be upraised and knees bended. Witness the examples of Moses, David and even Christ himself. When we pray with glowing hearts, external gestures will take care of themselves. They are prompted by the Spirit, and therefore are not to be denounced. If assumed, unbidden of the Spirit, they are hypocritical; as, for instance, when one presumes outwardly to serve God and perform good works while his heart is far away. The prophet says ( Isaiah 29:13), “This people draw nigh unto me, and with their mouth and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me?

 

23. By the declaration, “I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul establishes the doctrine that no one should presume to speak to God, to entreat him for any favor, unless approaching, as Paul does here, in the name of “the Father of ore: Lord Jesus Christ.” For Christ is our sole Mediator, and no one need expect to be heard unless he approach the Father in the name of that Mediator and confess him Lord given of God as intercessor for us and ruler of our bodies and souls. Prayer according to these conditions is approved. Strong faith, however is necessary to lay hold of the comforting Word, picturing God in our hearts as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

24. The statement that Christ is our Lord is very comforting, though we have made it terrifying by regarding Christ as a stern and angry judge, But the fact is, he is Lord for the sole purpose of securing us against harsh lords, tyrants, the devil, the world, death, sin and every sort of misfortune. We are his inheritance, and therefore he will espouse our cause, deliver us from violence and oppression of all kinds and better our condition. The name “Lord,” then, is altogether lovable and comforting to us who believe, and gives us confidence of heart. But still more comforting is it to know that our God, our Lord, is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The name “Lord” stands for the complete Godhead, who gives himself to us. Therefore, all we ask in this name must be abundantly bestowed. Naught is here for me but real help and pure grace. For God designs to have me his child in Christ, placed above all things temporal and eternal.

 

GOD OUR FATHER

25. Paul further declares that God is not merely a father, but the true Father, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” Earthly fathers are so called because in a flesh and blood way they have begotten us, or on account of their age and their claim to honor. It is the universal custom to apply the term “father” to an old master. In 2 Kings 5:13, for instance, the servants of Naaman called their lord “father.” Paul’s thought is: “All fatherhood on earth is but a semblance, a shadow, a painted image, in comparison with the divine Fatherhood of God.”

 

26. But reason can never see it so. And only by the Spirit’s work can the heart recognize the fact. Reason may go so far as to regard God an angry and terrible judge, one who makes the world, even hell itself, too narrow for it and leaves it without a foothold. But it is impossible for natural reason to call God a father in sincerity; much less to regard him the divine Father, preeminent over all who bear the name of “father” in heaven or on earth, of whom all other fathers are as mirror reflections.

 

27. Think of the attitude of an earthly father toward his child, and of the child toward his father. Even where actual parenthood is lacking, the name engenders a confidence affectionate and pleasing enough to kindle the brightest anticipations of great good to be received. Now, if the sincere, loyal designs of earthly fathers for their children are mere pretense compared to the blessed purposes of our heavenly Father, what must we look for from this heavenly Father, this Father above all others Paul would teach us to look at the proportions, and from the confidence we repose in our natural fathers estimate the character of God as a Father and what we may expect from him.

 

28. He who can put his trust in God, who can confidently rely upon him and sincerely cry, “Thou art my beloved Father!” need not fear to ask anything of God, or that God will at all deny him. His own heart will tell him that his petitions will be granted. Because of the strength of his confidence, he cannot fail to secure his heart’s desires. Thus God himself teaches us to break open heaven and lay him bare before our eyes that we may see who this Father is. [Thus Paul is confident what he asks is pleasing to God and will be granted. If we did the same we would, doubtless, have a like experience. There are still people who pray. It would be a blessing if there were many more. Then the Gospel would make greater progress and impart to us greater power. It is evident, God be praised, that all who rage against the Gospel must be put to shame. The more they rage, the more the Gospel spreads, and all without our help or counsel, only because God awakens hearts to pray that it may prosper, even without our help. The more fervently we pray, the greater is God’s pleasure to hear.]

 

29. What is the nature of the prayer Paul here presents? It is the same as the Lord’s Prayer, being particularly identical with the first, second and third petitions. In words of different sound but implying the very same thing, Paul briefly embraces these petitions – the hallowing of God’s name and Word in our midst, and the destruction of the devil’s kingdom and all evil – whatever is opposed to the Word and will of God. He says:

 

 

GOD LAVISH IN HIS BLESSINGS

“That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power.”

30. Sublime words are these, wrung from a fervent heart. Evidently, in the effort to express himself fully, clearly and in language worthy of his subject, the apostle finds words too weak and rare. The fervor of his heart can be but poorly portrayed. By the phrase, “according to the riches of his glory,” Paul means to say: “Such is the greatness of God’s glory, it deserves the title of riches. For it is conducive to God’s honor and praise that he gives abundantly.” These words reveal the nature of God, proclaiming him the source whence we may expect all good, and all aid in time of need. He is God of all the world. The reason the world has made many gods, has invoked many saints, is because it looks to them for aid and benefit. The Scriptures term “gods” certain individuals who do good and lend assistance to their fellows. God says to Moses ( Exodus 7:1), “I have made thee as God [a god] to Pharaoh.”

 

31. But God, because of the abundance and lavishness of his gifts, is entitled to greater honor and glory. He is the true God, to whom alone belongs all glory; yea, the riches of glory. He pours out his blessings abundantly and above measure; he is the source of all blessings in heaven and on earth. Even his most inferior creatures – water, air, the earth and its products – are so generously bestowed that we can appropriate only an infinitesimal part of them. Yet in our blindness and stupidity we do not see, yea, we utterly ignore the fact that God is the giver o£ these. Now, how much more generous is God in spiritual blessings! He has freely given himself – poured out himself – for us, and also gifts and blessings of the highest order. He has illumined us with a light bright enough to reveal to us the real character of the world, the devil and the angels. Yes, to show to us God’s purposes, present, past and future. Thus we have all wisdom and all power over sin, the devil and death, being lords of all creatures. In a word, our riches are inexpressibly great.

 

32. Paul employs forcible words to record his prayer here. He has firm confidence in God that the petition must be efficacious, must penetrate the clouds and open heaven. He does not say that God looks upon our merit and worthiness and for the sake of these grants our requests; but for the sake of the riches of his glory. We are not worthy his favors, but his glory is worthy o£ our recognition, and we are to honor him because he gratuitously lavishes his blessings upon us, that his name alone may be hallowed. Only with a recognition of these facts may prayer be offered if it is to avail before God. If God were to consider our merit, very small would be the portion due us. But if we are to be richly blessed, it must come about through our recognition of pure grace as the source of our gifts, and our praise of God’s exceeding glory.

 

33. But what are the blessings for which Paul’s prayer entreats? Something more than continuance of the Word with his followers, though it is a great and good gift even to have the Word thoroughly taught: he prays that the heart may taste the Word and that it may be effectual in the life. Thus the apostle contrasts a knowledge of the Word with the power of the Word. Many have the knowledge, but few the impelling and productive power that the results may be as we teach. Hence they are criticized and not without reason. But our enemies cannot censure and reproach us to greater extent than to say that we preach and accept much good doctrine to no purpose; that no one practices it and profits thereby; that in fact we are morally worse than before we heard the doctrines, and consequently it would have been better had things remained as they were.

 

WE SHOULD PRAY FOR THE POWER OF THE WORD

34. What answer shall we make? This: In the first place, considering our unsatisfactory condition and the lack of power with the Word, we have great reason to pray with the earnestness Paul’s example teaches. And secondly, though our enemies see little improvement and few fruits of the Gospel, it is not theirs to judge. They think we ought to do nothing but work miracles – raising the dead and bordering the Christian’s walk with roses, until naught but holiness obtains everywhere. This being the case, where would be the need to pray? We cannot, nor dare we, pray for what we already have, but must thank God for it. But, since Paul and other Scripture authorities command us to pray, a defect somewhere in our strength is indicated. Otherwise why say they so much about it? Thus Paul himself acknowledges the Ephesians were weak. He complains of the same weakness in other Epistles and especially in those to the Corinthians. Everywhere he urges them to do and live as they had been taught. The only reason Paul advocates this is that he saw, as we now see, that everywhere they fail, and things are not as they should be. In spite of the fact that not everyone’s conduct is satisfactory, some do mend their ways; and the happy condition obtains that many consciences are assured and many former evils are now avoided. If the two sides of the question were carefully compared, we would see much advantage with us not now noticed. Again, even though we are somewhat weak, is that any reason for saying all is lost? Further, there is naught else but filth and corruption in the ranks of our enemies, which they would gladly adorn with our weakness even. But they must look upon their way as excellent and ours as odious.

 

35. Let them go on with their judging. We admit we are not all strong, but it is also true that were there no weakness in our ranks, we would have no need of prayer, perseverance, exhortation and daily preaching. In condemning the Gospel because of our admitted weakness, something we ourselves confess, our enemies are themselves judged before God by their judging us. It is possible for me to be truly in the kingdom of grace and at the same time outwardly weak enough to be regarded of men as a knave. My faith is not apparent to men, but God sees it and I am myself sensible of it. You meantime erroneously judge me by my outward conduct, thus bringing judgment upon yourself. We are aware of, and also lament, our weakness and imperfection. Hence we cry and groan, and pray to God to grant us strength and power.

 

WORLD SEES NOT INNER MARKS OF CHRISTIANS

36. A third answer to our enemies is: We are certain that wherever the Word of God is proclaimed, the fruits of the same must exist. We have the Word of God, and therefore the Spirit of God must be with us. And where the Spirit is, faith must obtain, however weak it may be. Though visible evidence may be lacking, yet inevitably there must be some among us who daily pray, while we may not be aware of it. It is reasonably to be expected that our enemies should judge erroneously, because they look for outward evidences of Christianity, which are not forthcoming. The Word is too sublime to pass under our judgment; it is the province of the Word to judge us. The world, however, while unwilling to be judged and convicted by us, essays to judge and convict the Word of God. Here God steps in. It would be a pity for the worldly to see a godly Christian, so God blinds them and they miss his kingdom. As Isaiah says ( Isaiah 26:10): “In the land of uprightness will he deal wrongfully, and will not behold the majesty of Jehovah.” For this reason, few real Christians come under the observation of cavilers; the latter, in general, observe fools and fanatics, at whom they maliciously stumble and take offense. They are unworthy to behold God’s honor in a godly Christian upon whom the Lord has poured out himself in fullness of blessing.

 

37. Let the real Christian come into the presence o[the caviler, stand before his very eyes, and the caviler will not see him. Let the fault-finder hear that one leads an irreproachable life and he will say: “Heretics have behaved similarly, but under a good appearance concealed poison.” Let one be refractory and reckless, and he must be a knave. Whatever we do, they are not satisfied. If we pipe, they will not dance; if we mourn, they will not lament. Neither sweet nor sour appeals to them. Wisdom must permit her self to be schooled and governed by these cavilers, as Christ says in Matthew 11:19. Thus God confounds and shames the world; while all the time tolerating its judgment of himself, he is ever careful to have the Gospel inculcated, even though the worldly burst with rage. I say these things to teach us to be careful not to join the caviler in judging presumptuously the work and Word of God. Notwithstanding our weakness, we are yet certain the kingdom of God is in our midst so long as we have his Word and daily pray for its efficacy and for an increase of our faith, as the following words recommend:

 

 

THE SPIRIT IMPARTS REAL STRENGTH

“That ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man.”

38. The apostle here speaks with varied expression. He leaves little honor and glory, as it were, for free-will, but desires for his followers the heavenly power imparted through the Holy Spirit. There is also a power of the world, and a spirit – the devil, the prince of the world, who blinds and hardens men’s hearts. He boasts of himself and imparts to men a spirit of daring in his purpose to suppress and exterminate Christian doctrine. But while worldings are courageous and daring, so are Christians, and the latter are greater and far more powerful through the Holy Spirit, and are undaunted by the world, the devil, death and all kinds of misfortune. This is real spiritual strength. The Hebrew word “spirit” might well be rendered “bold, undaunted courage.” Spiritual strength is not the strength of muscle and bone; it is true courage – boldness of heart. Weakness, on the contrary, is faint-heartedness, timidity, lack of courage.

 

39. Paul’s meaning, then, is: “I desire for you, and pray God to grant you, that bold, dauntless courage and that strong, cheerful spirit which will not be terrified by poverty, shame, sin, the devil or death, but is confident that nothing can harm us and we will never be in need.” The courage of the world – the spirit of the world – holds out only until exhaustion of the stores whereon it relies. As the saying is, “Wealth gives temporal boldness, but the soul must rely on God alone.” The boldness resulting from riches and worldly power is haughty and makes its boast in earthly things. But the soul has no hoarded treasure. In God alone it braves every evil; it has a courage and heart very different from that of the world. This is the strength for which Paul prays on behalf of his converts, a strength not inherent in flesh and blood. The possessor thereof does not rely and build on his own powers and riches, nor upon any human help and support. This strength dwells in the inner man. It is the trust of the dauntless, cheerful heart in God’s grace and assistance, and in these alone. The heart which so trusts has no fear. It possesses by faith abundance of riches and pleasures – God himself with all his blessings. At the same time, to human sight only want, weakness and terror may be apparent.

 

“That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

40. The Holy Spirit brings Christ into the heart and teaches it to know him. He imparts warmth and courage through faith in Christ. Paul everywhere intimates that no man should presume to approach God otherwise than through Christ, the one Mediator. Now, if Christ dwells in my heart and regulates my entire life, it matters not though my faith be weak. Christ is not mere bone but also flesh. Yes, he has blisters and boils and sins of which he is not ashamed, notwithstanding the eminent saints may hold their noses thereat. And where he dwells all fullness is, let the individual be weak or strong as God permits.

 

CHRIST EMBRACED ONLY BY THE HEART

41. For Christ to dwell in the heart is simply for the heart to know him; in other words, to understand who he is and what we are to expect from him – that he is our Savior, through whom we may call God our Father and may receive the Spirit who imparts courage to brave all trials. It is thus that Christ dwells with us, in our hearts. Only so can he be embraced; for he is not an inanimate thing, but the living God. How does man lay hold of the Savior in the heart? Not by embracing him intellectually. It is accomplished only by living faith. Christ will not permit himself to be received by works, nor to be apprehended with mental vision; he will consent only to be embraced by the heart. If your faith be true and on a firm foundation, you have and feel Christ in your heart and are aware of all he thinks and does in heaven and on earth – how he rules through his Word and his Spirit, and the attitude of those who have Christ and those who have him not.

 

42. Paul desires Christ to be efficacious in the hearts of his followers unto the full realization of the promises of the Word – liberation from sin and death, and assurance of grace and eternal life. It is impossible for the heart having such experience to be other than firm and courageous to oppose the terrors of the devil and the world. But the heart which has not yet arrived at this point is here advised what course to take, namely, to pray God for such faith and strength, and to avail himself of the prayers of others to the same end. So much in regard to faith; now follows the mention of love.

 

 

LOVE, THE EXPRESSION OF FAITH

“That ye, being rooted and grounded in love.”

43. This is an unusual way of speaking. Is it not in faith that we are to be rooted, engrafted and grounded? Why, then, does Paul here substitute “love?” I reply: Faith, it is true, is the essential thing, but love shows whether or no faith is real and the heart confident and courageous in God. Where one has an unquestioning confidence that God is his Father, necessarily, be his faith never so weak, that faith must find expression in word and deed. He will serve his neighbor in teaching and in extending to him a helping hand. This is what Paul calls being rooted and grounded in love – having the conscious experience of possessing true faith. Love is the test that determines the reality of faith. Peter says ( 2 Peter 1:10), “Give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure.” That is, proceed to good works that others may see and you experience that you have true faith. Until you do, you will always be uncertain, vacillating, superficial in heart, not rooted and grounded. So by these two clauses Paul teaches, first, that we should have in our hearts genuine faith toward God; and second, that faith should find expression in loving service to one’s neighbor.

 

 

TRUE CHRISTIANS FIND CHRIST EVERYWHERE

“May be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth.”

44. These words represent another feature of the apostle’s desire for his Christians to be established and comforted in God through faith, and rooted and grounded in love toward their neighbors. “When you are thus strengthened,” he would say, “and are perseveringly pressing forward, you will be able to grasp with all saints the four parts, to increase therein and to appreciate them more and more.” Faith alone effects this apprehension. Love is not the moving force here, but it contributes by making faith manifest.

 

45. Some teachers would make these words reflect and measure the holy cross. But Paul does not say a word about the cross. He simply says, in effect: “That you may apprehend all things; may see the length and breadth, the height and depth, of Christ’s kingdom.” This condition obtains when my heart has reached the point where Christ cannot make the spiritual life too long or too wide for me to follow, nor high enough or deep enough to cause my fall from him or his Word; the point where I may be satisfied that wherever I go he is, and that he rules in all places, however long or broad, deep or high, the situation from either a temporal or eternal point of view. No matter how long or wide I measure, I find him everywhere. David says (Psalm 139:7-8): “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there.” Christ rules eternally. His length and breadth, his depth and height, are unlimited. If I descend into hell, my heart and my faith tell me he is there.

 

46. The sum of the matter is this: Depressed or exalted, circumscribed in whatsoever way, dragged hither or thither, I still find Christ. For he holds in his hands everything in heaven or on earth, and all are subject to him – angels, the devil, the world, sin, death and hell. Therefore, so long as he dwells in my heart, I have courage, wherever I go, I cannot be lost. I dwell where Christ my Lord dwells. This, however, is a situation impossible to reason. Should reason ascend a yard above the earth or descend a yard below, or be deprived of the tangible things of the present, it would have to despair. We Christians are, through Christ, better fortified. We are assured that he dwells everywhere, be it in honor or dishonor, hunger, sorrow, illness, imprisonment, death or life, blessing or affliction. It is Paul’s desire for the Ephesians that God give them grace and strength to have such heart-apprehension of his kingdom. He concludes the details of his prayer in these words:

 

“And to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fullness of God.”

47. He means: “I desire you, in addition to having faith and apprehending the four proportions of Christ’s kingdom, to know the love of Christ we should have – the love Christ bears toward us, and the love we owe our neighbor. This knowledge transcends all other, even familiarity with the Gospel; for, know as much as you may, your knowledge will avail little or nothing without love.

 

48. Paul’s desire, briefly summed up, is that the faith of Christians malt be strengthened unto efficacy, and that love may be warm and fervent, and the heart filled with the fullness of God. “Filled unto all the fullness of God” means, if we follow the Hebrew, filled with everything God’s bounty supplies, full of God, adorned with his grace and the gifts of his Spirit – the Spirit who gives us steadfastness, illuminates us with his light, lives within us his life, saves us with his salvation, and with his love enkindles love in us; in short, it means having God himself and all his blessings dwelling in us in fullness and being effective to make us wholly divine – not so that we possess merely something of God, but all his fullness.

 

CHRISTIAN PERFECTION

49. Much has been written about the way we are to become godlike. Some have constructed ladders whereby we are to ascend to heaven, and others similar things. But this is all patchwork. In this passage is designated the truest way to attain godlikeness. It is to become filled to the utmost with God, lacking in no particular; to be completely permeated with him until every word, thought and deed, the whole life in fact, be utterly godly.

 

50. But let none imagine such fullness can be attained in this life. We may indeed desire it and pray for it, like Paul here, but we will not find a man thus perfect. We stand, however, upon the fact that we desire such perfection and groan after it. So long as we live in the flesh, we are filled with the fullness of Adam. Hence it is necessary for us continually to pray God to replace our weakness with courage, and to put into our hearts his Spirit to fill us with grace and strength and rule and work in us absolutely. We ought all to desire this state for one another. To this end may God grant us grace. Amen.

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

SIXTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.

LUKE 7:11-17.

 

 

This sermon appeared in 1534 under the title: “A short sermon on the Gospel of Luke 7 chapter, the widow whose son had died, 1534, Dr. Martin Luther.”

 

Contents:

The resurrection of the widow’s son, the young man of Nain.

 

 

___

 

 

Luke 7:11-17

And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people. Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother. And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people. And this rumour of him went forth throughout all Judaea, and throughout all the region round about.

 

1. This portion of the Gospel teaches us to know the grace, work and power of God in the kingdom of Christ, our Lord, and to praise and thank him, as well as cheerfully to serve and obey him. For this miracle and act of mercy are related in order that we may recognize him as our helper in all times of need; and then, when we acknowledge him as our helper, that we love him, thank him for his benefits, and willingly suffer and endure whatever he allows to befall us, especially since we know with certainty that he does not permit anything to happen to us in order to destroy us, but only to try our faith, to see whether our trust and refuge securely rest in him, or in something else.

 

2. It is the nature of flesh and blood always to seek help and comfort from other sources than God, where they should only be sought, and at last, when all other help fails, to come to God for aid; if, indeed, things turn out so well that they do not wholly despair of God, and rush to satan; for many, when no other help avails, give themselves over to the devil. This results from the fact that they do not know God, and think that he has forgotten them, if he permits some small misfortune to happen to them.

 

3. Overagainst such thoughts, this Gospel presents a picture of how the Lord Jesus Christ acted toward the poor widow in the time of her greatest need, at the death of her son. On earth no greater need can arise than that caused by death, when the world and everything else have an end. In this greatest extremity he helped her, and raised the dead to life, as an example for us who hear it. For this was done not merely for the sake of the widow and her son, but, as St. John 20:31, says: “But these things are done and written, that ye may believe.” In this way he impresses upon the hearts of all this and his other miracles performed by the blessed Lord Jesus, as if he meant to say: Behold, now you hear how this widow’s son was raised from the dead; let this be preached into your heart, in order that you may accept it, and in this learn what God can and will do, that he can and will help you in all times of need, no matter how great they may be. And if it should happen that your needs should press heavily upon you and you realize that earthly counsel and help are unavailing, that then you do not despair but let this example strengthen your heart, so that you may look to the Lord Jesus for the best that he can give.

 

4. This was, indeed, no jest in the life of the widow. First, she lost her husband, and then her only son, whom she loved, died. Among those people it was regarded a great misfortune, if parents could not leave a name or children. They regarded this as a great disfavor of God. Hence this widow, who after the death of her husband, placed all her hope and comfort in her only son, must have had great sorrow when her son was torn from her and she had nothing left on earth. Under such circumstances the thoughts were undoubtedly forced upon her: Behold, you are also one of the cursed women to whom God is such an enemy that they must pass from the earth without leaving an offspring. For thus it is written in the Psalms and the Prophets, that God threatens the ungodly, that he will destroy them root and branch, exactly as when one so entirely destroys a tree that neither leaf nor twig remains. This was regarded as the greatest curse and punishment, as may be seen in the lives of many emperors, kings and princes, who were so completely destroyed that nothing is known of them. This has the appearance as if it were the utmost disfavor.

 

5. Therefore this woman had great sorrow, not only because she had been robbed of her husband and afterwards of her son and thereby the family destroyed before her eyes; but, what seemed far more serious, because she was forced to think: Now I see that God is unfavorable to me and I am cursed; for this punishment has been executed upon me because God in the Psalms and the Prophets has threatened the ungodly to destroy them root and branch. This has happened to me. Therefore the miracle the Lord Jesus wrought in her behalf seemed to her altogether impossible; and if some one had then said to her: Thy son shall live again before your eyes, she would undoubtedly have said: Alas! do not mock me in my deep sorrow. Grant me at least so much that I may bewail my great misery, and do not add to it by your mockery. This would undoubtedly have been her answer, for she was greatly distressed, both by reason of the loss she had sustained as well as on account of her scruples of conscience.

 

6. But all this is portrayed here in order that we might learn that with God nothing is impossible, whether it be misfortune, calamity, anger, or whatever it may be, and that he sometimes allows misfortune to come upon the good as well as upon the wicked. Yea, that he even permits the ungodly to sit at ease, as in a garden of roses, and meet with success in all their undertakings, while, on the other hand, he appears to the pious as if he were angry with them and unfavorable to them; as, for example, it happened to the godly Job, all whose children were sadly destroyed in one day, who was robbed of his cattle and land, and his body most terribly tormented. He was an innocent man and yet he was compelled to endure a punishment such as no ungodly person had suffered, so that at last even his friends said to him: “You must undoubtedly rest under a great and secret sin, since this has happened to you.” While attempting to comfort him, they added to his misery. But he answered, saying: “I have done nothing and hence am not an ungodly person, whom God often allows to live in rioting and to go unpunished.”

 

7. So also, it was undoubtedly a serious problem to the widow that the Lord our God punishes the good and evil alike. But to the godly this does not come as a mark of God’s anger or disfavor; while to the ungodly it comes truly as a mark of anger, in order that they may be destroyed. For God does not trifle with them, but is truly in earnest. As to the Godfearing, who have not merited punishment, he tries to see if they will remain steadfast. If they endure the test and think: “My God, though thou triest me, yet thou wilt not forsake me,” he will come again and pour out his blessings as richly upon them as he did in the case of Job, who received twice as much as he had lost, both in property and children. The widow found all her joy in her son while he lived. God tried her and took her son from her. When she wept and cried he came again and gave her tenfold more joy than she had had before; for she rejoiced more for her son in that one hour than she had done throughout her entire previous life. So richly does our Lord God give again, if only men endure and do not doubt him.

 

8. Therefore learn from this, whoever can learn: If we are pious and the trials come, which God sends upon us, let us cherish the thought that he means it well with us, and let us not be offended when he permits the wicked, the Pope, bishops and all others to do as they please. These think they have deserved this at the hands of our Lord God and try to justify themselves, if punished on account of their sins. But, dear friends, let us freely confess and say: Lord, thou doest right, even though thou dost punish us; for before thee, Lord, we have no right. But we hope that thou wilt punish graciously and in thine own good time cease. If we do thus, all distress will be removed, no matter how impossible help may seem to be.

 

9. Flesh and blood, when under trial, say, all is lost. For when our Lord God makes an attack, he does it in such a manner that we know not where to turn; and hence, no matter how we think or plan, we can find no way out, but are hemmed in on every side, as Job says, Job 3:23: “As a man, whom the Lord has surrounded with darkness,” as when one is in darkness and does not know which way to turn. If the trial does not go thus far it is no real trial. He who in hunger still knows of a supply of gold or grain, is not yet in real darkness; but when one is utterly helpless and without counsel he may be said to be really punished. As the widow’s way was so hemmed in on every side that she was compelled to conclude: I am cursed, God is against me; so she was in the midst of darkness, where there was neither a way nor an opening, and knew not where to turn.

 

10. All this is presented to us as an example, that we may learn to remain steadfast in faith and regard God in no other light than that of a merciful God who, indeed, may permit us to be tempted, as if he were angry with us and were laughing at us with the world; but let us guard ourselves against such laughter and not become terrified at the anger, with which he attacks his people. It may appear as if at times he were on the side of the wicked and persecuted the godly without mercy; yet it does no harm and it depends only upon a glance. But it is a blind and spiritual glance, which we must give with blind eyes, that is, with the eyes of faith, which sees nothing; For faith is invisible. Faith lays hold of things that are not seen and of things that are not matters of experience, Hebrews 11:1.

 

11. Philosophers have an art that deals with visible things, which can be experienced and comprehended; but a Christian deals with invisible, unsubstantial, spiritual things, that cannot be seen, nor comprehended, so that one can hardly think they are possible. In this state Sarah was with reference to her son. There was nothing but the simple word. Her womb was not fit for that because of her age and her natural condition that she was barren, and her son Isaac was indeed invisible and as nothing. So this widow, with reference to her son, did not see that he lived, but saw only that he was dead; but Christ knew that he lived and brought the dead son to life, and so made the invisible visible.

 

12. All this happened, as I have often said, for us to learn to trust our Lord God and believe in him in all our need, and not become terrified when we do not fare well, nor be offended if the wicked prosper. For our Lord God is one who tries, who allows his own to be tried and to suffer, so that they may truly perceive and learn to know that he is a gracious God, even though he at times hides his grace so deeply that it cannot be seen. Afterwards, if men persevere, it is only a matter of a single word and the necessary assistance is rendered; as in this Gospel, only a word was necessary and the dead son was restored to life. By this he desires to show that what is impossible with us, is so easy for him that it requires only one little word: “Arise.” It is easily spoken, and yet is has power to restore the dead to life. We should learn to know that he can and will help us out of all our needs.

 

13. He who desires to be a Christian should be strong in faith and praise God and his Word, and should say: “I will acknowledge, praise and serve that God, and gladly do and suffer what he wills, who can so readily and easily help.” Thus, this and other miracles of Christ should serve to comfort us and make us better, and urge us on to believe in him and serve him, as no other god, for no other god manifests himself as our dear Lord Jesus has manifested himself. Therefore, we praise and magnify him daily, and daily bring others to him that they may also do the same. May God continue his help more and more. This is the teaching of the Gospel as presented in the example of the widow.

 

14. This narrative still further exhibits the true nature of Christ’s work, showing why he came and reigns, namely, that he might destroy death and in its stead give life, as the prophet Isaiah, 25:8, says: “He will swallow up death forever;” and St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:24-26, says that Christ must reign until he has destroyed the last enemy, death, for his Christians, and thus give them eternal life; after that he shall deliver up the kingdom to the Father, when he shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power. This is the work he will accomplish among his people and has already begun in faith before bodily death takes place. Afterwards, however, when he shall have brought all his own together he will complete his work in them at the last day.

 

15. Signs and types, yea, testimonies of the same are found in this and other narratives, that record the raising of people from the dead. But these form only the prelude to the work he will finally accomplish among all Christians. The pictures of both life and death are here placed over against each other, and it is shown where both originate and oppose each other, and how Christ manifests his power and authority over death.

 

16. For, first, when you hear the Scriptures speaking of death, you must think not only of the grave and the coffin, and of the horrible manner in which life is separated from the body and how the body is destroyed and brought to naught, but you must think of the cause by which man is brought to death and without which death and that which accompanies it, would be impossible. This cause Scripture points out and teaches, namely, that it is sin and the wrath of God on account of sin. This cause brings death, always sticks in it, appears from it, and works and draws after it all the misery and misfortune on earth, and in addition banishes man from God and from all his grace and joy.

 

17. Likewise, on the contrary, when the Scriptures speak of life you must also conceive the cause that brings and gives life; that must be the righteousness by which man is acceptable to God and by which he also finds in God his pleasure, delight and joy, and receives thus from God every good thing he may desire through all eternity.

 

18. Both these things you may see in this picture, two sorts of persons and processions: the deceased with those who carry him out of the town, and Christ who comes to meet him. All men know very well that they must die and that all of us go the same way, and see death before us, by our side and behind us. Even the learned among the heathen have complained of this misery of the human race; but they have not been able to perceive the cause of death. Most of them think death is a matter of chance, that we die like the brute, and that man is so created that he must die.

 

19. Others, seeing that so much misfortune, misery and sorrow pass over the human race, that so many die before their time and many are miserably destroyed, things which could happen only by chance, have searched for the cause and have been surprised that such misfortunes befall man, who, alone among all living creatures, is the noblest and should be better situated, and guarded against injury, but they have not been able to ascertain the cause of the evil, except in so far that they have seen how many men, through their own malignity or willfulness, have brought death and other misfortunes on themselves. But this in itself is a matter of great wonder how a man can be so wicked that he can willfully cast himself into trouble and misery.

 

20. Here Scripture teaches us, in the first place, that death originated in paradise, as the result of the eating of the forbidden fruit, that is, from the disobedience of our first parents, and since then has come upon all men on account of their sins. For if sin did not exist, there would be no death. By this we mean not only gross sins, such as adultery, murder, and the like; but they also die who neither commit, nor can commit these, as children in the cradle; yea, even the great and holy Prophets, John the Baptist, all must die.

 

21. Therefore some greater and different sins than murder and similar public crimes, which the executioner punishes with death, must be meant, why the whole human race is subject to death. This is the sin which we have inherited from Adam and Eve, and from our fathers and mothers, which is innate in all men born according to the common course of nature. This exists and remains, as it did in Adam and Eve, after they had committed sin, had been banished from the presence of God, full of evil lusts and disobedience to God and his will. Hence all under the wrath of God are condemned to death, and must be forever separated from God. In this way God manifests his strong and terrible wrath against all men, which we bring upon us through sin, so that all of us must be overcome by death; because we are born of flesh and blood and in consequence must bear the guilt of our parents, and thus have become sinners and worthy of death. Psalm 90:7 teaches us: “For we are consumed in thine anger, and in thy wrath are we troubled.” It is the wrath of God, he says; hence it is not an accidental thing, or because man has been so created by God; but it is our fault that we commit sin. For since there is wrath, there must also be guilt, which causes such wrath. This wrath is not a mere ordinary thing, but such a serious affair that no one can endure it, and under which all must succumb; and yet the world is so blind that it does not see nor regard this wrath of God; yea, even the pious do not sufficiently comprehend it. The Psalmist says, Psalm 90:11: “Who knoweth the power of thine anger, and thy wrath according to the fear that is due unto thee?”

 

22. Much less can the world understand how one may be freed from all this misery, nor can it accomplish this by its own wisdom and power; even as in its blindness it attempts to do, when it hears of the wrath of God and seeks by its works and life to be reconciled to God and merit life. For since all men are by birth sinners and, under the wrath of God, subject to death, how shall we be able by our own works to free ourselves from death? Alas! when death is considered or how to escape death, there is neither comfort nor hope for any one, as St. Paul says, 1 Thessalonians 4:13: “That ye sorrow not, even as the rest who have no hope.”

 

23. For neither do these know that it is possible for a single individual to be raised from death to life, and hence they conclude: “He who is dead, must remain dead forever and must be annihilated.” Others, as the Jews, Turks, Papists, even though they hear that there is to be a resurrection, are nevertheless ignorant of the fact how they may take part in the resurrection of the righteous and the saved, think that they can merit eternal life by their own efforts; as we monks have hitherto believed and taught: that if we strictly observed the rules of our orders, prayed much, read mass, etc., God would have respect for such a holy life and in consequence help not only us, but others also, to escape death.

 

24. This, however, is nothing but a vain human comfort and hope, without any authority of the Word of God; for such power and authority to help ourselves cannot exist within us. Since on account of sin we have become subject to death, so that we cannot even delay bodily death, much less can we save ourselves or work ourselves free from eternal death. This we ourselves have been compelled to experience and testify to by our monkery and work-righteousness. For although we have had to do with these for a long time and comforted ourselves with them, yet at last we found them useless. When once the straits of conscience were concerned, when we had to struggle and stand before the judgment of God, all this comfort left the heart and nothing remained but vain terrified doubts, yea, even convulsions and tremblings on account of the thought: Alas! I did not live a sufficiently holy life. How shall I be able to stand before the judgment of God? For it must finally come to this, that man must feel and become conscious of that which all the Saints have experienced and confessed, namely, that no one can stand in the judgment of God on the basis of his own life, no matter how good it may have been. Of this the prophet Isaiah speaks, Isaiah 49:24: “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captives be delivered?” The “mighty” he calls the power of death, that strangles and carries away all men and whom no one can resist or rob of its prey; but by the “lawful captives” he means the law with its t judgment, which is God’s judgment and which rightly holds all men captive, so that no one can free himself or others from it, but all must, as far as in them be, remain forever captive under it; for they themselves have merited such captivity through sin and disobedience, and have fallen into the righteous and eternal wrath of God.

 

25. Therefore there is no help from any creature against this. God himself had to have compassion on our misery and to conceive a plan for our deliverance, as he said in the prophecy of Isaiah, 49:25: “Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered.” This had to be done by Christ, the Son of God himself, and he therefore became man, that is, took upon himself death and its cause, sin and the wrath of God, in order that he might free us from these and bring us to life and righteousness. For, as by one man both sin and death came upon all of us; so also by one man must victory over death, righteousness and life be given to us, as St. Paul says, Romans 5:17.

 

26. Therefore this work of life has been accomplished in such a manner that without our effort or work we attain it, just as we became subject to death without our effort and work. And in like manner as we did not bring death upon ourselves, except in so far as we were born of Adam and through the sin of another our flesh and blood became corrupt, so that we also must die; so also can we much less work out and merit redemption from sin and death, that is, righteousness and life, but must be brought to it through the righteousness and life of another one. Therefore, since sin is born in us through Adam and has now become our own; so also must the righteousness and life of Christ become our own, so that this same power of righteousness and life may work in us, as if it had been born in us through him. For it is in him not only his personal, but an actual and powerful righteousness and life; yea, a fountain that gushes forth and overflows for all who have become partakers of him, in like manner as sin and death have gushed into human nature from Adam. It means, therefore, that now all men can be delivered from sin and death and be made alive, not by nor through their own efforts, but apart from themselves through the righteousness and life of this Lord Jesus Christ, namely, if he touches them with his hand and through his Word imparts to them his work and power to destroy sin and death, and provided they believe his Word.

 

27. For this reason we are called Christians, that is, righteous, living and holy people, because we have this Lord and have become partakers of him through the faith of his Word and Sacrament, who is the true sin-destroyer and death-devourer (I say of our sin and death, which have strangled and devoured us) by virtue of his own power and authority. He did both these things in his own person, inasmuch as he took upon himself our sin and death. But since he was not only without sin and the guilt of death, but in himself was perfect and eternal righteousness, and sin and death had no hold on him, they were condemned and destroyed by him, and pure righteousness and life presented to us in place of sin and death. For after his victorious death and resurrection he established a kingdom in Christendom, in which he now continually until death and the grave destroys sin in his Christians through forgiveness and the power of his Spirit, and begins life in them through faith, until he can bring them all together on one day, when he will bestow on them perfect righteousness and life, both in body and soul.

 

28. All this you may see clearly and lovingly presented in this narrative: This youth died, not because he had been a murderer, adulterer or open sinner who had to be punished because of his misdeeds; but before he could have become guilty of sins which those commit who have grown to maturity, and become old, death carried him away only by reason of the sin in which he was born. His mother might well bemoan her own sin, by reason of which she lost her son, who had inherited sin and death from her.

 

29. But now that he has died, where may counsel or comfort and help be found? Certainly not through the mother’s sorrow and tears, which must have been unlimited. If human work and effort could in this case have been of any avail or be meritorious, surely the tears of the widow would have accomplished much more; for they certainly came from a most anxious heart, as of a sorrowing and miserable mother, whose heart was broken by reason of her love for her son, and who would willingly have done and suffered anything, even her own death, in order to have saved her son. And now, that he was dead, she doubtless cherished the secret wish and longing: Ah! if it could be the will of God that my son might still be alive or could again be restored to life. This was so deeply concealed in her heart, that she could not see it herself, yea, she dared not even think of petitioning the Lord for it, and yet her heart was filled with the thought. If she had been asked and had confessed what her greatest desire was and what she would ask of God, she could have said nothing else than: Alas! what should I desire or ask more on earth than that my son might live. And this is a more earnest and heart-felt prayer than any one can express, for it proceeds from a purely inexpressible longing.

 

30. And yet this is useless both for her as well as all others, and she must cast it aside and remain in doubt; for had she not sighed, wept and prayed most earnestly before her son died, that she might retain him alive? But since all this was of no avail and her son had died, how much less could she draw hope or comfort from his suffering; she saw clearly that he could not be brought back by sighs and tears. If this were possible, other mothers would have or would still do it.

 

31. In a word, unbelief fought against her prayer and made it unavailing; and hence contrary to all human thought, hope and effort, her son was restored to her, alone for the reason that the Lord met and had compassion on the poor widow, as the text says, and comforted her not only with friendly words, but also with his power and authority restored her son alive to her; so that she was compelled to say that it was not her merit or that of any human being, but the pure grace and gift of the Lord, and that he was a Lord who is able to do and give “exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think,” as the Epistle for to-day says, Ephesians 3:20. For this is his way that he always manifests himself towards his saints in a wonderful manner, as Psalm 4:3 says, and in their distresses hears, delivers and saves them, not according to their own thoughts, hopes and faith, but according to his own divine and almighty power, when human counsel fails and is despaired of.

 

32. Behold, how the Lord exhibits his work against death when it comes into his presence, and thereby typifies or indicates for our comfort what he will also do for all his people, when, like this youth, they are seized by death. For here you see two processions or companies meeting each other; the one, the poor widow with the dead youth and the people following him to the grave; the other, Christ and those who went with him into the city. The first picture shows what we are and what we can bring to Christ; for this is the picture of the whole world and the way of man on the earth. There is a crowd all of whom must follow death out of the city, and Christ, when he comes, finds nothing else than that which has to do with death.

 

33. This is the whole essence of human life on the earth, if we look at it in the proper light. There is nothing but the image and work of death, and constant and daily approaching death until the last day, since one after another dies and the rest have to do only with the horrible affair how one may carry the other to the grave, and others follow daily. They render this service to the dead, in order that to-day or to-morrow some one else may follow them also to their graves. Wherefore Christ speaks of the character and order of our earthly life to those whom he calls into his kingdom, Matthew 8:22: “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.”

 

34. Thus you see on this side and in this crowd of the whole world and of the human race nothing but death. We bring this with us and with it drag ourselves from our mother’s womb, and all at the same time travel the same road with one another, only that one precedes or is carried before the others, and the rest follow after until the last one dies. Nor is there any deliverance or help for this from any creature, for death rules over them all, as St. Paul says, Romans 5:14, and drags all of them along, without the ability to resist. Yea, with such demonstration and pomp does death do this that when he overcomes one he defies all the rest who are alive and carries the dead to the grave, and shows them that he has them also in his clutches and under his power and may seize them whenever he will.

 

35. But on the other hand, you see here also a comforting counterpart of life, and a glorious and joyous procession of the Lord Jesus, who does not go out of the city with the dead, but meets death on his way into the city; not however as those who return home from the grave, only until they shall carry another one out. For the Lord does not come with such thoughts of death, as if he had to fear death and come under its power; but steps into his presence and opposes him as the one who has power and authority over death; first he comforts the poor widow, whose heart is filled only with death, and tells her to sorrow and weep no more, speaks other words which no one else can utter, steps up to the bier, lays his hands on it, requests the bearers to stand still, and immediately follows with a word and says: “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.” These words are instantly followed by such power and efficacy that the dead man did not lie as before, but sat up, bound and covered as he was, began to speak and showed that he was no longer dead, but alive.

 

36. This was a wonderful and quick change from death to life, on the part of the young man. Where the spark of life had long been extinguished and there was truly no sign of life, there are instantly and fully restored breath, blood, sensibility, movement, thought, speech and everything else that belongs to life; and Christ, with one word, turned the sad and sorrowing procession, and the carrying of the dead from the gate of the city, into a joyous, lovely and beautiful procession of life, in which both the youth, who was being carried by four or more to be buried under ground, together with his sorrowing mother, joyously follow the Lord Jesus, accompanied by the whole crowd into the city, forgetting death, the bier and the grave, and speaking joyously and thankfully only of life.

 

37. But the glory and honor of this work belong only to the Lord Jesus, through whose power and authority alone death can be removed and life brought forth from it, as he also proves. Hence the fame and report concerning Christ, of which this Gospel speaks, saying that it went forth throughout the whole country, is recorded for our consolation and joy overagainst the fear and dread of death, in order that we may know what kind of a Savior we have in Christ. For he so manifested himself on earth in his ministry, office and form of a servant, that he can be known as the Lord both of death and life, to destroy the former and bring the latter to light; that although he often met death and fought with it, as in the case of the daughter of Jairus, and again in that of Lazarus, and at last in his own person, he nevertheless finally overcame and destroyed it.

 

38. Christ also desires to prove in our death and that of all Christians, since death casts every one of us under the ground and it thinks it has completely swallowed all; as Christ promised and confirmed by his own mouth and word in John 11:25: “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Again, John 5:28 says: “The hour cometh in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth.” Then only the work, which he has portrayed in this example, shall really begin, which he has put off until that time, since he wishes to complete it not only in one or a few, but at one time in all, in order to destroy death with one blow, as Isaiah 25:8 says, so that no one shall forever afterwards be overcome or taken captive by it. This shall then form a truly joyous and glorious procession, when he shall bring together, in a moment of time, all who have died, calling them forth with one word from the earth, dust and ashes, air, water and all other places, and, as St. Paul says, 1 Thessalonians 4:14, will bring with himself, as the Head, in an innumerable company all believers, having freed all from death and given them eternal life, and, as Isaiah 25:8 says, having wiped away all tears from their eyes, so that they may forever and without ceasing praise and glorify their Lord, with everlasting joy, praise and honor.

 

39. We should also learn to believe this and comfort ourselves in the hour of death and in all other distresses, so that, although we may come to such straits that we neither see nor feel anything else than death and destruction, as in the case of this poor widow, because of her son, yea, even though we may be in the clutches of death, as her son on the bier and on the way to the tomb; yet that we may nevertheless firmly conclude that in Christ we have obtained victory over death and life. For faith in Christ must be so disposed, as the Epistle to the Hebrews 11:1, teaches, that it can grasp and hold fast those things that can not, yea those things of which only the antithesis can be seen, as in this case, Christ wants this widow to believe in and hope for life, when he says, “Weep not;” although such faith was indeed weak and small in her, as it also is in us, since she and all the world had in their minds feelings and thoughts that despaired of life.

 

40. For he desires to teach us that also in our experience there is nothing in us or apart from us, except only corruption and death; but from him and in him only life, which shall swallow up both our sin and death. Yea, the more misery and death are in us, the more and the more richly shall we find comfort and life in him, provided we hold fast to him by faith, to which he spurs us on and admonishes us both through his Word and such examples as the one before us. Amen.

 

       

 

 

 

 

SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY

EPHESIANS 4:1-6.

 

 

EPHESIANS 4:1-6.

I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.

 

THE CHRISTIAN CALLING AND UNITY

1. This, too, is a beautiful sermon, delivered by Paul to the Ephesians, concerning the good works of Christians, who believe and are obedient to the doctrine of the Gospel. In the knowledge of good works Paul desires Christians to grow and increase, as we learned in the epistle for last Sunday. The ground of all doctrine, of all right living, the supreme and eternal treasure of him who is a Christian in the sight of God, is faith in Christ. It alone secures forgiveness o£ sins and makes us children of God. Now, where this faith is, fruits should follow as evidence that Christians in their lives honor and obey God. They are necessary for God’s glory and for the Christian’s own honor and eternal reward before him.

 

2. Paul, remembering the imprisonment and tribulations he suffered because of the Gospel and for the advantage, as he before said, of the Ephesians, gives the admonition here. He would have them, in return for his sufferings, honor the Gospel in their lives. First he names a general rule of life for Christians.

 

 

THE CHRISTIAN CALLING

“To walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called.”

3. The chief thing that should influence a Christian’s outward walk is the remembrance of his calling and appointment by God. He should be mindful of why he is called a Christian, and live consistently. He must shine before the world; that is, through his life and God’s work, the Word and the name of Christ the Lord must be exalted. Christ exhorts his disciples: “Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16.

 

4. Similarly, Paul would say: “You have received God’s grace and his Word and are a blessed people. In Christ all your needs are blessedly supplied. Be mindful of this and remember you are called to a far different and vastly higher life than others know. Show by your manner of living that you seek a higher good than the world seeks    indeed, that you have received far greater blessings. Let your lives honor and glorify the Lord who has given you such blessings. Give no occasion for dishonoring your treasured faith, or for scorning his Word. Rather, influence men by your godly walk and good works to believe in Christ and to glorify him.”

 

5. Let the Christian know his earthly life is not unto himself, nor for his own sake; his life and work here belong to Christ, his Lord. Hence must his walk be such as shall contribute to the honor and glory of his Master, whom he should so serve that he may be able to say with Paul, not only with respect to the spiritual life    the life of faith and of righteousness by grace    but also with respect to its fruits    the outward conduct: “It is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me.” Galatians 2:20. The Christian’s manner of life may be styled “walking in Christ”; yes, as Paul elsewhere has it ( Romans 13:14), “putting on” the Lord Jesus Christ, like a garment or an ornament. The world is to recognize Christ by his shining in us.

 

6. But the so-called Christian life that does not honor Christ makes its sin the more heinous for the name it bears. Every sin the people of God commit is a provocation of Jehovah; not only in the act of disobedience itself, but also in the transgression of the second commandment. The enormity of the sin is magnified by the conditions that make it a blasphemy of God’s name and an occasion of offense to others. Paul says in Romans 2:24: “For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” So a Christian should, in his life, by all means guard the honor of God    of Christ. He must take heed that he be not guilty of blaspheming that name and of doing wickedness. The devil, aided by the world, construes every act, when possible, to reflect upon God’s honor and glory. His purpose is to manifest his bitter hatred against Christ and the Word; also to injure the Church by charging offenses, thus deterring unbelievers from embracing the Gospel and causing the weak to fall away.

 

7. To guard against such disaster, Christians should be particularly careful to give, in their conduct, no occasion for offense, and to value the name and honor of their God too highly to permit blasphemy of them. They should prefer to lose their own honor, their wealth, their physical wellbeing, even their lives, rather than that these, their most precious possessions and greatest blessings, should suffer disgrace. Let them remember that upon keeping sacred the name and honor of God depends their own standing before God and men. God promises ( 1 Samuel 2:30), “Them that honor me! will honor.” But pursuing the opposite course, Christians bring upon themselves God’s sternest wrath and effect their own rejection and shame. For he says further: “They that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.” And in the second commandment God threatens certain and terrible punishment to abusers of his name; that is, to them who do not employ it to his honor and praise.

 

8. Well may every Christian examine his own life to see if he is careful to guard against offense to the Gospel and to regulate his words and conduct by God’s first commandment, making them contribute to the honor and praise of the divine name and the holy Gospel. Weighty indeed and well calculated to cause complaint are the sins to which every Christian is liable in this respect; well may he avoid them lest he heap to himself the wrath of God. Especially need we be careful in these last and evil times when the Gospel is everywhere suppressed by great offenses. Man was created to be the image of God, that through this his image God might himself be expressed. God’s image, then, should be reflected in the lives of men as a likeness in a glass, and a Christian can have no higher concern than to live without dishonor to the name of God.

 

ADMONITION TO SPECIAL CHRISTIAN VIRTUES

9. Such is the first part of Paul’s admonition concerning the general life of Christians. He goes on to make special mention of several good works which Christians should diligently observe: humility, meekness, longsuffering, preservation of the unity of the Spirit, and so on. These have been specially treated before, in other epistle lessons, particularly those from Peter. Humility, for instance    mentioned in today’s lesson    is taken up the third Sunday after Trinity; patience and meekness, the second Sunday after Easter, and the fifth Sunday after Trinity.

 

10. The text here presents good works sufficient to occupy all Christians in every station of life; we need not seek other nor better ones. Paul would not impose upon Christians peculiar works, something unrelated to the ordinary walks of life, as certain false saints taught and practiced. These teachers commanded separation from society, isolation in the wilderness, the establishment of monkeries and the performance of self-appointed works. Such works they exalted as superior to ordinary Christian virtues. Indeed, their practice amounted to rejection of the latter, and they actually regarded them as dangerous. The Papacy has in the past shamelessly styled the observance of Christian good works as worldly living, and men were compelled to believe they would find it hard to reach heaven unless they became ecclesiasts    for they regarded only the monks and priests worthy    or at least made themselves partakers of the works of ecclesiasts by purchasing their merits. But Paul    in fact, the entire Scriptures    teaches no other good works than God enjoins upon all men in the Ten Commandments, and which pertain to the common conditions of life. True, these make not such brilliant show in the eyes of the world as do the self-appointed ceremonials constituting the divine service of hypocrites; nevertheless, they are true, worthy, good and profitable works in the sight of God and man. What can be more acceptable to God and advantageous to man than a life lived, in its own calling, in the way that contributes to the honor of God, and that by its example influences others to love God’s Word and to praise his name? Moreover, what virtues, of all man possesses, serve him better than humility, meekness, patience and harmony of mind?

 

11. Now, where is a better opportunity for the exercise of these virtues than amidst the conditions in which God destined us to live    in society, where we mingle with one another? Upon these conditions, self-appointed, unusual lives and monastic holiness have no bearing. For what other person is profited by your entering a cloister, making yourself peculiar, refusing to live as your fellows do? Who is benefited by your cowl, your austere countenance, your hard bed? Who comes to know God or to have a peaceful conscience by such practices on your part, or who is thereby influenced to love his neighbor? Indeed, how can you serve your neighbor by such a life? How manifest your love, humility, patience and meekness if you are unwilling to live among men? if you so strenuously adhere to your self-appointed orders as to allow your neighbor to suffer want before you would dishonor your rules?

 

12. Astonishing fact, that the world is merged in darkness so great it utterly disregards the Word of God and the conditions he designed for our daily living. If we preach to the world faith in God’s Word, the world receives it as heresy. If we speak of works instituted of God himself and conditions of his own appointing, the world regards it as idle talk; it knows better. To live a simple Christian life in one’s own family, to faithfully perform the duties of a man-servant or maid-servant    “Oh, that,” it says, “is merely the following of worldly pursuits. To do good works you must set about it in a different way. You must creep into a corner, don a cap, make pilgrimages to some saint; then you may be able to help yourself and others to gain heaven.” If the question be asked, “Why do so? where has God commanded it?” there is, according to their theory, really no answer to make but this: Our Lord God knows nothing about the matter; he does not understand what good works are. How can he teach us? He must himself be tutored by these remarkably enlightened saints.

 

FRUITS OF ORIGINAL SIN

13. But all this error results from that miserable inherent plague, that evil termed “original sin.” It is a blind wickedness, refusing to recognize the Word of God and his will and work, but introducing instead things of its own heathenish imagination. It draws such a thick covering over eyes, ears and hearts that it renders men unable to perceive how the simple life of a Christian, of husband or wife, of the lower or the higher walks of life, can be beautified by honoring the Word of God. Original sin will not be persuaded to the faithful performance of the works that God testifies are well pleasing to him when wrought by believers in Christ. In a word, universal experience proves that to perform really good works is a special and remarkable grace to which few attain; while the great mass of souls aspiring after holiness vainly busy themselves with worthless works, being deceived into thinking them great, and thus make themselves, as Paul says, “unto every good work reprobate.” Titus 1:16. This fruitless effort is one evil result of the error of human ideas of holiness and the practice of self-chosen works.

 

14. Another error is the hindrance    yes, the suppression and destruction    f the beautiful virtues of humility, meekness, patience and spiritual harmony here commended of Paul. At the same time the devil is given occasion to encourage fiendish blasphemy. In every instance where the Word of God is set aside for humanly-appointed works, differing views and theories must obtain. One introduces this and another that, each striving for first recognition; then a third endeavors to improve upon their doctrine. Consequently divisions and factions ensue as numerous as the teachers and their creeds; as exemplified in the countless sects to this time prevalent in Popedom, and in the factious spirits of all time. Under such circumstances, none of the virtues like humility, meekness, patience, love, can have place. Opposite conditions must prevail, since harmony of hearts and minds is lacking. One teacher haughtily rejects another, and if his own opinions fail to receive recognition and approval, he displays anger, envy and hatred. He will neither affiliate with nor tolerate him whose practices accord not with his own.

 

15. On the other hand, the Christian life, the life of faith with its fruits, controlled as it is by the Word of God, is in every way conducive to the preservation of love and harmony, and to the promotion of all virtues. It interferes not with the God-ordained relations of life and their attendant obligations upon men    the requirements of social order, the duties of father and mother, of son and daughter, master and mistress, servant and maid. All life’s relations are confirmed by it as valid and its duties as vital. The Christian faith bids each person in his life, and all in common, to be diligent in the works of love, humility, patience. It teaches that one be not intolerant of another, but rather render him his due, remembering that he whose condition in life is the most insignificant can be equally upright and blessed before God with the occupant of the most significant position. Again, it teaches that man must have patience with the weakness of his fellow, being mindful of how others must bear with his own imperfections. In short, it says one must manifest to another the love and kindness he would have that other extend to him.

 

16. To this Christian attainment, contributes very largely the single fact that a Christian is conscious he has, through Christ, the grace of God, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. And these not for his own merits or peculiar life and works, but because he is, no matter how insignificant in condition before the world, a child of God and blessed; a partaker, if he but believes, in all the blessings of Christ, sharing equally with the most eminent saint. So, then, he need not look about for works not enjoined upon him. He need not covet those wrought in prominence and by the aid of great gifts of God    of unusual attainments. Let him confine himself to his own sphere; let him serve God in his vocation, remembering that God makes him, too, his instrument in his own place. Again, the occupant of a higher sphere, the possessor of higher gifts and accomplishments, who likewise serves in his vocation received from God, should learn and exhibit harmony of mind. So shall he continue humble and be tolerant of others. He should remember that he is not worthier in the eyes of God because of his greater gifts, but rather is under deeper obligation to serve his fellows, and that God can use the possessor of lesser gifts for even greater accomplishments than himself can boast. Having so learned, he will be able to manifest patience, meekness and love toward his weak and imperfect neighbors, considering them members of Christ with him, and partakers of the same grace and salvation.

 

THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT

17. Now you have the reason why the apostles Paul and Peter everywhere so faithfully enforce this virtue, the unity of the Spirit. It is the most necessary and beautiful grace that Christians possess. It holds together the Christian community, preventing factions and schisms, as before explained. So Paul here admonishes men to be careful for harmony, making every endeavor to preserve it. The term “unity of the Spirit” is used to make plain the apostle’s meaning. He would thus emphasize oneness of doctrine    the one true faith. Since the Holy Spirit is present only where there is knowledge of and faith in the Gospel of Christ, “unity of the Spirit” implies a unity of faith. Above all things, then, the effort must be to preserve, in the Church, the doctrine of the Scriptures, pure and in its unity.

 

18. One of the wickedest offenses possible to commit against the Church is the stirring up of doctrinal discord and division, a thing the devil encourages to the utmost. This sin usually has its rise with certain haughty, conceited, self-seeking leaders who desire peculiar distinction for themselves and strive for personal honor and glory. They harmonize with none and would think themselves disgraced were they not honored as superior and more learned individuals than their fellows, a distinction they do not merit. They will give honor to no one, even when they have to recognize the superiority of his gifts over their own. In their envy, anger, hatred and vengefulness, they seek occasion to create factions and to draw people to themselves. Therefore Paul exhorts first to the necessary virtue of love, having which men will be enabled to exercise humility, patience and forbearance toward one another.

 

19. The character of the evils resulting to the Church from divisions and discords in doctrine is evident from the facts. Many are deceived; the masses immediately respond to new doctrine brilliantly presented in specious words by presumptuous individuals thirsting for fame. More than that, many weak but well-meaning ones fall to doubting, uncertain where to stand or with whom to hold. Consequently men reject and blaspheme the Christian doctrine and seek occasion to dispute it. Many become reckless pleasure-lovers, disregarding all religion and ignoring the Word of God. Further, even they who are called Christians come to have hard feelings against one another, and, figuratively, bite and devour in their hate and envy. Consequently their love grows cold and faith is extinguished.

 

20. Of so much disturbance in the Church, and of the resulting injuries to souls, are guilty those conceited, factious leaders who do not adhere to the true doctrine, preserving the unity of the Spirit, but seek to institute something new for the sake of advancing their own ideas and their own honor, or gratifying their revenge. They thus bring upon themselves damnation infinitely more intolerable than others suffer. Christians, then, should be careful to give no occasion for division or discord, but to be diligent, as Paul here admonishes, to preserve unity. And this is not an easy thing to do, for among Christians occasions frequently arise provoking selfwill, anger and hatred. The devil is always at hand to stir and blow the flame of discord. Let Christians take heed they do not give place to the promptings of the devil and of the flesh. They must strive against them, submitting to all suffering, and performing all demands, whether honor, property, physical welfare or life itself be involved, in the effort to prevent, so far as in them lies, any disturbance of the unity of doctrine, of faith and of Spirit.

 

“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.”

21. Christians should feel bound to maintain the unity of the Spirit, since they are all members of one body and partakers of the same spiritual blessings. They have the same priceless treasures    one God and Father in heaven, one Lord and Savior, one Word, baptism and faith; in short, one and the same salvation, a blessing common to all whereof one has as much as another, and cannot obtain more. What occasion, then, for divisions or for further seeking?

 

22. Here Paul teaches what the true Christian Church is and how it may be identified. There is not more than one Church, or people of God, one earth. This one Church has one faith, one baptism, one confession of God the Father and of Jesus Christ. Its members faithfully hold, and abide by, these common truths. Every one desiring to be saved and to come to God must be incorporated into this Church, outside of which no one will be saved.

 

23. Unity of the Church does not consist in similarity of outward form of government, likeness of Law, tradition and ecclesiastical customs, as the Pope and his followers claim. They would exclude from the Church all not obedient to them in these outward things, though members of the one faith, one baptism, and so on. The Church is termed “one holy, catholic or Christian Church,” because it represents one plain, pure Gospel doctrine, and an outward confession thereof, always and everywhere, regardless of dissimilarity of physical life, or of outward ordinances, customs and ceremonies.

 

24. But they are not members of the true Church of Christ who, instead of preserving unity of doctrine and oneness of Christian faith, cause divisions and offenses    as Paul says ( Romans 16:17)    by the human doctrines and self-appointed works for which they contend, imposing them upon all Christians as necessary. They are perverters and destroyers of the Church, as we have elsewhere frequently shown. The consolation of the true doctrine is ours, and we hold it in opposition to Popedom, which accuses us of having withdrawn from them, and so condemns us as apostates from the Church. They are, however, themselves the real apostates, persecuting the truth and destroying the unity of the Spirit under the name and title of the Church and of Christ. Therefore, according to the command of God, all men are under obligation to shun them and withdraw from them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity;

Luke 14:1-11

 

Christ Heals the Man with Dropsy on the Sabbath and Teaches About Humility

 

____

 

 

Luke 14:1-11

And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him. And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go; and answered them, saying, which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day? And they could not answer him again to these things. And he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them, when thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; and he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

 

1. This Gospel offers us two leading thoughts; one is general and is found in all our Gospel lessons, the other is peculiar to this one. First, in its general character, it shows who the Lord Jesus is and what we may expect of him, and in this is exhibited both faith and love.

 

2. Faith is here set forth in that this man, sick with the dropsy, looks to Christ and firmly believes he will help him. This faith he had as the result of his previous acquaintance with Jesus. He knows him as a kind, friendly and sympathetic man who always helps everyone and lets none go away uncomforted. Had he not heard such reports about the Lord he would not have followed him, even into the house. He must indeed have had some gospel knowledge and believed the wonderful things spoken about him.

 

3. And this is the Gospel, as I said, that must be preached and heard before there can be faith. We must know that God is kindly disposed toward us and has sent his Son from  heaven to help us. This the conscience must hear and believe; for if God were unfriendly and unmerciful toward us, it would avail little to know that all his creatures sympathize with us. If God is satisfied with us, no creature can do us any harm, as St. Paul says in Rom. 8, 31: ”If God is for us, who is against us?” Let death, devil, hell and all creation rage; we are safe. Therefore it is the Gospel that must present to us the God-man as merciful. This is the fountain from which our heart can draw faith and a friendly confidence toward God that he will help both the dying and the living in every distress.

 

4. We notice this here in the man afflicted with dropsy. He had heard of the kindness of Jesus to others and now believes that he will show the same to him. Had he not believed, it would have been impossible to help him. The Gospel resounds in all the world, but it is not heard by everybody. The Pharisees also sat there; they saw these things with their own eyes and failed not to notice what a friendly man Jesus was, but they believed not; hence the Gospel could neither reform them nor give them help and comfort. Thus the Gospel is very universal, but the true laying hold of it is very rare. So much in regard to faith.

 

5. Later we have here pictured to us also the love in Christ that goes forth and bears fruit, not for itself but for others, as is the nature of true love to do. This is now said on the first part of today's Gospel.

 

6. However, this Pericope especially teaches us in the second place a necessary doctrine we must possess, if we are to make use of the laws that order the outward and temporal matters and affairs, which the church is to observe. Here we must act wisely and gently, if we wish to do the right thing, especially when weak and timid consciences are concerned. For there is nothing more tender in heaven and on earth, and nothing can bear less trifling, than the conscience. The eye is spoken of as a sensitive member, but conscience is much more sensitive. Hence we notice how gently the Apostles dealt with conscience in divers matters, lest it be burdened with human ordinances.

 

7. But as we cannot live without law and order, and as it is dangerous to deal with law since it is too apt to ensnare the conscience, we must say a little about human laws and ordinances and how far they are to be observed. The proverb says: ”Everything depends upon having a good interpreter.” That is particularly true here where human ordinances are concerned. Where there is no one to interpret and explain the law rightly it is difficult and dangerous to have anything to do with it. Take, for example, a ruler who acts like a tyrant and abuses his authority. If he makes a law and urgently insists on the law being executed, he treats conscience as if he had a sword in his hand and were intent on killing. We have experienced this in the tyrannical laws of popery, how consciences were tormented and hurled into hell and damnation. Yea, there is great danger where one does not know how to temper and apply the laws.

 

8. Therefore we conclude that all law, divine and human, treating of outward conduct, should not bind any further than love goes. Love is to be the interpreter of law. Where there is no love, these things are meaningless, and law begins to do harm; as is also written in the Pope's book: ”If a law or ordinance runs counter to love, it will soon come to an end.” This is in brief spoken of divine and human laws. The reason for enacting all laws and ordinances is only to establish love, as Paul says, Rom. 13, 10: ”Love therefore is the fulfilment of the law.” Likewise verse 8: ”Owe no man anything, save to love one another.” For if I love my neighbor, I help him, protect him, hold him in honor, and do what I would have done to me.

 

9. Since then all law exists to promote love, law must soon cease where it is in conflict with love. Therefore, everything depends upon a good leader or ruler to direct and interpret the law in accordance with love. Take the example of the priests and monks. They have drawn up laws that they will say mass and do their praying and juggle with God in other ways at given hours according to the clock. If now a poor man should call and ask for a service at an hour when they were to hold mass or repeat  their prayers, they might say: ”Go your way; I must now read mass, must attend to my prayers,” and thus they would fail to serve the poor man, even if he should die. In this manner the most sanctimonious monks and Carthusians act; they observe their rules and statutes so rigorously that, although they saw a poor man breathing his last breath and could help him so easily, yet they will not do it. But the good people, if they were Christians, ought to explain the laws and statutes in harmony with love, and say: Let the mass go, let the sacraments, prayers, and the ordinances all go; I will dispense with works, I will serve my neighbor; love put in practice in serving my neighbor is golden in comparison with such human works.

 

10. And thus we should apply every law, even as love suggests, that it be executed where it is helpful to a fellow-man, and dispensed with where it does harm. Take a common illustration: If there were a housekeeper who made the rule in his home to serve now fish, then meat, now wine, then beer, even as it suits him; but perchance some one of his household took sick and could not drink beer or wine, nor eat meat or fish, and the housekeeper would not give him anything else, but say: No, my rules and regulations prescribe thus; I cannot give you anything else: what kind of a housekeeper would such an one be? One ought to give him sneeze-wort to purge his brain. For if he were a sensible man he would say: It is indeed true that my rules and regulations prescribe meat or fish for the table today, yet since this diet does not agree with you, you may eat what you like. See how a housekeeper may adjust his own rules and make them conform to the love he entertains for his household. Thus all law must be applied as love toward a fellow-man may dictate.

 

11. Therefore, since the Mosaic law was not understood nor modified by love in the Old Testament, God promised the people through Moses that he would raise up a prophet who should interpret the law to them. For thus Moses says in Deut. 18, 25: ”Jehovah thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall harken.” God raised up prophets from time to time to explain the law and apply it, not in its rigor, but in love. Of this Moses himself is an example. He led the children of Israel out of Egypt for forty years hither and thither through the desert. Abraham had been commanded in Gen. 17, 12, to circumcise every male on the eighth day. This commandment was plain enough that all had to observe it, yet Moses neglected it and circumcised no one the whole forty years.

 

12. Now, who authorized Moses to violate this commandment, given to Abraham by God himself? His authority was vested in his knowledge of the law's spirit; he knew how to interpret and apply it in brotherly love, namely, that the law was to be serviceable to the people, and not the reverse. For, if during their journey they had to be ready day by day for warfare, circumcision would have hindered them, and he therefore omitted it, saying in effect: Although this law is given and should be observed, yet we will apply it in the spirit of love, and suspend its operation until we come to the end of our journey. Likewise should all laws be interpreted and applied as love and necessity may demand. Hence the importance of a good interpreter.

 

13. It was the same in the case of David when he partook of the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for anyone to eat, except the priest, 1 Sam. 21, 6; as Christ himself makes use of this example in Mat. 12, 3. David was not consecrated, nor were his servants. When he was hungry he went to Ahimelech and asked for himself and men something to eat. Ahimelech answered: I have indeed nothing to give; the shew-bread of the tabernacle is for holy use. Then David and his men helped themselves and ate freely of it. Did David sin in the face of God's ordinance? No. Why not? Because necessity compelled him, seeing there was nothing else to eat. It is in this way that necessity and love may override law.

 

14. That is what Christ also does in our Gospel, when he heals the suffering man on the Sabbath, although he well knew how strictly the Old Testament required the observance of the Sabbath. But see what the Pharisees do! They stand by watching the Lord. They would not have helped the sick man with a spoonful of wine, even if they could have done so. But Christ handles the law even at the risk of violating it, freely helps the poor man sick with the dropsy and gives the public a reason for his action, when he says, in effect: It is indeed commanded to keep the Sabbath day, yet where love requires it, there the law may be set aside. This he follows up with an illustration from everyday life, then dismisses them in a way they must commend, and they answer him not a word. He says:

 

”Which of you shall have an ox or an ass fallen into a well and will not straightway draw him up on the Sabbath day?”

15. As if to say: Ye fools, are ye not mad and stupid! If you act thus in the case of saving an ox or an ass which may perhaps be valued at a few dollars, how much rather should one do the same to a neighbor, helping him to his health, whether it be the Sabbath or not! For the Sabbath, as he says elsewhere, was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So that the son of man is lord even of the Sabbath, Mark 2, 27.

 

16. Among the Jews there was a rigorous enforcement of the law, even their kings insisted on its strict observance. When the prophets came and explained the law in the spirit of love, saying: This is what Moses means, thus the law is to be understood, then there were false prophets at hand to side with the kings, insisting on the literal text and saying: There, so it is written; it is God's Word; one must not interpret it otherwise. Thereupon the kings proceeded to kill one prophet after another. In the same way the Papists, priests and monks act now. If anyone says: We need not observe their laws literally, but we should rather interpret them in love; then they immediately cry, Heretic! Heretic!! and if they could they would kill him; yea, they do so already quite lustily.

 

17. As Christ here treats of the law relating to the Sabbath and makes it subserve the needs of man, so we should treat laws of that kind and keep them only so far as they accord with love. If laws do not serve love, they may be annulled at once, be they God's or man's commands. Take an illustration from our former darkness and sorrow under the Papacy. Suppose someone had vowed to visit St. Jacob, and he remembers the words: ”Pay that which thou vowest,” Eccl. 5, 4. He may have a wife, children or household to care for. What should such an one do? Should he proceed to St. Jacob, or remain at home and support his family? There, decide for yourselves which would be most needful and what harmonizes best with the spirit of love. I regard it best for him to remain home at work and attend to the care of his family. For his pilgrimage to St. Jacob, even if that were not idolatrous and wrong in itself, would be of little profit to him, yea, he would spend and lose more than he could gain.

 

18. Another example. A mother is about to bear a child, who vowed to eat no flesh on Wednesdays, as many foolish women do. And perhaps because of this vow the mother may injure her offspring and her own body. Then the foolish confessional fathers come and say: Dear daughter, it is written in the Scriptures, what one vows, that must be kept; it is God's command and thou must at any peril keep thy vow. Thus the good woman is soon taken captive and chained by her conscience, goes and fulfils her vow, and does harm both to herself and her offspring. Hence both have sinned, those who taught her thus, and the woman in that she did not esteem her love more than her vow, by which she neither served nor pleased God; yea, more than this, she thus provoked God to anger by keeping her vow. Therefore we should say to such a foolish mother. Behold, thou art about to bear a child, and thou must serve it and desist from this foolish thing, so that great harm may not spring from it; for all laws find their end in love.

 

19. We should act in like manner toward the false priests, monks and nuns. When they say: Yea, we have vowed so and so, and it is written: ”Vow, and pay unto Jehovah your God,” Ps. 76, 11, then say to them: Look, there is also a command: ”Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”  But in your vocation it is impossible to serve your neighbor, nor can You continue in it without sin. Therefore, forsake it openly and enter a state in which you are not so apt to sin, but where you may serve your fellow-man, help and counsel him; and do not bother about a vow which you did not give to God your Lord, but to the devil; not for the salvation of souls and blessedness, but for damnation and ruin of both soul and body.

 

20. If you are a Christian you have power to dispense with all commandments so far as they hinder you in the practice of love, even as Christ here teaches. He goes right on, although it is the Sabbath day, helps this sick man and gives a satisfactory and clear reason for his Sabbath work.

 

21. There is yet another thought in this Gospel about taking a prominent seat at feasts, which we must consider, When the Lord noticed how the guests, the Pharisees, chose to sit in the first seats, he gave them the following parable to ponder:

 

”'When thou art bidden of any man to a marriage feast, sit not down in the chief seat; lest haply a more honorable man than thou be bidden of him, and he that bade thee and him shall come and say to thee, Give this man place;. and then thou shalt begin with shame to take the lower place. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest place; that when he that hath bidden thee cometh, he may say to thee, Friend, go up higher. Then shalt thou have glory in the presence of all that sit at meat with thee.”

22. This parable is aimed at the laws and precepts of the Pharisees and scribes which provide that honor should be paid to the great and powerful, giving them the preference and allowing them to sit at the head. Christ here reverses the order and says: ”He that would be the greatest, let him take the lowest seat.” Not that a peasant should be placed above a prince; that is not what Christ means, nor would that be proper. But our Lord does not speak here of worldly, but of spiritual things, where humility is specially commended. Let rulers follow the custom of occupying the uppermost seats at festive boards, we have to do here with matters of the heart. Christ does not appoint burgormasters, judges, princes, lords; these stations in life he ignores as subject to civil order and and the dictates of reason. There must be rulers and to them honors are due because of their position; but the spiritual government requires that its participants humble themselves, in order that they may be exalted.

 

23. Therefore the Lord said to his disciples when they disputed as to who should be the greatest among them: ”The kings of the Gentiles have lordship over them, and they that have authority over them are called Benefactors. But ye shall not be so; but he that is the greater among you, let him become as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve,” Luke 22, 25-27. He then speaks of himself as an illustration, asking: ”For which is the greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? But I am in the midst of you as he that serveth.” And in another place, Mat. 20, 26-28, he said: ”Whosoever would become great among you Shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you shall be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

 

24. The Papists have commented on these verses in their own way and twisted this Gospel, saying: Yea, the Pope is to be the least or youngest, sitting at the foot and serving others; but that is to take place in the heart. They pretended to sit at the foot and to serve others as the humblest; but withal they lorded it over all emperors, kings and princes, yea, trampled them in the dust; just as if emperors, kings, prince's and rulers should not also possess in their hearts the humility of which the Lord here treats. They thus put on airs and make a show of their carnal interpretation. If they had any humility in their hearts their lives would bear testimony to it. Christ speaks here not of outward humility alone, for the inner is the source of the outer; if it is not in the heart it will hardly be manifest in the body.

 

25. Therefore the Gospel aims at making all of us humble,  whatever and whoever we may be, that none may exalt himself, unless urged and elevated by regular authority. That is what the Lord wants to inculcate by this parable, directing it to all, be they high or low. In this spirit he reproves the Pharisees and others who desire high places and are ambitious to get ahead of others. They may accept honors when regularly elected and forced to accept high places. I make these remarks to contravene and discredit their false spiritual interpretations.

 

26. But now they go and mingle and confuse spiritual and worldly things, and claim it is enough if they be humble in heart when they strive for the chief seats. Nay, dear friends, heart-humility must manifest itself in outer conduct, or it is false. All should therefore he willing to take a lower seat, even to throw themselves at the feet of others, and not move up higher, until urged to do so. Anyone who regards this rule, will do well; but he who disregards it will come to grief by so doing. That is what our Lord desires to impress upon his hearers as he closes this parable.

 

”For every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

27. St. Augustine adds a comment here which I wish he had not made, for it savors of vanity, when he says: ”A ruler must not abase himself too much, lest his authority be weakened thereby.” This is heathenish and worldly, not Christian; but we can pardon it in such a man, for even the saints on earth are not yet entirely perfect.

 

28. The sum of this Gospel then is: Love and necessity control all law; and there should be no law that cannot be enforced and applied in love. If it cannot, then let it be done away with, even though an angel from heaven had promulgated it. All this is intended to help and strengthen our hearts and consciences. In this way our Lord himself teaches us how we should humble ourselves and be subject one to another. [However concerning this virtue, what true humility is, I have said enough in former Postils c.] Let this suffice on today's Gospel.

 

 

       

 

 

 

 

EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY

1 CORINTHIANS 1:4-9.

 

 

 

1 CORINTHIANS 1:4-9.

I thank my God always concerning you; for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus; that in everything ye were enriched in him, in all utterance and all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye be unreprovable in the clay of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

TREASURE CHRISTIANS HAVE IN THE GOSPEL

1. We have before us the opening words of the Epistle to the Corinthians, which Paul was moved to write because of unpleasant conditions in the Church at Corinth after his departure. Divisions had arisen and sad confusion prevailed in doctrine and life. Hence the apostle was constrained to rebuke their wickedness and correct their infirmities. Because of these wholesome admonitions, the reading and heeding of this epistle is not only profitable but essential to this day; for the devil takes no respite, but whenever the Gospel is preached in its purity he mixes with the children of God and sows his seed.

 

2. Paul intends to be rather severe – yen caustic – but he begins very leniently, showing them what they have received through the Gospel. His purpose is to arouse their gratitude to God, and to induce them, for his honor and glory, to be harmonious in doctrine and life, avoiding divisions and other offenses.

 

“I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus,” etc.

3. In other words, Paul would say: Dear brethren, consider, I pray you, what abundant grace and gifts have been given you of God. They are bestowed not because of the Law, or because of your righteousness, your merits and works; you are given no reason to exalt yourselves above others, or to originate sects or schisms. Nay, all these blessings have been freely given you in Christ and for his sake, through the preaching of the Gospel. The Gospel is a grace which brings to you all manner of gifts, by him enriching you in everything. You lack nothing from God, but you await this one thing, that blessed day when Christ will reveal himself to you with all those heavenly gifts which you now possess in faith.

 

4. In this wise he extols to them the preaching of the Gospel (as indeed he does on different occasions); his purpose is to induce them to regard it most appreciatively. He gives them an example of his own gratitude, thanking God on their behalf, for the purpose of calling forth their especial gratitude when they should consider what they formerly were and what they now had received through the Gospel. And again, he would have them beware lest, forgetful of their former misery and present grace, they relapse into their old blindness. A sad beginning in such backsliding had been made by factions in their midst, who, satiated with the Gospel and indifferent to the abundant grace they enjoyed, began to cast about for something else.

 

5. Now observe: If the exalted apostle and venerable teacher of the Gentiles in his day had to witness in his own parish such factions and sects as those which, in sinful security and ingratitude toward the Gospel, arose during his life, what wonder is it that today, when we do not have the excellent preachers and pious Christians of those times, there are similar sects? We are aware of the great benefits bestowed upon us, but at the same time we see and realize that the devil instigates divisions and scandals. And the cause of these evils may be traced to our ingratitude; we have quickly forgotten the ills we endured under the blindness of popery, and how miserably we were deluded and tormented. Necessarily, where God’s mercies are lightly dismissed from the mind and disregarded, gratitude and regard for God’s Word cannot be the result; satiated, listless Christians go their way fancying that spiritual conditions always were and always will be as now.

 

6. The people, therefore, must be awakened to consider their former destitution, the very wretchedness they were in. The apostle later on vividly pictures such condition to his Corinthians, while here, in the opening chapter, he intimates to them, in kind and courteous words, to consider, in the light of the Gospel benefits they now enjoy, what they lacked before and might be deprived of again.

 

7. Therefore he says, You now have received the grace whereby in everything ye are enriched. Formerly you had not this grace and would not have it today had not the Gospel been preached to you. You are enriched in everything pertaining to yonder life, for it is not the purpose of the Gospel to give earthly riches. But in spiritual blessings ye come behind in no gift and have need of naught except this one thing, that the Lord himself should come. This blessing you are yet to have, and biding its advent you here live by the gifts and grace with which you were enriched, until you are finally redeemed from the sinful, wicked life of the world and from all its oppressions. You must know, and must thank God for it, that you need not seek after any higher calling or better gifts, thinking you have not all that is essential, as the factious spirits would have you believe.

 

8. For in your own judgment, what better thing could you have than is the Christian’s in his Gospel and his faith? He has assurance of sins forgiven and washed away in holy baptism, of justification and holiness before God, and of the fact that he is God’s child and heir to eternal life. Furthermore, although the Christian is conscious of remaining weakness and sin, yea, although he be overcome by a fault, he may avail himself of absolution, comfort and strength through his fellow Christians and by the aid of the sacraments; and he has daily guidance for his conduct and faith in all the walks of life. Again, he can call upon God in prayer in the day of trouble, and the firm assurance is his that God will hear and help him. What further can one desire, or what more does he need, than the knowledge that he is God’s child through baptism and has God’s Word at hand for comfort and strength in weakness and sin? Do you consider it slight enrichment to have assurance of the fact that God himself is speaking to you and, by means of the office of the ministry, is effective in you, teaching, admonishing, comforting, sustaining you, yea, granting you victory over the devil, death and all evil influences on earth?

 

9. Formerly what would we not gladly have given and done for but a single Gospel truth in our distress and trials of conscience! True, when one was discouraged or perplexed he was advised to seek and follow the counsel of some intelligent and judicious mind; but such judicious one who might assist with his counsel was nowhere to be found. For a wise man’s counsel does not answer in such case. The Word of God alone suffices, and you are to rely on it as if God himself revealed his counsel to you from heaven.

 

10. As Paul says, it is great riches, a precious treasure, to possess in very fact the Word of God and not to doubt that it is the Word of God. It is this that will answer; this can comfort your heart and support it. Of spiritual benefits you know we had none under the tyranny and darkness of the Pope. At that time we suffered ourselves to be led and driven by his commandments, vain human baubles, by bulls, lies, invocation of saints, indulgences, masses, monkery. And we did whatever was enjoined in the name of the Church, solely to gain comfort and help, that we might not despair of God’s grace. But instead of comforting us, these things led us to the devil and thrust us into greater anguish and terror; for there was nothing in the doctrine of the papists that could give us certainty. Indeed, they themselves had to confess that by its teachings no man could or should be certain of his state of grace.

 

11. Yea, they forced poor, timid, tempted hearts to dread and fear Christ more than the devil even, as! myself experienced full well. I resorted to the dead – St. Barbara, St. Ann and other departed saints – regarding them as mediators between me and Christ’s wrath. But this availed me nothing, nor did it free me from a fearful and fugitive conscience. There was not one among us all – and we were called very learned doctors of Holy Writ – who could have given true comfort from God’s Word, saying: This is God’s Word; this one thing God asks of you, that you honor him by accepting comfort; believe and know that he forgives your transgressions and has no wrath against you. If someone could have told me this, I would have given all I possessed for the knowledge; yea, for such word of comfort I would not have taken in exchange the glory and the crowns of all kings, for it would have restored my soul, it would have refreshed and sustained my body and life.

 

12. All this we should bear in mind, by no means should we forget it; that we may return thanks to God, recounting the superior and wonderful gifts which have enriched us in all things. We have besides the Word, free prayer and the Lord’s Prayer, knowing what to pray for and how to pray – knowledge common to the very children today, thank God. In former times, all men, especially we monks, tormented themselves with lengthy repetitions in reading and singing; yet our prayers were but chattering, as the noise of geese over their food, or of monks repeating a psalm.

 

13. I, too, wanted to be a pious and godly monk and I prepared with earnest devotion for mass and for prayers. But when most devout! went to the altar a doubter and left the altar a doubter. When I had rendered my confession I still doubted, and I doubted when! did not render it. For we were wholly wrapped up in the erroneous idea that we could not pray and would not be heard unless we were absolutely dean and without sin, like the saints in heaven. It would have been much better not to pray at all and to have done something else, than thus to take God’s name in vain. Still, we monks – in fact all the ecclesiastics – eluded the people, promising them our prayers for their money and possessions, actually selling our prayers, though we did not even know that we prayed in a manner acceptable to God. But today, thank God, we do know and understand, not only what to pray for and how to approach God “nothing doubting,” but we can also add a hearty Amen, believing that according to his promise he will certainly hear us.

 

THE CHRISTIAN’S TREASURE.

14. The Christian has indeed inestimable treasure. In the first place he has the testimony of the Word of God, which is the word of eternal grace and comfort, that he has a right and true conception of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Ten Commandments and the Creed. In addition he has the sure refuge of God’s promise to deliver us from every trouble in which we shall call upon him, and to give us, as he promised by the prophet Zechariah 12:10, the Spirit of grace and of prayer. And the Christian, by virtue of his enlightened understanding, can wisely discern what are good works and what callings are pleasing to God; on the other hand, his judgment is equally true as to unprofitable and vain works and false services. Before, we had not this wholesome knowledge. We knew not what we believed, or how we prayed and lived. We sought comfort and salvation in self-devised trivialities, in penances, confessions and satisfactions, in self-righteous works of monkery and in obedience to the commands of the Pope. We believed such works to be fully satisfactory and, indeed, the only things that were holy; the pursuits of common Christians we considered worldly and dangerous.

 

15. In illustration of this idea, a picture was exhibited – with the sanction of the Pope – representing a great ship in the wild, wide sea, containing only the holy monks and the super-holy popes, cardinals, bishops, etc., who were throwing their merits to those in peril struggling in the water, or extending a hand, or by means of ropes and their stoles drawing the drowning to safety in the boat.

 

16. In contrast to this darkness, consider the priceless and to-be-cherished blessing of knowing with certainty wherein the heart is to take comfort, how to seek help in distress and how to conduct one’s self in one’s own station. If, though provided with spiritual riches on all sides, you are not sufficient of yourself at all times to grasp them, you can, nevertheless, always reach and appropriate them by means of the ordinary ministry and office of the Church, yes, by the aid of your fellow-Christians. Again, it is productive of the greatest happiness to know that when living aright in the ordinary walks of life established by God, you are more acceptable and pleasing to him than you would be to purchase the works and merits of all the monks and hermits.

 

17. What Paul terms being “enriched,” first, “in all utterance,” or knowledge – which, in the exalted spiritual meaning of the words, bears on life everlasting – is having the comfort o£ faith in Christ and of invocation and prayer. And enriched in “all knowledge,” means having true conception and right judgment in all things o\ our physical life and in all our earthly relations. All things that a Christian should know and should possess are comprehended in these two terms. These blessings are gifts and treasures indescribably great. He who will contrast them with the destitution of our former condition cannot but be joyful and thankful. I remember the time when I, engaged in earnest study of Holy Writ, would have given a great deal for the right exposition of a psalm; and when had I but begun to understand a verse aright, I would have been as rejoiced as if born to life anew.

 

18. Truly, then, we should now render to God heartfelt thanks for the great favor and blessing of restored light and understanding in Scripture, and the right conception of doctrinal matters. But, alas! it is likely to be with us as with the Corinthians, who had received most abundantly from Paul but by way of return had made ill use of it and proved shamefully unthankful. And they met with retribution, the worst of it being false doctrine and seductions, until at last that grand congregation was wholly ruined and destroyed. A similar retribution threatens us, yes, is before the door with appalling knock, in the instance of the Turks and in other distress and calamity. For this reason we should, with a thankful heart and serious mind, pray, as Paul here does for his Corinthians, that God would keep us steadfast in the possession of his gifts and blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

19. Paul admonishes us to continue in this knowledge and appreciation of the grace and gifts of God. Since by these blessings we have received riches and happiness to the satisfying of all our need, the apostle further admonishes us to look only for the Lord to reveal to us publicly by his coming that which he has promised and through faith already granted us.

 

20. In the past, much has been written and ingeniously devised on the topic of preparing for death and the final judgment. But it has only served to further confuse timid consciences. For these comforters were not able to show anything of the comfort to be found in the riches of grace and bliss in Christ. They directed the people to oppose with their own works and good life, death and God’s judgment. In place of this delusion is now evident the precious truth; he who knows the Gospel doctrines, goes on and performs his own work and duty in his respective calling. He takes comfort in the fact that through baptism he is engrafted into Christ; he receives absolution and partakes of the holy supper for the strengthening of his faith, commending his soul and body to Christ. Why should such a one fear death? Though it come at any time, in form of pestilence or accident, it will always find the Christian ready and well prepared, be he awake or asleep; for he is in Christ Jesus.

 

21. For all these things the Christian may well thank and bless God, realizing that he has no further need, nor can he gain anything better than he already has in the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the faithful prosecution of his calling; however, he should remain in, and daily grow in, faith and supplication. But he cannot hope to attain to another and better doctrine, faith, Spirit, prayer, sacrament, reward, etc., than had all the saints, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, or in fact than has now every Christian that is baptized. Therefore I need not idly spend time in trying to prepare people for death and inspire them with courage by such commonplaces as recalling and relating the innumerable daily accidents, ills and dangers of this life. This method will not answer; death will not thereby be frightened away, nor will the fear of death be removed. The Gospel teaching is: Believe in Christ, pray and live in accordance with God’s Word, and then, when death overtakes and attacks you, you will know that you are Christ the Lord’s. Paul says ( Romans 14:8): “Whether we live... or die, we are the Lord’s.” Indeed, we Christians live upon this earth to the very end that we may have assured comfort, salvation and victory over death and hell.

 

22. Of this Paul here reminds us, and dwells on it more fully later in this Epistle; he would have us duly thankful for this great grace and living among ourselves in a Christian and brotherly manner, in doctrine and practice, ignoring and avoiding that wild, disorderly conduct of the contentious and disorderly. He who recognizes such grace and blessing cannot but love and thank God and conduct himself aright toward his neighbor; and when he finds himself falling short in this he will, by admonition and the Word of God, make amends.

 

23. Here you might put the question: Why does Paul speak in such a commendatory way of the Corinthians, saying that they were enriched in everything and came behind in no gift, when he himself confesses later on that they had contentions and schisms – in regard to baptism, to the sacrament, to the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead and in regard to abuse of liberty, and some lived as they pleased. Would you not call these things faults and shortcomings? How, then, is he in a position to say that they were abundantly supplied with all things spiritual, lacking not one thing?

 

24. Well, you should recall what I have repeatedly stated: Christendom is never so spotless that there are not some spurious and wicked admixed, just as you will always find weeds, darnel, tares, or wild mustard together with pure grain. And he who will examine the Church with only a view of finding faults and frailties among those called Christians, will miss the Church, yes, the Gospel and Christ, and never discover a Church at all.

 

25. But we have the consolation of knowing that if we have the Gospel pure, we have the treasure God gives his Church and we cannot go astray nor want. But as yet we have not reached that degree of perfection where all hearers of the Gospel will grasp it fully and wholly or are faultless in faith and life; at all times there will be some who do not believe and some who are weak and imperfect. However, that great treasure and rich blessing of doctrine and knowledge is present. There is no defect in this, and it is effective and fruitful. The fact that some do not believe, does not weaken baptism or the Gospel or the Church; they only harm themselves.

 

To sum up, where the Word remains, there most assuredly is also the Church. For wherever the doctrine is pure, there you can also keep purity in baptism, the sacrament, absolution, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, good works and all callings; and wherever you find a defect or an irregularity, you can admonish, amend and rectify by means of the Word.

 

26. Some there must be who have the Word and sacraments pure and unadulterated, who have faith, pray aright, keep God’s commandments and do other things, as, thank God, we have with us. Then we may firmly conclude: If the true Church were not here, these characteristics would be lacking; therefore we must have among ourselves true members of the Church and true saints. Now even though children of the world intermingle (as will be the case always and in all places), who show neither faith nor a godly life, it would corrupt neither faith, nor baptism, nor doctrine, nor would the Church perish on that account – the treasure remains in its integrity and efficacy, and God may graciously cause some to turn from their unbelief and wicked life and be added to the faithful and to mend their ways.

 

27. Again, they with whom this treasure – the Word or doctrine and its knowledge – is not found, cannot be the Christian Church nor members of it, and for that reason they cannot pray or believe aright or do good works pleasing to God. It follows that their whole lives are in God’s sight lost and condemned, though they may assiduously extol God and the Church and before the world may have the appearance and reputation of leading particularly holy lives and excelling even the upright Christians in virtues and honor. It is a settled fact that outside the Church of Christ there is no God, no grace, no bliss; as Paul says ( Ephesians 4:5): “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all,” etc. And Acts 4:12 says: “And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved.”

 

28. And so Paul, when here extolling the Corinthians, has not an eye to the contentious, the Epicureans, or to those who give public offense, as the man that “had his father’s wife;” but the apostle looks to the fact that a few remain who have the pure Word of God, faith, baptism and the sacrament, though some hypocrites be among them. Because of these few – and few indeed there may be – we recognize the presence of that inestimable treasure of which the apostle speaks. It is found as well where two or three are gathered together as with thousands. Neither the Gospel nor the ministers nor the Church is to be blamed that the multitude miss this treasure; the multitude have but them, selves to blame, for they close their ears and eyes.

 

29. Now behold how loftily Paul has extolled and how beautifully portrayed the Christian Church – where she is to be found on earth and what inestimable blessings and gifts she has received of Christ, for which she is in duty bound to thank and praise him in her confession and in her life. This subject the apostle concludes with the words:

 

“God is faithful, through whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”

30. The good work which Christ has begun in you and already assured to you, he will without fall establish in you until the end and for ever, if you but do not fall away through unbelief, or cast grace from you. For his Word or promise given to you, and his work begun in you, are not changeable as is man’s word and work, but are firm, certain, divine, immovable truth. Since you are in possession of this your divine calling, draw comfort therefrom and rely on it without wavering. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.

MATTHEW 22:34-46.

 

Contents:

The doctrine concerning the law and the gospel; or the greatest commandment and Christ.

 

 

 

MATTHEW 22:34-46.

But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.

 

1. In this Gospel Christ answers the question the Pharisees put to him: Which is the greatest commandment in the Law ? and in turn asks them the question: What think ye of the Christ, whose son is he ? Thus this Gospel presents to us that which we continually hear and should hear, so that these two sermons must continue to be preached in Christendom, namely: the first, the teaching of the Law or of the ten commandments, and the second, the doctrine concerning the grace of Christ. For if either of these fall it pulls the other with it; while on the other hand, wherever the one remains steadfast and is faithfully put into practice, it brings the other with it.

 

2. And God has ordained that these two themes shall be preached forever in the Christian Church, yea, they have always since the beginning of the world accompanied one another; they were given to our father Adam, while he was still in Paradise, and were later confirmed through Abraham, Moses and the Prophets. For they are required by the needs of humanity, fallen as it is under the power of satan, so that we live and move in sin and are worthy of eternal death. Adam felt and lamented sin and its injuries; but later the sense of sin soon weakened and was disregarded, so that the heathen did not consider it sin although they indeed felt evil lust and desire in their bodies; but they imagined all that belonged to the character and nature of man. Yet they taught man should restrain such lust and desires and not allow them to go too far; but this nature in itself they did not condemn.

 

3. Therefore God gave this one simple teaching that reveals what man is, what he has been, and what he should again become. This is the doctrine of the Law, which Christ here cites: “Thou shalt love God with all thy heart, etc.” As if to say: Thus thou hast been, and thus thou shalt still be and become. In Paradise you were in possession of the treasure, and were thus created that you loved God with all your heart; this you have lost; but now you must again become as you were, or you will never enter the Kingdom of God. In like manner he speaks clearly and plainly in other places, Matthew 19:17: “If thou wouldst enter into life, keep the commandments.” Likewise, Luke 10:28: “This do and thou shalt live, etc.” This must in short be kept; and that we wish to dispute so much about it amounts to nothing, as if one might be saved without it, namely, without that which is called loving God with the whole heart and your neighbor as yourself. This divine law must be fulfilled by you as purely and completely as the angels in heaven fulfill it.

 

4. Therefore it is wrong and not to be allowed, as some in ancient times said and as some stupid spirits now say: Although you do not keep the commandment, and do not love God and your neighbor, yea, although you are even an adulterer, that makes no difference, if you only believe, then you will be saved. No, dear mortal, that amounts to nothing; you will never thus gain heaven; it must come to the point that you keep the commandments, and abide in love toward God and your neighbor. For there it stands briefly determined; “If thou wouldst enter into life, keep the commandments.” Again, to the Galatians, 5:19-21: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that those who practice such things, shall not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, etc.”

 

5. And Christ wishes this doctrine to be observed by the Christians so that they may know what they have been, what they are still lacking and what they should again become, that they continue not in the misery and filth in which they find themselves now; for if they do, they must be lost. Christ speaks right out plainly in Matthew 5:17-18: “Think not that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, the Law must be so taught and observed that not the smallest letter or one tittle of it shall in any wise pass away, till all things be accomplished.” Again, Christ says further in Matthew 12:36: “And I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof on the day of judgment.” And St. Paul in Romans 8:4: “God sent his Son in the flesh that the righteousness, required by the Law, might be fulfilled in us.” And in Romans 3:31: “Do we then make the Law of none effect if we teach man is justified through faith, and not through works. That is far from us; nay, we establish the Law.” That is, for this very reason we teach faith, by which the law is fulfilled.

 

6. For this is indeed a glorious doctrine that teaches what we are to become; but that it may also be realized and not continue to be preached in vain, the other doctrine must be added, namely, how and through what means we may again return to our former state. We return when we hear what we lost in Paradise; when Adam lived in full love to God, and in pure love to his neighbor, and in perfect obedience without evil lust, and that had he remained thus we would still be so; but now, since through sin he fell from this command, we also lie in the same misery, full of sin and disobedience, under God’s wrath and curse, and fall from one sin to another, and the Law stands there, holds us guilty, urges and requires us to be pious and obedient to God.

 

7. What shall we then do here, since the Law continually commands and drives us, and we are powerless? For here my own conscience argues ever against me: Since I am to love God with my whole heart and my neighbor as myself, and I do not do it, I must therefore be condemned and God approves and confirms the sentence of condemnation. Who will counsel me in this instance? I do not know what to counsel you, says the Law; but it decrees and demands plainly that you be obedient. Here the Prophets come now, and preach Christ, and say: One is coming who will give counsel how man may regain what he lost and again enter the state from which he fell, to which the Law points him. This is the other sermon that should and must be preached until the day of judgment, namely, the help from sin, death and satan, and restoration of our bodies and souls, so that we may come into the state that we love God and our neighbor from our hearts. This is to be done fully and perfectly in the future life, but here in this life it should be commenced.

 

8. For in the life beyond there will be no longer any faith, but perfect love, and all the Law demands we will do with our whole heart. Therefore we must now preach what we should become and should forever continue to be, namely, that we are to love God and our neighbor with our whole heart. This I will commence, says Christ, and complete, not alone as to my own person, but I will aid you to make a beginning, and to continue ever in it, until you come where you will also fulfill it perfectly.

 

9. Now this will come to pass thus. Since we are unable to keep the Law and it is impossible for the natural man to do so, Christ came and stepped between the Father and us, and prays for us: Beloved Father, be gracious unto them and forgive them their sins. I will take upon me their transgressions and bear them; I love thee with my whole heart, and in addition the entire human race, and this I will prove by shedding my blood for mankind. Moreover, I have fulfilled the Law and I did it for their welfare in order that they may partake of my fulfilling the Law and thereby come to grace.

 

10. Thus there is first given us through Christ the sense that we do not fulfill the Law and that sin is fully and completely forgiven: however, this is not bestowed in a way or to the end, that we in the future need not keep the Law, and may forever continue to sin, or that we should teach, if we have faith then we need no longer to love God and our neighbor. But there is bestowed upon us the sense that the fulfilling of the Law may now for the first time be successfully attempted and perfectly realized, and this is the eternal, fixed and unchangeable will of God. To this end it is necessary to preach grace, that man may find counsel and help to come to a perfect life.

 

11. But the help offered us is, that Christ prays the Father to forgive us our sins against this Law, and not to impute what we are still indebted. Then he promises also to give the Holy Spirit, by whose aid the heart begins to love God and to keep his commandments. For God is not gracious and merciful to sinners to the end that they might not keep his Law, nor that they should remain as they were before they received grace and mercy; but he condones and forgives both sin and death for the sake of Christ, who has fulfilled the whole Law in order thereby to make the heart sweet and through the Holy Spirit to kindle and move the heart to begin again to love from day to day more and more.

 

12. Thus begins in us not only love, but also truth, that is, a true character, as the Law requires; like St. John says in 1:17, that Christ is full of grace and truth, and through him grace and truth grow in us, which neither Moses nor the law can give us. For the Law is not abolished thus by grace, that the truth is to be overlooked, and that we should not love God; but through him we experience that we do not as perfectly keep the Law as we ought in the kingdom of forgiveness or of grace. But besides the Holy Spirit is given us, who kindles a new flame or fire in us, namely, love and desire to do God’s commandments. In the kingdom of grace this should begin and ever grow until the day of judgment, when it shall no longer be called grace or forgiveness, but pure truth and perfect obedience. In the meantime he continues to give, forgive, to bear and forbear, until we are laid in our graves.

 

13. Now if we thus continue in faith, that is, in what the Holy Spirit gives and forgives, in what he begins and ends, then the fire on the judgment day, by which the whole world is to be consumed, will cleanse and purify us, so that we will no longer need this giving and forgiving, as if there were something unclean and sinful in us, as there really is at present; we will certainly be as the brightness of the dear sun, without spot and defect, full of love, as Adam was at the beginning in Paradise. Thus will it then be truly said, the Law is established and fulfilled, Romans 3:31. For it will then no longer blame and rebuke us; but the Law shall be considered satisfied, and the debt paid, even by ourselves; since all is now fulfilled, not through us, and yet by it we are freed and saved, so that we creep under Christ’s mantle and wings, that he makes satisfaction for us until we lie under the earth and then come again out of the grave with a beautiful, glorified body that will be nothing but holiness and purity, with a cleansed soul full of the love of God. Then we will no longer be in need of his mantle and of his prayers, but we will all be there perfect and complete, as we should be. Now, since I believe in him, my sins are forgiven and I am called a child of grace. And moreover, the truth also should arise in me, that is, a new righteous character, that shall continue until it perfects me; since Christ, the truth, has come, not to destroy the Law, but to establish it, not only in himself, which was done long ago. but in me and in all Christians.

 

14. These are the two doctrines that should accompany one another, since they belong together or the one is in the other, and they must always go together as long as we live here, by which the Law or God’s commandment may begin to work in Christians, so that the wicked, disobedient persons of the world may be restrained and punished. Since they will not fear and love God like Christians and believers, they are obliged to fear eternal fire, perdition and other punishments. Others, however, will be taught by it from what they have fallen and how sorely and fully they have inherited sin.

 

15. For when I compare my life with the Law I see and experience always the contrary of what the Law enjoins. I shall entrust to God my body and soul, and love him with my whole heart; yet, I would rather have a dollar in my chest than ten gods in my heart, and I am happier when I know how to make ten dollars, than when I hear the whole Gospel. Let a prince give a person a castle or several thousand dollars, what a jumping and rejoicing it creates! On the other hand, let a person be baptized or receive the communion which is a heavenly, eternal treasure, there is not one-tenth as much rejoicing. Thus we are by nature; there is none who so heartily rejoices over God’s gifts and grace as over money and earthly possessions; what does that mean but that we do not love God as we ought? For if we trusted and loved him, we would rejoice more that he gave us the sense of sight than if we possessed the whole world. And the word of consolation he speaks to me through the Gospel ought to give me higher joy than the favor, money, wealth and honor of the whole world. But that it is not so and ten thousand dollars can make people happier than all the grace and possessions of God, proves what kind of fruit we are, and what a distressing and horrible fall it is in which we lie. And yet we would not see nor realize it, if it were not revealed to us through the Law, and we would have to remain forever in it and be lost, if we were not again helped out of it through Christ. Therefore the Law and the Gospel are given to the end that we may learn to know both how guilty we are and to what we should again return.

 

16. This now is the Christian teaching and preaching, which, God be praised, we know and possess, and it is not necessary at present to develop it further, but only to offer the admonition that it be maintained in Christendom with all diligence. For satan has continually attacked it hard and strong from the beginning until the present, and gladly would he completely extinguish it and tread it under foot. For he cannot endure that the people continue in it and conduct themselves uprightly and he seeks a hundred thousand arts and wiles only to crush it. Therefore I so gladly preach it, as it is greatly needed; for until the present it has never been heard nor known in the Papacy.

 

17. For I myself was a learned doctor of theology and yet I never understood the ten commandments rightly. Yea, there were many highly celebrated doctors who did not know whether there were nine, ten or eleven commandments, and much less did we know the Gospel and Christ. But the only thing that was taught and advocated was: Invoke the Virgin Mary and other saints as your mediators and intercessors; fast often and pray much; make pilgrimages, enter cloisters and become monks, or pay for the saying of many masses and like works. And thus we imagined when we did these things we had merited heaven.

 

18. That was the time of blindness when we knew nothing of God’s Word, but led ourselves and others into misery by our own idle talk and dreams. And I was one of those who indeed bathed in this sweat or in this bath of anxiety. Therefore let us give heed that we may thoroughly grasp and retain this doctrine, if other fanatics and false spirits wish to attack it, so that we may be fore-armed and learn, while we have the time and the beloved sun again enlightens us, and buy while the market is at our door. For it will come to this when once these lights, which God now gives, have departed, satan will not take a furlough until he raises up other fanatical spirits to do harm; as he has already commenced to do in many places during our generation. What will take place after we are gone?

 

19. Therefore learn, who can learn, and learn well, so that we may know, first the ten commandments, what we owe to God. For if we do not know this, then we know nothing and we will not inquire about Christ in the least. Just like we monks did who either held Christ to be an angry judge or despised him entirely in the face of our imaginary holiness. We fancied we were not in sin, which the ten commandments show and punish; but we had the natural light of reason and free will, and if we lived according to that, as much as we were able, then God would have to bestow upon us his grace, etc. But now, if we are to know Christ as our helper and Savior, then we must first know, out of what he can help us, not out of fire or water, or other bodily need and danger, but out of sin and the hatred of God. But whence do I know that I lie drowned in misery? From no other source than from the Law, that must show me what my loss and disease are, or I will never inquire for the physician and his help.

 

20. Thus we have both parts of the help of Christ: the one, that he must represent us over against God and be a cloak to cover our shame, as the one who takes upon himself our sins and disgrace; a cloak, I say, for us, as the one who takes our sins and shame upon himself, but before God a throne of grace in whom there is no sin or shame; but only virtue and honor. And like a hen he spreads out his wings against the buzzard, the devil with his sin and death, so that God for his sake forgives all, and to us he can do no harm. But on the condition that you only remain under these wings. For while you are under his mantle and protection and do not come out from under it, sin that is still in you must not be sin for the sake of him who covers you with his righteousness.

 

21. Then in the second place Christ does not only thus cover and protect us, but he will also nourish and feed us as the hen does her little chickens, that is, he gives us the Holy Spirit and strength, to begin to love God and to keep his commandments. And this shall continue to the last day when faith and this cloak of shame will cease, so that we will behold the Father without any medium or covering, and we ourselves stand before him, and there will be no longer any sin in us to be forgiven; but all will be again restored and brought back or perfected, as St. Paul says in Acts 3:21, purified and perfect, what satan from the beginning disturbed and ruined.

 

22. Now Christ wishes to teach this by his answer and the question, with which he in reply upbraided the Pharisees. As if he should say, you know nothing more than to speak of the Law, which teaches you that you should love God and your neighbor and yet you do not understand it; for you imagine you have fulfilled it, though you are still far from doing so. Just like the one in Matthew 19:20-21, who boasts he had kept all the commandments from his youth; but Christ says to him: “If thou wouldst be perfect, go sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor.” This is as much as to say: Whoever will love God aright and keep his commandments, must be able to sacrifice his possessions, body and life. Therefore another thing is necessary, Christ will say, for you to know, namely, that you know and possess the man called Christ, who helps us to the end that this doctrine of the Law may be established and perfected in you.

 

23. But what does it mean to know Christ aright? This the Pharisees and scribes do not know; for they do not consider him more than David’s son, that is, he who is to sit on David’s throne (as born from his flesh and blood) and is lord and king, also greater and mightier than David was, and yet only to be a temporal ruler to make his people the lords of the world and bring all heathen under his rule, etc. But that they should need him in their lost state, to help them out of sin and death, of that they knew nothing. Therefore the Holy Spirit must teach that he was not only David’s son, but also God’s Son, as was taught after his resurrection.

 

24. Now here Christ does not explain this, but he only broaches that David in Psalm 110:1, called Christ his Lord: “How then,” he says, “doth David in the Spirit call him Lord?” It does not sound right and it is against nature for a father to call his son lord, and to be subject to him and serve him. Now David calls Christ his Lord, and a Lord, to whom Jehovah himself says: “Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool,” that is, be like me, acknowledge and worshipped as the right and true God; for it becometh none other to sit at his right hand; he is indeed so jealous that he allows no one aside from himself to sit equal to him, as he says in the prophesy of Isaiah 48:11, “My glory will I not give to another.” Since Jehovah now places Christ equal with himself, he must be more than all creatures. Therefore he proposes to them a great question, but lets them thus stick; for they did not understand it and it was not yet the time to make this known public. But the meaning is as our articles of faith teach us to believe; that Christ was both David’s true natural son of his blood and flesh and also David’s Lord, whom David himself must worship and hold as God. However it was impossible to make these statements harmonize, as it is still impossible for human reason, where the Holy Spirit does not reveal it, how the two should be at the same time in the one Christ, both that he was truly David’s seed and God’s Son by nature.

 

25. Now Christ propounded this question to teach it is not enough to have the Law which is the only thing that shows from what state we have fallen; but whoever will return again to it and become renewed, that Christ must do through a knowledge of him, who is indeed born of David and is his flesh and blood, but not born in sin, as David and all men are born, but had to be born without man of a drop of the pure blood of a virgin, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, that he was born a real and true man without any sin.

 

26. He is the only man that has been able to keep and fulfill the Law; like all other men by nature, and yet not in the same guilt, but reared without sin and God’s wrath. This one had to intercede in our behalf before God and be our right hand and protection, be to us what the hen is to her little chickens, in whom we have forgiveness of sins and deliverance from God’s anger and hell. And not only this, but he also gives us the Holy Ghost to follow him, and here begins to extinguish and slay sin, until we come to him and be like him without any sin and in perfect righteousness; for he was raised from the dead to the right hand of the Father to totally abolish sin, death and hell and bring us to the new eternal righteousness and eternal life. Amen.

       

 

 

 

 

 

 

NINETEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY

EPHESIANS 4:22-28.

 

 

 

EPHESIANS 4:22-28.

That ye put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, that waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit; and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, that after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth. Wherefore, putting away falsehood, speak ye truth each one with his neighbor: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need.

 

DUTY TO NEW AND OLD MAN

1. Here again is an admonition for Christians to follow up their faith by good works and a new life, for though they have forgiveness of sins through baptism, the old Adam still adheres to their flesh and makes himself felt in tendencies and desires to vices physical and mental. The result is that unless Christians offer resistance, they will lose their faith and the remission of sins and will in the end be worse than they were at first; for they will begin to despise and persecute the Word of God when corrected by it. Yea, even those who gladly hear the Word of God, who highly prize it and aim to follow it, have daily need of admonition and encouragement, so strong and tough is that old hide of our sinful flesh. And so powerful and wily is our old evil foe that wherever he can gain enough of an opening to insert one of his claws, he thrusts in his whole self and will not desist until he has again sunk man into his former condemnable unbelief and his old way of despising and disobeying God.

 

2. Therefore, the Gospel ministry is necessary in the Church, not only for instruction of the ignorant – such as the simple, unlettered people and the children – but also for the purpose of awakening those who know very well what they are to believe and how they are to live, and admonishing them to be on their guard daily and not to become indolent, disheartened or tired in the war they must wage on this earth with the devil, with their own flesh and with all manner of evil. 3. For this reason Paul is so persistent in his admonitions that he actually seems to be overdoing it. He proceeds as if the Christians were either too dull to comprehend or so inattentive and forgetful that they must be reminded and driven. The apostle well knows that though they have made a beginning in faith and are in that state which should show the fruits of faith, such result is not so easily forthcoming. It will not do to think and say: Well, it is sufficient to have the doctrine, and if we have the Spirit and faith, then fruits and good works will follow of their own accord. For although the Spirit truly is present and, as Christ says, willing and effective in those that believe, on the other hand the flesh is weak and sluggish. Besides, the devil is not idle, but seeks to seduce our weak nature by temptations and allurements.

 

4. So we must not permit the people to go on in their way, neglecting to urge and admonish them, through God’s Word, to lead a godly life. Indeed, you dare not be negligent and backward in this duty; for, as it is, our flesh is all too sluggish to heed the Spirit and all too able to resist it. Paul says ( Galatians 5:17): “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh … that ye may not do the things that ye would.” Therefore, God is constrained to do as a good and diligent householder or ruler, who, having a slothful man-servant or maid-servant, or careless officers, who otherwise are neither wicked nor faithless, will not consider it sufficient once or twice to direct, but will constantly be supervising and directing.

 

5. Nor have we as yet arrived at the point where our flesh and blood will joyfully and gladly abound in good works and obedience to God as the spirit is inclined and faith directs. Even with the utmost efforts the Spirit scarce can compel our old man. What would be the result if we were no more urged and admonished but could go our way thinking, as many selfsatisfied persons do: I am well acquainted with my duties, having learned them many years ago and having heard frequent explanations of them; yea, I have taught others? It might be that one year’s intermission of preaching and admonition would place us below the level of the heathen.

 

6. Now, this exhortation in itself is simple and easy of comprehension. The apostle is but repeating his exhortations of other places – on the fruits of faith, or a godly walk – merely in different terms. Here he speaks of putting away the old man and putting on the new man, of being “renewed in the spirit of your mind.”

 

“THE OLD MAN”

7. What he calls “the old man” is well known to us; namely, the whole nature of man as descended from Adam after his fall in paradise, being blinded by the devil, depraved in soul, not keeping God before his eyes nor trusting him, yes, utterly regardless of God and the judgment day. Though with his mouth he may honor God’s Word and the Gospel, yet in reality he is unchanged; if he does have a little additional knowledge, he has just as little fear, love and trust in God as heretofore.

 

8. Such a life and such conduct should not be found among you, says the apostle; you are not to continue with “the old man.” He must be put off and laid aside. Your former manner of life, inherited of Adam, consisted in disobeying God, in neither fearing, trusting nor calling upon him. Again, in your body you obeyed not God’s commandments, being given to lust, pride, insatiable greed, envy, hatred, etc. A life and walk of this nature is not becoming a Christian who is regarded as, and truly is, a different order of being from his former self, as we shall hear. Necessarily he should walk differently.

 

9. In this respect a Christian must take heed that he does not deceive himself; the true Christian differs from the hypocrite. True Christians so live that it is apparent from their lives that they keep God before their eyes and truly believe the Gospel, while hypocrites likewise show by their walk that their pretensions of faith and forgiveness of sin are hollow. No proof is seen in their lives and works showing that they have in any wise mended their former ways; they merely deck themselves with a pretense, with the name of Gospel, of faith, of Christ.

 

10. Now, the apostle has two things to say of the old man: that he corrupts himself in error as to the soul and in lusts as to the body. Paul portrays the old man – meaning every man without true faith though he bear the name of a Christian – as in the first place given to error: coming short of the truth, knowing naught of the true knowledge of Christ and faith in him, indifferent alike to God’s wrath and God’s grace, deceiving himself with his own conceit that darkness is light. The old man believes that God will not be moved to vengeance though he do as he pleases, even to decorating vices with the names of virtues. Haughtiness, greed, oppressing and tormenting the poor, wrath, envy – all this he would call preserving his dignity, exercising strict discipline, honestly and economically conducting his domestic affairs, caring for his wife and children, displaying Christian zeal and love of justice, etc. In short, he proceeds in the perfectly empty delusion and self-conceit that he is a Christian.

 

11. Out of this error proceeds the other corruption, the lusts of the body, which are fruits of unbelief. Unbelief causes men to walk in sinful security and yield to all the appetites of their flesh. Such have no inclination toward what is good, nor do they aim to promote orderliness, honor or virtue. They take desperate chances on their lives, wanting to live according to the lusts of their flesh, and yet not be reprimanded. 12. This, says the apostle, is the old man’s course and nature. He will do naught but ruin himself. The longer continued, the greater his debasement. He draws down upon himself his own condemnation and penalty for body and soul; for in proportion as he becomes unbelieving and hardhearted, does he become haughty, hateful and faithless, and eventually a perfect scoundrel and villain. This was your former manner of life, when as yet you were heathen and non-Christians. Therefore you must by all means put off the old man and cast him far from you; otherwise you cannot remain a Christian. For glorying in the grace of God and the forgiveness of sin is inconsistent with following sin – remaining in the former old un-Christian life and walking in error and deceitful lusts.

 

THE GROWTH OF “THE NEW MAN”

“And that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, that after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.”

13. Having put away the old man, the apostle exhorts us further to put on the new man, that day by day we may grow as new creatures. This is effected by first being delivered from error – from the erroneous thoughts and ideas incident to our corrupt nature with its false conceptions of God, wherein we do not fear nor believe him – and then from God’s Word receiving the right understanding of him. When we rightly understand, we shall fear his wrath against sin and rely on his grace in true faith, believing that he will forgive our sins for Christ’s sake and will hear our prayer for strength and assistance to withstand and conquer, and to continually grow in faith.

 

14. This change Paul calls being “renewed in the spirit of your mind”; that is, constantly growing and becoming established in that true conception and clear knowledge of Christ begun in us, in opposition to error and idle vaporings. He who is thus received, says the apostle, is a man “that after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.” In the old man there is naught but error, by means of which the devil leads to destruction. But the new man has the Spirit and the truth, by which the heart is illumined unto righteousness and holiness, wherein man follows the guidance of God’s Word and feels a desire for a godly walk and good life; just as, on the other hand, the desire and love for sin and wickedness is the product of error. This new man is created after God, as an image of God, and must of necessity differ from such as live in error and in lusts, without the knowledge of God and disobedient to him. For if God’s image is in man, man must consequently have the right knowledge of God and right conceptions and ideas, and lead a godly life consistent with holiness and righteousness as found in God himself.

 

15. Such an image of God Adam was when first created. He was, as to the soul, truthful, free from error, and possessed of true faith and knowledge of God; and as to the body, holy and pure, that is, without the impure, unclean desires of avarice, lasciviousness, envy, hatred, etc. And all his children – all men – would have so remained from their birth if he had not suffered himself to be led astray by the devil and to be thus ruined. But since Christians, by the grace and Spirit of God, now have been renewed to this image of God, they are so to live that soul and spirit are righteous and pleasing to God through faith in Christ; and that also the body – meaning the whole external life – be pure and holy, which is genuine holiness.

 

16. Some there are who pretend to great holiness and purity, but it is mere pretense, deceiving the people in general. Such are the factious spirits and monastic saints, who base their holiness and uprightness solely on an external, peculiar life and on self-elected works. Theirs may be apparently a commendable, holy and pure way of praying and fasting, of denying self, etc., and the people may call it so; but inwardly they are and remain haughty, venomous, hateful, filled with the filth of human lust and evil thoughts, as Christ says of such. Matthew 15:19; Luke 16:15. Likewise their righteousness on which they pride themselves before God has a certain gloss, on the strength of which they presume to merit the grace of God for themselves and others; but inwardly they have no true conception of God, being in rank unbelief, that is, false and vain suppositions, or doubts. Such righteousness, or holiness, is not true nor honest. It is made up wholly of hypocrisy and deceit. It is built, not of God nor after God, but after that lying spirit, the devil.

 

17. The true Christian, Paul asserts, has been molded through faith in Christ into a new man, like unto God, truly justified and holy in his sight; even as Adam originally was in perfect harmony of heart with God, showing true, straightforward confidence, love and willingness. And his body was holy and pure, knowing naught of evil, impure or improper desire. Thus the whole life of the man was a beautiful portrait of God, a mirror wherein God himself was reflected; even as the lives and natures of the holy spirits the angels are wrapped up in God and represent true knowledge of him, assurance, and joy in him and utterly pure and holy thoughts and works according to the will of God.

 

18. But since man is now so grievously fallen from this cheerful confidence, this certainty and joy, into doubts or into presumption toward God, and from unspotted, noble obedience into the lusts of iniquity and ungodliness, it follows that not from mankind can come help or relief. Nor can any one hope for remedy except the Christians, who through faith in Christ begin again to have a joyful and confident heart toward God. They thus enter again into their former relation and into the true paradise of perfect harmony with God and of justification; they are comforted by his grace. Accordingly they are disposed to lead a godly life in harmony with God’s commandments and to resist ungodly lusts and ways. These begin to taste God’s goodness and loving kindness, as Paul says, and realize what they lost in paradise. He, therefore, that would be a Christian should strive to be found in this new man created after God; not in blind error and vain conceit, but in the very essence of righteousness and holiness before God.

 

TWO CLASSES OF SINS

“Wherefore, putting away falsehood, speak ye truth each one with his neighbor: for we are members one of another.”

19. Lest there might be one who failed to understand the meaning of the old and the new man, or of true and false righteousness and holiness, the apostle now proceeds to give an example or two, making it easier for us to grasp the idea. All sin comes under one of two classes: First, that of the devil’s own making, such as murder and deceit; for by lies he establishes all idolatry, error, false faith and holiness, and among men he creates faithlessness, deceit, malice, etc. Secondly, those sins which he instigates man to commit against man; deeds of wrath, hatred, vengeance and murder. Paul combines these two classes.

 

20. Now, when a man does not deal fairly with his neighbor, but practices dishonesty and deceit, be it in matters spiritual or temporal (and the world is ever deceitful in all transactions), then certainly the old man holds sway and not righteousness nor holiness, however much the man may effect a good appearance and evade the courts. For such conduct does not reflect God’s image, but the devil’s. For the heart does not rely on God and his truth, otherwise it would war with fraud and deception; but its object is to clothe itself with a misleading garb, even assuming the name of God, and thus to deceive, belie, betray and forsake its neighbor at the bidding of every fiendish whim, and all for the satisfaction of its avarice, selfishness and pride.

 

21. In contrast thereto you can recognize the new man. He speaks the truth and hates lies, not only those momentous lies against the first table of the Ten Commandments, but also those against the second table; for he deals faithfully and in a brotherly way with others, doing as he would be done by himself. Thus should Christians live with each other, as members of one body, according to the apostle, and as having in Christ all things common and alike.

 

“Be ye angry and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”

22. Half the sins which the world has learned of its lord and master, the devil, consist in lying and deceiving, and that in the name and appearance of truth. No one wants to be called a liar, and even the devil covers his lies with the name of truth. The other half, which is easier to recognize, consists in wrath and its fruits. And this class is usually the result of the other. The world, for its own advantage, lies and deceives; and when it sees mankind acting in opposition to its wishes, or beholds its lies exposed and its schemes thwarted, it begins to rage in wrath against God, endeavoring to avenge itself and inflict harm, but fraudulently disguising its wicked motive under the plea of having good and abundant reasons for its action.

 

23. Therefore Paul admonishes the Christians as new creatures, to guard against this vice of wrath, adducing the fourth verse of the fourth Psalm: “Stand in awe and sin not.” The repetition of this passage sounds, in Paul’s rendering, as if permission to be angry were given; he says: “Be ye angry, and sin not.” But Paul is taking into consideration the way of the world. Men are tempted and moved to anger. There are no clean records. Under sudden provocation the heart swells with ire, while the devil busily fans the flame; for he is ever alert to stamp upon us his seal and image and make us like unto him, either through error and false doctrine, or through wrath and murder in conflict with love and patience. These two forms of evil you will encounter, especially if you make an effort to be a godly Christian, to defend the truth and to live uprightly in the sight of all. You will meet with all manner of malice aforethought and deceit, and with faithlessness and malignity on the part of those you have benefited; again, with unmasked violence and injustice on the part of those who should protect you and see to your interests. This will hurt and move you to wrath. Yea, in your own house and among your dear Christian brethren you will often meet with that which vexes you; again, a word of yours may hurt their feelings. And it will not be otherwise. This life of ours is so constituted that such conditions must be. Flesh and blood cannot but be stirred at times by wrath and impatience, especially when it receives evil for good; and the devil is ever at hand kindling your anger and endeavoring to fan into a blaze the wrath and ill humor between yourself and your neighbor.

 

24. But right here, says the apostle, you should beware and not sin; not give rein, nor yield to the impulse and promptings of wrath. That you may indeed be moved, the apostle would say, I well know, and you may fancy to have the best of reasons for exhibiting anger and vengeance; but beware of doing what your wrath would have you do: and if overcome by wrath and led to rashness, do not continue in it, do not harbor it, but subdue and restrain it, the sooner the better; do not suffer it to take root or to remain with you over night.

 

25. If followed, wrath will not suffer you to do a single right thing, as James affirms ( James 1:20). It causes man to fall and sin against God and his neighbor. Even the heathen have seen that wrath gets the better of reason and is never the source of good counsel. In line with this, we read that St. Ambrose reproved the emperor Theodosius for having, while in a rage, caused the execution of many persons in Thessalonica; and that he succeeded in having the emperor issue a rescript to the effect that no one should be executed, even on his imperial order and command, until a full month had passed by, thus affording an opportunity to rescind the order if given in haste and wrath.

 

26. Therefore the Psalm says: When wrath attacks and moves you, do not at once give it leave to do its will. Therein you would certainly commit sin. But go into your chamber, commune and take counsel with yourself, pray the Lord’s Prayer, repeat some good passages from God’s Word, curb yourself and confide in God; he will uphold your rights.

 

27. It is this the apostle has in mind when saying: “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” A Christian must not entertain wrath; he should instantly quench and stifle it. It is the part of the new man to control anger, that the devil may not move him from his new-found faith and make him lose what he has received. If he yields to these instigations of his flesh, he thereby returns to the error and condemnation in the old man and loses control of himself, following his own desires. Then he adorns a lie with the appearance of truth, claiming the right to be angry and take revenge; just as the world does when it asserts: This fellow has done me infinite violence and injustice; am I to suffer it? I have a just cause and shall not recline my head in ease until he is repaid! By such talk it loses its case before both God and men; as the saying goes: He that strikes back has the most unjust cause.

 

28. Both divine and human justice forbids that a man be judge in his own case. For this very reason God has established governmental and judicial authority, in his stead to punish transgressions, which – when properly administered – is not man’s but God’s judgment. He therefore that invades such judgment, invades the authority of God himself; he commits a double wrong and merits double condemnation. If you desire to seek and obtain redress in the courts, you are at liberty to do so, provided you proceed in the proper way, at the proper place and with those to whom God has entrusted authority. To these authorities you may appeal for redress. If you obtain it according to law, well and good; if not, you must suffer wrong and commit your case to God, as we have explained more fully elsewhere.

 

29. In short, we find in this unique passage a statement to the effect that he who curbs not his wrath but retains it longer than a day, or over night, cannot be a Christian. Where then do they stand who entertain wrath and hatred indefinitely, for one, two, three, seven, ten years? Such is no longer human wrath but fiendish wrath from hell; it will not be satisfied nor extinguished, but when it once takes possession of a man he would, if able, destroy everything in a moment with his hellish fire. Even so the arch-fiend is not satisfied with having cast the whole human race into sin and death, but will not rest content unless he can drag all human beings into eternal damnation.

 

30. A Christian therefore has ample cause to carefully guard against this vice. God may have patience with you when wrath wells up in your heart – although that, too, is sinful – but take heed that wrath does not overcome you and cause you to fall. Rather take serious counsel with yourself and extinguish and expel your anger by applying passages of Holy Writ and calling upon your faith. When alone or about to retire, repeat the Lord’s Prayer, ask for forgiveness and confess that God daily forgives you much oftener than your neighbor sins against you.

 

“Neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need.”

31. This thought is brought out also in the next Epistle, namely, that a Christian should guard against giving offense to anybody by his life, lest God’s name be blasphemed. It is a grand thing to be a Christian, who, as has been stated, is a new man created after God and a true image of God, wherein God himself desires to be reflected. Therefore, whatever of good a Christian does, or whatever of evil he does, under the name of a Christian, either honors or disgraces God’s name. Now, says Paul, whenever you follow your lusts, in obedience to your old Adam, you do naught but give occasion to the slanderers – the devil and his troop – to blaspheme the name of God. For the devil, even without your assistance, at all times seeks opportunity – nor can he desist – to befoul our dear Gospel and the name of God with his slanderous tales, composed, if need be, entirely of lies. But where he finds the semblance of occasion he knows how to profit by it. He will then open his mouth wide and cry: Behold, these are your Gospel people! Here you have the fruits of this new doctrine! Is their Christ such a one as they honor by their lives?

 

32. So then a Christian should be exceedingly careful and cautious for this reason, if for no other: to protect the name and honor of his dear God and Savior and not to do the devil the favor of letting him whet his slanderous tongue on Christ’s name. How shall we stand and answer in his sight when we cannot deny the fact that our life gives just cause for complaint and offense? By such a life we intentionally bring disgrace and shame upon God’s name and Word, which things should be our highest treasures and most valuable possessions.

 

33. When the apostle says, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need,” he indicates the true fruit of repentance, which consists in abandoning and utterly abstaining from evil and in doing good. He at the same time attacks and reproves the sin of theft so common in all walks of life. And them who idle away their time and neglect their duty of serving and helping their fellow-beings, he calls – and rightfully – thieves in God’s sight.

 

34. For the right interpretation of the commandment, Thou shalt not steal, is this: Thou shalt live of thine own work, that thou mayest have to give to the needy. This is your bounden duty, and if you do not so God will pronounce you not a Christian but a thief and robber. In the first place, because you are an idler and do not support yourself, but live by the sweat and toil of others; in the second place, because you withhold from your neighbor what you plainly owe him. Where now shall we find those who keep this commandment? Indeed, where should we dare look for them except where no people live? But such a class of people should Christians be. Therefore, let each of us beware lest he deceive himself; for God will not be mocked nor deceived. Galatians 6:7.

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity;

Matthew 9:1-8

A truly wonderful sermon on the forgiveness of sins, that is, the righteousness which is through faith in Christ.

 

 

Matthew 9:1-8

And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city. And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed to his house. But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.

 

1. The theme of this Gospel is the great and important article of faith, called ”the forgiveness of sins”, which, when rightly understood, makes an honest Christian, and gives eternal life. Therefore it is necessary in the Christian Church to teach this article diligently and unceasingly, so that we may learn to understand it clearly and distinctly. For this is the one great and difficult art of a Christian, where he will have enough to learn as long as he lives, so that he need not look for anything new, higher or better.

 

2. But that we may rightly understand this, we must thoroughly know how to distinguish two powers or kinds of piety. One here upon earth, which God has also ordained and has included under the second table of the ten commandments. This is called the righteousness of the world or of man, and serves to the end that we may live together on earth and enjoy the gifts God has given us. For it is his wish that his present life be kept under proper restraint and passed in peace, quietude and harmony, each one attending to his own affairs and not interfering with the business, property or person of another. For this reason God has also added a special blessing, Lev. 18, 5, ”Which if a man do, he shall live in them”, that is, whosoever upon earth is honest in the sight of all men shall enjoy life; it shall be well with him, and he shall live long.

 

3. But if on the other hand man is unwilling to do this, he has ordained that the sword, the gallows, the rack, fire, water, and the like be used, with which to restrain and check those who will not be pious. Where such punishment is not administered and the whole country becomes so utterly bad and perverted, that the officers of the law can no longer restrain, God sends pestilence, famine, war, or other terrible plagues, in order to subvert the land, and destroy the wicked, as has happened to the Jews, the Greeks, the Romans, and others. From this we may learn his will, namely, that such piety be exercised and maintained; and know that he will provide what is necessary; but if such piety is not practiced he will in turn take away and destroy everything.

 

4. This is in short the sense and the whole substance of this piety on earth. But it is further necessary to urge it and to admonish people that every man diligently, zealously and voluntarily exercise himself in it, and that he be not driven to it by force and punishment. This admonition consists in setting forth God's commandments and in applying them to every station of life on earth, as God has ordered and highly honored; we should find pleasure in them and heartily do what is required in the different spheres of life. When God says, ”Honor thy father and thy mother,” every child, man-servant, maid-servant, citizen, and the like, should receive the Word with joy, have no greater treasure on earth, and not imagine if he do this he is already halfway or altogether in paradise. And this should be solely done, that every heart may be assured without a doubt and say: Now I know, that such work, life, or position is right and proper and is assuredly well pleasing to God; for I have his Word and command as a sure witness, which never deceives nor fails me.

 

5. For do not let this be the least grace upon earth, when you have come to this decision in your heart and your conscience rests upon it. We owe this assurance to the blessed Gospel alone, in which we should delight and which we must reverence, even if we receive no other benefit or use from it than this, that it quiets our conscience and positively teaches us how to live and in what relation we stand to God. In what error and blindness we were aforetime, when not even a spark of such teaching enlightened us and we allowed ourselves to be led in the name of the devil by the whims of every lying preacher; we tried all kinds of works, ran hither and thither, expended and wasted our energies, money and property; here we established masses and altars, there cloisters and brotherhoods, and every one was groping for the way in which he might serve God; yet no one found it, but all remained in darkness. For there was no God who might say: This is pleasing to me, this I have commanded, etc. Yes, our blind guides did nothing less than  lose sight of God's word, separated it from good works, and instead of these set up other works everywhere; in addition to this they discarded and despised the positions in life, which God had appointed, as though he knew no better, nor even as well as we, how to manage his affairs.

 

6. Therefore we must constantly take heed to inculcate this Word of God, which does not burden us with any special, great and difficult works, but refers us to the condition in which we live, that we look for nothing else, but with a cheerful heart remain satisfied in it, and be assured that by such work more is accomplished than if one had established all the cloisters and kept all the orders, although it be the most insignificant domestic work. For hitherto we- have been woefully deceived by the fine lustre and pomp of works, hoods, bald pates, coarse apparel, by fasts, wakes, pious looks, playing the devotee, and going barefoot.

    Our foolishness consists in laying too much stress upon the show of works and when these do not glitter as something extraordinary we regard them as of no value; and poor fools that we are, we do not see that God has attached and bound this precious treasure, namely his Word, to such common works as filial obedience, external, domestic, or civil affairs, so as to include them in his order and command, which he wishes us to accept, the same as though he himself had appeared from heaven. What would you do if Christ himself with all the angels were visibly to descend, and command you in your home to sweep your house and wash the pans and kettles? How happy you would feel, and would not know how to act for joy, not for the work's sake, but that you knew that thereby you were serving him, who is greater than heaven and earth.

 

7. If we would only consider this, and by the power of the Word look beyond us, and think that it is not man, but God in heaven who wishes and commands these things, we would run full speed, and in a most faithful and diligent manner rather do these common, insignificant works, as they are regarded, than any others. There is no other reason why this is not done than the simple fact that the works are separated from the Word, and God's command is not regarded nor respected; we move along in a blind, drowsy manner, and think the doing of the works is all sufficient. Because we regard these works as insignificant, we stare and look around for others, become indolent and fretful, do nothing in love, faithfulness and obedience, have no scruples on account of our negligence, are faithless to our fellowmen, injure or vex them, and thus heap upon ourselves all manner of misery, wrath, and misfortune.

 

8. This then is one part of our discourse, that this external righteousness be urged both in admonitions and in threatenings, and not be considered as of no importance. For whosoever despises it, despises God and his Word.

 

9. Therefore let every man look to himself what he is or what he has to do, and what God demands of him, whether it be to rule, to command and order, or on the contrary to obey, serve and labor, that he may attend to the duties of his office with all faithfulness for God's sake. Let him be assured that God has more respect for such faithfulness than for all the work and piety of the monks, who never yet have attained to this outward righteousness; nor are they able to extol all their works and doings as heartily as a child or servant girl performing their duties according to God's command. Oh, what a blessed world we would have, if people believed this, and every man remained at his post, always keeping in mind God's will and command. Then there would shower from heaven all kinds of blessings and gifts instead of the many vexations and heart-aches, which we now have, are looking for, and deserve.

 

10. Above this external piety there is another, which does not belong to this temporal life on earth but which avails only before God and which leads us to the life beyond and keeps us in it. The former piety consists in works, which this present life requires to be done among men, whether they be our superiors or inferiors, our neighbors, or our kindred. It has its reward here upon earth, also ends with this life, and they who do not practice it shorten their  days. But this latter piety moves and soars far above everything that is upon earth, and has nothing to do with works. For how can it have works, since all that this body can perform and that is called works, is already included in the former piety. This piety is now called the grace of God, or the forgiveness of sins, of which Christ speaks in this and other gospels, and which is not an earthly but heavenly righteousness; it does not come of our work and ability but is the work and gift of God. For that human piety may well shield us against punishment and the hangman, and permit us to enjoy temporal gifts; but it cannot attain for us God's grace and the forgiveness of sin. Therefore, even though we may have this external piety, we must nevertheless have a much higher one, which alone avails before God, frees us from sin and an evil conscience, and leads us out of death into eternal life.

 

11. This is, furthermore, the only part or article and doctrine, by believing which we become and are called Christians, and which separates and divorces us from all other saints on earth; for they all have a different foundation and nature of their saintliness, peculiar exercises, and rigorous life. It separates us also from the works of those holding positions and offices approved by the Word of God, which are indeed much higher and better than all the self-chosen ecclesiasticism of the monks. These also constitute a holy calling, so that they are called pious and deserve praise of all men because they do their duty. But all this makes no one a Christian. He alone is a Christian who receives this article in faith, and is assured that he is in the kingdom of grace, in which Christ protects him, and daily forgives him his sins. But he who looks for something else or wishes to deal otherwise with God, must know that he is no Christian, but is rejected and condemned by God.

 

12. For this reason the greatest skill and intelligence is needed to grasp and understand this righteousness, and in our hearts and before God rightly to distinguish it from the above mentioned outward righteousness. For this is, as has been said, the skill and the wisdom of the Christian, but it is so high and great that even all the beloved Apostles could not speak enough of it; and yet it meets the painful misfortune that no art is mastered as soon as this. There is no greater theme for a preacher than the grace of God and the forgiveness of sin, yet we are such wicked people, that, when we have once heard or read it, we think we know it, are immediately masters and doctors, keep looking for something greater, as though we had done everything, and thus we made new factions and division.

 

13. I have now been teaching and studying this subject with all diligence for many years (more than any one of those who imagine they know it all), in preaching, writing and reading, yet I cannot boast of having mastered it and am glad that I still remain a pupil with those who are just beginning to learn. For this reason I must admonish and warn all such as want to be Christians, both teachers and pupils, that they guard themselves against such shameful delusion and surfeit, and understand that this subject is most difficult and the greatest art that can be found upon earth; so that even Paul had to confess and say (2 Cor. 9, 15) that it is an unspeakable gift, that is, one which cannot be described among men with words so that they may regard it as highly and dearly as it really is in itself.

 

14. The reason for this is, that man's understanding cannot get beyond this external piety of works, and cannot comprehend the righteousness of faith; but, the greater and more skillful this understanding is, the more it confines itself to works and rests upon them. It is not possible for man in times of temptation and distress, when his conscience smites him, to cease from groping around for works on which to stand and rest. Then we seek and enumerate the many good deeds, which we would like to do, or have done, and because we find none, the heart begins to doubt and despair. This weakness adheres so firmly to our nature, that even those who have faith and recognize the grace of God, or the forgiveness of sins, cannot overcome it with all their  efforts and exertions, and must daily contend against it. In short it is entirely beyond human knowledge and understanding, ability and power, to ascend above this earthly righteousness, and to transfer oneself into this article of faith; and although one hears much about it and is conversant with it, there continues nevertheless the old delusion and inborn corruption which would bring its own works before God and make them the foundation of salvation. Such is the case, I say, with those who are Christians and fight against this work-righteousness; others, critics and inexperienced souls are even lost in it.

 

15. Therefore this doctrine, that our piety before God consists entirely in the forgiveness of sins, must be rightly comprehended and firmly maintained. We must therefore get beyond ourselves and ascend higher than our reason, which keeps us in conflict with ourselves and which reminds us both of sin and good works; and we must soar so high as to see neither sin nor good works, but be rooted and grounded in this article and see and know nothing besides. Therefore let grace or forgiveness be pitted not only against sin, but also against good works, and let all human righteousness and holiness be excluded. Thus there are in man two conflicting powers: Externally in this life he is to be pious, do good works, and the like, But if he aims beyond this life and wishes to deal with God, he must know that here neither his sin nor his piety avails anything. And though he may feel his sins which disturb his conscience, and although the law demands good works, he will not listen nor give heed to them, but will boldly reply; If I have sin, Christ has forgiveness; yea, I am seated on a throne to which sin cannot attain.

 

16. Therefore we are to regard the kingdom of Christ as a large, beautiful arch or vault which is everywhere over us, and covers and protects us against the wrath of God; yea, as a great, extended firmament which pure grace and forgiveness illuminate and so fill the world and all things, that all sin will hardly appear as a spark in comparison with the great, extended sea of light; and although sin may oppress, it cannot injure, but must disappear and vanish before grace. They who understand this, may well be called masters, but we will all have to humble ourselves and not be ashamed to keep on learning this lesson as long as we live.

 

17. For wherever our nature succeeds in finding sin, it tries to make an unbearable burden of it. Satan fans the spark and blows up a great fire which fills heaven and earth. Here the leaf must be turned and we must firmly conclude: If the sin were ever so great or burdensome, this article of faith is nevertheless much higher, wider and greater, which has been recommended and established not by man's wisdom, but by him who has comprehended heaven and earth and holds them in the hollow of his hand. Is. 40, 12. My sin and piety must remain here on earth as far as they concern my life and conduct. But in heaven above I have another treasure, greater than either of these; there Christ is seated and holds me in his arms, covers me with his wings and overshadows me with his grace.

 

18. You may say: How is this, since I daily feel sin and my conscience condemns me and threatens me with God's wrath? I answer: For this reason, I say, one must understand that the righteousness of a Christian is nothing that can be named or imagined but the forgiveness of sin, that is, it is a kingdom of power which deals only with sin and with such abundant grace as takes away all wrath. It is called the forgiveness of sin for the reason that we are truly sinners before God; yes, everything in us is sin, even though we may have all human righteousness. For where God speaks of sin, there must be real and great sin; so also forgiveness is no jest, but real earnestness. When you, therefore, consider this article you have both. Sin takes away all your holiness, no matter how pious you are on earth; again, forgiveness takes away all sin and wrath. Therefore your sin cannot cast you into hell, nor can your piety elevate you into heaven.

 

19. Therefore, when the devil disturbs your conscience, and tries to bring despair to your heart by saying: ”Have you not learned that one must be pious?” then answer courageously and say: Yes, you are right; I am a sinner, that I have known before; for this article, called the forgiveness of sins, has taught me this long ago. I am to be pious and do what I can before the world; but before God I am willing to be a sinner, and to be called nothing else, that this article may remain true, else there would not be forgiveness or grace; but it must needs be called a crown of righteousness and of merits. Therefore, although I feel nothing but many and great sins, yet they are no longer sins; for I have for them a precious panacea and drug which takes away the power and poison of sin and wholly destroys it. It is this word, ”Forgiveness,” before which sin disappears like stubbles before the fire. Without it no work, suffering, or martyrdom avails against the smallest sin. For without forgiveness sin is and remains pure sin, which condemns us.

 

20. Therefore only confess this article heartily and boldly and say: Before the world I may be pious and do everything that is required, but before God it is only sin according to this article. Therefore I am a sinner, but a sinner who now has forgiveness and who sits at the throne where grace rules supreme, Ps. 116. If this were not so I would be a sinner like Judas, who saw only his sin, but no forgiveness. But Christians, no matter how much sin they feel in themselves, in that word forgiveness see much more abundant grace presented to them, and poured out over them.

 

21. Thus learn then to magnify this article and spread it as far as Christ reaches and rules, that you may elevate it far above everything in heaven and on earth. For as the Word soars over all this, so must also faith, which comprehends the Word and keeps the heart steadfast in it, overcome sin, conscience, death and the devil.

 

22. Consider now what kind of a person a Christian is, who lords it over death and the devil, and before whom all sin is as a withered leaf. Now examine yourself and see how far you have learned this lesson, and whether it is such an insignificant and easy matter as some inexperienced souls think. For if you have learned and believed it, all misfortune, death, and the devil will be as nothing. But since you are still so vexed with sin, and since you are still frightened and in despair on account of death, hell and God's judgment, humble yourself, give honor to the Word and confess that you have never yet understood this matter.

    In short let every man examine his own heart, and he will find a false Christian who imagines that he knows all about this subject before he has learned the first principles of it. The words are soon heard, read and repeated, but to carry out the principle in practice and in character, so that it may live within us, and our conscience may be founded upon it and rest in it, is not in the art of man. Therefore I say and admonish, that those who wish to be Christians may always keep it in mind, assimilate it, practice it, and chastise themselves with it, that we may at least have a taste of it, and as James says, 1, 18, be a kind of first fruits of his creatures. For we shall never advance so far in this life as to come to a perfect understanding of it; nor did even the blessed Apostles full of the Spirit and of faith, advance so far.

 

23. Thus far I have explained the first part, what Christian righteousness is and in what it consists. But if you ask further, whence it comes, or how it has been brought about or gained, I answer: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come from heaven and has been made man, has suffered and died for our sins. This is the cause, the means, and the treasure, through which we obtain the forgiveness of sin and for the sake of which the grace of God is bestowed upon us; for such a treasure does not come to us without means or merit. But since all of us are born in sin and are the enemies of God, we have deserved only eternal wrath and punishment. All that we are and have is condemned, and there is no help or way out of it. For sin is so grievous that no creature can quench it, the wrath so great that no man can appease and conciliate it. Therefore another man must take our place, namely Jesus Christ, God and man, and through his suffering and death make satisfaction for our sins and pay for them. This is the price that has been set, and has been expended for us, by which sin has been quenched and the  wrath of God appeased, the Father has been reconciled and made our friend.

 

24. Christians alone know this and believe it, and are in this respect different from those of every other faith and worship on earth. For the Jews, Turks, false Christians, and those who would be righteous by works, also boast that God is merciful; and there is no man on earth but knows something of the grace of God, and yet all of them fail to obtain it, or in other words, they do not have the treasure in which it lies and from which it flows. They continue in their blindness and imagine they can acquire it by their works, rigid life, and their own holiness, with which they only make the wrath and displeasure of God the more grievous.

 

25. Therefore it is necessary that we rightly learn to know this treasure, and seek forgiveness where it may be found; that is, that we thoroughly learn to know, comprehend, and keep the Lord Jesus Christ. For it is ordained that no one shall come into God's presence, find grace, nor obtain forgiveness of the least sin except through Christ. Because you are a sinner, and will always remain one, your conscience is ever present, condemns and threatens you with God's wrath and punishment, so that you cannot see the grace of God. With reference to the forgiveness of sins let me say, that you will not find anything in your heart with which you can pay them off, nor raise any funds for which God might recognize you and cancel the debt in the ledger. But if you seize Christ as the one who has become your substitute, who has taken your sin upon himself, and who has given himself with all his merit and worthiness for you, no sin can avail anything against you. If I am a sinner, he is holy, and is Lord over sin, death, satan and hell, so that no sin can harm me, because he has been given me as my righteousness and salvation.

 

26. Therefore we have, indeed, pure grace and forgiveness of all sins, but nowhere except in and through Christ alone, and in him only it must be sought and obtained. Therefore whoever will come before God with any kind of work, that God shall recognize and regard as meritorious for obtaining grace, will be disappointed and undeceived, yea, instead of grace he will heap wrath upon himself. Thus you see that all other ways and means are condemned as the doctrines of devils; by which men are led and directed to their own works, or to the holiness and merits of others, as for example, of the saints who have led ascetic lives and followed the rules of their orders, and have suffered and expiated a great deal; or as those have done who have comforted people in the throes of death and have admonished them to suffer death willingly for their sins. Whoever dares to offer anything else for sin or to atone for it himself does nothing else than deny the Lord Jesus Christ, yea, disgrace and slander him, as if the blood of Christ were of no more consequence than our repentance and satisfaction, or as if his blood were not sufficient to take away all the sins of the earth.

 

27. Therefore, would you be freed from your sins, cease to seek works and satisfaction, and to bring them before God; but simply creep under the wings and into the bosom of Christ, as the one who has taken away your sins, and has laid them upon himself. Thus you need not chastise yourself with them, nor have anything to do with them! For he is the Lamb of God, says John 1, 29, which taketh away the sins of the world; and Peter says, Acts 4, 12, There is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved. The reason we are Christians is because we have Christ with all His merit and worthiness, not because of our efforts and works, which indeed make a St. Carthusius, a St. Francis, or an Augustinian monk, an obedient servant and extremist as they are called; but such works can never make a Christian. Behold, this is the second part which belongs to the sermon on this article.

 

28. The third thought is how and by what means we may appropriate such righteousness, so that we may receive the treasure acquired by Christ. Here also we need to give heed that we take the right way, and not make the mistake, which  certain heretics have made in times past, and many erroneous minds still set forth, who think that God ought to do something special with them. These imagine that God will deal separately with each one by some special internal light and mysterious revelation, and give him the Holy Ghost, as though there was no need of the written Word or the external sermon. Consequently we are to know that God has ordained that no one shall come to the knowledge of Christ, nor obtain the forgiveness acquired by him, nor receive the Holy Ghost, without the use of external and public means; but God has embraced this treasure in the oral word or public ministry, and will not perform his work in a corner or mysteriously in the heart, but will have it heralded and distributed openly among the people, even as Christ commands, Mark 16, 15: Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature, etc.

 

29. He does this in order that we may know how and where to seek and expect his grace, so that in all Christendom there may be the same custom and order, and not every man follow his own mind and act according to his own notions, and so deceive himself and others, which would certainly happen. As we cannot look into the heart of any man, each one might boast of having the Holy Ghost and set forth his own thoughts as divine revelation which God had inspired and taught him in a special manner; as a result, no one would know whom or what to believe.

 

30. Therefore this part also, namely the external word or preaching, belongs to Christianity as a channel or means through which we attain unto the forgiveness of sins, or the righteousness of Christ, with which Christ reveals and offers us his grace or lays it into our bosom, and without which no one would ever come to a knowledge of this treasure. For whence should any man know, or in what man's heart would it ever come, that Christ, the Son of God, came from heaven for our sake, died for us, and rose from the dead, acquired the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and offers the same to us, without publicly having it announced and preached? And although he acquired this treasure for us through his suffering and death, no one could obtain or receive it, if Christ did not have it offered, presented, and applied. And all that he had done and suffered would be to no purpose, but would be like some great and precious treasure buried in the earth, which no one could find or make use of.

 

31. Therefore I have always taught that the oral word must precede every thing else, must be comprehended with the ears, if the Holy Ghost is to enter the heart, who through the Word enlightens it and works faith. Consequently faith does not come except through the hearing and oral preaching of the Gospel, in which it has its beginning, growth and strength. For this reason the Word must not be despised, but held in honor. We must familiarize and acquaint ourselves with it, and constantly practice it, so that it never ceases to bear fruit; for it can never be understood and learned too well. Let every man beware of the shameless fellows who have no more respect for the Word than if it were unnecessary for faith; or of those who think they know it all, become tired of it, eventually fall from it, and retain nothing of faith or of Christ.

 

32. Behold, here you have all that belongs to this article of the righteousness of Christ. It consists in the forgiveness of sins, offered to us through Christ, and received by faith in and through the Word, purely and simply without any works on our part. Yet I do not mean that Christians should not and must not do good works, but that they are not to be mingled and entwined in the doctrine of faith, and decorated with the shameless delusion that they avail before God as righteousness, whereby both the doctrine of works and of faith are besmirched and destroyed. For everything possible must be done to keep this article pure, unadulterated and separate from all our own doings. But after we have this righteousness by faith, works are to follow and continue here on earth, so that there may be civil righteousness, and that both be maintained, each in its proper place, but separate in their nature and efficacy - the former before God in faith over and above all works, the latter works in love to our neighbor, as we said plainly enough above and always taught.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity;

(from the 1527-edition of the Church Postil)

 

 

Matthew 9:1-8

The Kingdom of Christ Consists in the Forgiveness of Sins.

One of Luther's best.

 

1. My friends in Christ, as we hear and enjoy this Gospel every year, I hope you also understand it, and know what it teaches us, and may God grant that the right life may also follow this knowledge! For the greater part of the Gospel we hear only with the ear, and we know it, but do not live according to it, whereas it should be so taught that few words and nothing but life would be the result. But what shall we do for it? We can do no more than preach it and no further raise it and carry it, we must preach and urge it until God comes and gives us his grace to the end that our words be few and that life may spring forth  and grow. The first theme here offered us is the Gospel when Christ says:

 

”Son, be of good cheer; thy sins are forgiven.”

2. These words show and contain in brief what the kingdom of Christ is, namely, this sweet voice, these motherly and fatherly words penetrating our inmost soul: ”Thy sins are forgiven.” In no other sense are we to view the kingdom of Christ, so far as it is understood, than how we are to live before God. As you, beloved, well know that our highest duty is rightly to establish the conscience that we may know how we stand before God and our neighbor. Therefore we must also hold fast to these words and become accustomed to the expression: ”Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven”, and like sayings of which the Gospel is full.

 

3. From this it follows that the kingdom of Christ is realized where nothing but comfort and the forgiveness of sins reign not only in words to proclaim it, which is also necessary; but also in deed, as we shall see in this example. For he did not only speak these words into the ear of this sick man; but he also forgave his sins and comforted him. This knowledge is proper for us Christians to know. It is indeed easily and quickly said and heard; but when it comes to the test the light is early extinguished, and satan soon leads us astray; as you here observe that the scribes undertake to destroy this knowledge. I have before often said and will always say, that you should beware and properly learn the character and nature of the kingdom of Christ. For you know how reason is inclined in its every movement to fall from faith and from this knowledge to works. But here you see no works at all, no merit, here there is neither command nor law; there is nothing more than the offering of Christ's assistance, his comfort and his grace, only kindness meets the man sick of the palsy.

 

4. Therefore, if the kingdom of Christ is to grow, we must keep out of it with the law, and not be busy with works; for it is not in harmony with it to say: Go out and run hither and thither and atone for your sins; you must observe and do this and that, if you will be free from sin; but directly without any work and law, out of pure grace, your sins are forgiven. Therefore, it is beyond the sphere of the kingdom of Christ to urge the people with the law.

 

5. But we receive such things only with the ear and on the tongue, and it enters not into the depth of the heart; for sin at all times still hangs about our necks, it clings firmly to us, as St. Paul speaks of this in Romans, 7, 18-19, and Heb. 12, 1. But in death we will experience it. Of this class are at present our fanatics who boast of the Holy Spirit, and pretend they would do better, some of whom are also in our midst, listen to us and contend that it is not enough for us to preach only faith and love. Yea, they say, You must do better and climb much higher. How high then must I climb? You must destroy pictures, you must kill the ungodly, and do whatever they propose. This filth now enters nearly every community where the Gospel has just been planted. These tares of satan will also come to us, as I have often warned you. Take heed that you remain sound in your knowledge, in the true doctrine of Christ, for this knowledge and light is soon lost.

 

6. Thus I say, my friends, and would beseech you not to esteem that spirit great who proposes to you any kind of work, call it what you may, even if it would raise the dead, which they have not yet been able to do. And how is it that they say: we must kill the godless! Even if Moses commanded it that you must really do it, what sort of Christians are you then? But by this you shall truly experience which spirits are of God. and which are not. For if you give me a work to do, it is not the Holy Spirit who does it; but he goes and first brings me the grace of Christ, and then leads me to works. For thus he speaks: Thy sins are forgiven, be of good cheer, and the like. He does not first insist on works, but first leads up to God through his sweet Word and grace, and does not immediately refer you to do some work; but later you will find works enough to do unto your neighbor.

 

7. But the fanatics soon torment us with works, and profess to have a nobler spirit; they urge and insist upon our doing something first of all, and permit faith and love to be overlooked. This of course is not of the Holy Spirit. Christ first takes possession of the conscience, and when it is right in faith toward God, then he also directs us to do works toward our neighbor. But he first highly extols faith and keeps works in the background. This they cannot understand. I would forgive them everything, if they would only not patch and mend their good works, to which they trust their existence, honor and fame. I would not care about their destroying all pictures, and melting cups and bells into one mass; but that they should make a matter of conscience out of it for those who do not destroy pictures, just as though the Holy Spirit or faith were not present unless this work be performed.

 

8. I say this: Even if it were a work which God at this present hour commanded, I would not so insist upon it and condemn those who do not immediately obey it; and would find him some kind of protection, as that he is yet perhaps weak, and thus spread over him the kingdom of grace. Let us be conscious of the fact that the work among them is directed to God, and not toward our neighbor. They make their works a necessity and say: If you do this, then you are a Christian; if you will not do it, you are no Christian. Where this or that is done there are Christians. And the fame follows their work, that they want to be esteemed better than others. Now you have the true light, therefore be warned. Prove the spirits. We do not wish to prefer ourselves, as these persons do; but we boast in this, that we hear the Word, ”Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven.” I know that I have a gracious God; but these spirits cannot do this. Therefore it is a mere devilish apparition that they carry from house to house. In this they lie against the Holy Spirit, and blame the Holy Ghost that he is the father of their cause. And even if the works were good, the forcing and compelling must remain in the background. Let them then keep quiet about setting us an example by their crazy works.

 

9. The kingdom of Christ consists in finding all our praise and boast in grace. Other works should be free, not to be urged, nor should we wish by them to become Christians, but condescend with them to our neighbor. Thus we should hear this Gospel to hold fast to its expressions so that they may be written in our hearts, that this light, this Word and lamp may truly shine in us, by which we can judge all other doctrines. Thus he says to the man sick with the palsy: ”Thy sins are forgiven”. These and similar words are to be taken to heart and meditated upon, since they are nothing but pure grace, and no work, by which the conscience is oppressed and forced to do something. Thus, with these words you must protect yourselves against false teachers.

 

10. We have now sowed a little of the Word, and this the devil cannot stand, for he never sleeps; the worms and the beetles will come and infect it. Yet so it must be, Christ will prove his Word, and examine who has received it and who not. Therefore let us remain on the right road to the kingdom of Christ, and not go about with works and urge and force the works of the law, but only with the words of the Gospel which comfort the conscience: Be happy, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven.

 

11. By this observe how narrow and how wide the kingdom of Christ is. Few there be who so receive the Word that it tastes good to them and judge themselves by it, and who understand what is said by: ”Thy sins are forgiven.” If we are now in the kingdom of Christ why then does he mention sin? Are sins always there? No one belongs to this kingdom unless his sins are revealed to him by the Gospel, otherwise these words apply to no one: ”Thy sins are forgiven.” Indeed all hear the Gospel, but it does not enter the hearts of all, for they do not all feel their sins. But the Gospel preaches that everything we have in us is sin. Therefore it also offers comfort; forgiveness of sins is here. If I am to receive forgiveness of sins, I must have knowledge of sin.

 

12. Forgiveness of sins is nothing more than two words,  in which the whole kingdom of Christ consists. There must be sins, and if we are conscious of them, we must confess them; when I have confessed them, forgiveness and grace are immediately present. Before forgiveness is present there is nothing but sin. This sin must be confessed that I may feel and know that all that is in me is blindness; otherwise forgiveness of sins could not exist where there is no sin. However, there is no lack of sins to confess, but the lack is in not feeling and knowing our sins to confess them; then only forgiveness of them follows. But it is quite a different thing when God forgives sins, than when one man forgives another. One man forgives another his sins in a way that he thinks of them again tomorrow, or casts them up to him. But when God forgives sins it is quite a different thing than when man forgives. For God condemns no more, he banishes all wrath from him, yea, he no more thinks of the sin, as he himself says in the prophet Isaiah, 43, 25. Now if this wrath is gone, then hell, the devil, death and all misfortune that the devil may bring with him, must also disappear; and instead of wrath God gives grace, comfort, salvation and everything good that he himself is.

 

13. Sin is pure unhappiness, forgiveness pure happiness. The divine majesty is great, great is also that which it forgives. As the man is, so is also his forgiveness. But you must know in your heart how great these words are in which you know how to trust, yea, for which you can cheerfully die. But only few rightly receive these words, therefore there are but few true Christians.

 

14. This then is the kingdom of Christ, and he who possesses it thus, possesses it in the right way. Here there is no work, but only the acknowledgment of all our misfortune, and the reception of all the gifts of God. Here there is nothing but simple comfort, here the words are continually heard: Be joyful, let not your conscience be troubled because of sin, or because you have not done a great amount of good; I will forgive you all. Therefore it is not by merit, but it is a simple gift. This is the Gospel, upon which faith depends, through which you grasp and keep these words, so that they may not have been spoken in vain. For we have no other comfort of which God tells us to boast than that God says: ”Be of good cheer, be comforted; for I forgive thy sins; and in my forgiveness you can glory and rejoice.” Here then you have reason to boast and rejoice, but not in your own works.

 

15. This the workrighteous person cannot do, for honor always follows, as they have said: Honor follows virtue as the shadow follows the man. If it is the honor of works, whether man or God has commanded them, it is nothing; if it is the honor of the works God does in us it is all right, as Psalm 118, 16 says: ”The right hand of Jehovah is exalted; the right hand of Jehovah doth valiantly.” As though he should say: ”In this will I boast and glory, namely, in that he has exalted me out of death, hell and all evil.” Workrighteous people have not this glory, for they have not the Word; but as the work is, so is the praise, they urge and compel us to depart from the Word to human work. But the Holy Spirit urges us from our works to the Word. The former boast of their works, the latter, where the Holy Spirit is, rejoice internally in the heart with God, that he has done this work, and they remain clinging to grace, and attribute nothing at all to their own works.

 

16. Thus the scribes do here. When they heard these words they said among themselves: ”This man blasphemeth.” For this is the nature of the holy Gospel and the true Word of God where it is truly believed, that it is blasphemed on both sides, and the whole world would destroy it; as was the case in the time of the Apostles, and as our raging princes now do, who simply wish it were dead, entirely crushed and destroyed with all those who preach and confess it. This however is the least persecution.

 

17. The other persecution is much worse, which takes place among us as it also did in Apostolic times among the Apostles. So too our country squires, who enjoy the Gospel with us, and do not want to be followers of the Pope, but to be regarded as Christians; they must plunge into it; so furious they are that they boast of the Gospel, and yet they trust in their works. And here the Holy Spirit must be called the devil, there the beautiful spirit. But we must venture to say: Their cause is not just; then they will say again: Your cause is not right; for the wicked spirit does not rest unless it is praised. We have a Lord of protection, he will successfully accomplish his work.

 

18. Paul calls all false spirits bold and proud. Yes, in their filth with their protectors they are proud and impudent, otherwise they are the most cowardly villains that can be found. When they are to appear and answer for their conduct, they cannot produce a single answer. Among themselves they are bold, and venture to catch God in his own Word; but when it comes to the test, they simply despair. But the Holy Spirit stands firm, checks their buffeting, makes us bold and courageous, comforts weak consciences and says: ”Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven.” The true spirit is bashful, and becomes bashful in the sight of God, as Christians do who bow before God, honor him and are not proud. But before tyrants the Holy Spirit encourages them so that they fear neither tyrants nor devils, and are not frightened even if they tore their heads from their shoulders. But in God's presence they fear and tremble like a rustling leaf. But, alas, I see the great mass of people are only concerned about continually hearing without understanding what is said, and when the time comes that they should give an answer, they stand like the pipers and can answer nothing. And thus we also go forth to execution. We must endure such assaults and factious spirits and cannot change it. Nevertheless, we may well comfort ourselves with the thought that we have the true foundation, that our cause is right and theirs wrong. This they also know well enough, and for this reason they can never be bold except among themselves, and there they may boast as long as they please.

 

19. But the kingdom of Christ consists in this and thereby grows, namely, that the conscience be comforted with the Word. What else takes place through works and laws, all pertains to our neighbor. For I need no works before God, and must only be careful rightly to confess my sins. Then I have forgiveness of sins and am one with God, all which the Holy Spirit works in me. Then I break forth with blessings toward my neighbor, as they did here who brought the man sick with the palsy to the Lord. Those were in the kingdom, or show who are in the kingdom, as the Evangelist says that the Lord had respect unto their faith. For had they not had any faith, they would not have brought the sick to the Lord. Faith precedes works, works follow faith. Therefore, because they are in the kingdom by faith, they bring in the sick man and thus do the work.

 

20. On this earth man lives not for the sake of works, in order that they may be profitable to him, for he is not in need of them. But if you do good works in order thereby to obtain and merit something from God, all is lost, and you have already fallen from this kingdom. But since you believe and continue to live you ought to know that you live for this very cause, namely, to carry in the sick man. God does not desire the Christian to live for himself. Yea, cursed is the life that lives for self. For all that one lives after he is a Christian, he lives for others. So these also do who bring in the sick man, they no longer live for themselves, but their lives serve others; yes, with their faith they win for the sick man a faith of his own. For this sick man had at first no faith, but after he heard the Word, Christ instills into him a faith of his own, and awakens him with the Gospel; as he is accustomed to instill faith by the Word.

 

21. Thus all works should be done, only to the end that we may see how they agree with the service for other people, to bring them to a true faith and lead them to Christ. If I tear down the pictures in churches that men may see a Christian is present, that is of no profit to the people, nor does it preach how to become free from sin; but he only desires praise, which does not lift up the consciences, and only makes the people gape, with ears, eyes and mouths  wide open. It is a contemptible art to demolish pictures. But to know the kingdom of Christ that I or others may be benefited, this is well done. But you will not accomplish this even if you tear down all the churches, but only by hearing the words: Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven; then by bringing others to God's Word.

 

22. The Word must be enforced, it must be beaten into men, here I must eat and drink, adorn and clothe myself, not that I may live, but that I may enforce the Word. For where the life of a Christian is not centered in the Word, it is not right. I am required to aid the conscience with the Word. I must give my neighbor meat and drink and do all I can for him in order to reach the chief thing, namely, to encourage the conscience, as they do here, who assist the sick man to recover his bodily health. And although it is a kindness or work to his body, nevertheless they so help him that his soul is also strengthened. Thus I feed the hungry, give the thirsty drink, clothe the naked, and the like. Yet I do this not only that he may eat and drink, but that I may secure the opportunity to tell him the Word, and thus also to bring him to Christ. These works are outside the kingdom, done to those who are not in the kingdom, in order to bring them into the kingdom.

 

23. Thus the Holy Spirit preaches, but the mad spirit of the separatists only desires to perform great wonders, to see and do miracles and signs. It is miracle enough that people learn by our preaching to know Christ and obtain a joyful conscience. Likewise, that I learned monachism, priestcraft, and everything belonging to popery to be nothing, is for me a great miracle. There is nothing in it when they make the charge that we perform no miracles. Although they do not shine so brightly and our ministers perform no miracles, as the Papists imagine they do, nevertheless, our light is pure and our knowledge correct. We surely preach the Gospel, and this they must of course conscientiously confess before each and every one, whether they desire to do so or not. So you have learned here that the kingdom of Christ and the Gospel are devoted to the end that you concentrate all your life, whether you be wife, child or husband, that you may be one who brings the sick to Christ, and thus be of assistance to others.

 

 

II. THE FAITH OF OTHERS.

24. Now we should also consider a little the faith of others and the power to forgive sins, had we the time. I said before that it is an error to baptize the children into the faith of the church; men preached as though they were baptized without faith. This error enters among us by force at present, for the devil does not sleep. They think infants have no faith. The Pope with his subordinates has hitherto maintained that children have no faith, but are laid into the lap of the Christian church, and were baptized in the faith of universal Christendom. These new fanatics, like the Pope, also say that children have no faith; but that we should wait until they grow up.

 

25. We say that the faith of others does not assist unto salvation, even if two Christendoms were present. The child must itself believe in Christ. For I have not been born in the place of the child or for the child, nor will I die in its stead, it has a death and birth of its own. If it is to live and become free from death, it must also come to this through faith in Christ. However, we pray for the children as well as for all unbelievers; and preach, pray and labor that the unbelieving and children may also come and believe; for this we also live.

 

26. So these people here had also faith, but not the man of the palsy. Yet, he must receive it if he is to get well, otherwise their faith would not have helped him. They, however, in their faith prayed Christ to give the man sick of the palsy a faith of his own. So the faith of others assists to the end that I may obtain a faith of my own.

 

27. Yes, one might say: ”How do we know whether children believe or not?” Neither do we know who among adults believe or who do not. If I be baptized as an adult and say: I believe; how can you know whether I believe  or not? How do you know it? How, if I were to lie? No one else can know it, to this every one is brought by his own heart and thoughts; if it is right, it is right. The child cannot stand on my faith, I have scarcely enough faith for myself. Nor shall I lay it into the lap of Christendom, but into the Word of Christ where he says: ”Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Mat. 19, 14. Luke 18, 15. And thus I shall say: ”Here, O Christ, I bring a little child to thee, thou hast commanded me to bring it to thee.” Now I have done my part, Christ will also certainly do his part.

    So I do not baptize the child in my own faith or in the faith of Christendom. But my faith and Christendom bring the child to baptism, in order that by rightly bringing it God may give it a faith of its own, that it may believe as I believe and be preserved in the same Word that Christ has given me. And I do not baptize the child on that it has no faith, as the Bohemians think, that when it grows up it shall then first obtain faith, and speak the Word of God over the child: Thy sins are forgiven thee; and yet it does not, as they hold, believe the words. Is not this to charge the Word of God as being false? Now to sum up: I can of course by my prayers and faith help another that he may also believe, but I cannot believe for him.

 

 

THE POWER ON EARTH TO FORGIVE SINS

 

28. The Pharisees knew very well that to forgive sins was the work of God, and belonged to him alone. For this reason they regarded Christ as a blasphemer, who as a man pretended to forgive sins. The forgiveness of sin is of two kinds: The first is to drive sin from the heart and infuse grace into it; this is the work of God alone. The second kind is the declaration of the forgiveness of sin; this man can do to his fellowman. But here Christ does both. He instills the Spirit into the heart and externally he declares forgiveness with the word, which is a declaration and public preaching of the internal forgiveness.

 

29. All men who are Christians and have been baptized, have this power. For with this they praise Christ, and the word is put into their mouth, so that they may and are able to say, if they wish, and as often as it is necessary: Behold, O Man! God offers thee his grace, forgives thee all thy sins; be comforted, thy sins are forgiven; only believe and thou wilt surely have forgiveness. This word of consolation shall not cease among Christians until the last day: ”Thy sins are forgiven, be of good cheer.” Such language a Christian always uses and openly declares the forgiveness of sins. For this reason and in this manner a Christian has power to forgive sins.

 

30. Therefore if I say to you: Thy sins are forgiven, then believe it as surely as though God himself had said it to you. But who could do this if Christ had not descended, had not instructed me and said that we should forgive one another our trespasses? As when he says, John 20, 22-23: ”Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained unto them.” And at another place, Mat. 18, 19-20, he says: ”If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” The word penetrates and performs it.

 

31. Now if there were no man on earth to forgive sins, and there were only law and works what a weak, and miserable thing a poor troubled conscience would be. But now when God adequately instructs every one, so that he is able to say to others: Thy sins are forgiven thee, whereever thou art; the golden age has arrived. On this account we are to be defiant and boastful against sin, so that we can say to our brother, who is in anxiety and distress on account of his sins: Be of good cheer, my brother, thy sins are forgiven; although I cannot give thee the Holy Ghost and faith, I can yet declare them unto thee; if thou believest, thou hast them. They who thus believe these words, praise and glorify God, even as they do here in the Gospel.  That is, God has given man power to forgive sins, and thus the kingdom of Christ is spread, the conscience is strengthened and comforted. This we do now through the Word. God grant that we may also thus understand it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWENTIETH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY

EPHESIANS 5:15-21.

 

 

 

EPHESIANS 5:15-21.

Look therefore carefully how ye walk [See then that ye walk circumspectly], not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit; speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ.

 

THE CAREFUL WALK OF THE CHRISTIAN

1. Paul’s admonition here is designed for those who, having heard the Gospel and made a fine start in believing, immediately imagine themselves secure and think they have accomplished all. Forgetful that they are still flesh and blood, and in the world and in contact with the devil’s kingdom, they live in unconcern, as if delivered from all danger, and the devil far fled. By the very reason of their security they are overcome of the devil and their own flesh, and fall unawares from the Gospel. They have just enough connection with it to be able to prate of it, boasting themselves Christians but giving no indication of the fact in their conduct.

 

2. Paul would tell them how, in view of these things, vigilance is essential to the Christian life. To regulate the life by keeping God’s will ever before the eyes, always conforming the conduct to it – this he calls walking circumspectly and being wise. If you for a moment lose sight of God’s will, the devil immediately possesses you and works pernicious results, transforming a Christian into an indolent, self-secure hypocrite; a hypocrite into a heretic and factionist; and a heretic into an open enemy. So the apostle here teaches that in all seriousness if we would secure ourselves against the craft and power of the devil we must be vigilant; we must be careful how we walk. In Satan we have an enemy bent on hindering us; on undermining our very foundation.

 

3. Consequently they who fail to keep earnest watch over their Christian life – that is, to have a care for soundness of belief and to gladly hear and obey the Word of God – are unwise, even foolish, and have no knowledge of God’s will. They have removed the light from before their eyes to behold instead a thing of their own imagination. They see as through a painted glass, presuming they do well in following such phantoms of their reason, until they are misled and defeated of the devil.

 

THE WORD, THE GUIDE OF THE CHRISTIAN

4. Therefore, not without reason does Paul warn Christians to be always wise and circumspect – to keep the Word of God before them. Upon so doing depends their wisdom and understanding. Let each one make it a matter of personal concern, and especially should it be the general interest of the congregation. Where care is not observed to retain the Word in the Church, but there are admitted to the pulpit brawlers who set forth their own fraudulent doctrines, the Church is injured; the congregation will soon be as the preacher. Again, if the individual fails to regulate his daily life – the affairs of his calling – by the Word of God; if he forgets the Word and absorbs himself in accumulating wealth; if he is tangled with secular interests, he soon becomes a cold and indolent Christian, then an erring soul, and finally utterly disregards God’s will and his Word. It is for these reasons God so frequently commands us in the Scriptures continually to explain and apply his Word, to hear it willingly and practice it faithfully, and to meditate upon it day and night. He would have our lives emanate from the Word in honor to God and gratitude to him – from the Word wherein we daily look as in a mirror. But care and diligence are necessary to bring it to pass, and we should faithfully assist each other by instruction, advice, and in other ways.

 

5. In my admonitions I have often enough urged those who have influence, to use all diligence in drawing the young to school, where they may receive proper instruction to become pastors and preachers; and I have earnestly advised that in cases of necessity ample financial provision be made for students. But, alas, few communities, few States, are interested in the matter. In all Germany, look at the bishops, princes, noblemen, the inhabitants of town and country – how confidently they go on sleeping and snoring in their indifference to the question. They presume to think there is no need for action; the matter will adjust itself; there will always be pastors and preachers. But assuredly they deceive themselves if they think they are consulting their best interests in this affair; for they will, as the text says, become foolish and fail to recognize the will of God. Therefore they will some day have to experience what they do not now believe: in a few years after our day they will seek preachers and find none; they will have to hear rude, illiterate dolts who, lacking understanding of the Word of God, will, like all stupid Papists, preach the vile, offensive things of the Pope, about consecrated water and salt, about gray gowns, new monasteries and the like.

 

6. Cry, preach and admonish as we will, no one will hear; foreseeing which, Paul prophesies that they who observe not God’s will, become unwise, foolish, and consequently waste the day of grace and neglect their salvation. Now, it is God’s will we should sanctify his name, love and advance his Word, and so aid in building up his kingdom. When we fulfill his will in these things, he will regard our desires, providing us with daily bread and granting peace and happiness.

 

7. Now, it should be our chief concern to preserve to ourselves the Word and will of God. That would truly be wisdom, and redeeming the time. But failing therein, it must be with us as with the unwise and fools; we will have to hear the declaration: “Since you refuse to sanctify my name, to advance my kingdom and to do my will, neither will I provide you daily bread, nor forgive your sins, nor keep from temptation and deliver from evil.” God will then permit us to deplore the great calamities of the world – its turmoil and wickedness, the cause whereof the world attributes to the Gospel. But the punishment just mentioned must be visited upon them who will not recognize the will of God and submit to it. These, however, desire to justify themselves and are unwilling to receive censure for having conducted themselves unwisely, even foolishly.

 

8. So much for a general observation upon the expression “walking wisely and circumspectly”; so much upon unwise conduct in regard to matters of vital importance to the Church, which have to do with the office of the ministry and with God’s Word. Where the ministry and the Word of God are preserved, there will always be some among the masses to attend upon the preaching of the Word and to conform their lives to it. But when the Bible leaves the pulpit, little good will be accomplished, even though one here and there be able to read the Scriptures for themselves and imagine they have no need of the preached Word. Where will the untaught masses stand? Note how it has been with the poor people in our time who were misled by Munzer and Munster, and their prophets and factionists.

 

PUBLIC PREACHING OF THE WORD ENJOINED

Then let everyone lend earnest effort to promote public preaching of the Word everywhere, and public attendance upon that preaching; and thus rightly to found and build up the Church. Let him also put on the wedding garment himself (mentioned in the Gospel for today); let him take care to be found an earnest advocate of the Word of God, uninfluenced by thoughts common to the secure spirit: “Oh, there are pastors and preachers enough for me. I can hear or read the Word when I please; have access to it any day. I must give first attention to bread-winning and like things. Let others look out for themselves.” Take care, my dear sir; you can easily fail by carelessness here and be found without the wedding garment, perhaps may die without it, unaware how you are being deceived. Whose fault will it be but your own since you would not hear Paul’s admonition to walk wisely and circumspectly?

 

9. We should make provision while the opportunity is at our doors, for, judging from the present course of the world, it will not long retain what it has. Everywhere men are diligently helping to hunt down ministers, or at least to so bring to bear upon them hunger and poverty, to so oppose them with secret fraud, as to drive them from the land. And little trouble and labor will be required to accomplish it. We shall only too soon be rid of our ministers and have their places amply supplied by deceivers. I would much rather suffer in hell with Judas the Betrayer than to bear the guilt of accomplishing one minister’s death or of being instrumental in offering place to one deceiver. For it would not be so intolerable to suffer the anguish of the betrayer of Christ as to endure that of one who, by his sin in this respect, is responsible for the loss of countless souls.

 

NECESSITY OF IMPROVING THE TIME

10. Paul goes on to elaborate his admonition by explaining what it is to walk circumspectly and wisely – to “redeem the time, because the days are evil.” In other words: Think not happy days are in store for you and you may defer duty till better times; better times will never be. The devil is always in the world to hinder your every effort to do good, and his opposition increases with time. The longer you tarry, the less your power to accomplish good; wasted time only makes matters worse. Then redeem the time; grasp your opportunities as best you can. Let no interest be so dear to you as the promotion of God’s kingdom and the serving of the public in every good and useful way possible, whatever befall yourself.

 

11. Christ in like manner says to the Jews: “While ye have the light, believe on the light, that ye may become sons of light.” John 12:36. And Paul, after quoting from Isaiah 49:8, adds: “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” 2 Corinthians 6:2. So his counsel in our text means: Take heed you receive not the grace of God in vain. Or, neglect not the matter of your salvation; enjoy while you may the opportunity of furthering the kingdom of God, for the sake of your own and others’ salvation. Defer not the thing to another time, lest the opportunity escape you. Elsewhere ( Galatians 6:10) the apostle says, “As we have opportunity, let us work that which is good.” In other words: Act now, while you may. Your time passes with astonishing rapidity. Be not deceived, then, by the thought, “Oh, I can attend to the matter a year from now – two years – three.” That is simply foolish. It is an unwise conclusion of the thoughtless. Before they are aware, they have lost the salvation extended them. They defer to consider God’s will, putting it off for a season, until they shall have accomplished their own aims; then they have deferred too long.

 

12. The Lord comes to your door. You do not have to seek him. If you are grateful he tarries to speak with you. But if you let him pass by you will have to complain as did the bride in Song of Solomon 5:6: “I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone … I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.” Think not you will find the Lord when he has once gone, though you traverse the world. But while he is near you may seek and find; as Isaiah says ( Isaiah 55:6), “Seek ye Jehovah while he may be found.” If through your neglect he pass by, all seeking then will be vain. For more than twenty years in my cloister I experienced the meaning of such disappointment. I sought God with great toil and with severe mortification of the body, fasting, watching, singing and praying. In this way I shamefully wasted my time and found not the Lord. The more I sought and the nearer I thought I was to him, the farther away I got. No, God does not permit us to find him so. He must first come and seek us where we are. We may not pursue and overtake him. That is not his will.

 

13. Then be careful to avail yourself of the present opportunity. Embrace it while he is near, and faithfully consider what he requires of you. To ascertain this, go to the Creed and the Ten Commandments. They will tell you. Regulate your life by them. Be helped by the Lord’s Prayer. Begin with yourself; then pray for the Church. Let it be your desire that God’s name be everywhere sanctified and that your life conform to his will. If you are faithful in these things, assuredly you will walk wisely; you will avoid sin and do good. For the study and practice of these precepts will leave you no opportunity to do evil. God’s Word will soon teach you to sanctify his name, to extend his kingdom, to do your neighbor no injury in mind, body or estate.

 

14. Observe this is “redeeming the time.” This is employing it well, while the golden days last in which we have remission from pain and sin. Not such remission as the Pope grants in his jubilees, wherein he deceives the world. Right here let us be careful not to cheat ourselves with the false idea that salvation cannot escape us. Let it not be with us as befell the children of Israel, of whom it is said in Psalms 95:11 and Hebrews 4:3 that because of their unbelief they entered not into the rest of God. They would not accept their opportunity in the forty years wherein he gave them his Word and showed them his wonders, daily admonishing them and calling to repentance and faith. They but tempted and provoked him the more. Hence another admonition was given the people of God and a certain day appointed: “Today if ye shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Hebrews 4:7. Every day with us is “today” and we are permitted to hear God’s voice still imploring us not to waste the time.

 

15. Surely we ought supremely to thank God, as the latter part of our text enjoins, for the great blessing of his nearness to us. We have his presence in our homes. He is with us at our board, by our couch – anywhere we desire him. He offers us all assistance and grants all we may ask. So gracious a guest should indeed receive our high esteem. We ought to honor him while he is with us.

 

16. Well may we pray, as I have said. There is too much slumbering everywhere in Germany. We cannot perceive how it is possible to preserve the Gospel and fill the pulpits for ten years longer. To such extent does wickedness rage in the world that blindness and error must sweep it as before. And no one will be to blame but the stupid bishops and princes, and those of us who esteem not the Word of God.

 

INGRATITUDE WILL BE PUNISHED

Alas, that I am compelled against my will to be a prophet of ill to Germany. Yet it is not I, but the prayer of my Lord and your Lord; for according to its teachings he will say: “You neglected my Word. Unwilling to tolerate it, you persecuted and starved out its messengers. Therefore I will withhold your daily bread and give instead famine and war and murder, unto utter desolation; for you wish to have it so. Then when you cry for forgiveness of sins and deliverance from the evils come upon you, I will hear you as you heard my Word, my entreaties. I will leave you in your misfortunes as you left me and my Word.”

 

17. In fact, no one for a moment thinks of how God has signally, richly and graciously blessed us; how we are in possession of actual paradise – yes, the entire kingdom of heaven – if we only recognized the fact: and yet we shamefully, ungratefully and unreasonably reject the kingdom; as if it were not enough for us to overstep the Ten Commandments in our disobedience, but must even trample under foot the mercy God offers in the Gospel. Then why should we be surprised if he send down wrath upon us? What else is he to do but fulfill our Gospel passage for today, which threatens every individual rejecter and persecutor of God’s Son and his servants, by whom we are invited to the marriage – what else is God to do but send out a divine army of servants to arrest the career of such murderers and to terminate their existence? We are given a special illustration – an example to the world – in the instance of the fate of Jerusalem, and in fact of the entire Jewish nation. They sinned unceasingly against all God’s commandments, and when he proclaimed grace and offered forgiveness of sins, they trampled upon his mercy. Should Christ not revenge himself when they shamed and mocked his precious blood?

 

18. Unto all the abominable sins mentioned, we must heap blasphemies; for when wrath and punishment come upon us we make outcry, complaining that the Gospel – or the new doctrine, as it is now called – is responsible. The Jews blame us Christians alone for the fact that they are scattered throughout the world. Their prayers day and night are directed against us, in blasphemies and reproaches inexpressible. Nevertheless, it was not the Christians who harassed and scattered them, but the heathenish Roman emperor. But whom other than themselves have the Jews to blame for their condition? for they would not tolerate Christ, when he brought them only help and boundless grace. Refusing to accept him whom God gave and in whom he promised all blessings, they necessarily lost their daily bread from God, except as they rebelliously extort it by usury and wickedness. They had also to suffer the loss of their national life, their priesthood and public worship, forgiveness of sins and redemption, and so remain eternally captive under the wrath and condemnation of God. Such is the just and inevitable punishment of the unwise – the foolish – who refused to recognize their opportunity when Christ was with them.

 

19. With this terrible example before our eyes, we are still unrepentant, pursuing the same course the Jews followed, not only in disobedience to the will of God, but in rejecting his grace. For that grace we should earnestly long and pray, striving to secure to our children after us baptism, the ministry and the sacrament, in their purity. In return for our perversity, it will eventually be with us as with the Jews and other ungrateful persecutors and rejecters.

 

20. Then let him who will receive advice and help, faithfully heed Paul’s counsel and redeem the time, not sleeping away the blessed golden hour of grace; as Christ earnestly admonishes in the parable of the five foolish virgins. Matthew 25:13. The foolish virgins might have made their purchases in season, before the bridegroom’s arrival; but failing to attend to the matter until time to meet the bridegroom, they missed both the market and the wedding.

 

21. The ancient poets and sages make use of a similar illustration at the expense of the cricket or grasshopper. As the fable runs, when winter came the grasshoppers, having nothing to eat, went to the ants and asked them to divide their gathered store. “What did you in the summer time that you gathered nothing?” asked the ants. “We sang,” the grasshoppers replied. “If you sang in the summer, you must dance for it in the winter,” was the response. Similarly should fools unwilling to learn the will of God be answered. Terrible and alarming is the wrath of God when with scorn and mockery he turns away a soul. In Proverbs 1:24 and 26 he threatens: “Because I have called, and ye have refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man hath regarded .... I also will laugh in the day of your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh.”

 

22. Some may ask what Paul means by adding to the phrase, “Redeeming the time,” the modifier, “because the days are evil”; if we are to regard the present opportunity golden, why are the days evil?

 

EVIL DOCTRINES EVER OPPOSE THE CHRISTIAN

23. I answer: The time is unquestionably good so long as the Gospel is sounded – is faithfully preached and received. At the same time, even today the world is filled with evils, factions, false theories and bad examples of every sort; much of this wickedness is inherent in ourselves. With these things the Christian must always contend; the devil pursues, and our own flesh discourages us and allures from recognition and observance of the divine will. If we strive not against it, we shall soon lose sight of God’s will, to our own injury, even while listening to the Gospel. For the devil’s strongest fury is exerted to befoul the world with fanaticism, and to draw from the pure doctrine of faith into that evil even them who possess the Gospel. Moreover, being still flesh and blood we are always selfsecure, unwilling to be led by the Spirit, and indolent and unresponsive in relation to the Word of God and to prayer. Again, in the outward walks of life, in temporal conditions, only obstacles and evils meet us everywhere, impeding our spiritual progress and impelling us to suppress the Gospel and to rend the Church.

 

24. Let no one, then, expect to enjoy an era of peace and pleasure here on earth. Although the present time is in itself good, and God bestows upon us the golden year of his Word and his grace, yet the devil is here with his factions and followers, and our own flesh supports him. He corrupts the blessed days of grace at every possible opportunity, and so oppresses Christians that they must contend against him with their utmost strength and vigilance if they would not, through the influence of evils and obstacles, be wrested from the Gospel they have received, and if they would persevere therein unto the end. Wherefore, we have the best reasons to adapt ourselves to the present time in the best possible way; to walk wisely and circumspectly, showing all faithfulness to the will of God; obeying it while we have opportunity – while still in possession of God’s Word, his grace and his Spirit. Being opposed and obstructed by the devil and our own flesh, we must, as Paul implies, be wise and careful; we must guard against following them. If we fail in this respect, it will not avail us to pretend we did not know our duty, or had not time to perform it and consequently could not cope with them. So, then, we are to understand by “evil days” the allurements that lead us away from God’s Word and his will.

 

“And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess.”

25. The apostle touches upon several evils strongly tending to waste of time and neglect of the golden opportunity. Especially is drunkenness one, for drink makes men particularly self-secure, reckless and disorderly. The evil was formerly common in Greece, and in Germany today are men who delight in being riotously drunk night and day. Such individuals are utterly lacking in the faithfulness and interest essential to following the will of God. They are unable, even in temporal affairs, to persistently apply themselves, much less to be opportune. Indeed, so beastly and swinish do they become, they lose all sense of either shame or honor; they have no modesty nor any human feeling. Alas, examples are before our eyes plainer and more numerous than we can depict.

 

26. Paul’s words of admonition, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” are treated in the epistle passage for the fifth Sunday after Epiphany, where the text is similar.

 

 

    

 

 

TWENTIETH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.

MATTHEW 22:1-14.

 

 

Contents:

The king’s marriage feast for his son and the wedding garment; or concerning the kingdom of Christ.

 

 

 

 

THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST

 

MATTHEW 22:1-14.

And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.

 

1. This Gospel is a very earnest admonition, like to-day’s Epistle, to make good use of the time of the Gospel; and a terrible threatening of the awful punishment, that shall pass upon the secure and proud heads that despise the time of the kingdom of grace and persecute the preaching of the Gospel, and upon the false trivial spirits who bear the name of the Gospel and of Christ for a show and do not mean it in earnest. And by this Gospel is well painted forth and made plain what the multitudes are who are called God’s people or the church and possess his Word, and how they are and act both as to their inner nature and their outer appearance.

 

2. First, God builds up his Christendom in a way that he calls it, and what pertains to its government, the kingdom of heaven; to signify, that he has called and separated out of the world a people for himself here upon the earth through the Word of his Gospel; not to the end that it should be fitted and organized, like the outer and civil government, with temporal rule, power, possessions, government and maintenance of outward worldly righteousness, discipline, defense, peace, etc. For all this has already before been richly ordered, and it was commanded and put into man to rule in this life as well as he can; although this is also through sin weakened and spoiled so that it is not as it should be, and is a poor, miserable, weak government, as weak and transient as the human body, and is able to go no farther, where it is at its best, than the stomach, as long as the stomach performs its functions. But above that God has arranged and instituted his own divine government, after he revealed his fathomless grace and gave his Word to prepare and gather a people, whom he redeemed from his wrath, eternal death and sin, through which they fell into such misery, and from which they could not help themselves by any human wisdom, counsel or power, and taught them to know him aright and to praise and laud him forever.

 

3. Christ here calls his kingdom the kingdom of heaven, where he does not rule in a temporal way nor deals with the things of this life; but he founded and developed an eternal, imperishable kingdom, which begins on the earth through faith, and in which we receive and possess those eternal riches, forgiveness of sins, comfort, strength, renewal of the Holy Spirit, victory and triumph over the power of satan, death and hell, and finally eternal life of body and soul, that is, eternal fellowship and blessedness with God.

 

4. Such a divine kingdom can be governed, built up, protected, extended and maintained only by means of the external office of the Word and of the Sacraments, through which the Holy Spirit is powerful and works in the hearts etc., as I have often said in speaking on this theme.

 

5. But in the most lovable and comforting way it is pictured to us here by Christ our Lord, in that he himself likens it to a royal wedding feast; when a bride was given to the King’s son, and all were full of the highest joy and glory, and many were invited to this marriage feast and its joy. For this is among all the parables and pictures, by which God presents the kingdom of Christ to us, a select and beautiful one; that Christendom or the Christian state is a marriage feast or a matrimonial union, where God himself selects a church on the earth for his Son, which he takes to himself as his bride. God here by our own lives and experiences will make known and reflect as in a mirror what we have in Christ; and also by the common state of marriage on earth, in which we were born and reared and now live, he delivers a daily sermon and admonition in order that we should remember and consider this great mystery (for so St. Paul calls it in Ephesians 5:32), that the conjugal life of a man and wife, instituted by God, should be a great, beautiful and wonderful sign, and a tangible, yet spiritual picture, that points out and explains something special, excellent and great, hidden to and inconceivable by the human reason, namely, Christ and his church.

 

6. For this accompanies the marriage state, where it is worthy of the name and may be called a truly married life, where man and wife truly live together: firstly true heart-confidence each in each from both sides, as Solomon in Proverbs 31:11 among other virtues of a pious wife also praises this: “The heart of her husband trusteth in her;” that is, he entrusts to her his body and life, money, possessions and honor. Likewise on the other hand, the heart, of the wife clings to her husband, he is her highest, dearest treasure on earth; for she expects and has in him honor, protection and help in all times of her need. Such a completely harmonious, equal and eternal confidence and affection are not found among other persons and stations in life, for example between master and servant, mistress and maidservant, yea, not even between children and parents. For there the love is not thus alike, strong and perfect to one another, and an eternal union does not endure here as in the marriage state, instituted by God; as the text in Genesis 2:24 says: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”

 

7. Out of such love and heart confidence follows now also the fellowship in all they have in common with one another or in all that befalls them, good or bad; so that each must accept it as his or her own, and add and impart help to the other with his or her means, and both suffer and enjoy, rejoice and mourn together, according as it may be well or ill with them.

 

8. This now should be a parable or sign of the great, mysterious and wonderful union of Christ and his church, whose members we all are who believe on him, and as St. Paul says, Ephesians 5:30, of his flesh and bones, as at creation the wife was taken from the man. It must indeed be a great, fathomless and inexpressible love of God to us, that the divine nature unites thus with us and sinks itself into our flesh and blood, so that God’s Son truly becomes one flesh and one body with us, and so lovingly receives us that he is not only willing to be our brother, but also our bridegroom, and turns to us and gives us as our own all his divine treasures, wisdom, righteousness, life, strength, power, so that in him we should also be partakers of his divine nature, as St. Peter says in his 2 Peter 1:4. And it is his pleasure that we should believe this, so that we may be placed in possession of this honor and of these riches; then we may rejoice and with all assurance take comfort in this Lord, as a bride does in the riches and honor of her betrothed. And thus his Christendom is his wife and empress in heaven and upon earth, for she is called the bride of God who is Lord over all creatures, and she sits in the highest manner in her glory and power over sin, death, satan, hell, etc.

 

9. Behold, this he shows us in the every-day picture of the wedding feast or of the married state, where we see the love and faithfulness of pious wedded persons; also in the marriage feast, in the bride and the bridegroom s joy and riches; that we learn to believe this and that we also think that Christ’s heart and mind are truly thus disposed to his bride the church; but with far greater love, faithfulness and grace. This he clearly shows us in his Word of the Gospel and by the Holy Spirit, whom he gives to his church; and prepares the glorious, joyful marriage feast, at which he is wedded to his bride and he takes her to himself, and, to speak in our childish and human way, leads his bride to the dance as with fife and drum, and takes her in his arm; again, he honors and adorns her with all his finery, that is with the blotting out and washing away of sins, with righteousness and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and with his light, knowledge, strength and all the gifts which belong to that life. These are different chains, rings, velvet, silk, pearls, treasures and jewels from the earthly ones, which are only a dead picture of those heavenly treasures.

 

10. Therefore, wherever you see or hear bride and bridegroom, or the joy and beauty of a marriage feast, there open your eyes and heart, and behold what your loving Lord and Savior presents and shows to you, who prepares a glorious, royal marriage feast for you, his beloved bride, a living member if you believe in him. In that is eternal joy, good cheer, singing and springing, eternal ornaments, and all riches and the fullness of everything good.

 

11. Therefore a hearty confidence in him should grow and increase in thee that he called and chose thee through baptism to his fellowship through his inexpressible hearty love and received thee, to release thee from sin, eternal death and the power of satan, and imparted to thee his body and life, and all that he has; yea, he so completely gave himself to thee, that thou mayest not only glory in what he did for thy sake and gave to thee, but thou mayest comfortably and joyfully glory in him as being thine. And as a bride relies with hearty confidence upon her bridegroom and holds the heart of the bridegroom as her own heart, so do thou rely from the depth of thy heart upon the love of Christ, and entertain no doubt that he is not otherwise disposed to thee than as thy own heart is.

 

12. But this is opposed beyond measure in us by our old Adam, our flesh and blood, our blindness and the stiffened hardness of our hearts, which does not permit us to see or believe it; especially if we see and experience in ourselves and in this miserable life other things before our eyes and senses. For reason sees and understands it well that the marriage feast and bridal love are in themselves a lovely and cheerful picture, and it may be taught that Christ is a beautiful, noble, pious and faithful bridegroom, and his church a glorious, blessed bride. But things come to a stop later, when everyone is to believe for himself that he is also of Christ and a member of his body and Christ bears such a heart and love toward him. The reason is that I do not see such excellent glory in myself, but on the contrary my weakness and unworthiness, and feel nothing but sorrow, sadness and all kinds of suffering and even death, the grave, and maggots, which are about to consume me.

 

13. But in the face of this you should learn to believe the Word Christ himself speaks to you and God commands you to believe, that it is true (unless you wish to give God the lie) regardless of what you feel in your heart. For if you should believe, you must not cleave to what your thoughts and feelings say to you, but to what God’s Word says, no matter how little of it you may experience. Therefore, if you are a person who feels his need and misery and desires from the heart to partake of this comfort and love of Christ, then incline your ears and heart hither to Christ, and lay hold of this comforting picture he presents to you, wherewith he shows that he will have himself known and believed by you, that he has in his heart a much warmer love and a more loyal fidelity to you, than any bridegroom to his beloved bride. And on the other hand you should have a much heartier and greater confidence and joy in him than any bride has to her bridegroom. So that here you may justly chastise yourself because of your unbelief, and say: Behold, can the bridal love cause such hearty confidence and joy between the bride and the bridegroom, which is still of a low order and transitory? Why do I not rejoice much more over my holy and faithful Savior, Christ, who gave himself for me and to me wholly as my own? Shame on me because of my unbelief, that my heart is not here full of laughter and eternal joy, when I hear and know how he says to me through his Word that he will be my beloved bridegroom. Should I not much rather have here another, a higher joy, and my eyes, thoughts, heart, and whole life cleave more to my beloved Savior, than a bride to her bridegroom, who, if she is a pious and true bride, sees and hears indeed nothing more gladly than her spouse? Yea, even when she does not see him and he is absent from her, her heart cleaves to him, so that she can not but think of him.

 

14. However, as I said, it is our old Adam, the corrupt nature, that does not allow the heart to lay hold of this knowledge, joy and consolation. Therefore it is and will doubtless continue to be, as St. Paul calls it in Ephesians 5:32, a mystery, a secret, deep, hidden, incomprehensible thing, but yet a something great, excellent and wonderful. Not only to the blind, foolish world, that cannot think or understand anything at all of these high divine things; but also for the beloved apostles and advanced Christians, that herein they have enough to learn and believe, and they themselves are compelled to confess how long they labored with it, preached about it, strove after it, and it is to them still a mystery in this life. For St. Paul himself often complained that it did not work so powerfully in him, because of his flesh and blood, as it should work if it were as fully understood and apprehended as it should be; for he and other saints would not have been so anxious, sad and terrified, as he often was, and the prophet David also lamented in many Psalms; but their hearts would have soared in pure joy. However, they will be free from all this in the life beyond, where they will see without any covering and dimness to the vision, and be filled with joy and live forever. For the present it remains a mysterious, hidden; spiritual marriage feast, that one does not see with the eyes, nor grasp with the reason; but faith alone is able to grasp it, as faith holds only to the word it hears concerning it, and yet grasps it still very weakly on account of our perverse flesh.

 

15. For this marriage feast is so totally foreign to reason, that it is terrified when it thinks how great it is. I speak now still of the Christians; for the others do not come to it, they hold it simply as impossible, yea, as mere talk of fools and a fable, when they hear that God becomes man’s bridegroom; but the Christians who have commenced to believe it, must be shocked and amazed at its greatness: Dear God, how shall I exalt myself so highly as to boast of being God’s bride, and God’s Son my bridegroom? How do I, a poor, offensive worm of the dust, come to this honor, which never befell the angels in heaven, that the eternal Majesty condescends so very low into my poor flesh and blood and thoroughly unites himself with me, that he will be one body with me, and yet I am from the sole of my foot to the crown of my head so completely full of filth, leprosy, sin and stench before God; how shall I then be considered the bride of the high, eternal and glorious Majesty and be one body with him?

 

16. But hear well that God desires it to be so. In Ephesians 5:25-27 he says: I will dress and place before me a bride, who shall be my church, that is glorious, of the glory I myself have and not having spot or wrinkle, but holy and without blemish, etc., just as I am. He does not speak of a bride that he finds in this state, pure, holy, blameless, without spot, etc.; such a bride he should not seek on the earth, but he should have remained among his angels in heaven to find her there. But he revealed himself through his Word to men, surely not for the sake of this life, but that he might be praised forever through her; and therefore he must have had in mind something greater, to do with and through her. The great mystery is that he did not take upon himself the nature of angels, but united himself with the human nature.

 

17. Here on the earth he finds nothing but a corrupt, filthy, shameless, condemned bride of satan, that has become faithless to God, her Lord and Creator, and fallen under his eternal wrath and curse. If he is now to secure here a bride or congregation, who, to be sure, must be also pure and holy, otherwise there could be here no union, then he must first and in the highest degree show his love, that he applies his purity and holiness to her sins and condemnation, and thereby cleans and sanctifies her. This he did do, as St. Paul says in Ephesians 5:25-26, in that he gave himself for her and purchased her by his blood to sanctify her for himself, and besides cleansed and washed her by the baptism of water; and he adds a Word which one hears. By means of the same Word and baptism he prepares her to be his loving bride, and praises and claims her to be pure from sin, God’s wrath and the power of satan; furthermore does he desire that she esteem herself also as a loving, beautiful, holy, glorious bride of God’s Son.

 

18. Here no one sees how excellent a work is accomplished thus hidden and secretly through God’s Word, baptism and our faith; and yet by it the result is accomplished that this company of poor sinful men, who were not worthy to behold God at a distance because of their great filthiness, are made through this bath and washing clean, beautiful and holy, so that they are well pleasing to God as the bride of his beloved Son and as his loving daughter; and this purifying commenced in this life, he develops and continues constantly in her until she is presented to him purer and more beautiful than the light and brightness of the sun.

 

19. Therefore a Christian must learn to believe this, so that he in the future does not consider himself in the light of his first birth, as he was born from Adam; but as he is called to Christ and baptized into him, and like all Christians confides in and is united with him; so they should cling to him as to their bridegroom, who through the same washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, while they are still unclean he continually purifies and adorns them until the day he presents his church to himself, not only without a spot or stain, but also without a wrinkle, very beautiful, sleek and perfect, like fresh youth.

 

20. Therefore do not be terrified if you feel too entirely unworthy and impure; for if your thoughts are fixed on that you will forget and lose this confidence and trust in Christ. But you must heed the Word Christ speaks to you: Although you are full of sin, death and perdition, yet you have here my righteousness and life, which I apply and give to you. If you are impure and filthy, you have here the washing of baptism and of my Word, through which I wash you and pronounce you clean, and will constantly cleanse you for ever and ever until you shall stand before me and all creatures perfectly beautiful and pure.

 

21. This he tells us not only through his Word; but in order that we might not complain being left without admonition and preaching, he presents it to us in so many different every-day pictures and parables of wedded love, yea, of the first warmth and fervency between a bride and groom; when we see how both hearts cling to one another and one has joy and pleasure in the other. Here the bride does not fear in the least that her groom will cause her suffering or harm or cast her away; but in hearty affection confides in him and doubts not he will take her into his arms, sit with her at the table, and give her as her own whatever he has. We should in this also truly know Christ’s heart, and not allow ourselves to picture him otherwise than we hear and see him both in his own Word and in the parables and signs which present him to us, that we may indeed never dare to complain, except of ourselves and of our old Adam that hinders us in our beautiful joy.

 

22. For should not man become his own enemy, and only wish that death might soon do away with him, for the reason that he knows not himself and cannot rightly, as he should, taste and enjoy his great treasure, joy and blessedness? And so perhaps it might be best for us, except that this life with its temptations, cross and sufferings is to be the school in which always and daily we more and more learn to know what he is in us and we in him, and in which therefore we also work for this that we may seize him, even as he ran after us and seized us, in that he fetched and won us for his own with his sweat and blood. Alas, however, that we are too weak, lazy and slow thus to run after him in this life!

 

23. Behold, such is the glorious royal wedding in this kingdom, which Christ calls the kingdom of heaven, and to which we, all of us, bidden and unbidden, Jews and Gentiles, come by means of the Gospel resounding in all the world, as called by fifes and drums which, after the manner of the Scriptures, are called the voices of the bridegroom and the bride. That is to say, a marriagelike voice or sound and tone, that is a token of the wedding and the joys, and is to announce unto everyone such joy and call us thereunto.

 

24. But now consider further how this wedding feast fares in the world, and how the world carries itself towards it when it is to become a partaker in this blessed kingdom. We have just heard how hard, on account of their flesh, this is even to Christians, albeit they strive after this kingdom of God and seek their comfort in Christ. But now it is further shown how the other, adverse realm of the devil in the world, as in its empire (as Christ in John 12:31 calls him a prince of the world, and St. Paul, Ephesians 6:12, the lord of the world), fights against God’s kingdom and drives and chases people, lest they accept and hear the joyous, comforting word about this wedding and joy in Christ, but rather, wittingly and knowingly, scorn the same, aye, oppose themselves to it, even though they be called and bidden thereto.

 

25. This is said especially of the Jewish people, who are the first bidden guests to whom God sent his servants, first the patriarchs and prophets, later also the apostles, causing them to be begged and admonished not to neglect the time of their blessedness and salvation. They, however, not alone despise this but also fly at the servants of God, who offer them such grace, to beat them to death; nor will they listen or suffer to be told more of this wedding. These are not common and ordinary people, but the best, wisest and holiest of all, who are occupied with far higher and more needful things than to be persuaded to come to this wedding, to receive good things for nothing, and to be helped into heaven. They know much better for themselves how, by their own precious life, to bring about great works, the law’s holiness and God’s service. Hereof more is said in the Gospel story of the great supper (Luke 14), concerning those who excuse themselves and would not come.

 

26. Like unto these are also all such as are by the Gospel called to faith and the knowledge of Christ, but will not hear and accept the same. These are always the greatest and best part of the world, who as we know, wish to be called God’s people and the church. They also have to attend to far greater and better things, – how they may keep up their fine and glorious estate and condition, which they call the government and glory of the church. Of that they will not hear, and esteem it an innovation and change of the good and praiseworthy old order, etc. And the more one urges them to obey the Gospel, the less will they listen to it, and the more bitterly do they pursue it, as we always have it before our eyes in the world.

 

27. Well then, we should therefore honor at his wedding-feast the King and Lord of Glory, and thank him for his abundant grace and the good to which he has called us and of which he makes us worthy, sobeit we judge ourselves worthy of everlasting life, as St. Paul says, Acts 13:46. And whatever men were to gain thereby, Christ has herewith foretold them. Thus they have themselves experienced and the belief, as it were, has come into their hands, that he has told them no lying story, but that it has proved only too true that the king has sent out his host and slain these murderers the which for now 1,500 years experience has confirmed, namely, that this judgment has not been removed, and that thus finally wrath has come over them and they shall remain as naught. For he himself shows that it has never yet repented him, in that he thereupon forthwith says to his men. “The wedding is ready, but the guests were not worthy,” etc.

 

28. Which is, also for other scorners and presecutors, a terrible token and example of the final wrath resolved against them and of such punishment wherewith he will altogether make an end also of them, because they would not partake of and enjoy this feast: as has already happened to Greece and Rome, and will likewise happen to our blasphemers and pursuers, unless the day of judgment come between.

 

29. These then have received their judgment as they would have it. In order, however, that Christ may still get people to his wedding feast, his servants must continually go on with their preaching, and bid and call whomsoever they find, until they fetch so many together that the tables are full, not indeed of the great ones, the holy and mighty men (who were first bidden but would not come). Rather must the poor, the cripples and the halt, as he elsewhere says, rejoice at being allowed to come to this feast – that is, the heathen, who are not numbered among God’s people and have nothing whereof they might be proud. But among this company who are here sitting at table, there is also found a rogue, whom the king, in looking over the guests, speedily recognizes and judges to have no wedding garment, and to have come, not in honor of the wedding, but as disgracing the bridegroom and the lord who has invited him. Now these are such as also permit themselves to be numbered among true Christians, hear the Gospel, are in the outward communion of the right church and make before the people as if they also might be of the Gospel – and still they are not in earnest about it.

 

30. With this Christ shows who on earth are that community which is called the church, to wit, not those who pursue God’s Word and his servants of the Gospel. For these are already wholly excluded and removed by his final judgment, aye, they have spilt their own milk by their public and self-confessed act of not accepting and suffering this preaching of the Gospel, and should not and cannot among Christians be considered members of the church, because they have not its doctrine and faith. Just as little can one consider professed heathen, Turks and Jews as the church or its members. Such judgment we must now also pass on our persecutors and blasphemers of the Gospel, as for example the Pope and his following, and entirely separate ourselves from them, as they do not in the least belong to the church of Christ, but are damned by their own judgment; to which they testify by having turned us away as outlaws and outcasts. The church on earth, however, if we speak of the outward community, is a gathering of such as hear, believe and confess the right teaching of the Gospel of Christ, and have with them the Holy Ghost who sanctifies them and works in them by the Word and sacraments. Yet among these some are false Christians and hypocrites, who nevertheless are at one with them in the same doctrine and also hold communion in the sacraments and other outward offices of the church.

 

31. Aye, such people the Christians must suffer in their gathering and cannot, as men are, avoid it or prevent them from being amongst them, nor can they remove them or turn them out of their gathering. They cannot, indeed, judge and recognize them all, but must bear them and suffer their company, but only till God himself comes with his judgment, so that they become manifest and give themselves away by their wicked life or false belief and spirit of heresy as not being true and honest Christians. Of this St. Paul speaks, 1 Corinthians 11:19: “There must be also heresies among you, that they who are approved may be made manifest among you,” and on the other hand also those who are not approved.

 

32. Thus here the King comes in, himself to behold the guests, and makes manifest him who has not the wedding garment. And now that he has become manifest and is nevertheless, hypocrite that he is, impenitent, obstinate and dumb, he causes him to be bound hand and foot and, that he may not enjoy the feast, be cast out of the festive gathering, where there is naught but light and joy, into darkness, where there is no comfort nor blessedness, but only weeping and gnashing of teeth. This, then, likewise is done in the church, by which such impenitent sinners, convicted and overcome, are ,also openly shown out of the congregation and publicly declared outcasts from God’s kingdom.

 

33. Therefore the Christians, who are the right and dear guests at this wedding, at all times have this comfort that the others who do not belong thereto, that is both persecutors and false brethren, shall not enjoy the same. For even as the former, the persecutors, manifest themselves as not being members of the church, in that they exclude themselves and go apart; thus the others, who for a time have crept in and have falsely sought cover under the name and semblance of true Christians, shall also finally become manifest. This also St. Paul says, 1 Timothy 5:24-25: “Some men’s sins are evident, going before unto judgment; and some men also they follow after. In like manner also there are good works that are evident: and such as are otherwise cannot be hid.”

 

34. And from this it is easy to understand what is meant by this man’s being without a wedding garment, namely, without the new adornment in which we please God, which is faith in Christ, and therefore also without truly good works. He remains in the old rags and tatters of his own fleshly conceit, unbelief and security, without penitence and understanding of his misery. He does not from his heart seek comfort in the grace of Christ, nor betters his life by it, and looks for no more in the Gospel than what his flesh covets. For this wedding garment must be the new light of the heart, kindled in the heart by the knowledge of the graciousness of this bridegroom and his wedding feast. Thus the heart will wholly cleave to Christ and, transfused by such comfort and joy, will so live and do as it knows to be pleasing unto him, even as a bride towards the bridegroom.

 

35. This St. Paul calls “putting on the Lord Christ” ( Galatians 3:27; Romans 13:14), also “being clothed that we shall not be found naked” ( 2 Corinthians 5:3); which takes place especially through faith, by which the heart is renewed and purified, and of which thereupon also the fruits – provided it be the true faith – follow and prove themselves. On the other hand, where there is no faith, there also the Holy Ghost is not, nor such fruits as please God. For whosoever does not know Christ through faith and has him not in his heart, he will also care little for God’s word, nor think of living according to it; he will remain proud, insolent and headstrong, though outwardly he may, with a false semblance, practice hypocrisy and deceit.

       

       

 

   

 

 

Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity;

John 4: 46-54

 

The Nobleman's Son Healed. How faith grows and is exercised

 

John 4: 46-54

So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death. Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die. Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth. Then enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house. This is again the second miracle that Jesus did, when he was come out of Judaea into Galilee.

 

1. Today's Gospel pictures to us a remarkable example of faith, for St. John carefully notes at three different times that the nobleman believed, and we may indeed be greatly moved by the fact, and ask, what kind of faith must he have had, that the Evangelist mentioned it so often. We have already learned so much about faith and the Gospel that I think we should rightly understand it. But since it ever occurs again and again, we are obliged to discuss it frequently.

 

2. In the first place, I have often said that faith through the Gospel fully brings the Lord Jesus with all his riches home to every man; and that one Christian has just as much as another, and the child baptized today has not less than St. Peter and all the saints in heaven. We are all equal and alike in reference to faith, and one person has his treasure just as full and complete as another.

 

3. Our Gospel lesson speaks further of the increase of faith, and here there is a difference. Although faith fully possesses Christ and all his riches, yet it must nevertheless be continually kept in motion and exercised, so that it may have assurance, and firmly retain its treasures. There is a  difference between having a thing and firmly keeping hold of it, between a strong and a weak faith. Such a great treasure should be firmly seized and well guarded, so that it may not be easily lost or taken from us. I may have it indeed in its entirety, although I hold it only in a paper sack, but it is not so well preserved as if I had it locked in an iron chest.

 

4. Therefore we must so live on the earth, not that we think of something different that is better to acquire than what we already possess; but that we strive to lay hold of the treasure more and more firmly and securely from day to day. We have no reason to seek anything more than faith; but here we must see to it how faith may grow and become stronger. Thus we, read in the Gospel, that, although the disciples of Christ without doubt believed (for otherwise they had not followed him), yet he often rebuked them on account of their weak faith. They had indeed faith, but when it was put to the test, they let it sink and did not support it. So it is with all Christians; where faith is not continually kept in motion and exercised, it weakens and decreases, so that it must indeed vanish; and yet we do not see nor feel this weakness ourselves, except in times of need and temptation, when unbelief rages too strongly; and yet for that very reason faith must have temptations in which it may battle and grow.

 

5. Therefore it is not as the idle babblers among the theologians of the schools taught, who make out that we are lazy and careless, by saying: If one have the smallest drop or spark of love and faith, he will be saved. The Scriptures teach that one must increase and progress. True it is that you possess Christ through faith, although you only hold the treasure in a poor cloth; yet you must see to it that you firmly lay hold of him and let no power rob you of him.

 

6. Consequently this nobleman or officer, whoever he was (I hold he was a courtier of King Herod), was so far in faith that he believed if he could bring Jesus into his home, he would then surely heal his son; for he had heard God's Word or the Gospel of Christ, that he cheerfully helped every person that was brought to him and refused no one his favor. His faith laid hold of this and that was the reason he went to Christ. For if his heart had been kept in suspense, so that he had thought: Who knows whether he can help you or will help you? he would not have gone to him. Therefore it is certain that he had beforehand so conceived of Christ and believed that he would help him.

 

7. The nature and manner of faith are to picture and mirror the goodness of Christ thus in the heart of man. Therefore the Epistle to the Hebrews says, in 11, 1: ”Faith is the substance of things hoped for,” that is, of something good, the grace and goodness of God. Now the faith of this man stood so, that if he had continued in it he would without a doubt have been saved, and the Lord would have had pleasure in it. However, he dealt severely with him, found an imperfection in his faith, chastised him and said:

 

”Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe.”

8. How does this agree with what I said before? If faith and a good confidence in him brought the nobleman to Christ, how can he then say: Ye will in no wise believe, unless ye see signs? But, as I said, he wishes to show him that his faith is not yet strong enough; for he still clings only to the seeing and the experience of the bodily present Christ. Likewise did Christ chastise the disciples in the boat, when the storm came and he said to them: ”Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” Mat. 8, 26. As if he were to say: Where is your faith now? Therefore, however good and genuine faith may be, it falls back when it comes to a battle, unless it has been well disciplined and has grown strong.

 

9. Therefore you should not imagine it is enough if you have commenced to believe; but you must diligently watch that your faith continue firm, or it will vanish; you are to see how you may retain this treasure you have embraced; for satan concentrates all his skill and strength on how to tear it out of your heart. Therefore the growth of your faith is truly as necessary as its beginning, and indeed more so; but all is the work of God. The young milk-faith is sweet and weak; but when long marches are required and  faith is attacked, then God must strengthen it, or it will not hold the field of battle.

 

10. Therefore this man would not have been helped by the faith he had at first; he would have been forced to retreat had not Christ come and strengthened him. But how did he strengthen him? The nobleman believed, if he came to him in his house, he could surely heal his son. Then Christ gave him a rebuke, a bitter and hard answer: ”Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe.” With these words he gives faith a scornful rebuff that it can not stand. The poor man was terrified and his faith at once began to sink and to vanish, therefore he says:

 

”Sir, come down ere my child die.”

11. As if he would say: Yes, you must hasten and come and yourself be present, or my son will die. Here Christ now bestows upon him a stronger faith, as God does upon all whom he strengthens in faith, and raises him thus to a higher degree or plain that he may become strong and believe in a different way than he did before; and he speaks thus to the father:

 

”Go thy way; thy son liveth.”

12. Had he thus said to him before that his son would live he would have been unable to believe; but now he believes when faith springs forth in his heart and begets in him another faith, so that he becomes a different man. Therefore the Lord adds to his great rebuke great strength. For, he must now cling to that which he does not see; for he did not before believe that Christ had such power and influence that he could heal his son when he did not see him and was not present with him. It is truly strong faith, that a heart can believe what it does not see and understand, contrary to all the senses and reason, and can cling only to God's Word. Here there is nothing manifest except that he believed, otherwise he would have received no help. In faith one must look to nothing but the Word of God. Whoever permits anything else to be pictured in his eyes is already lost. Faith clings to the naked and pure Word, neither to its works nor to its merits. If your heart does not thus stand naked, your cause is lost.

 

13. Let us now take an example of this: When a priest, nun or monk boasts that he has maintained his chastity, said many masses, fasted often, prayed much and the like, and then does not keep in mind God's Word, but his own good works, and, builds upon them, so that he thinks God must consequently hear him, then he is lost; for as long as this picture is in the mind, faith cannot be there. Therefore when one is about to die and death is present, and he looks around for a way of escape and for the first step he should take, then satan is at hand and pictures to him how dreadful and horrible death is; and besides he sees hell and God's judgment before his eyes. Then satan is victorious, for there is no help as long as this is before his eyes. If he were wise and pictured nothing else in his heart and continued to cling to the Word of God alone, he would live, for that is a living Word. Therefore, whoever clings to the Word must stand where the living and eternal Word stands.

 

14. However, this is exceedingly difficult to do; for here you see how hard it was for this nobleman; also, for the Apostles in the Gospel, Mat. 8, 25-26, when they were on the water in a boat and the boat was about to sink and the waves beat into the boat, so that death was before their eyes; then they lost their hold on the Word. Had they firmly believed and said: Here we have the Word of God, here is Christ; where he is, there we are also; there would have been no danger. But since they did not have such faith, they would have had to sink and perish had not Christ come to their help. Just so it was with Peter, when he walked on the sea and came to Christ - so long as he held to the Word, the water had to bear him up; but when he turned his eyes from Christ and he let go the Word he saw the wind blowing and he began to sink.

 

15. Therefore I said, we must let go of every thing and cling only to the Word; if we have laid hold of that, then let rage and roar the world, death, sin, hell and all misfortune. But if you let go the Word, then you must perish. This we see also in people who seek temporal nourishment: when they have sufficient, and their house and barn are full, they easily trust in God and say, they have a gracious God; but when they have nothing they begin to doubt, then their faith vanishes; for they picture before their eyes, that there is nothing at hand and not any provision in store, and they know not how they shall exist; thus care and worry drive faith out of the heart. But if they would lay hold of God's Word, they would think thus: My God lives, he assures me he will sustain my life; I will go forth and labor, he will make everything right, as Christ says, Mat. 6, 33: ”But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” If I retained this Word and would cast the other out of my mind, I would not come into need. But as long as you picture before your eyes your poverty, you cannot believe. This nobleman doubtless had also a picture in his eyes, that he might have thought: He will not grant my request, he will give me a hard answer, will not accompany me home and will cruelly turn me away. Had he fixed his eyes upon such treatment he would have been lost; but since he turned his eyes from such thoughts, Christ later gives him blessed consolation and says: ”Go thy way; thy son liveth.

 

16. This is the nature and way of faith: - thus God deals with us, when he wishes to strengthen us. This is also what St. Paul means in 2 Cor. 3, 18, when he says: ”But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit.” The glory of the Lord with Paul is the knowledge of God. Moses also possessed a glory, the knowledge and understanding of the law. When I have a knowledge of the law, I look into his clear countenance and into his pure light. But now we have passed through that and have a higher knowledge of Christ our Lord. Whoever knows him as the man who helps in time of need and gives power to fulfil the law, through whom we have acquired the forgiveness of sins: in that way he mirrors his glory in us. That is, as the rays of the sun are reflected in the water or in a mirror, so Christ reflects himself and gives forth a lustre from himself in our hearts, in a way that we are transformed from one degree of glory to another, so that we daily increase and more clearly know and understand the Lord. Then we shall be changed and transformed into the same image, in a way that we all will be one bread with Christ. This is not accomplished in that we ourselves do it by virtue of our own power; but God, who is the Spirit, must do it. For even if the Holy Spirit began such glory or illumination in us and would later forsake us, then we would be as we were before.

 

17. Now we ought to be so armed that we do not remain standing still at the first degree, but continually increase; therefore the cross, temptation and opposition must come, by means of which faith will grow and become strong, and as the glory of faith increases, the mortification of the body also increases; the stronger faith is, the weaker will the flesh be, and the smaller the faith, the stronger the flesh, and the less will the flesh be denied. We are apt to think, if I shall continually help my neighbor, what will become of me? To what will I come at last? But if we had mirrored in us true faith and Christ, we would not doubt that we should have enough, but remember that God will surely come to our assistance when the crisis comes. But if we are lost in such a little tempest, what will we do in the great conflicts of the soul? See, in this way faith is exercised and increased; if we go forth, and are today as yesterday, tomorrow as today, that is not a Christian life. Now the second thing for which John praises this man is, that he increased in faith.

 

18. In the third place, he says: While he was going home, his servants met him and said to him that his son lived, and he experienced that his son began to amend in the very hour that the Lord had said to him, ”Thy son liveth;” and he believed and his whole house. Here the Evangelist says again that he believed. But, if he had not believed heretofore why did he come to Christ? This is a more perfect faith, that was confirmed by the miracle. In this manner our Lord God deals with us to make us more perfect and raise us  ever to a higher plane of faith. If we pass through this condition, we thus come into the experience and become assured of our faith, as we see here that the nobleman overcomes all difficulties like an iconoclast who tears down pictures and images, receives applause and becomes certain of his cause, in that he has experienced it, and finds that he is helped by faith, and all agree; the time, the miracle and the word with the faith.

 

19. What then did he now believe? Not that his son had been healed, for this kind of faith is now at an end, the healing has been done, and it is now a thing of the past. He sees before his eyes that his son lives. But out of his experience comes forth another faith, that Christ would in the future continue to help him out of other troubles and whatever dark pictures might rise before him; that is what he believed. If the Lord had said to him: Go and die; he would have replied: Although I do not know whither I shall go or where the inn is, yet since I tried before what faith is, I will again cling to the Word. You helped me once when I could not see nor understand; you will now again help me. Moreover, if Christ had said to him: Leave home and land and your possessions, and come, follow me; he would not have thought: Yes, but how shall I support myself? No doubt the picture would have appeared before his eyes: There is everything in abundance, here is nothing; shall I let go of that, what will I come to? But now he thinks: Although nothing is here, and I see nothing, I will nevertheless cling to the Word, he will surely help me. I tried it before. This is impossible for reason, but faith can do all things.

 

20. Therefore faith exercises itself in various temptations and every day new temptations arise; for the former experiences do not always return, as one sees here. This nobleman has already made use of the work of faith, that is now past, it will never return again; but he must now try another. Therefore the oftener a person experiences the same temptation, the better it is for him; the more he triumphs over the storm, the firmer he lays hold of Christ, and becomes skilled so to be ready to bear all that is laid upon him.

 

21. In like manner it went with the Holy Patriarchs, and thus it always goes with us; so that I believe what has taken place in former times, is of no help to me, but my faith must always turn its attention to things of the future. Therefore, when God called Abraham to depart out of his own country, he did it, and believed it, Gen. 12, If. Now when he came into that country, God called him to go into another and later into another. Thus he continually increased in faith, and later he became so assured, and had traced and experienced how God dealt with him, and became such a perfect character that he was willing to offer his own son as a sacrifice to God. From this it follows: Whoever is greatly tried and disciplined in this way, faces death much more willingly.

 

22. Thus you see how an example of growing faith is here portrayed; it is now clear enough, therefore take it well to heart. Every person has indeed his own experiences in life by which he may exercise his faith, to trust God to help him. Thus he will be able to prove how God helps him, and he can thus make progress and grow in faith. As soon as one experience ends another always begins, so that we may see and grasp the truth that our Lord God is true. If we have the confidence that he will nourish and sustain our bodies, we can also believe that he will save our souls. I have now spoken enough about faith.

 

23. The other part of this Gospel, on love, every one can easily understand for himself. It is clearly enough set forth and it is not necessary to speak much about how Christ served and helped this nobleman. He had no advantage or gain from it himself, but he did it purely gratuitously out of love. Also you see how the nobleman became a servant of his son. Whatever there is more in this Gospel belongs to its spiritual significance, and its exposition word for word we will commend to the quiet and wise spirits.

 

 

       

 

 

 

 

TWENTY SECOND SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY

PHILIPPIANS 1:3-11.

 

 

PHILIPPIANS 1:3-11.

I thank my God upon all my remembrance of you, always in every supplication of mine on behalf of you all making my supplication with joy, for your fellowship in furtherance of the gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ: even as it is right for me to be thus minded on behalf of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as, both in my bonds and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how I long after you in all the tender mercies of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment; so that ye may approve the things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and void of offense unto the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.

 

PAUL’S THANKS AND PRAYERS FOR CHURCHES

1. First, the apostle Paul thanks God, as his custom is in the beginning of his epistles, for the grace whereby the Philippians came into the fellowship of the Gospel and were made partakers of it. Secondly, his desire and prayer to God is for their increase in the knowledge of the Gospel, and their more abundant fruits. His intent in extolling the Gospel is to admonish them to remain steadfast in their faith, continuing as they have begun and as they now stand. Apparently this is a simple passage, especially to learned and apt students of the Scriptures. They may not think it holds any great truth to be discovered. Yet we must explain this and like discourses for the benefit of some who do not fully understand it, and who desire to learn.

 

2. These words give us an exact delineation of the Christian heart that sincerely believes in the holy Gospel. Such hearts are rare in the world. It is especially difficult to find one so beautiful as we observe here unless it be among the beloved apostles or those who approached them in Christlikeness. For in the matter of faith we today are entirely too indolent and indifferent.

 

3. But the Christian heart is such as inspired Paul’s words; here its characteristics are shown. He rejoices in the Gospel with his inmost soul. He thanks God that others have come into its fellowship. His confidence is firm regarding certain beginners in the faith, and he is so interested in their salvation he rejoices in it as much as in his own, seeming unable to thank God sufficiently for it. He unceasingly prays that he may live to see many come with him into such fellowship and be preserved therein until the day of the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall perfect and complete all the defects of this earthly life. He prays these beginners may go forth faultlessly in faith and hope until that joyful day. Thus the godly apostle expresses himself, pouring out the depths of his heart – a heart filled with the real fruits of the Spirit and of faith. It burns with love and joy whenever he sees the Gospel recognized, accepted and honored, and the Church flourishing. Paul can conceive for the converts no loftier desire – can offer no greater petition for them than to implore God they may increase and persevere in the Gospel faith. Such is the inestimable value he places upon possessing and holding fast God’s Word. And Christ in Luke 11:28 pronounces blessed those who keep the Word of God.

 

I. THE DUTY OF GRATITUDE

5. Now, the first thing in which Paul is here an example to us is his gratitude. It behooves the Christian who recognizes the grace and goodness of God expressed in the Gospel, first of all to manifest his thankfulness therefor; toward God – his highest duty – and toward men. As Christians who have abandoned the false services and sacrifices that in our past heathenish blindness we zealously practiced, let us remember our obligation henceforth to be the more fervent in offering true service and right sacrifices to God. We can render him no better – in fact, none other – service, or outward work, than the thank-offering, as the Scriptures term it. That is, receiving and honoring the grace of God and the preaching and hearing of his Word, and furthering their operation, not only in word, but sincerely in our hearts and with all our physical and spiritual powers. This is the truest gratitude.

 

6. God calls that a “pure offering” which is rendered to him “among the gentiles” ( Malachi 1:11), where his name is not preached and praised from avariciousness, not from pride and presumption in the priesthood and in the holiness of human works. These motives actuated the boasting Jews, who, as God charges in this reference, presumptuously thought to receive honor from him for every trivial service like closing a door or opening a window. But the offering of the gentiles is joyfully rendered from a sincere, willing heart. This kind of thanksgiving and sacrifices are acceptable to God, for he says in <19B003>Psalm 110:3, “Thy people shall be willing”; and in 2 Corinthians 9:7, “God loveth a cheerful giver.” The knowledge of the Gospel should inspire us with gratitude of this order. Let us not be found unthankful, and forgetful of God’s infinite goodness.

 

INGRATITUDE DENOUNCED BY THE HEATHEN

7. The heathen everywhere, despite their ignorance of God and his grace, condemned to the utmost the evil of ingratitude. They regarded it the mother of evils, than which was none more malevolent and shameful. Among many examples in this respect is one left us by a people in Arabia called Nabathians, who had an excellent form of government. So strict were they in regard to this evil that anyone found guilty of ingratitude to his fellows was looked upon as a murderer and punished with death.

 

8. No sin is more abominable to human nature, and of none is human nature less tolerant. It is easier to forgive and to forget the act of an enemy who commits a bodily injury, or even murders one’s parents, than it is to forget the sin of him who repays simple kindness and fidelity with ingratitude and faithlessness; who for love and friendship returns hatred. In the sentiment of the Latin proverb, to be so rewarded is like rearing a serpent in one’s bosom. God likewise regards this sin with extreme enmity and punishes it. The Scriptures say: “Whoso rewardeth evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house.” Proverbs 17:13.

 

9. Thus we have the teaching of nature and of reason regarding the sin of men’s ingratitude toward one another. How much greater the evil, how much more shameful and accursed, when manifested toward God who, in his infinite and ineffable goodness, conferred upon us while yet enemies to him and deserving of the fires of hell – conferred upon us, I say, not ten dollars, not a hundred thousand dollars even, but redemption from divine wrath and eternal death, and abundantly comforted us, granting us safety, a good conscience, peace and salvation! These are inexpressible blessings, incomprehensible in this life. And they will continue to occupy our minds in yonder eternal life. How much more awful the sin of ingratitude for these blessings, as exemplified in the servant mentioned in the Gospel passage for today, to whom was forgiven the debt of ten thousand talents and who yet would not forgive the debt of his fellow-servant who owed him a hundred pence!

 

10. Is it not incredible that there are to be found on earth individuals wicked enough to manifest for the highest and eternal blessings such unspeakable ingratitude? But alas, we have the evidence of our own eyes. We know them in their very dwelling-places. We see how the world abounds with them. Not only are the ingrates to be found among deliberate rejecters of the acknowledged truth of the Gospel, concerning God’s grace, an assured conscience and the promise of eternal life, terrible as such malice of the devil is, but they are present also in our midst, accepting the Gospel and boasting of it. Such shameful ingratitude prevails among the masses it would not be strange were God to send upon them the thunders and lightnings of his wrath, yes, all the Turks and the devils of hell. There is a generally prevalent ingratitude like that of the wicked servant who readily forgot the straits he experienced when, being called to account for what he could not pay, the wrathful sentence was pronounced against him that he and all he possessed must be sold, and he be indefinitely imprisoned. Nor have we less readily forgotten how we were tortured under the Papacy; how we were overwhelmed, drowned as in a flood, with numberless strange doctrines, when our anxious consciences longed for salvation. Now that we are, through the grace of God, liberated from these distresses, our gratitude is of a character to increasingly heap to ourselves the wrath of God. So have others before us done, and consequently have endured terrible chastisement.

 

11. Only calculate the enormity of our wickedness when, God having infinitely blessed us in forgiving all our sins and making us lords over heaven and earth, we so little respect him as to be unmindful of his blessings; to be unwilling for the sake of them sincerely to forgive our neighbor a single slighting word, not to mention rendering him service. We conduct ourselves as if God might be expected to connive at our ingratitude and permit us to continue in it, at the same time conferring upon us as godly and obedient children, success and happiness. More than this, we think we have the privilege and power to live and do as we please.

 

Indeed, the more learning and power we have and the more exalted our rank, the greater knaves we are; perpetrating every wicked deed, stirring up strife, discord, war and murder for the sake of executing our own arbitrary designs, where the question is the surrender of a penny in recognition of the hundreds of thousands of dollars daily received from God notwithstanding our ingratitude.

 

12. Two mighty lords clash with each other like powerful battering rams, and for what? Perhaps for undisputed possession of a city or two, a matter they must be ashamed of did they but call to mind what they have received from God. They would be constrained to exclaim: “What are we doing that we injure one another – we who are all baptized in one name, the name of Christ, and pledged to one Lord?” But no, it will not do for them to consider this matter; not even to think of it. They must turn their eyes away from it, and put it far from their hearts. Wholly forgetting God’s benefits, they must wage war against each other, involving nations, and subjecting people to the Turk. And all for sake of the insignificant farthing each refused to yield to the other.

 

13. The world permits the very devil to saddle and ride it as he pleases. It seems to be characteristic of every phase of life that one will not yield to another – will not submit to any demand. Everyone is disposed to force his arrogant authority. The presumption is that supreme honor and final success depend upon an unyielding, unforgiving disposition, and that to seek to retain our possessions by peaceable means will prove our ruin. Even the two remaining cows in the stall must be brought into requisition, and war waged to the last stick, until when the mutineer comes and we have neither cow nor stall, nor house nor stick, we are obliged to cease.

 

RETRIBUTION FOLLOWS INGRATITUDE

Oh, had we but grace enough to reflect on how it would be with us did God require us, as he has a perfect right to do, to pay our whole indebtedness, none being forgiven! grace enough to think whether we would not this very moment be in the abyss of hell! But so must it finally be with those who disregard the question and continually heap to themselves the wrath of God, being at the same time unwilling for him to deal otherwise with them than he did with the servant he forgave. But against that servant was finally passed the irrevocable sentence which, without mercy, delivered him to the tormentor till he should pay the debt, something he could never do.

 

14. Nor is there any wrong or injustice in this ruling. For, as St. Bernhard says, ingratitude is an evil damnable and pernicious enough to quench all the springs of grace and blessing known to God and men; it is like a poison-laden, burning, destructive wind. Human nature will not tolerate it. Nor can God permit you, upon whom he has bestowed all grace and goodness, all spiritual and temporal blessing, to go on continually in wickedness, defiantly abusing his benevolence and dishonoring him; you thus recklessly bring upon yourself his wrath. For God cannot bless you if you are ungrateful, if you reject his goodness and give it no place in your heart. In such case the fountain of grace and mercy that continually springs for all who sincerely desire it, must be quenched for you. You cannot enjoy it. It would afford you an abundant and unceasing supply of water did you not yourself dry it up by the deadly wind of your ingratitude; by shamefully forgetting the ineffable goodness God bestows upon you; and by failing to honor the blood of Christ the Lord, wherewith he purchased us and reconciled us to God – failing to honor it enough to forgive your neighbor, for Christ’s sake, a single wrong word.

 

15. What heavy burden is there for the individual who, in submission and gratitude to his God, and in honor to Christ, would conduct himself something like a Christian? It will cost him no great effort nor trouble. It will not break any bones nor injure him in property or honor. Even were it to affect him to some trifling extent, to incur for him some slight injustice, he should remember what God has given him, and will still give, of his grace and goodness. Yes, why complain even were you, in some measure, to endanger body and life? What did not the Son of God incur for you? It was not pleasure for him to take upon himself the wrath of God, to bear the curse for you. It cost him bloody sweat and unspeakable anguish of heart, as well as the sacrifice of his body, the shedding of his blood, when he bore for you the wrath and curse of God, which would have rested upon you forever. Yet he did it cheerfully and with fervent love. Should you not, then, be ashamed in your own heart, and humiliated before all creatures, to be so slow and dull, so stock-and-stone-hardened, about enduring and forgiving an occasional unkind word – something to be suffered in token of honor and gratitude to him? What more noble than, for the sake of Christ, to incur danger, to suffer injury, to aid the poor and needy? in particular to further the Word of God and to support the ministry, the pulpit and the schools?

 

16. It would be no marvel had Germany long ago sunk to ruin, or had it been razed to its very foundations by Turks and Tartars, because of its diabolical forgetfulness, its damnable rejection, of God’s unspeakable grace. Indeed, it is a wonder the earth continues to support us and the sun still gives us light. Because of our ingratitude, well might the heavens become dark and the earth be perverted – as the Scriptures teach (Psalm 106) – and suffer the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, no longer yielding a leaf nor a blade of grass, but completely turned from its course – well might it be so did not God, for the sake of the few godly Christians known and acknowledged of him, forbear and still delay.

 

EXAMPLES OF INGRATITUDE FOR THE GOSPEL

17. Wherever we turn our eyes we see, in all conditions of life, a deluge of terrible examples of ingratitude for the precious Gospel. We see how kings, princes and lords scratch and bite; how they envy and hate one another, oppressing their own people and destroying their own countries; how they tax themselves with not so much as a single Christian thought about ameliorating the wretchedness of Germany and securing for the oppressed Church somewhere a shelter of defense against the murderous attacks of devil, Pope and Turks. The noblemen rake and rend, robbing whomever they can, prince or otherwise, and especially the poor Church; like actual devils, they trample under foot pastors and preachers. Townsmen and farmers, too, are extremely avaricious, extortionate and treacherous; they fearlessly perpetrate every sort of insolence and wickedness, and without shame and unpunished. The earth cries to heaven, unable longer to tolerate its oppression.

 

18. But why multiply words? It is in vain so far as the world is concerned; no admonition will avail. The world remains the devil’s own. We must remember we shall not by any means find with the world that Christian heart pictured by the apostle; on the contrary we shall find what might be represented by a picture of the very opposite type – the most shameless ingratitude. But let the still existing God-fearing Christians be careful to imitate in their gratitude the spirit of the apostle’s beautiful picture. Let them give evidence of their willingness to hear the Word of God, of pleasure and delight in it and grief where it is rejected. Let them show by their lives a consciousness of the great blessing conferred by those from whom they received the Gospel. As recipients of such goodness, let their hearts and lips ever be ready with the happy declaration: “God be praised!” For thereunto are we called. As before said, praise should be the constant service and daily sacrifice of Christians; and according to Paul’s teaching here, the Christian’s works, his fruits of righteousness, should shine before men. Such manifestation of gratitude assuredly must result when we comprehend what God has given us.

 

19. Notwithstanding the world’s refusal to be influenced by the recognition of God’s goodness, and in spite of the fact that we are obliged daily to see, hear and suffer the world’s increasing ungratefulness the longer it stands, we must not allow ourselves to be led into error; for we will be unable to change it. We must preach against the evil of ingratitude wherever possible, severely censuring it, and faithfully admonish all men to guard against it. At the same time we have to remember the world will not submit. Although compelled to live among the ungrateful, we are not for that reason to fall into error nor to cease from doing good. Let our springs be dispersed abroad, as Solomon says in Proverbs 5:16. Let us continually do good, not faltering when others receive our good as evil. Just as God causes his sun to rise on the thankful and the unthankful. Matthew 5:45.

 

20. But if your good works are wrought with the object of securing the thanks and applause of the world, you will meet with a reception quite the reverse. Your reward will justly be that of him who crushes with his teeth the hollow nut only to defile his mouth. Now, if when ingratitude is met with, you angrily wish to pull down mountains, and resolve to give up doing good, you are no longer a Christian. You injure yourself and accomplish nothing. Can you not be mindful of your environment – that you are still in the world where vice and ingratitude hold sway? that you are, as the phrase goes, with “those who return evil for good”? He who would escape this fact must flee the boundaries of the world. It requires no great wisdom to live only among the godly and do good, but the keenest judgment is necessary to live with the wicked and not do evil.

 

21. Christianity should be begun in youth, to give practice in the endurance that will enable one to do good to all men while expecting evil in return. Not that the Christian is to commend and approve evil conduct; he is to censure and restrain wickedness to the limit of the authority his position in life affords. It is the best testimony to the real merit of a work when its beneficiaries are not only ungrateful but return evil. For its results tend to restrain the doer from a too high opinion of himself, and the character of the work is too precious in God’s sight for the world to be worthy of rewarding it.

 

II. THE DUTY OF PRAYER

22. The other Christian duty named by Paul in this passage is that of prayer. The two obligations – gratitude for benefits received, and prayer for the preservation and growth of God’s work begun in us – are properly related. Prayer is of supreme importance, for the devil and the world assail us and delight in turning us aside; we have continually to resist wickedness. So the conflict is a sore one for our feeble flesh and blood, and we cannot stand unvanquished unless there be constant, earnest invocation of divine aid. Gratitude and prayer are essential and must accompany each other, according to the requirements of the daily sacrifice of the Old Testament: the offering of praise, or thank-offering, thanks to God for blessings received; and the sacrifice of prayer, or the Lord’s Prayer – the petition against the wickedness and evil from which we would be released.

 

23. Our life has not yet reached the heights it is destined to attain. We know here only its incipient first-fruits. Desire is not satisfied; we have but a foretaste. As yet we only realize by faith what is bestowed upon us; full and tangible occupancy is to come. Therefore, we need to pray because of the limitations that bind our earthly life, until we go yonder where prayer is unnecessary, and all is happiness, purity of life and one eternal song of thanks and praise to God. But heavenly praise and joy is to have its inception and a measure of growth here on earth through the encouragement of prayer – prayer for ourselves and the Church as a whole; that is, for them who have accepted and believe the Gospel and are thus mutually helpful. For the Gospel will receive greater exaltation and will inspire more joy with the individual because of its acceptance by the many. So Paul says he thanks God for the fellowship of the Philippians in the Gospel, and offers prayer in their behalf.

 

PRAYER FOR OTHERS

24. Yes, it should be the joy of a Christian heart to see multitudes accept the offer of mercy, and praise and thank God with him. This desire for the participation of others in the Gospel promotes the spirit of prayer. The Christian cannot be a misanthrope, wholly unconcerned whether his fellows believe or not. He should be interested in all men and unceasingly long and pray for their salvation; for the sanctification of God’s name, the coming of his kingdom, the fulfilment of his will; and for the exposure everywhere of the devil’s deceptions, the suppression of his murderous power over poor souls and the restraint of his authority.

 

25. This prayer should be the sincere, earnest outflow of the true Christian’s heart. Note, Paul’s words here indicate that his praise and prayer were inspired by a fervent spirit. It is impossible that the words “I thank my God upon all my remembrance of you, always in every supplication” be the expression of any but a heart full of such sentiments. Truly, Paul speaks in a way worthy of an apostle – saying he renders praise and prayer with keenest pleasure. He rejoices in his heart that he has somewhere a little band of Christians who love the Gospel and with whom he may rejoice; that he may thank God for them and pray in their behalf. Was there not much more reason that all they who had heard the Gospel should rejoice, and thank Paul in heart and in expression for it, praying God in his behalf? should rejoice that they became worthy of the apostle’s favor, were delivered from their blindness and had now received from him the light transferring from sin and death into the grace of God and eternal life?

 

26. But Paul does not wait for them to take the initiative, as they ought to have done to declare their joy and their gratitude to him. In his first utterance he pours out the joy of his heart, fervently thanking God for them, etc. Well might they have blushed, and reproached themselves, when they received the epistle beginning with these words. Well might they have said, “We should not have permitted him to speak in this way; it was our place first to show him gratitude and joy.”

 

FEW BELIEVERS NO REASON FOR DISCOURAGEMENT

27. We shall not soon be able to boast the attainment of that beautiful, perfect Christian spirit the apostle’s words portray. Seeing how the apostle rejoices over finding a few believers in the Gospel, why should we complain because of the smaller number who accord us a hearing and seriously accept the Word of God? We have no great reason to complain nor to be discouraged since Christ and the prophets and apostles, meeting with the same backwardness on the part of the people, still were gratified over the occasional few who accepted the faith. We note how Christ rejoiced when now and then he found one who had true faith, and on the other hand was depressed when his own people refused to hear him, and reluctantly censured them. And Paul did not meet with more encouragement. In all the Roman Empire – and through the greater part of it he had traveled with the Gospel – he only occasionally found a place where was even a small band of earnest Christians; but over them he peculiarly rejoices, finding in them greater consolation than in all the treasures on earth.

 

28. But it is a prophecy of good to the world, a portent of ultimate success, that Christ and his apostles and ministers must rejoice over an occasional reception of the beloved Word. Such acceptance will tell in time. One would think all men might eagerly have hastened to the ends of the earth to be afforded an opportunity of hearing an apostle. But Paul had to go through the world himself upon his ministry, enduring great fatigue and encountering privations and grave dangers, being rejected and trampled upon by all men. However, disregarding it all, he rejoiced to be able now and then to see some soul accept the Gospel. In time past it was not necessary for the Pope and his officials to run after anyone. They sat in lordly authority in their kingdom, and all men had to obey their summons, wherever wanted, and that without thanks.

 

29. What running on the part of our fathers, even of many of us, as if we were foolish – running from all countries, hundreds of miles, to Jerusalem, to the holy sepulcher, to Compostella, St. James, Rome, to the heads of St. Peter and St. Paul; some barefooted and others in complete armor – all this, to say nothing of innumerable other pilgrimages! We thus expended large sums of money, and thanked God, and rejoiced to be able thereby to purchase the wicked indulgences of the Pope and to be worthy to look upon or to kiss the bones of the dead exhibited as holy relics, but preferably to kiss the feet of His Most Holy Holiness, the Pope. This condition of things the world desires again, and it shall have nothing better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity;

Matthew 18:23-35

 

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

 

Matthew 18: 23-35

Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

 

1. This Gospel or parable Christ our Lord spoke in reply to St. Peter, to whom he had just entrusted the keys to loose and to bind, Mat. 16, 19, when Peter asked him how often he should forgive his neighbor, whether seven times were enough 7 He answered: ”Not seven times, but seventy times seven,” and Christ then related this parable, and with it concludes, that our heavenly Father will do unto us, if we forgive not our neighbor, as this king did unto his servant,  who would not forgive his fellow-servant a very small debt, after he had forgiven him so great a debt.

 

2. First, before we consider the Gospel itself, let us examine what kind of a rebuke it is, by which this servant's right is denied. For the other servant who owed him a hundred shillings, should according to justice have justly paid him this money. Even the first also had a good right to demand what was his own. If an appeal had been made to the public sentiment, every one would have been compelled to agree with him and say: It is just and right for him to pay what he owes. Why then this procedure, that his lord abolishes his claim, and besides condemns the servant because he demands and executes his right? Answer: It was thus written that we might know that it is altogether a different thing in the eye of God than it is in the eye of the world, and often that which is not right before God, is right and just before the world. For before the world this servant stands an honorable man; but before God he is called a wicked servant, and he is blamed for acting as one who is worthy of eternal condemnation.

 

3. It is therefore decreed when we deal with God that we must stand free, and let goods, honor, right, wrong, and every thing go that we have; and we will not be excused when we say: I am right, therefore I will not suffer a man to do me wrong, as God requires that we should renounce all our rights and forgive our neighbor. Concerning this, however, our high schools and the learned have preached and taught quite differently, that we are not obliged to give way to another and surrender our rights, but that it is just for every one to secure his dues. This is the first rebuff. Now let us consider this Gospel more fully.

 

4. We have often said that the Gospel or kingdom of God is nothing else than a state or government, in which there is nothing but forgiveness of sins. And wherever there is a state or government in which sins are not forgiven, no Gospel or kingdom of God is found there. Therefore we must clearly distinguish these two kingdoms from each other, in which sins are rebuked, and sins are forgiven, or in which our right is demanded, and our right is pardoned. In the kingdom of God, where God rules with the Gospel, there is no demand for right and dues, but all is pure forgiveness, pardon and giving, no anger, no punishment, but all is pure brotherly service and kindness.

 

5. By this, however, our civil rights are not abolished. For this parable teaches nothing of the kingdom of this world, but only of the kingdom of God. Therefore, whoever is only under the civil government of the world, is far from the kingdom of heaven, for all this still belongs to perdition. As when a prince so rules his people as not to permit anyone to be wronged, and punishes the evil doer, does well and is praised. For thus it is in this government: Pay what thou owest, if not, you will be cast into prison. Such government we must have, but no one will thereby get to heaven, nor will the world be saved by it. But it is necessary for the reason that the world may not become worse, it is only a protection against and a prevention of wickedness. For if it were not for this government, one would devour the other, and no person could protect his life, goods, wife and child. So in order that everything may not go to ruin, God has instituted functions of the sword, by which wickedness may in part be prevented, so that the civil government may secure and maintain peace, and no one may wrong another. Therefore it must be tolerated. And yet as we have said, it has not been established for citizens of heaven, but simply in order that the people may not fall deeper into hell, and make matters worse.

    Therefore no one dare boast, who is under the civil government, that he therefore does right before God. Before him, all is yet wrong. For you must come to the point, that you also avoid what the world claims to be right.

 

6. The aim of this Gospel is to describe to us forgiveness for both parties. First the lord forgives the servant all his debt. Then he demands of him that he also in like manner forgive his fellow-servant and pardon his debt. This God demands, and thus his kingdom shall stand. Hence no one should be so wicked and allow himself to be so angry, as to  be unable to forgive his neighbor. And, as is written, if he would even offend you seventy times seven times, that is, as often as he is able to offend you, you are to let your right and claim go, and freely give him everything. Why so? Because Christ has also done the same for you, in that he began and, established a kingdom in which there is nothing but grace, that is to endure forever, that every thing, as often as you sin, may be forgiven; because he has sent forth his Gospel, not to proclaim punishment, but grace alone. Now, because this government stands, you can at all times rise again, however deep and often you fall. For even if you fall, yet this Gospel and mercy-seat remain and stand forever; therefore as soon as you come and rise again, you again have grace. But he requires of you to forgive your neighbor whatever he has done against you, else you will neither be in this gracious kingdom nor enjoy the Gospel, that your sins may be forgiven. This in short is the idea and sense of this Gospel.

 

7. However, it is here not forgotten who those are who grasp and enjoy the Gospel. For it is indeed a glorious kingdom and a gracious government, because there is preached in it nothing but the forgiveness of sins, though it does not enter every one's heart. Hence there are many rude and vicious people who misuse the Gospel, who live a free life and do as they please, and think no one shall ever rebuke them, because the Gospel preaches nothing but the forgiveness of sins. To those the Gospel is not preached, who thus despise the great treasure and treat it wantonly; for this reason they do not belong to this kingdom, but only to the civil government, where they may be prevented from doing whatever they wish.

 

8. To whom then is the Gospel preached? To those who feel their distress as this servant does his. Therefore observe, how it is with him? The lord has compassion on his wretchedness, and gives him more than he could desire. But before this is done, the text says that the lord would make a reckoning with his servants; and as he began to reckon this one appeared before him, who owed him ten thousand talents; but as he had not wherewith to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. This was indeed no cheering sermon, nothing but great earnestness, and the most terrible sentence. Now he becomes so uneasy that he falls down and pleads for grace, and promises more than he has and can pay, and says: ”Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” Here are pictured and set forth those who enjoy the Gospel in its full measure.

 

9. For thus it is between God and us. When God wishes to reckon with us, he sends forth the preaching of the law, by which we learn to know what we owe. As when God says to the conscience: ”Thou shalt have no other gods,” but esteem me only as God and love me with all thy heart, and trust in me alone; this is the reckoning and the register, in which is written what we owe, this he takes in hand and reads to us and says: Do you see what you are required to do? You are to fear, love and honor me alone, and trust only in me, and hope in me for the best. But you do the contrary and are my enemy, you do not believe in me, but put your trust in other things. To sum up, you see here you do not keep a single letter of the Law.

 

10. Now when the conscience hears such things, and the Law thoroughly comes at us, then we see our duty, and that we have not done it, and we perceive that we have not kept a letter of it, and must confess we have not believed or loved God a single moment. What now will the Lord do? When the conscience is thus led captive and confesses that it must be lost, and becomes anxious and fearful, he says: Sell him and all he has, that payment may be made. This is the sentence which immediatetly follows, when the Law reveals sins and says: This thou shouldst do and have done, but thou hast not done it. For punishment follows sin, that payment may be made. For God has not given his Law to the end to allow those to escape who disobey it. It is not sweet nor friendly, but brings with it bitter, horrible punishment, and delivers us to satan, casts us into hell, and leaves us in punishment until we have paid the uttermost farthing.

 

This St. Paul has correctly explained to the Romans, 4, 15:  ”For the Law worketh wrath.” That is, when it reveals to us that we have done wrong, it brings home to our hearts nothing but his wrath and displeasure. For when the conscience sees it has done wrong, it feels that it is worthy of eternal death; and if punishment would soon follow, it would have to despair. This is meant, when the lord commands this servant to be sold with all he has, because he cannot make payment.

 

11. What does the servant do now? He foolishly goes to work and thinks he will still pay the debt, falls down and asks the lord to have patience with him. This is the torment of all consciences, when sin comes and smarts deeply until they feel in what a sad state they are before God; then they have no rest, run hither and thither, seek help here and there, to become free from sin, and in their presumption think they can do enough to pay God in full. As we have been taught hitherto; from which also have come so many pilgrimages, charitable foundations, cloisters, masses and other nonsense; so we fasted and scourged ourselves, and became monks and nuns. And all this came because we undertook to begin a life and to do many works of which God should take account and allow himself to be paid by them, and had thought to quiet and put the conscience at peace with God; and so we have acted just like this fool in today's lesson.

 

12. Now a heart that is thus smitten with the Law, and feels its blows and distress, is truly humiliated. Therefore it falls before the Lord and asks for grace, except that it still makes the mistake that it will help itself; for this we cannot root out of our nature. When the conscience feels such misery, it dare promise more than all the angels in heaven are able to do. Here one can easily promise and bind himself to do every thing that may be required of him; for he finds himself at all times thus prepared, that he still hopes to do enough for his sin by means of his good works.

 

13. Now behold the things men were guilty of heretofore in the world's history, and you will find it so. Then men preached: Give to the church, run into the cloister, establish many masses, and then your sins will be forgiven. And when they forced our consciences in the confessional, we did everything they imposed upon us, and gave more than they demanded of us. What should the poor people do? They were glad to be helped in this manner; therefore they ran and martyred themselves to get rid of their sins; and yet it did no good whatever, for the conscience remained in doubt as before, so that it did not know on what terms it stood with God; or if it were secure; it became still worse and fell into the presumption, that God had to regard their works. Reason cannot let this alone nor get around it, so as to abandon it.

 

14. Hence the Lord comes and sympathizes with this distress, because the servant thus lies captive and bound in his sins, and in addition to this is such a fool as to want to help himself, looks for no mercy, knows nothing to say of grace, and feels nothing but sins, which press him heavily, and knows no one to help him. Then his lord has mercy on him and sets him free.

 

15. Here is represented to us the Gospel and its nature, and how God deals with us. When you are thus held fast in sins and you torment yourself to become free from them, the Gospel comes and says: ”No, not so, my dear friend, it will do no good for you to torture and torment yourself to madness; your works accomplish nothing, but God's mercy does it all; he has compassion on your affliction, and sees you a captive in such anguish, struggling in the mire and that cannot help yourself out, he sees that you cannot pay the debt, therefore he forgives you all.

Hence it is nothing but pure mercy. For he forgives you the debt, not because of your works and merit, but because he pities your cries, complaints and humiliation. This means that God has regard for an humble heart, as the Prophet David says in Psalm 51, 19: ”The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” Such a heart, he says, is broken and cast down and cannot help itself, and is glad when God gives it a helping hand; this is the best Sacrifice before God, and the true way to heaven.

 

16. Now this follows out of mercy; because God pities our distress, he yields his claims and nullifies them and never says: Sell what you have and make payment. He might well have proceeded and said: You must pay, I have the right to demand it, I will not on your account annul my own right, and no one could have blamed him. Yet, he does not wish to deal with him according to our ideas of right, but changes justice into grace, has mercy on him, and gives him liberty, with wife and child and everything he has, and makes him a present of the debt besides.

    This is what God preaches through the Gospel, namely: He who believes, to him not only the debt, but also the punishment shall be remitted. To this no works are to be added; for whoever preaches that through his works one can atone for his debt and punishment, has already denied the Gospel. For the two can not be tolerated together, that God should have mercy, and that you should have any merit. If it is grace, then it is not merit: but if it is merit, then it is justice and no grace. Rom. 11, 6. For if you pay what you owe, he shows you no mercy; but if he shows mercy, you do not pay for what you receive. Therefore we must leave him alone to deal with us, receive from him and believe. This is what today's Gospel teaches.

 

17. Now you see, since this servant is thus humbled through the knowledge of his sins, that the Word ministers very strong comfort to him, when the Lord declares him free, and remits him both the debt and the punishment. By this is indicated that the Gospel does not reach vicious hearts, nor those who walk forth impudently, but only troubled consciences whose sins oppress them, from which they desire to be free; on these God will have mercy and bestow upon them all things.

 

18. Thus this servant now received the Word, and thereby became God's friend. For if he had not received the Word, it would have done him no good, and forgiveness would have amounted to nothing. Therefore it is not enough that God has the forgiveness of sins offered to us, and has proclaimed the golden year of the kingdom of grace; but it must also be grasped and believed. If you believe it, then you are free from sin, and all is right. Now this is the first part of a Christian life, taught by this and all the Gospels, which properly consists in faith, that deals only with God. Besides it is also indicated that we cannot, grasp the Gospel, unless there be present first a conscience that is afflicted and miserable because of sin.

 

19. Now conclude from this that it is nothing but deception that is preached in relation to our works and free will, and if a different way to blot out sin and obtain grace is taught, than this Gospel here advocates, namely, that the divine Majesty looks upon our wretchedness and has mercy upon us. For the text says clearly, that he presents and remits to those who have nothing; and thus concludes that we have nothing wherewith to remunerate God. So you may have free will as you wish in temporal things, in outward life and character, or in outward piety and virtue, as man can have in his own strength, yet you hear now that it is nothing before God. What can free will do here? There is nothing in it at any rate but struggling and trembling. Therefore, if you would be free from sin, you must desist from and despair in all your own works, and cling to the cross and plead for grace, and then lay hold of the Gospel by faith.

 

20. Now follows the second part of this parable, that of the fellow-servant. We would gladly die every hour for the sake of our faith. For this servant has enough, he retains his life and goods, wife and child and has a gracious lord; so he would be a great fool if he would now go and do everything he could to obtain a gracious lord. His lord might then well say, he only mocks me. Therefore, he dare not add any work, but only receives the grace offered him, be joyful and thank the Lord, and do unto others as the Lord did to him.

 

21. Thus it is now with us. If we believe, then we have graclous God, and need no more, and it would indeed  be well for us to die soon. But if we are to live on earth, our life must not be devoted to obtain God's favor by means of our works; for he who does this mocks and blasphemes God. As men hitherto have taught, that we must so long lie at God's ears with our good works, praying, fasting and the like, until we obtain grace. Grace we have already received, not through our works but through God's mercy. If you are to live, you must have something to do and work at, and all this must be devoted to your neighbor, says Christ.

 

22. But that servant went out. How does he go out? Where has he been within? He had been in faith, but now he goes out through love, by which he is to show himself to the people. For faith leads the people from the people unto God, but love leads out unto the people. Previously he was within, between God and himself alone, for no one can see or vouch for faith, how both Work together. Therefore one must needs go out of the eyes of the people, where no one is seen or felt but God; this is transacted alone through faith, and no external work can be added to it. Now he comes out before his neighbor. If he had remained within, he could well have died; but he must come out and live among other people and mingle with them. Here he finds a fellowservant whom he strikes and beats, and throttles him, demands payment and shows no mercy.

 

23. This is what we have often said, that we Christians must break forth, and show by our deeds and before the people that we have the true faith. God does not need your works, he has enough in your faith. Yet he wants you to work that you may show thereby your faith to yourself and all the world. For God indeed sees faith, but you and the people do not yet see it, therefore you should devote the works of faith to the benefit of your neighbor. Thus this servant is an example and picture of all those who should serve their neighbor through faith.

 

24. But what does he do? Just as we who think we believe, and partly do believe, and rejoice that we have heard the Gospel and can say a great deal about it; but no one wants to follow it in his life. We have brought matters so far, that the doctrine and jugglery of the devil have been partly overthrown, and we now see what is right and what is wrong, that we must deal with God alone through faith, but with our neighbor through our works. But we cannot bring it to pass, that, as to love, one does to another as God has done to him; as we ourselves complain that some of us have become much worse than they were before.

 

25. As this servant will not forgive his neighbor, but seeks to collect his claim; so we also do and say: I am not in duty bound to give what is my own to another, and yield my rights. If another has offended me, he owes it to me to reconcile me and ask pardon. For thus the world teaches and acts. And here you are right, and no prince or king will compel you to give to another what is your own; but they must permit you to do what you wish with your own. The civil government only compels so far, that you may not do with another's goods what you would, not that you must give your goods to another. This is right before the world, as reason concludes: To every one belongs his own. Therefore, he does not do wrong, who uses his goods as he will, and robs no one of his own.

 

26. But what says this Gospel? If God also would have acted thus and had maintained his right and said: I act in harmony with justice, when I punish the wicked and take what is my own, who will prevent me? where then would we all be? We would all go to ruin. Therefore, because he has given up his claim on thee, he desires that you too should do likewise. Therefore, also give up your right and think: If God has given me ten thousand pounds, why should I not give my neighbor a hundred shillings?

 

27. Thus your goods are no longer your own, but your neighbor's. God could indeed have kept his own, for he owed you nothing. Yet he gives himself wholly unto you, becomes your gracious Lord, is kind to you, and serves you with all his goods, and what he has is all yours; why then will you not also do likewise? Hence, if you wish to be in  his kingdom you must do as he does; but if you want to remain in the kingdom of the world, you will not enter his kingdom. Therefore the sentence in Mat. 25, 42, which Christ will speak on the last day belongs to those who are not Christians: ”For I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink,” and so on.

 

28. But you say: Do you still insist that God will have no regard for our good works, and on their account will save no one? Answer: He would have them done freely without any thought of remuneration; not that we thereby obtain something, but that we do them to our neighbor, and thereby show that we have the true faith; for what have you then that you gave him and by which you merit anything, that he should have mercy on you and forgive you all things that you have done against him? Or what profit has he by it? Nothing has he, but that you praise and thank him, and do as he has done, that God may be thanked in thee, then you are in his kingdom and have all things that you should have. This is the other part of the Christian life, which is called love, by which one goes out from God to his neighbor.

 

29. Those who do not prove their faith by their works of love are servants who want others to forgive them, but do not forgive their neighbor, nor yield their rights; hence it will also be with them as with this servant. For when the other servants, who preach the Gospel, see that God has freely given them all things, and they refuse to forgive anyone, they become sad to see such things, and they are pained, that they act so foolishly toward the Gospel, and no one lays hold of it. What do they do then? They can do no more than come before their Lord with their complaint and say: So it goes; you forgive them both the debt and the punishment, and freely give them all things; but we cannot prevail upon them to do to others as you have done to them. This is the complaint. Then God will summon them to appear before him at the last judgment and accuse them of these things and say: When you were hungry, thirsty and afflicted, I helped you; when you lay in sins I had compassion upon you and forgave the debt; therefore you must also now pay your debt. There is now no grace nor mercy, nothing but wrath and eternal punishment, no prayers will help from now on, and they become speechless, and are cast into torment until they pay the uttermost farthing.

 

30. St. Peter said the same of those who heard the Gospel and again fell away. 2 Pet. 2, 21: ”For it were better for them, not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” Why would it be better? Because if they turn back it will be twofold worse with them, than it was before they had heard the Gospel; as Christ says in Mat. 12, 45, of the unclean spirit, who takes unto himself seven other spirits worse than himself, comes with them and dwells in the man out of whom they were cast, and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.

 

31. Thus it is now with us also, and it will be still more so. So it also was with Rome. There things were in a fine condition in the days of the martyrs. But afterwards they went to ruin, and abominations arose and Antichrist ruled, and the city became so wicked that it could not be worse. The grace of God preached through the Gospel is so great that the people do not grasp it, therefore great and terrible punishment must also follow. Thus we will see just punishment come upon us, inasmuch as we do not obey the Gospel we have and know.

 

32. For as often as God has afflicted the people with severe punishment, he previously set up a great light; as when he led the Jews out of their country into captivity, he first brought forth the pious king Josiah, who again restored the law in order to reform the people; but when they again fell away, God punished them as they deserved. So also when he wished to overthrow the Egyptians, he sent Moses and Aaron to preach and enlighten them, Ex. 4, 14. Again, when he wished to destroy the world with the flood, he raised up the patriarch Noah, Gen. 6, and 7. But when the people would not believe and only grew worse, terrible  punishment followed. So it was with the five cities; Sodom and Gomorrah with the rest were punished, because they would not hear pious Lot, Gen. 19.

    Therefore such terrible punishments will also now come upon those who hear the Gospel and do not receive it. So this servant in the Gospel is cast off, and must pay what he owes. This means, that he must endure the pain and consequences. But he who endures the pain for the debt, will never be saved. For to sin belongs death, and when one dies he dies forever, and there is no more help nor salvation for him. Therefore let us receive these things as a warning; those, however, who are hardened and will not hear, will guard against it.

 

33. This is an elegant, comfortable Gospel, and is sweet to the afflicted conscience, because it contains nothing but forgiveness of sins. But for stubborn heads and hardened hearts it is a terrible sentence, and particularly so because this servant is not a heathen, but belongs to those under the Gospel, who held the faith. For as the Lord has mercy on him and forgives him what he had done, he must without doubt be a Christian. Hence this is not a punishment for the heathen, neither for the common crowd who hear the Gospel with the external ear, and have it on their tongue, but do not live according to it. Thus we have the sum of this Gospel.

 

34. What further the sophists are accustomed here to discuss, whether the sins will come back that were once forgiven, I let pass. For they do not know what forgiveness of sin is, and think it is something that sticks in the heart and lies still there, whereas it is the whole kingdom of Christ, which lasts forever without end. For as the sun shines and gives light none the less, although I close my eyes, so this mercy seat or forgiveness of sins stands forever, though I fall. And as I see the sun again as soon as I open my eyes, so I have the forgiveness of sins again when I look up and again come to Christ. Therefore we must not make forgiveness so narrow, as the fools dream. This is said on today's Gospel.

 

 

       

 

 

 

 

TWENTY THIRD SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY

PHILIPPIANS 3, 17 – 21.

 

 

ENEMIES OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST AND THE CHRISTIAN’S CITIZENSHIP IN HEAVEN

 

 

PHILIPPIANS 3, 17 – 21.

Brethren, be ye imitators [followers] together of me, and mark them that so walk even as ye have us for an ensample. For many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is perdition, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things. For our citizenship [conversation] is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation [change our vile body], that it may be conformed [fashioned] to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto him self.

 

1. Paul immeasurably extols the Philippians for having made a good beginning in the holy Gospel and for having acquitted themselves commendably, like men in earnest, as manifest by their fruits of faith. The reason he shows this sincere and strong concern for them is his desire that they remain steadfast, not being led astray by false teachers among the roaming Jews. For at that time many Jews went about with the intent of perverting Paul’s converts, pretending they taught something far better; while they drew the people away from Christ and back to the Law, for the purpose of establishing and extending their Jewish doctrines. Paul, contemplating with special interest and pleasure his Church of the Philipplans, is moved by parental care to admonish them lest they sometime be misled by such teachers to hold steadily to what they have received, not seeking anything else and not imagining, like self secure, besotted souls who allow themselves to be deceived by the devil not imagining themselves perfect and with complete understanding in all things. In the verses just preceding our text he speaks of himself as having not yet attained to full knowledge.

 

PURITY OF DOCTRINE ENJOINED

2. He particularly admonishes them to follow him and to mark those ministers who walk as he does; also to shape their belief and conduct by the pattern they have received from him. Not only of himself does he make an example, but introduces them who similarly walk, several of whom he mentions in this letter to the Philippians. The individuals whom be bids them observe and follow must have been persons of special eminence. But it is particularly the doctrine the apostle would have the Philippians pattern after. Therefore we should be chiefly concerned about preserving the purity of the office of the ministry and the genuineness of faith. When these are kept unsullied, doctrine will be right, and good works spontaneous. Later on, in chapter 4, verse 8, Paul admonishes, with reference to the same subject: “If there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

 

3. Apparently Paul is a rash man to dare boast himself a pattern for all. Other ministers might well accuse him of desiring to exalt his individual self above others. “Think you,” our wise ones would say to him, “that you alone have the Holy Spirit, or that no one else is as eager for honor as yourself?” Just so did Miriam and Aaron murmur against Moses, their own brother, saying: “Hath Jehovah indeed spoken only with Moses? hath he not spoken also with us ?” Numbers 12,2. And it would seem as if Paul had too high an appreciation of his own character did he hold up his individual self as a pattern, intimating that no one was to be noted as worthy unless he walked as he did; though there might be some who apparently gave greater evidence of the Spirit, of holiness, humility and other graces, than himself, and yet walked not in his way.

 

4. But he does not say “I, Paul, alone.” He says, “as ye have us for an example”, that does not exclude other true apostles and teachers. He is admonishing his Church, as he everywhere does, to hold fast to the one true doctrine received from him in the beginning. They are not to be too confident of their own wisdom in the matter, or to presume they have independent authority; but rather to guard against pretenders to a superior doctrine, for so had some been misled.

 

RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE LAW IS VAIN

5. In what respect he was a pattern or example to them, he has made plain; for instance, in the beginning of this chapter, in the third verse and following, he says: “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh: though I myself might have confidence even in the flesh: if any other man thinketh to have confidence in the flesh, I yet more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews.” That is, he commands the highest honor a Jew can boast. “As touching the law,” he goes on, “a Pharisee; as touching zeal, persecuting the Church; as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless. Howbeit what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”

 

6. “Behold, this is the picture or pattern,” he would say, “which we hold up for you to follow, that remembering how you obtained righteousness you may hold to it a righteousness not of the Law.” So far as the righteousness of the Law is concerned, Paul dares to say he regards it as filth and refuse (that proceeds from the human body); notwithstanding in its beautiful and blameless form it may be unsurpassed by anything in the world such righteousness as was manifest in sincere Jews, and in Paul himself before his conversion; for these in their great holiness, regarded Christians as knaves and meriting damnation, and consequently took delight in being party to the persecution and murder of Christians.

 

7. “Yet,” Paul would say, “ I who am a Jew by birth have counted all this merit as simply loss that I might be found in ‘the righteousness which is from God by faith’.” Only the righteousness of faith teaches us how to apprehend God how to confidently console ourselves with his grace and await a future life, expecting to approach Christ in the resurrection. By “approaching ” him we mean to meet him in death and at the judgment day without terror, not fleeing but gladly drawing near and hailing him with joy as one waited for with intense longing. Now, the righteousness of the Law cannot effect such confidence of mind. Hence, for me it avails nothing before God; rather it is a detriment. What does avail is God’s imputation of righteousness for Christ’s sake, through faith. God declares to us in his Word that the believer in his Son shall, for Christ’s own sake, have God’s grace and eternal life. He who knows this is able to wait in hope for the last day, having no fear, no disposition to flee.

 

8. But is it not treating the righteousness of the Law with irreverence and contempt to regard it and so teach as something not only useless and even obstructive, but injurious, loathsome and abominable? Who would have been able to make such a bold statement, and to censure a life so faultless and conforming so closely to the Law as Paul’s, without being pronounced by all men a minion of the devil, had not the apostle made that estimation of it himself? And who is to have any more respect for the righteousness of the Law if we are to preach in that strain ?

 

9. Had Paul confined his denunciations to the righteousness of the world or of the heathen the righteousness dependent upon reason and controlled by secular government, by laws and regulations his teaching would not have seemed so irreverent. But he distinctly specifies the righteousness of God’s Law, or the Ten Commandments, to which we owe an obligation far above what is due temporal powers, for they teach how to live before God something no heathenish court of justice, no temporal authority, knows anything about. Should we not condemn as a heretic this preacher who goes beyond his prerogative and dares find fault with the Law of God? who also warns us to shun such as observe it, such as trust in its righteousness, and exalts to sainthood “enemies of the cross of Christ .... whose God is the belly” who serve the appetites instead of God?

 

10. Paul would say of himself: “ I, too, was such a one. In my most perfect righteousness of the Law I was an enemy to and persecutor of the congregation, or Church, of Christ. It was the legitimate fruit of my righteousness that I though I must be party to the most horrible persecution of Christ and his Christians. Thus my holiness made me an actual enemy of Christ and a murderer of his followers. The disposition to injure is a natural result of the righteousness of the Law, as all Scripture history from Cain down testifies, and as we see even in the rest of the world who have not come to the knowledge of Christ. Princes, civil authorities in proportion to their wisdom, their godliness and honor are the bitter and intolerant enemies of the Gospel.

 

11. Of the sensual papistical dolts at Rome, cardinals, bishops, priests and the like, it is not necessary to speak here. their works are manifest. All honorable secular authorities must confess they are simply abandoned knaves, living shameless lives of open scandal, avarice, arrogance, unchastity, vanity, robbery and wickedness of every kind. Not only are they guilty of such living, but shamelessly endeavor to defend their conduct. They must, then, be regarded enemies of Christ and of all honesty and virtue. Hence every respectable man is justly antagonistic toward them. But, as before said, Paul is not here referring to this class, but to eminent, godly individuals, whose lives are beyond reproach. These very ones, when Christians are encountered, are hostile and heinous enough to be able to forget all their own faults in the sight of God, and to magnify to huge beams the motes we Christians have. In fact, they must style the Gospel heresy and satanic doctrine for the purpose of exalting their own holiness and zeal for God.

 

RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE LAW OPPOSES THE CROSS

12. The thing seems incredible, and I would not have believed it myself, nor have understood Paul’s words here, had I not witnessed it with my own eyes and experienced it. Were the apostle to repeat the charge today, who could conceive that our first, noblest, most respectable, godly and holy people, those whom we might expect, above all others, to accept the Word of God that they, I say, should be enemies to the Christian doctrine? But the examples before us testify very plainly that the “enemies” the apostle refers to must be the individuals styled godly and worthy princes and noblemen, honorable citizens, learned, wise, intelligent individuals. Yet if these could devour at one bite the “Evangelicals,” as they are now called, they would do it.

 

13. If you ask, Whence such a disposition? I answer, it naturally springs from human righteousness. For every individual who professes human righteousness, and knows nothing of Christ, holds that efficacious before God. He relies upon it and gratifies himself with it, presuming thereby to present a flattering appearance in God’s sight and to render himself peculiarly acceptable to him. From being proud and arrogant toward God, he comes to reject them who are not righteous according to the Law; as illustrated in the instance of the Pharisee. Luke 18:11-12. But greater is his enmity and more bitter his hatred toward the preaching that dares to censure such righteousness and assert its futility to merit God’s grace and eternal life.

 

14. I myself, and others with me, were dominated by such feelings when, under popery, we claimed to be holy and pious; we must confess the fact. If thirty years ago, when I was a devout, holy monk, holding mass every day and having no thought but that I was in the road leading directly to heaven if then anyone had accused me had preached to me the things of this text and pronounced our righteousness which accorded not strictly with the Law of God, but conformed to human doctrine and was manifestly idolatrous pronounced it without efficacy and said I was an enemy to the cross of Christ, serving my own sensual appetites, I would immediately have at Mast helped to find stones for putting to death such a Stephen, or to gather wood for the burning of this worst of heretics.

 

15. So human nature ever does. The world cannot conduct itself in any other way, when the declaration comes from heaven saying: “True you are a holy man, a great and learned jurist, a conscientious regent, a worthy prince, an honorable citizen, and so on, but with all your authority and your upright character you are going to hell; your every act is offensive and condemned in God’s sight. If you would be saved you must become an altogether different man; your mind and heart must be changed.” Let this be announced and the fire rises, the Rhine is all ablaze; for the self righteous regard it an intolerable idea that lives so beautiful, lives devoted to praiseworthy callings, should be publicly censured and condemned by the objectionable preaching of a few insignificant individuals regarded as even pernicious, and according to Paul, as filthy refuse, actual obstacles to eternal life.

 

16. But you may say: “What? Do you forbid good works? Is it not right to lead an honorable, virtuous life? Do you not acknowledge the necessity of political laws, of civil governments? that upon obedience to them depends the maintenance of discipline, peace and honor? Indeed, do you not admit that God himself commands such institutions and wills their observance, punishing where they are disregarded? Much more would he have his own Law and the Ten Commandments honored, not rejected. How dare you then assert that such righteousness is misleading, and obstructive to eternal life? What consistence is there in teaching people to observe the things of the Law, to be righteous in that respect, and at the same time censuring those things as condemned before God? How can the works of the Law be good and precious, and yet repulsive and productive of evil?”

 

17. I answer, Paul well knows the world takes its stand on this point of righteousness by the Law, and hence would contradict him. But let him who will, consult the apostle as to why he makes such bold assertions here. For indeed the words of the text are not our words, but his. True, law and government are essential in temporal life, as Paul him self confesses, and God would have everyone honor and obey them. Indeed, he has ordained their observance among Turks and heathen. Yet it is a fact that these people, even the best and most upright of them, they who lead honorable lives, are naturally in their hearts enemies to Christ, and devote their intellectual powers to exterminating God’s people. It must be universally admitted that the Turks, with all the restrictions and austerity of life imposed upon them by the Koran, a life more rigorous even than that of Christians it must be admitted they belong to the devil. In other words, we adjudge them condemned with all their righteousness, but at the same time say they do right in punishing thieves, robbers, murderers, drunkards and other offenders; more, that Christians living within their jurisdiction are under obligation to pay tribute, and to serve them with per son and property. Precisely the same thing is true respecting our princes who persecute the Gospel and are open enemies to Christ: we must be obedient to them, paying the tribute and rendering the service imposed; yet they, and all obedient followers willingly consenting to the persecution of the Gospel, must be looked upon as condemned before God.