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Sermons of Dr. Martin Luther for Trinity 3
Gospel Sermon (August 23-24, 1532)
Text: Luke 15:1-10
Now all the publicans and sinners were drawing near unto him to hear him. And both the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spake unto them this parable, saying, What man of you, having a hundred sheep, and having lost one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go alter that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and his neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto your, that even so there shalt be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine righteous persons, who ,need no repentance.
Or what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a lamp, and sweep the house, and seek diligently until she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth together her friends and neighbors, saying, Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I had lost. Even so, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.
1. This Gospel contains the teaching we hold and boast of as our chief doctrine, which is called the true Christian teaching, namely, the doctrine of grace and forgiveness of sins, and Christian liberty from the law. It is a very loving and friendly admonition to repentance and the knowledge of Christ. And it is ever a pity, that a godless, impudent person should be permitted to hear such an excellent, comforting and joyful sermon. And yet it is more sad, that every one graduates so soon in it and masters it so that he thinks he knows it so well that he can learn nothing more from it. Yet God, our Lord, does not permit himself to become vexed or weary in repeating it yearly, yea, every day, and enforces it as though he knew nothing else to preach, and as though he had no other skill or art. While we poor, wretched people immediately become so overlearned, so satisfied, tired of it and disgusted besides, that we have no longer a desire or love for it.
2. But before we take up the subject taught in this Gospel, let us first examine what St. Luke gives as an introduction to show what prompted Christ to preach the following sermon, when he says: “Now all the publicans and sinners were drawing near unto him to hear him,” because they wanted to be near him to hear his word, and he expresses freely and plainly what kind of people he had about him, namely, those who openly lived as they should not live, and were called downright sinners and wicked people. Thus it would appear that the Pharisees had sufficient reason to blame him, because he, who pretended to be a pious and holy man kept company with such low characters.
3. For at that time the men scattered hither and thither through the land were called publicans, to whom the Romans gave charge of a city, or of the revenue, or other duties or offices, and required of them a certain amount of revenue; just as the Turks or Venetians now assign a city or office to a certain person from which he must give many thousands of dollars a year, and whatever he extorts over and above that amount is his own. In this manner they proceeded. Those who collected such revenue and tax proceeded so that they had a profit from it. And as this sum thus appointed was large for each city or office, the officers extorted without let or hindrance, so that they might enjoy more as their ,own; for their masters were so close with them that they could not gain much for themselves, if they desired to act justly and take advantage of no one. Hence they were reported in all lands as being great extortioners in whom little good or honesty could be found.
4. Thus the other great crowds in general were called “sinners,” who otherwise were worse people and publicly lived in a shameful and wild way, in covetousness, adultery and the like. Such drew near to Christ in order to hear him, since they had heard, that in the light of his doctrine and his many miracles he was an excellent man.
5. Now, after all, there was a spark or two of virtue and honesty in them, that they had a desire for Christ and gladly heard his doctrine, and see what he did. Inasmuch as they well knew that he was a good man, and heard nothing but good of him, both in words and deeds, so that their doings did neither agree nor harmonize with his life; and yet they feel no enmity against him, nor flee from him, but go to him, not to seek anything evil in him, but to see and hear something good, and to hope that they might become better.
6. The Pharisees and the scribes, on the contrary, who were held and esteemed as the most pious and holy, were such poisonous reptiles, that they were not only enemies of Christ, and could not bear to see or hear him, nor suffer poor sinners to come to him and hear him that they might be made better, yet they even murmured and blamed him for harboring and receiving them, and said: Behold, is this that excellent and holy man? Who will now say that he is of God, as he associates with such rogues and wicked people? Yes, he is a “wine-bibber and a glutton,” and they say in another place, “a friend of publicans and sinners.”
7. Such names he must bear from these holy people, not because he was riotous or given to gluttony and drunkenness, but only because he permitted them to come to him, and did not thrust them from him nor despise them. For they thought he should have done so, and should have gone forth in a gray frock with a sour countenance and remained secluded from common people, and when he saw such publicans and sinners, he should have held his nose and looked the other way, so that he would not become polluted by them, as they themselves like holy people were accustomed to do. As Isaiah, 65:5, writes of them: that they kept themselves so pure that they would not dare to touch a sinner; as may also be seen in the example of Luke 7:39, where the Pharisees so bitterly opposed Christ, because he allowed himself to be touched by a woman who was a sinner. Now, these were they who at all times desired to be his master, and to prescribe to him and give him rules how he should conduct himself and live holy. Hence they murmur here, because he does not hold to them and avoid such public sinners as they do.
8. Now Christ is also a little self-willed and shows here that he is simply not to be dictated to by any one, and that he will be free in all things, as we see also everywhere in the Gospel, that a peculiar firmness or self-will is found in this man, who is nevertheless at other times so mild a man, willing and ready to help, the like of whom was never found on earth. But when they came to him with laws and wanted to be his teachers, then all friendship was at an end, he starts and bounds back, as when you strike on an anvil, and he speaks and does just the contrary they demand of him, although they even say rightly and well, and have God’s word for it, as they do here where they come and say: You should do thus, you should hold to the society of good people and not to sinners. This is a precious doctrine taken out of the Scriptures; for Moses himself writes that they should avoid the wicked, and put away evil from among them. They have the text on their side, and come trolling with their Moses, and want to bind him and rule him by their laws.
9. But, whether it be God’s law or the law of man, he will in short be unbound, like the unicorn, of which it is said, that it cannot be taken alive, it matters not how you attempt it. It will suffer itself to be pierced, shot and killed, but it will never submit to be taken. Thus Christ also acts, although you approach him with laws to throw them over him, he will not endure it, but he bursts through them as through a spider’s web, and gives to them besides a good lecture. As in Matthew 12:3, where they blamed his disciples because they plucked the ears of corn on the Sabbath day, citing the divine command to keep the Sabbath day holy; he turns it around altogether and bursts through the commandment and proves besides, both by Scriptures and examples, just the contrary. Again, in Matthew 16:22-23, where he tells his Apostles how he shall suffer and be crucified, and when Peter with good intentions comes forth with the law of love and sets before him God’s commandment and says: “Be it far from thee, Lord; this shall never be unto thee.” In this connection he also gives him a good strong reply, and handles him roughly and unfriendly, and says: “Get thee behind me, Satan; for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men.”
10. In short, wherever they begin to deal with him only according to laws, he resents it and will be free from all laws, and be the Lord of them all, by which he thrusts them from him, and will observe no law at all, as though he were bound to keep it. And yet, on the contrary, when it springs from himself no law is so trifling, but that he will gladly keep it, yea, even much more than the law could demand, so that a more willing servant could not be found, when he is left free without a master. Yea, he even humbles himself as lowly as to wash and kiss the feet of Judas, his betrayer, and even protects his disciples at night, as history relates of him, and we may well believe, as he says himself, Matthew 20:28: “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” There, of course, belong the works of the law, but not as springing out of the law nor compelled by the law. As also may be seen by his life in that he always goes about hither and thither in the land, sleeps at night on the bare earth, fasts forty days without rest, and performs so many labors that they feared he might lose his mind, Mark 3:21, or harm his body. He does whatever he should and can, but he will be free and unbound, and will have no laws prescribed to him, and wherever one attempts it, there he halts and defends himself most determinedly. Thus he is both the most obstinate and the most kind of all men, and at the same time he is neither stubborn nor slavish, who will do nothing to which he is driven by the law, and yet he does all things in abundance like a flood of good works, when he is only permitted to work of his own free will, without being mastered and taught.
11. This has been written for us as an example, that we may learn what a true Christian man he is according to the Spirit, and that we should not judge him according to the law, nor master him according to our own shrewdness; for this reason also Christ is our Lord, that he may make out of us such people as he is himself. And as he will not suffer himself to be bound by any laws, but is Lord over the law and all things, thus also the faith of a Christian church should not suffer it. For through Christ and his baptism we are to be so highly exalted and liberated that our conscience according to faith may know no law, but simply remain unmastered and unjudged by the same, that nothing else may be so cheerful to us according to the internal experience of conscience, than as though no law had ever appeared on earth, neither ten nor one commandment, either of God, or the Pope, or the emperor; but at all times stand in liberty, that we can say: I know no law, and do not desire to know any.
12. For in this state and nature by virtue of which we became Christians, all human works cease, and hence all law. For where there is no work, there can be no law to demand work and to say: do this, leave that; but we are through baptism and through the blood of Christ simply free from all works, and justified by mere grace and mercy, and even live before God alone by them. This is, I say, our treasure, according to which we are Christians and live and stand before God. For how we should live according to the outward life in our flesh and blood before the world, has nothing whatever to do here.
13. Therefore a Christian must so learn to rule his conscience before God as not to permit himself to be ensnared by any law, but whenever his faith is attacked by the law, let him defend himself against it, and act as Christ does here and in other places, where he shows himself so firm, exceptional and odd, that neither Moses nor any legal exacter can do anything with him, although he is otherwise the most humble, the most gentle and friendly of men.
14. However, this is an excellent and sublime art, which no one knows but he alone who was the master of it, who was able to defy all laws and teachers of law. But we cannot attain to this high degree, for the devil sports with our flesh and blood, when he attacks a man in his conscience and makes him tell what he has done and not done, and disputes with him both concerning his sins and piety. Here a man is drawn into a pit of clay and deep mire, so that he cannot extricate himself, but only sinks deeper and deeper. For it rests upon him as a heavy load and presses him down, so that he is not able to rise above it, under which he goes on and consumes himself with it, and can not obtain peace. As I also feel in my own experience, when with my labor I can not extricate myself, although I labor incessantly, and though I strangle myself to get out of the pit, that I might rise above the law, and accomplish enough to compel it to be quiet and say: Well, you have done sufficient, now I am satisfied with thee! But it amounts to nothing, for it is such a deep pit and mire, out of which no one can emerge, even if he take the whole world to his assistance, as all can bear me witness who have tried it, and still daily experience.
15. Now the cause of this is that our entire nature is so that it is in short inclined to be occupied with works and laws and hear what they dictate and follow those who say: Why does he eat with publicans and sinners? If he would eat and drink with us, then he would do right. Again: Why do your disciples pluck the ears of corn and do what one ought not to do on the Sabbath day? And they always act and dispute with the law until it says: Now you are good. For it can not rise higher nor understand anything better than that the doctrine of the law is the highest doctrine, and its righteousness is the best life before God. Thus human nature remains in the law, forever captive and bound. And as it lays hold and makes the attempt, it can never quiet the law, so that it has nothing to demand or to punish, but is compelled to remain captive under the law as in a perpetual prison.
And the longer human nature struggles and afflicts itself with the law, the worse it becomes until entirely overcome.
16. What then am I to do when the law attacks me and oppresses my conscience, because I am conscious of not having done what it requires? I answer: Behold what Christ does here, he sets his head against it, and grows firm, and allows no law to be forced upon him, even though it be taken from the law of God. Thus you must learn to do, and flatly say to it:
My dear law, let your contention cease, and go your own way, for I have nothing to do with thee; yes, just because you come to dispute with me and inquire how good I am, I will not hear thee; for nothing avails before this judge, with whom we now dispute, nothing what I am and shall do or not do; but only what Christ is, gives and does. For we are now in the bridal chamber, where the bride and the bridegroom should be alone, you have no right to enter there, or speak on this subject.
17. However, in this very way the law still continues to knock and say:
Yes, nevertheless you must do good works, keep God’s commandment, if you want to be saved. Here answer again: Do you not clearly hear, that it avails nothing now to consider this. For I have already my righteousness and the sum of all salvation in Christ my Lord without any works, and I was already saved long before thou camest, so that I have no need whatever of thee. For as I said, where works are of no avail, the law also amounts to nothing, and where no law is there is also no sin. Therefore nothing shall rule here except the bride alone in the bridal chamber with Christ, in whom she possesses all things together, and lacks nothing that is necessary unto salvation, and the law must remain excluded with drums and trumpets, and courageously despised and banished when it would attack the conscience. For it does not belong here, it comes out of season, and wants to make a great ado where it should not intrude, for here we are in the sphere of the article of faith; I believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, who suffered for me, died and was buried, rose again from the dead, etc. Before him must give place the law of Moses, of the emperor and of God, and I am to repel everything that would dispute with me about sin, right or wrong, and everything I may do.
18. Behold, Christ would here present to us such liberty, so that we as Christians according to our faith may tolerate no other master, but only hold that we are baptized and called unto Christ, and through him have become justified and sanctified, and say: This is my righteousness, my treasure, my work and everything against sin and wrong, which the law can do and bring against me. If you want another righteousness, work, law, sin, then take them where you may, you will not find them in me. In this way a man may defend himself and withstand the suggestions and temptations of the devil, either referring to past or present sins; so that these two may be kept wide apart, Moses and Christ, works and faith, conscience and the outward life; so that when the law attacks me and would terrify my heart, then it is time to give the good law a furlough, and if it will not go, bravely drive it away, and say: Gladly would I do and promote good works where I can at the proper time, when among the people; but here where my conscience must stand before God, I will know nothing of them, in this only let me alone, and do not speak to me of what I do or fail to do. Here I will not listen either to Moses or the Pharisees, but my baptism and Christ only shall reign here in full sway, and I will like Mary sit at his feet and hear his Word. But Martha must stay out and go about in the kitchen and do her housework, and in short, leave the conscience alone.
19. But how is it, if I still continually have sin in me, that is certainly not right? I answer: It is true, I am a sinner and do wrong; but I am not going to despair on that account nor run straight to hell, or flee from the law; for I have still a righteousness and work far above Moses, by which I apprehend him who has apprehended me, and I cleave to him who has embraced me in baptism and laid me in his bosom, and by his Gospel has promoted me to the fellowship of all his benefits, and commands me to believe in him. Where he is, there I command the Pharisees, and Moses with his tables, all lawyers with their, books, all men with their works, immediately to be silent and depart. For here no law has any right to accuse or demand, although I have not done it nor can I do it, for in Christ I have all things in abundance, whatever I need or lack.
20. Such, I say, is the Christian’s doctrine and skill, and it belongs only where Christ reigns, and the conscience acts as in God’s presence. But this is not preached to rough, impudent and light-minded people, who understand nothing of it, and who as St. Peter says in his second Epistle, 3:6, only confuse and pervert such doctrine to their own condemnation, from which they take license to live as they please, and say: Ho! why shall I do good works? What harm is it if I am a sinner? Has not Christ abolished the law? Now, this too will not avail, for here you must view Christ from another point, and observe what he further does. For here he himself says that he is the man who seeks the poor lost sheep, and besides proves it by his present deed, in that he receives publicans and sinners, and preaches to them. Here you will see that he does a great deal more than what the law has commanded, and by his example also teaches thee to do likewise. He is so proud that he will not be under the law; and again he is so willing that he desires to do much more than the law can require.
Do thou also likewise, and wait not first until you are driven and tormented with the law, but do what you should of your own accord without the law, as St Peter admonishes, 1 Peter 2:16 “As free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bond servants of God;” and in Romans 6:18 says: “And being made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness.” These are they who do all things with a free conscience without the coercing of the law.
21. For where the Gospel is truly in the heart, it creates a new man who does not wait until the law comes, but, being so full of joy in Christ, and of desire and love for that which is good, he gladly helps and does good to every one wherever he can, from a free heart, before he ever once thinks of the law. He wholly risks his body and life, without asking what he must suffer on account of it, and thus abounds in good works which flow forth of themselves. Just like Christ will not be compelled to pick up a straw, but without compulsion he permits himself to be nailed to the cross for me and the whole world, and dies for the lost sheep. This may indeed be called work above work.
22. Therefore learn now carefully to discriminate, both rightly to place and to divide these things, when it comes to the test, and when the law and sin would dispute with the conscience, that you courageously take the word out of the mouth of Moses and tell him to be still, and order him out to your old man, whom you are to lead into the school of Moses, that he may dispute with him and say: Listen, you are both lazy and slow to do good, and to serve your neighbor. When you should praise Christ, you rather drink a bottle of bee,’. And before you expose yourself to danger for Christ’s sake, you prefer to rob and cheat your neighbor wherever you can.
For the same lazy scoundrel who will not move whose hands will not work, whose feet will not go where they should, whose eyes are not chaste, here you may take stones and smite the old Adam until he does move.
23. Therefore, when Moses attacks me where it is right, I am to say to him, I will gladly hear and follow thee, namely with my hands and life, aside from the faith and righteousness of my conscience before God, there thou mayest reign like a schoolmaster amid the servants of the family, and order me to be obedient, chaste and patient, to do good to my neighbor, to help the poor, to praise and honor God, besides allow myself to be disgraced and slandered for the sake of his Word, and suffer the world to bring upon me all its torments. In all this I am well pleased, and am willing to do even more than I am able as to the outward man. For Christ says the spirit is willing, and more than willing, but the flesh is weak. For thus he permits himself to be circumcised, to offer in the temple, to be scourged and crucified, none of which was necessary for him, nor could the law demand them from him.
But should Moses go further, where he has no right, that is, into my heart and conscience, there I will neither hear nor see him. For there I have another great and unspeakable treasure, called Christ, with his baptism and Gospel. In a word, what concerns the outer man, there Moses cannot burden nor urge too much, but he dare not in the least burden the conscience. For where the Spirit is who brings us Christ, he is above all law, as St. Paul says, 1 Timothy 1:9: “That law is not made for a righteous man,” and yet he at the same time does more than he is able to accomplish according to the flesh. For after the flesh we are nothing but sinners, and as to our person we would of course have to remain condemned under the law; but by virtue of Christ and baptism we rise high above all law.
24. Thus let Moses carry on his rough work, aside from Christ to urge those who are not Christians, or ever spur the old Adam. For Christians he cannot thereby make either pious or righteous; but of course he does this, namely, he shows them their duty, which according to the Spirit they gladly do, and much more besides, except that the flesh does not willingly follow nor obey the Spirit, so that on this account they still need not be admonished and urged. But at the same time the conscience must remain free, for the law has no right here before God to accuse and condemn.
Wherefore in Christianity such doctrine and admonition must be upheld, as even the Apostles did, whereby every one is admonished and reminded of the duty of his calling.
25. But Moses must be allowed to have absolute rule over those who are not Christians, and burden them both outwardly and inwardly, so that he may force and torment them to do what is right and omit what is wrong, although they do it not gladly, like the licentious multitude and stiff-necked people, who neither esteem nor understand the liberty of Christ, although they can prate and boast of the Gospel, and yet they only misuse it for their licentiousness. They should remember that they belong under Moses.
For they are not people who can grasp our doctrine. They go along so securely and think they have no need of the Gospel, or that they know it well enough; but it is only for those who thus dispute with the law because of their sins and the wrath of God, and are frightened by it and feel their hearts say to them: Woe is me! how have I lived? Row shall I stand before God? And thus they go about too timid and bashful, whereas others are too hard and presumptuous, so that they neither feel nor care for any law nor for their sins and distress. Hence to both it is unequally distributed, so that those who ought to have nothing to do with the law are the only ones to feel it and they have too much of it; but the others, who only ought to feel it, do not concern themselves about it at all; yes, the more you try to terrify them with the law and the wrath of God, the harder they become.
Therefore they need another master, namely, the hangman and the sheriff to teach them; if they will not do good in God’s name, that they may be obliged to do it in the name of some one else, and have no thanks for it, but receive hell-fire and all torments as their reward.
26. On the contrary, Christ, here and everywhere, as I have said, teaches us, who feel our sins and the burden of the law, and would gladly be Christians, both by his example and his sermons, to accustom ourselves to contend against it, and directs us from ourselves to himself, and not to give place to the devil, who by the law would invade the bride chamber of Christ, and sit in his place, that is, rob the conscience of its joy and comfort, in order that he may force man into despair, so as not to be able to lift up his head or heart to God. For this is called the Christian’s art, who should learn and know more than the vulgar, profane crowd can know and understand, namely, that they are able to contend against and withstand the devil, when he attacks us and desires to dispute with us with the aid of Moses; so that we simply allow him no argument or conversation, but direct him from Moses to Christ and stay with the latter; for he only goes about cunningly to bring us from Christ under Moses; for he knows when he accomplishes this, he has the victory.
27. Wherefore be on your guard that you be not led from the way or be tempted out of your sphere; but, although he already sets forth many things from the law, which is also God’s Word, which you are in duty bound to obey, you can answer him and say: Dost thou indeed not understand that I will now neither. know nor hear of any law? For we are now within a sphere and on ground, where there is no question as to what I shall do or leave undone. I already know well enough, that I have not done, nor do I do, what the law requires; but here is the question, how may I acquire a gracious God and the forgiveness of sins, and how shall I learn the article of faith concerning Christ? Here I will abide in the arms of Christ and hang about his neck, and creep into his baptism, God grant it, and let the law say and my heart feel what they may. If we can only keep this chief part pure, and this bulwark firm and well secured, then I will gladly do and suffer externally as much as is laid upon me.
28. Behold, whoever learns this art well is a truly perfect man, as Christ was, so far above all law that he might also call St. Peter a devil, the Pharisees fools and blind leaders, and stop the mouth of Moses and order him to keep quiet, and thus live entirely without any law, and yet fulfill all laws and be proud and firm against everything that would bind and lead him captive, and yet also of his own free self be serviceable and subject unto all men.
29. But here we are always deficient, that we can never properly learn this, for the devil lies in our path and leads us so far that we pervert it and are only too willing and modest to hear everything the law says and become frightened at it, when we should raise our head and neither hear nor follow it. Again, in external matters, we are only too liable to fall into license, when we should courageously keep down the body and exercise it with the law, that it may be compelled to suffer everything that causes it pain, because it still continually commits sin; yet, so that sin here remain without, where it should remain, and have its Moses to lay upon its back and oppress it. But internally no sin or law ought to reign, but Christ alone with pure grace, joy and consolation. Then all things would go right, and man would be prepared for every good work, both to do and suffer all things with joy, with a glad and willing heart, out of good, honest faith in the grace of God through Christ, [so that the conscience remain a master over all laws, and the flesh be subject to all laws.] 30. Now, whoever can do such things, let him thank God, and see to it, that he be able to do it only not too well or loudly boast that he has great skill. For I, and those like me, can not yet accomplish it as we should, although we have indeed tried it most and practiced it the longest; for it is, as I have said, a skill that no one possesses but Christians, all of whom must remain scholars and learn it all their lives; except only those other secure spirits, who pretend that they alone know everything, and yet with such pretended skill they know nothing at all, and thereby have departed farthest from it. There is not a more vexatious thing, nor a greater affliction or harm that can happen to Christendom than that everything becomes full of factions and sects through such sophists; while they are only people who serve neither God nor the world, and hear rightly neither the law nor the Gospel, but securely despise the former and become disgusted with the latter, and are always seeking some other doctrine. But we do not preach in their behalf, for they are unworthy of it, and are punished by God so that they can never learn it or derive any benefit from it, although they hear it; also, that we nevertheless only retain it and that they take nothing of it from us, except that they hear only an empty sound and noise of it.
This is the first part which Christ here teaches by his own example; [how we should keep our conscience free from all disputations of the law and from all the terrors of the wrath of God and of sin]. Now let us examine this beautiful sermon of the Lord, where he begins and says:
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, and having lost one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?”
31. Christ the Lord is not only firm, in that he refuses to obey their doctrine and despotism, but also shows good reasons for doing so, and with great and fine skill overthrows their objections and stops their mouths, so that they have nothing to say against it, yes, he circumvents them by their own actions and example, and forces them in their very hearts to be ashamed of themselves, that they demanded such things of him and blame him in such weighty matters, which they themselves do in much more trifling things, and wish to do them even with honor.
32. For how could he answer them better than to say: You great masters and dear sophists, would you order and teach me that I should thrust from me poor sinners who desire me and come unto me to hear my words?
While even you yourselves for the sake of one lost sheep do much more, when among a hundred you miss a single one, you leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, that is, in the field with the shepherds, standing all alone, and run after the one of the hundred and have no rest until you find it, and this you call a good and praiseworthy deed, and if any one would reprove you for it, you would consider him mad and foolish. And should not I, the Savior of souls, do the same for men as you do for a sheep, although there is no comparison whatever between a soul and everything else that lives and moves of all the creatures on the earth. Then should you not in your hearts be ashamed of yourselves, to boss and reprove me in a work which is infinitely better than the work you yourselves praise and are compelled to praise? So, if you reprove me, you must first condemn yourselves.
33. This is called giving a good answer, and in all honor putting them to silence, while he gives sufficient reasons why he does not at all need their great authority, yea, he will not, neither should he, endure it. And so they run on as is their nature, for they obtain thus nothing but their own sins and shame. For it is truly a shame to all masters, and an insufferable outrage, for them to attempt to dictate to him, who is appointed of God Lord over all. But it ought to be as I said, whoever desires to direct and judge a Christian, and lead him away from his baptism and the article of faith in Christ, and to govern him by his wisdom and laws, does not only make a fool of himself, but also causes abomination and murder; for he defiles God’s temple and sanctuary, and with a devilish outrage invades his kingdom, where he alone should reign through his Holy Spirit. Wherefore he fairly and justly deserves that God should also put him to sin and shame before all the world, because he wants to be a master in the devil’s name, whereas Christ alone is master, and with his head he runs against him who is too high and wise for him.
34. Therefore it is not a good thing to trifle with Christians, for they are living saints, who are undisturbed before all the world only- because of their man whose name is Christ; for men gain nothing in him at any rate, as he will not suffer others to teach and rule him. So also a Christian can and should not suffer it, for if he suffers it and gives place and yields to suggestions of this kind, where one would blame and master Christ in him, or attack his faith with the law and doctrine of works, then he is lost and fallen from Christ. Therefore let us only hold firmly to him, and care not if the whole world outwits and masters us. For when we abide in him and hold fast to the true sense of this article of faith, we will easily overcome all such fanatics and put them to shame. For this Christ shall and will remain uncorrected and without a master, but he alone will rule and reform the whole world, so that they shall either by grace acknowledge him as their Lord and Master, and themselves as fools, or without grace be exposed to shame and utterly perish.
35. But, as I have said, this sermon is much too good, sweet and comforting for the coarse, rough crowd, and the mad, knotty mob, and so we do not preach it to them that they may know it; but only to those who are in the terrors and anxiety of conscience, or in the danger and toils of death, and when the devil disputes with them about their sins, to drive them into melancholy and despair. To those this lovely picture must be presented, that they may become comforted and joyful. But the rest, who already live in drunkenness and know but very little of melancholy and spiritual sorrow, are to be diverted to Moses and mister hangman and his servants, and afterwards to the devil. For it is painted so wry friendly and much better than any man can paint it, and no one is so eloquent as to outline it or equal it with words, but as much as possible it must be grasped by faith in the heart. However, we must notice a little of it, so as to give an occasion to meditate upon it.
36. Christ says I have a hundred sheep, that is, the little flock of entire Christendom, from which number one is lost and fallen from the communion of Christians. If you would know how it is with my heart, only truly describe such a shepherd and his lost sheep!
37. For while the shepherd is merely a man and tends the dumb animals, created to be slaughtered and killed, yet he has such a sympathetic heart for his lost sheep, that he is in as great anxiety to find the sheep as it is to find its shepherd. For as soon as the sheep knows, as it does by instinct, that he is its shepherd, it is not at all afraid, but runs up to him with all confidence, and walks along before him in perfect trust. Yes, as soon as it only hears his voice, it bleats and runs after. him, and has no rest until it comes to him. And thus there is of course the purest friendship and love between them both, and they have toward each other only one heart and one mind; so that if the lamb could speak and pour out its heart, it would desire nothing but its shepherd. Again, the shepherd has no other cares and anxieties than how he may again find his precious pet, that has gone from him and strayed away. He makes haste, and sends out servants wherever he thinks it may be found, and never ceases until he has found it and brought it home. For he knows well enough what a poor animal it is, as it can live only by the help and under the protection of its shepherd, and can not at all care for itself, but is wholly lost and must perish, if deprived of its shepherd, and besides it is naturally fearful and inclined to stray; and as soon as it leaves the way and loses the shepherd, it is at once discomfited and can not rest, although it comes among other shepherds and sheep, and the stranger calls it; yet it runs in its fright through briers and water and everything before it until it falls a prey to the wolf or otherwise perishes.
38. But still it has in it the virtue and good nature, that it holds with all diligence to its shepherd and knows his voice so well, and when it hears it, it runs immediately to him, and will not permit itself to be taken from him, though all the world may call and coax. And though it be already lost or gone astray, still it has the hope as much as instinct gives it, if it can only once again hear its shepherd, it would be cheerful and void of all care.
Thus the shepherd is not for the purpose, when he finds it again, to be angry’ at it and thrust it away, or to cast it into the jaws of the wolf; but all his cares and thoughts are, only to allure it in the most friendly manner and treat it in the tenderest way, he takes it upon his shoulders, holds and carries it, until he again brings it home.
39. The picture painted before us by this creature of God is, how Christ shows his disposition toward us, what he will do for us and what we may expect from him. For, as all this is true in nature, much more is it true in the kingdom of Christ, which is a kingdom of grace, pure love and consolation. Wherefore keep in mind this sheep that belongs to the shepherd, then you will also find, with how much more and greater affection he takes it to himself and how friendly and perfectly and heartily he cares for it, to bring it back. By this he would set forth and indeed pour out his inexhaustible love and ardent desire toward poor, sinful, frightened and weak consciences, which are his true sheep.
40. For when a man has lost this shepherd and does not hear his voice, it is with him exactly as with the lost sheep, which always wanders ever farther and farther from him. And though he even be allured and called by strange doctrines to run over to them and think it is coming to its shepherd, yet it does not find him, but always runs from one corner to another, and the longer it runs the farther it goes astray, and it has no comfort nor help, until it again hears the voice of its true Shepherd ringing in its ears. As also experience plainly shows us, and every one can experience it in his own heart. For if the second article of the creed concerning Christ be taken away or not taught, then here comes a factious spirit, there a fanatic, where one perverts the sacrament of the altar, the other baptism, and one preaches this, the other that, concerning strange holiness of life, and each one entices the poor sheep to himself, and pretends to be the Shepherd, by which the sheep strays more and more, until it loses the way altogether.
41. Moreover, the devil also joins in with his own thoughts, which he shoots into the heart: Ah, if you had done this and that, or not done it! by which the heart becomes only more fickle and erring, that it does not know whither to go. This certainly takes place when Christ is removed out of sight, and the article of faith concerning him is not taught. It matters not how they teach, advise and admonish, it will only be worse and approach nearer destruction, unless the true Shepherd with his own voice comes again to him.
42. Therefore we should now learn rightly to know and recognize Christ our Lord, that we may not regard him as a tyrant or an angry judge, as hitherto he has been preached to us, and as the devil always presents him to the heart, as one standing behind us with a sword. But as the little lamb naturally beholds. its shepherd, not at all as one who would frighten, hunt and strike it down, but as soon as it first sees him, it becomes happy and obtains a hope as though it received help already, and needs no more to fear or care, and runs straight up to him with all confidence.
43. Thus too, if our confidence is to begin, and we become strengthened and comforted, we must well learn the voice of our Shepherd, and let all other voices go, who only lead us astray, and chase and drive us hither and thither. We must hear and grasp only that article which presents Christ to us in the most friendly and comforting manner possible. So that we can say with all confidence: My Lord ,Jesus Christ is truly the only Shepherd, and I, alas, the lost sheep, which has strayed into the wilderness, and I am anxious and fearful, and would gladly be good, and have a gracious God and peace of conscience, but here I am told that He is as anxious for me as I am for him. I am anxious and in pain about how I shall come to him to secure help, But he is in anxiety and worry and desires nothing else than to bring me again to himself.
44. Behold, if we could thus portray his heart, and press it into our own heart, that he has such a gushing desire, anxiety and longing for us, then we could not dread or fear him, but would joyfully run up to him and abide with him alone, and hear no other doctrine or teacher. For wherever a different doctrine comes, be it of Moses or others, it will certainly accomplish nothing, except only to hunt us down and torment us, so that we can find neither rest nor peace. Wherefore Christ also says, Matthew 11:28-29: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest for your souls.” As though he would say: Run about and seek wherever you will, hear and learn everything that man can preach, yet you will find no rest nor peace of heart except in me alone.
45. We will gladly permit the preaching of good works, the ten commandments and all other moral teaching; but to preach to the conscience bound in torment and terror on account of its sins, there shall positively be no other word preached except the Word of Christ. For this is that poor lost sheep, which neither shall nor can have and suffer any master, except this its only Shepherd, who does not deal with it by compulsions and the requirements of the law, but in the sweetest and tenderest manner, and takes upon himself the dear sheep with all its distress, sins and anxiety, and himself does what the sheep should’ do, as we shall hear further.
46. But, as I have sufficiently said before, we must well distinguish here between two kinds of preaching, or the voice of Moses and the voice of Christ, that by no means you may permit any Moses to come to the lost sheep, though his preaching be ever so excellent. For if these things be confused and we attempt to comfort the troubled conscience with the law thus: Be of good cheer, you have not committed murder nor adultery and done any other outrage, or you have indeed meant it all good! This also is comfort, but it will not last long nor hold out against the cuffs of the devil.
For this is nothing more nor less than a consolation with yourself, by which the poor sheep is not benefited, for it remains astray and lost in spite of this, and it can not help itself or come to its Shepherd.
47. However, if he is to be helped, he must be shown the true Shepherd, who comes and seeks him to bring him home, and let his voice be heard, then he can receive true comfort, so that he dare answer Moses and say: I now no longer care either for thy comfort or terror, and you may make me just as bad as you can, you may make me a murderer time and again, and say I have hanged my father and mother; but now, because I am in anxiety and terror before the wrath of God and eternal condemnation, I will neither hear nor Obey thee. For I myself feel and confess, that I am, alas, a poor lost sheep; but this is my salvation and comfort in which I triumph, that I have the Shepherd who himself seeks me, his lost sheep, and carries me on his shoulders. Let us now discuss this, and not how good or bad I am, but. how I am to come to Christ.
48. Therefore, all preaching must be adapted to the capacity of the hearers.
For I have said that this doctrine is not suited to a carnal and hardened man, even as it does not profit to give a hardy thresher sugar and costly delicacies, which are intended for the sick, but give him a good piece of hard bread and cheese and a drink of water. But other soft and delicate food reserve for the sick and young children, who cannot digest anything hard. Thus you must also observe here how rightly to divide and give each one his proper portion, like a prudent householder. Likewise, that you hold fast to the preaching of Moses and the law, until you find hard and vicious people, who live secure and without fear. These you must permit to eat only the coarse food of common laborers, that is, to hear the angry Moses, who thunders and flashes from Mount Sinai, who destroys the children of Israel and slays them in the desert, and drowns King Pharaoh in the Red Sea.
49. But wherever there are troubled, weak hearts and consciences, which have now become lost sheep, there keep silent about Moses and all the works of God, done under the law, and speak only of the works done by Christ in the time of grace, and well impress the poor conscience how he shows himself toward the lost sheep; namely, that he is the dear, good Shepherd, who is so anxious and concerned about the sheep that he drops everything and leaves all lay, only that he may find it again, and never ceases until he brings it home. For it grieves him that a man should remain in sin, fear and tremble; and he cannot endure it, that he remains there and perishes. But he calls to thee with his Gospel in the most friendly manner, that you should only come to him, and be taken up and carried on his shoulders, and remain his dear sheep.
50. But that multitude must not be called the lost sheep, which lives securely and riotously, and do not concern themselves whether God above is angry or laughs, for it is a wild goat that will not be either led or protected. But those are called the stray, lost sheep, whose sins oppress them and who struggle in the conflict of faith, where there is no danger of losing Moses but Christ and his chief article of faith, that is, where the conscience is in anxiety and worry as to whether God is merciful to him?
This is the true sheep which sighs and cries for its Shepherd, and would be glad for help, as David says, <19B9176> Psalm 119:176: “I am gone astray like a lost sheep, seek thy servant,” etc. To those the sugar and this friendly sweet refreshment tastes good, by which the heart is revived that it may not despair, but that it may raise itself up again by such consolation, not through Moses but in Christ; not in order to make Moses his friend or be able to quiet his voice, but because he has a gracious God in his Lord and Christ. God grant it. Let Moses abide with his comfort where he can.
51. Although it is also a fine thing and should be so, that a man should not live contrary to the law, rob, steal, murder, or do his neighbor wrong and cause him pain; yet such a life does not give the heart true comfort, but only tickles the skin, which does not enter the heart nor lasts. For when the devil comes and seizes the heart, he takes away all such comfort, and although you have even done right, yet he of course prefers tenfold against it, where you did the contrary. Yea, in the very best works he can easily find much uncleanness, and turn everything to sin. Therefore nothing can be built on such comfort, but only courageously cast it away, and say: God grant, whether I be good or not, this I will reserve for its proper place, when we come to teach and treat of works; but in this circle in which I now stand, it avails nothing to treat of my works and goodness, but of Christ and his works which he has done for me as his lost sheep. If now you ask whether I am good, I will simply answer: knee, and I do not want to be in this circle of good people.
52. But if you ask whether Christ is good, then without hesitation I can say yes, and present him as my righteousness, and defiantly appeal to him. For in him I have been baptized, and I have the seal and document here in the Gospel, that I am his dear sheep, and he is my good and pious Shepherd who seeks his lost sheep, and deals with it entirely without the law, demands nothing of me, neither drives, threats nor frightens, but shows me pure sweet grace, and humbles himself beneath me and takes me upon himself, that I may only lie on his back and be carried. Why should I then fear the terrors and thunderings of Moses, or the devil besides, because I am in the protection of that man who gives me his holiness and everything he has, to possess it as my own, and who carries and holds me so that I cannot be lost, because I remain a sheep and do not deny the Shepherd or maliciously fall from him.
53. Thus you have this picture presented in the most lovely manner it is possible to present it. But all this is done only on account of faith. For the picture is indeed fine and full of comfort, and is the truth itself. But it is wanting in this, that it is not felt in experience as it should be. For while the sheep runs astray, that is, when man feels his sins and they oppress him, and he does not know where to stand, and the devil terrifies him; then only the contrary takes place, and he cannot grasp that it is true, for all that he has here heard entirely departs through his present feelings and experience.
For the devil has so perverted his vision that he sees nothing but God’s wrath and indignation, b v which his heart is so burdened that he cannot raise himself above it or turn his eyes from it, for he has so deeply sunk into it that he sees nothing else even in Christ than an angry Judge, as he has been hitherto described and forced into all hearts by the scandalous Papists as sitting alone on the rainbow with a sword in his mouth.
54. For the real art and roguery of the devil, which he practices on the poor wandering sheep, are that he perverts this picture and makes a continual bawling in his presence, that he can no more recognize his Shepherd, so that in Christ’s name he might lead the man subject to Moses, as he disputes about Christ just as he did before about Moses, so that he indeed needs a strong faith that it is true, and a man first of all must contend against himself on this account. For his own feeling is powerful in itself, and the devil magnifies sin and terror so greatly, that nerve and bone, and the heart in the body, could fail.
55. Therefore it is not so easily learned as some imagine. When all is peace it is easily believed that Christ is sweet and amiable, but when anxiety and terror break forth and overwhelm the heart, then man is blind and wandering, and will judge only according to his heart and feelings, to which he clings and confirms himself in his error, for he is held captive in it, and cannot think otherwise but that it is as he feels it, and yet it is not true.
56. Now this would be an art, were he able to say to his own heart: If you acknowledge yourself to be a lost sheep, you speak the truth; but that you would on this account flee from Christ, and imagine him to be a man who would hunt you down and frighten you, this is the work of the sorry devil himself. For if you rightly behold and confess him as your true Shepherd, you would neither be afraid nor frightened at him, but you would run up to him with joy and confidence. For he is not present here to condemn thee, but he comes to seek thee, to carry you on his back, to help and deliver you from sin, error, the power of the devil and every misfortune.
If you now feel that you are a sinner and have deserved the wrath of God, then you should just on this account the more earnestly cry and run to your dear Shepherd, that he might deliver you, and you should not imagine him to be anything else than the sheep does its shepherd, which cannot fear him, but is glad and happy as soon as it sees and hears him, although it has strayed away from him, and deserved on this account to fear him. But it knows full well that he bears no anger or indignation against such a sheep, and can expect nothing of him but love and every good thing.
57. Hence everything here depends only upon this, that you rightly learn to look upon Christ according to the Word, and not according to your own thoughts and feelings, for human thoughts are frauds and lies, but his Word is true and cannot lie. For he has even proved it by living deeds and examples, and daily proves it still throughout the whole of Christendom.
Wherefore we must only press the Word (,lose to our hearts, and knit ourselves into it and learn the art to reprove our own heart with its lies, and set this article of faith against it. For this alone must remain true, and everything opposed to it, must be false and a pack of lies. But this is an art which I cannot master, and much less can other vain spirits, who boast so much of it, as though they knew it all, if they have only heard it but once, and yet they never taste or experience anything of it. For it is an easy matter to speak and preach about it; but how difficult it is to prove it in reality, which those thoroughly experience, who are earnestly concerned about it.
58. Now this is the first description of the lovely Christ, set forth by himself in this Gospel, that he pours out all his heart and is so anxious for the sheep, that he goes after it alone, leaving the ninety and nine; not to frighten or strike it, but to help it and bring it home again, and to rejoice the wretched and sorrowful heart and conscience by his sweet and friendly voice, so that on both sides there is nothing but hearty love and joy for each other, that you can see what great love and pleasure you thereby afford him, when you cleave to him with the whole heart and look to him for every good thing.
59. You see in the second place how he pours out his joy and unspeakable goodness by external signs and gestures of every kind, and how, when he has found the sheep, he shows himself so friendly, for he does not deal with it at all according to his own law or force, to which indeed he has a right, to drive it before him like the other sheep, and leave it go alone. On the contrary he lays hold and puts it on his shoulders and carries it himself the whole way through the wilderness, takes all the labor and trouble upon himself only in order that the sheep may have rest and a home, and he does it gladly and heartily, for he is full of pure joy, only because he once more has it in his care. And observe also how well it is with the sheep, how it lies in all peace and safety upon the shoulders of its Shepherd, and how well pleased it is that it lies so softly and does not need to travel, is safe and without care, both from dogs and wolves, that is, from all error and lies, danger and destruction. This is indeed a friendly painting, excellent, lovely and refreshing to behold.
60. For just so Christ our Lord does when he delivers us, which he once did bodily by his sufferings and death, but now he continually does in power and spirit by his Word. In this way he lays us on his shoulders, carries and defends us, that we may be safe from all danger of sin, of death and the devil; although they even terrify us, and act as if they would tear us away and devour us. For being thus carried is our salvation, and we remain safe from every peril and need fear nothing; just like the precious lamb that lays on the shoulders of the Shepherd will not let itself be disturbed, although the dogs already like fiends bark, and the wolf lurks abrupt, while it hangs its head without any care and sweetly sleeps.
So we do also, if we stand and abide in this article of faith: I believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who suffered, died and rose again for us, etc. , then we need not worry about being lost, or that the devil can devour us, though he even opens his jaws ever so wide. For we are not then on our own way. nor do we walk with our own feet, but hang about the neck of our dear Shepherd and lay upon his back, where we are entirely safe. For although sin, death and hell appear ever so wicked and terrible, they cannot devour him; otherwise we poor sheep would too soon be lost and destroyed.
61. For even as the sheep cannot protect or provide for itself that it go not astray, unless the shepherd continually directs and leads it in the way; and when it has strayed and is lost, it cannot of itself find the right way or come to its shepherd, but the shepherd himself must go after it, and seek it until he find it, and when he has found it, he holds and bears it upon his back, that it may no more be frightened away from him, hunted or seized by the wolf. So we too cannot either help or advise ourselves, that we may obtain rest and peace of conscience, and escape the devil, death and hell, unless Christ himself brings us again and calls us to himself by his Word. And when we come to him and are in a state of faith, even then we are not able to keep ourselves in faith or-be steadfast, unless he himself by his Word and power holds and carries us, because the devil every way and without ceasing watches for us, and lurks round about us like a roaring lion, as St.
Peter in 1 Peter 5:8 says, to devour us. So that here it avails nothing whatever to boast of our free will and strength, either to begin or continue our return to the Shepherd, and to abide with him, but Christ alone, our Shepherd, must do everything.
62. But now we are certain of this, that as long as we lie around the neck of Christ, we shall be safe from all terror and misfortune. For he will certainly not permit us to be torn from Ms neck, nor will he cast us off, because he is so happy and of good cheer that he once again has his sheep, and can bring it back to the rest of the flock. In short, there is nothing here of terror, driving and commanding, but a simple friendly carrying and a mere life of grace, by which he cares for his sheep in the tenderest manner.
On the contrary, Moses, not like a shepherd of poor, weak sheep, but of rough, strong cattle, with Ms staff and rod drives his herd before him a three days’ journey into the wilderness, Exodus 3:1, until they become weary; for such treatment is proper for hardened and proud people.
63. Even we also, when we come under Moses, namely, according to the flesh and the external life, must then go ourselves and do what the law demands. But according to our faith we must not suffer any work to be forced upon us or required of us, but only permit ourselves to be carried and raised up most tenderly, not on horse and chariot, but on his own back and shoulders. Which, as I said, is done, when he permits his Word to be preached unto us, that he died for us, and bore our sins in his own body on the cross, and put the devil with death and sin under his feet, and has led us unto eternal life, and always carries us as long as we live, so that we need not look to our life, how good and strong we are, but only lie upon his shoulders. For in this circle or article of faith we need not be troubled about any sin, death or life, but we have all things in Christ who carries and defends us.
64. Now he is not satisfied with the two parts, that he so lovingly seeks the lost sheep, and carries it so gently and with joy; but also when he brings it home he appoints a special feast and season of joy, and calls together his friends and neighbors that they may rejoice with him. Yea, he makes such a great jubilee, that God in heaven together with all the heavenly hosts and all creatures rejoice over one sinner that repenteth. By this he shows and explains who it is that is called a lost sheep, namely, the sinner who repents, that is, who feels his sins and is heartily sorry on account of them, and would gladly be free from them and come to Christ and amend his life, which is called having a miserable, sorrowful heart and an afflicted conscience, which the devil attacks, that it might perish with sorrow and sadness. For Christ is such a man who seeks and carries no sheep except that which is lost and knows no refuge or help of its own.
65. And now consider, how could he preach still more friendly and comfortingly, or what more should he do to make.: the heart joyful, and awaken a strong confidence in him? Since we see such a Shepherd, we miserable sinners are painted forth by him, who so unwillingly loses his sheep and so anxiously seeks it, and when he has found it carries it with all joy, and spreads forth such joy that all the angels and saints in heaven, yea, and all creatures rejoice and smile over us so friendly, that even the sun must shine much more lovely. For as it is natural that when a man is sorrowful, the sun and everything looks dark to him; and again when the heart is happy, then man appears twice as joyful, and everything looks to him lighter and brighter.
66. Now he who can firmly believe this, shall also receive true consolation and joy in and through Christ the Lord, because he has here the certain promise, that if he cleave thus unto Christ, and permit himself to be carried on his shoulders, that he is a dear guest in the kingdom of heaven, and will be received with great joy.
67. But we have altogether a different feeling in the sorrow and melancholy of the conscience, when the heart cannot think otherwise than that every angel stands behind us with a drawn sword, so that we can have no good cheer either from God or angels, that even some cannot behold any creature with joy, and fear the friendly sun itself, yea, every leaf that stirs.
All which arises from tormenting and consuming themselves with their own thoughts, from which they would gladly disentangle themselves, and labor so much and feel so good that they need not fear; but by this “,-hey only make the evil worse.
68. But if you desire to possess true comfort and joy in your soul, then only learn to impress this lovely picture and word of this Gospel in your heart, that you may seek it where it is to be found, namely, in Christ, and nowhere else. For in this man you will find all things, if you only remain under his protection and lie still upon his shoulders. But whatever joy may be sought outside of him, never enters the heart, even if you took to your aid all creatures, and had in one place the joy and pleasure of the whole world.
Epistle Sermon (June 22, 29; July 6, 13, 1539)
Text: 1 Peter 5:5-11
Likewise, ye younger, be subject unto the elder. Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another: for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; casting all your anxiety upon him, because he careth for you. Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom withstand steadfast in your faith, knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world. And the God of all grace, who called you unto his eternal glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall himself perfect, establish, strengthen you. To him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Humility, trust, watchfulness, suffering
1. This is the conclusion of Saint Peter’s epistle. It is an exhortation to good works, such as a Christian, or believer, should practice. It is evident that the doctrine of the Gospel is not such as is charged by some, forbidding good works, or not earnestly commanding and urging them.
Most diligently and repeatedly it urges the doctrine of works—such works as are, indeed, good works. There are in this epistle four natural heads which furnish us four good sermons.
2. The apostle has, in the verses immediately preceding our text, exhorted the elders, that is, preachers, to be in their lives “ensamples to the flock,” not “lording it over the charge allotted” to them, but using their office for the service of others. And here in our text he exhorts the others, especially the young, to “be subject unto the elder.” And, in general, he admonishes all to “gird” themselves “with humility, to serve one another.” So Paul likewise admonishes that we should honor one another. Humility is the noblest and sweetest virtue love brings forth, and it is the most essential to peace and discipline. But especially does it become and adorn the young, making them pleasing and precious to God and men, bringing forth an abundance of good fruits.
3. If mankind could be led so to believe this that the virtue of humility would be generally practiced, it would be well everywhere. This would be a beautiful world, filled with discipline and good works. I would much prefer to see a city in which the young are reared in this virtue than a hundred monasteries of barefooted and Carthusian friars, though they lived ever so strictly. Alas! the greatest and most frequent complaint heard anywhere is concerning the disobedience, wantonness and pride of the younger generation found among all ranks. Therefore it is necessary to use all diligence that this exhortation be instilled into the hearts of the young and urged upon them, in the hope that it may benefit them.
4. First of all, Peter presents the divine command. We are not left to our own good pleasure in the matter—to show humility or not, as we please.
God earnestly asks it of us, and asks that we do it lovingly and willingly.
Otherwise his anger will be poured out upon us and we will have no happiness nor favor, not even among men. For everyone is a foe to pride and arrogance. These offenses are condemned by the whole world, even by strangers whom they do not concern.
One may be guilty of pride and not see his own shame, yet he cannot suffer it in another; he will hate and condemn that one. This vice hurts no one save himself. He makes himself hateful and contemptible before God and men. Everyone calls him a great, proud bag of filth and cries shame upon him. God metes out judgment and scorn to him, witnessing that he will not let this vice go unpunished, but will put the offender to shame. As Peter here says: “God resisteth the proud.”
5. Men should be moved by the examples which daily come to light in fulfillment of this passage. If we should have no regard for our own honor and standing before the world, neither for the contempt and the curses of all men; if the illustrious example of the noble character and eternal majesty of God’s Son, our Lord, should not stir us (which ought to move us if we have one spark of Christianity in us), as we behold his unspeakable and incomprehensible humility which, rightly viewed, should melt the Christian’s heart—if all this does not move us, we should be humbled by the many awful examples of God’s fearful wrath which, from the beginning, he has hurled against pride.
6. What is more terrible than the eternal, irreparable fall and banishment of once lofty angelic nature that resulted when the devil robbed himself of the honor and glory enjoyed by the noble blessed spirits, and of the contemplation of eternal God, and brought upon himself everlasting and intolerable damnation by seeking to make himself equal with God, and through similar pride, led the human race to its awful fall? But what a blind, condemned creature are you, who, with your filthy, shameful pride and haughtiness, become like the spirit of evil, thereby turning all the world into your enemy and opposing yourself to the divine majesty, before which even the angels must tremble! If you have no fear of losing the favor and prayers of mankind, at least be afraid lest God send down upon your head his lightning and thunder, with which he crushes iron, rocks, and mountains, and hurl you forever into the abyss, as he hurled down the proud spirit and his angels.
7. Saint Peter exhorts both those who are in the office of the ministry, and other Christians, to whom God has given something, that they abide in their calling and office and conduct the same humbly, gladly obeying and serving others. Right here this vice of pride is the most hurtful to Christianity. For its whole government, life and essence are so ordered by God that no one should exalt himself and lord it over others, as the Pope, the true Antichrist has done. Only humility and deeds of Christian love and service should prevail in all classes and in all offices and works.
Pride opposed to the first table
8. Pride in this order of the Church is really and directly opposed to the first table of the law. It is a genuinely devilish pride in God’s name and Word on the part of such people as would be wise in matters of faith and would lord it over God’s Word. They puff themselves up if, forsooth, they have a gift more than others, and they hold God and all men as nothing.
This vice is common among the great, learned and wise bishops and preachers. It prevails among those who learn of them and cling to them, especially beginners who, inexperienced and undisciplined, are brought into prominence. Such puff themselves up and boast: “I also am a learned doctor. I love the Spirit and other gifts just as well as, and even in greater measure than, these preachers.” So they think they deserve to be heard and honored above others. They consider themselves so wise that all the world, in comparison, are geese and fools.
And the greater one’s gifts, the greater and more harmful such pride. It is common in other professions, also. He who has a little ability, or bears the title of doctor, makes much ado about it, and despises others. He acts as if what he has were not given him by God, but as if it were his by nature and birth, and therefore he deserves the praise and worship of all men. Such persons do not realize they are acting in opposition to God, and that they will themselves plunge into the abyss of hell before they can hurl God down from his heavenly throne.
9. See, from the examples of our own time, how God has overthrown such people. Thomas Munzer, with his tumultuous prophets, and later the Anabaptist faction, were proud of heart, would not listen to admonition, and lo! suddenly they went down to ruin, not only in utter disgrace, but to their own miserable and eternal loss and that of many people who had been misled by them. So, too, there are at the present day many proud spirits.
Some dare not yet publicly show themselves. Such as have perceived that they are learned, or are held in regard by men, thereupon grow boastful and, despite all their skill and learning, abide without the Spirit and without fruit, even if they do not work more harm in addition to bringing themselves into condemnation.
10. Thus it is in all kinds of gifts and offices where men are not Godfearing and humble. For example, those who are intrusted with the civil government—princes, counselors, lawyers (where they are not “theologians,” that is, Christians)mare so insolent and proud that they imagine themselves alone to be the people, whom others are to reverence as gods. In their pride, they despise God and men, and by their arrogance they lead the land and the people to destruction. These have already the judgment upon themselves that they, as God’s enemies, must be hurled down. For they have cut themselves loose from God’s kingdom and grace; and the blessings of baptism and of Christ, with his suffering and blood, are lost upon them.
11. We have now shown how pride conflicts with the demands of the first table of the law. Men do not employ the spiritual treasures and gifts to God’s honor nor to the good of their neighbors. Thus they mar these gifts and, in their wicked course, go to the devil, into whose likeness they have grown.
Pride opposed to the second table
12. Further, this vice is just as general in the sphere of the second table of the law—among the common people and in the temporal life of the world, each one boasting of himself and despising others. Prince and nobleman think that all the world is nothing in comparison with themselves.
Commoner and peasant, puffed up because they have much wealth, imagine they must defy everybody, and do good to nobody. These deserve to be spit upon by all men. Such pride does not become them better than ornaments of gold or silver would become an image of stone or a wooden block. Finally, the women, with their foolish pride of dress, must not be forgotten. One prides herself on being better or more beautifully adorned than her neighbor. She is, in truth, a finely decorated goose. She imagines that no other woman equals her. Yea, there is scarcely a house-servant or maid but brags over others.
13. In short, we have come to the point where all men, with their insolence and boastfulness, seek to lord it over others. None will humble himself to another. Each thinks he has full right to act as he does, and is under no obligation to yield to others. And the civil government has grown so weak that that there is no hope of restraining the haughtiness of all classes, from the highest to the lowest. At last, God must strike with thunder and lightning to prove to us that he resists such people and will not tolerate pride. Therefore the young, who can still be led, should be exhorted and trained, as far as possible, to guard themselves against this vice.
14. Peter uses for his purpose a peculiar term when he says, “Gird yourselves with humility.” “Gird” has the meaning of being bound or joined together most firmly; or, as a garment, most carefully woven through and through so that it cannot tear. He illustrates by this term how Christians, with all diligence, should strive after the virtue, and manifest and practice it among themselves, as if upon them as a band it was a special obligation.
Thus, he says, must you be twined together and bound to each other, and your hands clasped together. So must you be joined by humility, which cannot be dissolved, dismembered, or torn, even though occasion be given one, here and there, incited by the devil, or the evil word of someone else, to fly into a passion, and grow defiant and boastful, as if to say: Must I suffer such things at the hands of this man? But rather say to yourselves.
We are Christians, and must bear with each other and yield, in many things; for we are all one body, and we are placed together here on earth for the sole reason that we may, through love, serve one another.
15. And each should recognize his own weakness. He should remember that God has given others also something and can give them yet more, and that therefore he should gladly serve and yield to others, remembering that he needs their help. Each one is created for the sake of others, and we are all to serve one another. God gives the same grace and salvation to all, so that none may exalt himself above his neighbor; or, if he lift himself up, that he lose the grace conferred and fall into deeper condemnation. Therefore we must hold fast to this humility, so that the unity may not be destroyed.
For Satan seeks to destroy this also, and uses every possible means to lead people to despise each other and to be proud and insolent in their treatment of each other. And these are things to which flesh and blood, even without special incitement, are inclined. Thus humility is easily and quickly lost if men are not alert to fight against the devil and their own flesh.
The beauty of humility
16. Humility is one of the beautiful garments and ornaments with which Christians should adorn themselves before God and the world. Paul, in Colossians 3:12, says, “Put on humility.” He regards this virtue as more precious than all earthly crowns and splendor. This is the true spiritual life.
It is not to be sought elsewhere, by running into the cloisters or the deserts, by putting on gray gown or cowl. Peter here admonishes all classes to cultivate this virtue. This sermon on good works concerns every station in every house, city or village. It is for all churches and schools. Children, servants and the youth should be humbly obedient to parents, superiors and the aged. On the other hand, it is for those in the higher stations of life who serve their inferiors, even the lowest. If all men so observed this virtue the world would be full of good works. For it is impossible that humility should do evil. It is profitable and pleasant to all men.
17. By this virtue, true saints and Christians can better be known than by monastic seclusion and holiness. It requires no great effort to wear a gray cowl. It is not even such a great trial to lie on the ground at night and to arise at midnight; scoundrels, thieves, and murderers must often do the same. But to wear and hold fast to this angelic garment, humility—this the world is not so willing to accept as monasticism and its works. And thus it comes to pass that flesh and blood do not strive after this holy life. Each man seeks an easy life, in which he can live to himself and need serve no one nor suffer anything at the hands of others; just as the monks have sought and chosen.
18. Peter adds to this admonition the reason: “For God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” As I have said above, he strives to show the earnestness of God’s command. The command is accompanied by a threat. He does not simply say, God punishes the proud, or God is hostile to them; but he “resisteth” them, he sets himself against them. Now, what is the pride of all men toward God? Not so much as a poor, empty bubble.
Their pride puffs itself up and distends itself as though it would storm the sky and contend against the lightning and thunder, that can shatter heaven and earth. What can the combined might of all creatures accomplish if God oppose himself thereto? And how does a miserable man, whose heart is overwhelmed by a small pestilence, rise against the majesty of heaven which can, any moment, cast him down into the abyss? What are earth and ashes proud of? says Sirach, 10:9.
19. Is it not enough and more than enough that other sin and disobedience are laid to our account, by which we anger God and merit heavy punishment, without our trying further to provoke him with our pride and haughtiness, so that he must arise in his majesty and resist us? With other sins he can have patience, that he may exhort and incite us to repentance.
But if, in hardened impenitence, we defy and oppose him, he cannot but rise up against us. Who is there that will bear it, or be able to stand, when God sets his countenance and his power against a poor man already subject, every moment, to death and the power of the devil ?
The consequence of pride
20. From the beginning, innumerable instances in history have proved the truth of this saying, “God resisteth the proud.” They show how he has always overthrown and destroyed the proud world and has cast down the haughty, scornful kings and lords. The great king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, was humbled when banished from his royal throne to the companionship of the beasts of the field and compelled to eat grass with them, Daniel 4:30ff. Again, remember how suddenly the great king Alexander was hurled down, when after the victory and good fortune God had given him, he began to grow proud, and wanted to be reverenced as a god? Again, there was King Herod Agrippa, Acts 12:23. The proud, learned emperor Julian, a virulent mocker and persecutor of Christ, whom he had denied—how soon was he drowned in his own blood! And since then, what has become of all the proud, haughty tyrants, who proposed to oppress and crush Christianity?
21. The Pope, also, has ever, in devilish pride, exalted himself, and in the temple of God set himself forth as God. Further, in worldly pomp and pride he has lifted himself above all others. He has even learned, from heathen emperors, as Diocletian and other tyrants, to have men kiss his feet. Yea, he has forced emperors and kings to submit to this humiliating act. What open, inhuman insolence and pride Pope Alexander the Third practiced when, by threatening against him his empty ban, he compelled the pious and mighty German emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, to prostrate himself at his feet while he stepped upon him and said, Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder; and when the emperor protested against such shameful pride and said, Non tibi, sed Petro (Not to thee, but to Peter), the Pope, with increasing scorn, replied, “Et mihi, et Petro” (Both to me, and to Peter).
This is pride carried almost to its highest point.
22. The Turk, too, is prouder now than ever, and, I hope, has reached the heights of pride, beyond which he cannot and shall not proceed. Meantime, may he not attack and humble us! But it will come to pass, in the end, that God will overthrow both pope and Turk through his divine power, and, as Daniel says, without the aid of men. This word will not fail, “God resisteth the proud.” Its truth must appear in human events, so that men may see what is meant by the declaration, “God resisteth”; otherwise no one would believe it. Though the Turk and all the world should be a thousand times more proud and powerful, this should not help them when he who is above sees and grows angry, and lifts his hand. He asks as little about the power of all Turkish emperors and of the Pope as about a dead fly.
23. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” Hebrews 10:31. This, however, is nothing else than with scorn and defiance to oppose his will, so that he, in turn, must set himself against man and must lift his hand. Therefore, let everyone beware lest he boast and grow defiant in the presence of the divine majesty. Not only must he beware, that he may not awaken God’s anger, but that he may have grace and blessing in the things he ought to do. For, if thou beginnest something in thine own power, and wisdom, and haughtiness, think not he will grant thee success and blessing to carry out thy purpose. On the other hand, if thou humblest thyself, and beginnest aught in accordance with his will, in the fear of God and trusting in his grace, there is given thee the promise, “He giveth grace to the humble.” So, then, thou shalt not only have favor with men, but success shall crown thine efforts. Thou shalt prove a useful man, both to God and to the world, and shalt complete and maintain thy work despite the resistance of the devil. For where God’s grace is, there his blessing and protection must follow, and his servant cannot be overthrown or defeated. Though he be oppressed for a time, he shall finally come forth again and be exalted. So Peter concludes by saying: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”
24. Peter shows in these words what true humility is and whence it comes.
The heart, through knowledge of its sin, becomes terrified in the presence of God’s anger and anxiously seeks grace. Thus a humility is born, not merely external and before men, but of the heart and of God, from fear of God and knowledge of one’s own unworthiness and weakness. He who fears God and “trembles at his word” ( Isaiah 66:5), will surely defy or hector or boast against nobody. Yea, he will even manifest a gentle spirit toward his enemies. Therefore, he finds favor both with God and men.
25. The cause of this, Peter says, shall be “the mighty hand of God.” As though he would say: Ye may not do nor leave undone this thing for the sake of men, but ye ought to humble yourselves under the hand of God.
God’s hand is powerful and mighty in a twofold respect: It dashes down and overthrows the proud and self-secure, however hard and iron their heads and hearts may be. They must languish in dust and ashes; yea, must lie despondent and desperate in the anguish and torments of hell, if he touch them but a little with the terrors of his anger. These are experiences through which the saints also pass, and concerning whose severity they make lamentation. “For thine arrows stick fast in me, and thy hand presseth me sore. There is no soundness in my flesh because of thine indignation,” Psalm 38:2-3. “For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping. Because of thine indignation and thy wrath: for thou hast taken me up, and cast me away,” <19A209>Psalm 102:9-10. “I am consumed by the blow of thy hand. When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth,” Psalm 39:10-11.
The reward of humility
26. In the second place, God’s hand is mighty to raise, to comfort and strengthen the humbled and the fearful, and, as Peter says here, to exalt them. Those who in terror have been cast down should not, therefore, despair, or flee before God, but rise again, and be comforted in God. God wants it preached and published that he never lays his hand upon us in order that we may perish and be damned. But he must pursue this course in order to lead us to repentance: otherwise we would never inquire about his Word and will. And if we seek grace, he is ready to help us up again, to grant us forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life. The Psalms and the Prophets here and there speak of this. “Jehovah hath chastened me sore; but he hath not given me over unto death,” <19B818>Psalm 118:18. “Jehovah raiseth up them that are bowed down,” <19E608>Psalm 146:8.
27. God will “exalt you in due time,” says Peter. Though God’s help be delayed, and the humbled and suffering seem to lie oppressed all too long under God’s hand, and on that account to languish, nevertheless, let them hold to the promise Paul has given: God “will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able,” 1 Corinthians 10:13, but he will hear your cry, and will, at the right time, help; and with this let them be comforted. But again, let the proud fear, even though he permit them to go unpunished and to continue in their boastful course for a time. He watches their lives, and, when the proper time comes, he will descend all too heavily upon them, so that they cannot bear it. He has already stretched forth his mighty hand, both to cast down the godless and to exalt the humble.
II. “Casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He careth for you.”
28. What will become of him who lives a God-fearing and humble life, suffering the insolence, pride and wantonness of the world? Or, where will he find protection and defense, to abide in his godly ways? We see daily how the pious are harassed and persecuted, and are trod on by the world.
The Apostle says: “Ye Christians must endure temptation and adversity, want and need, both physical and spiritual, in the world, and your heart is oppressed with anxiety and cares, and ye think within yourselves: O, what will become of me? How shall I be supported? What if I should die ?” (The world only concerns itself about how it may be enriched and be filled, and anxious, unbelieving consciences would, through themselves and their own good works, seek to have a gracious God and to die in peace.) “In view of all this,” he says, “only hearken, I will counsel and instruct you aright as to what disposition you should make of your troubles.”
There is a brief passage in Psalm 55:22 which reads: “Cast thy burden upon Jehovah, and he will sustain thee: he will never suffer the righteous to be moved.” Follow ye this advice. Let not your burden rest upon yourselves; for ye cannot bear it, and must finally perish beneath its weight.
But, confident and full of joy, cast it from you and throw it on God, and say: Heavenly Father, thou art my Lord and God, who didst create me when I was nothing; moreover hast redeemed me through thy Son. Now, thou hast committed to me and laid upon me, this office or work, and things do not go as well as I would like. There is so much to oppress and worry, that I can find neither counsel nor help. Therefore I commend everything to thee. Do thou supply counsel and help, and be thou, thyself, everything in these things.
29. Such a prayer is pleasing to God, and he tells us to do only what we are commanded, and throw upon him all anxiety as to the issue and what we shall accomplish. As also other passages of Scripture declare: “Commit thy way unto Jehovah, trust also in him, and he will bring it to pass,” Psalm 37:5. No heathen, philosopher, jurist, if he have not God’s Word, can throw his care and complaint upon God. He thinks that all the world, especially the great, the wise, who rule, must accomplish everything by their own planning and circumspection. And where trouble arises—for it is quite common for even the greatest- and wisest people to make mistakes— he becomes a madman or a fool, and begins to murmur and argue against God and his government, as though God’s rule merited criticism. But such men receive their deserts when God permits their calculations and hopes to fail, and lets the reverse obtain. For they will not admit they have need of him. They think they have sufficient wisdom and power, and that God must respect their plans. Thus, they spend their lives in many vain, useless cares and projects, and must, in the course of their experience, learn and confess, many a time, that the very opposite of their judgment is the truth.
30. Christians have the rare faculty, above all other people on earth, of knowing where to place their care, whilst others vex and torture themselves and at length must despair. Such must be the consequence of unbelief, which has no God and would provide for itself. But faith understands this word Peter quotes from the Scriptures: “Because he careth for you.” It joyfully meditates thereon and does and suffers faithfully. For faith knows this to be its duty. Its trouble, however, it commits to God, and proceeds with vigor against all that opposes. It can call upon God as a father, and it says: I will do what God has commanded me and leave the result with him.
31. The Christian must take this course if he would proceed safely and happily in matters of the highest import. In time of danger and in the hour of death, when, with all his worrying, he cannot discover where he is or how he is journeying, he must, with eyes, senses and thoughts closed to the world, surrender himself in faith and confidence and cast himself upon God’s hand and care and protection, and say: God has permitted me to live until this hour, without my solicitude. Moreover, he has given me his beloved Son as a treasure and sure pledge of eternal life. Therefore, my dear soul, journey on in joy. Thou hast a faithful Father and Savior, who has taken thee into his own hand, and will preserve thee.
32. The Christian Church collectively must so proceed in the discharge of its high spiritual office, of which Peter speaks here, that no man or creature, by his own wisdom and power, can sustain or accomplish any work. No power, might, or protection that can comfort, or upon which one may rely, is to be sought in the world. Wholly in God, and in God alone, must help be sought. By his divine power God must uphold the Church. He has, from the beginning, always and wonderfully preserved it in the world, in the midst of great weakness, in disunion occasioned by schismatics and heretics, in persecution by tyrants. And the government is wholly his, though he commits the office and service to men, whom he would summon and use to administer his Word and sacrament. Therefore, each Christian, especially if he fills such an office and partakes of this fellowship, should be intent, in that whereunto God has called and appointed him, upon serving God faithfully and doing that which is commanded him. The anxiety respecting the Church’s continued existence and her preservation against the devil and the world, can be left to the Lord. He has taken this upon himself and thus has removed the burden from our shoulders, that we might be certain of the permanence of the Church. If its preservation were committed to human counsel, might and will, the devil, with his power, would soon overthrow and destroy it.
33. Likewise, in every office and station, each one should follow this counsel of Saint Peter. A prince should seek to protect his land and people, to promote God’s Word, to maintain discipline and peace, to do justice to every man, to punish the disobedient, etc. Councils, officials, and those in authority should faithfully advise and direct to this end. Pastors and preachers should rightly and fearlessly declare God’s Word and truth.
Every citizen and subject should be intent upon his work and duty, and whatever, in connection therewith, is unusual he must simply commit to God.
But the world does not pursue this course. Each one says: Why should I incur so much danger, opposition and hostility? Again, why should I labor and toil for naught? I will not accomplish my work at any rate. In this spirit of fear and worry, his proper office and work are delayed, or he is always careless.
But let such people know that they are not Christians, nor do they promote God’s kingdom or profit the offices conferred on them. If they do not propose to mend their ways, they should give up the office bestowed on them by God. It is not enough to simply sit at ease in one’s office and accept the plaudits of men. We all like to render esteem and honor to office and station. But know this, that you are not in office to parade about in beautiful garments, to sit in the front row, and be called “Gracious Master” and “Esquire.” You are to conduct faithfully the office with which God has clothed and honored you, regardless of human honor and profit, shame or injury.
34. But men are not generally inclined to believe and trust God. They are not inclined to remember that he cares for us; that he has assumed and must bear the greatest of burdens, which no man on earth can bear; that he cared for us before we were born, and could still, of himself, execute all things dispensing with all human help, but he prefers to accomplish his purpose through human means, and to employ us as instruments in these divine works—governing, punishing, teaching, comforting.
35. The world is particularly culpable in this matter of pride. When divinely charged with some great work, it always seeks to determine, in advance, by its own wisdom, all future danger and accidents, and tries to anticipate them. The world looks for man’s help, and seeks friendship and assistance wherever it can. It makes alliances, and resorts to other schemes. It puts its trust in these and then considers itself strong enough to meet opposition, and is sure of its cause by reason of its own efforts. This is not showing faith in God. It is not committing our cause and all care for ourselves to him. It is maintaining the cause through one’s own anxiety and forethought. It is ignoring and disbelieving the fact that nothing can be accomplished by one’s own vexed effort. No human wisdom has power to foresee the future. If we looked back at the examples furnished by history, we should learn how woefully human wisdom is deceived when it relies upon itself. The results are not what was expected, but the very opposite.
36. The Scriptures give many pertinent examples of the kings of Judah and Israel, whom the prophets often and severely rebuked because they sought refuge and help among strange nations and kings. The prophets warned them that they should not trust in human aid, but should do according to God’s Word and command. They told them he would protect and uphold them. But the kings would not hear. They continued to form friendships and alliances with the kings of Egypt, Syria, Babylon and Assyria, and thus invited them as guests into the land, whereupon the heathen kings came with force and led away captive the inhabitants and laid everything desolate. That was their reward for not heeding God’s Word; for not believing that he cared for them, and desired to protect and defend them if they would but trust and obey him.
The wisest and most eminent, even among the heathen, have lamented, in the light of their own experience, that they have been shamefully deluded by their counsels, even though founded on the most careful deliberations.
Nor can it be said that the world has grown wiser in consequence of its own or others’ sufferings.
37. This exhortation is preached to no one except the few who are Christians. They have regard for God’s Word, and, now humbled, have learned that they should not rely on their own wisdom and reason, or upon human help and comfort. They have come to the belief that God cares for them. So they do what they know is right and are in duty bound to do, and suffer themselves not to be hindered by such fears as possess the world concerning dangers, injuries, and adversities. They commend all such things to God, and at his word go right through with courage.
38. Let me illustrate from my own experience. What should I have done when I began to denounce the lies of the indulgence system, and later the errors of the papacy, if I had listened and given heed to the terrible things all the world wrote and said would happen to me? How often I heard it said that if I wrote against such and such eminent people I would provoke their displeasure, which would prove too severe for me and the whole German nation. But, since I had not begun this work of myself, being driven and led thereto by reason of my office (otherwise I should have preferred to keep silence), I must continue. I commended the cause to God and let him bear the burden of care, both as to the result of the work and also as to my own fate. Thus I advanced the cause farther, despite tumultuous opposition, than I had ever before dared to think or hope.
39. Oh, how much good would God accomplish through us if people could be persuaded, especially the eminent lords and kings, that what Peter here says is true: “He careth for you !” How much he could do if they believed that truth instead of seeking, through their own wisdom and reason, to equip, strengthen, and compose themselves by aid of human might and assistance, friendship and alliance, for the accomplishment and maintenance of their cause! It is apparent that mortal plans fail and have always failed, and that they accomplish nothing. God hinders and resists man’s work when he will not trust him. Hence God can grant no success or favor to that which is founded on human wisdom or on trust in human powers. This is a truth men must finally perceive by experience, and they must lament because they would not believe it.
40. Let him who would be a Christian learn to believe this. Let him practice and exhibit faith in all his affairs, bodily and spiritual, in his doing and his suffering, his living and his dying. Let him banish cares and anxious thoughts. Courageous and cheerful, let him cast them aside; not into a corner, as some vainly think to do, for when burdens are permitted to conceal themselves in the heart they are not really put away. But let the Christian cast his heart and its anxieties upon God. God is strong to bear and he can easily carry the burden. Besides, he has commanded that all this be put upon himself. The more thou layest upon him, the more pleasing it is to him. And he gives thee the promise that he will carry thy cares for thee, and all things else that concern thee.
41. This is a grand promise, and a beautiful, golden saying, if men would only believe it. If a powerful ruler here on earth were to give such a promise, and were to demand that we let him have all the concern about gold and silver and the needs of this life, how cheerfully and contentedly would every one cling to such promise! But now a greater lord says all this, one who is almighty and truthful, who has power over the body and life, and who can and will give us everything we need, both temporal and eternal. We should have in all this, if we only believed it, half of heaven, yea, a perfect paradise on earth. For what is better and nobler than a quiet, peaceful heart? For this all men are striving and laboring. So have we been doing hitherto, running to and fro after it. Yet it is found nowhere except in God’s word, which bids us cast our cares and burdens on God and thus seek peace and rest. It counsels us to throw upon him everything that threatens to oppress and worry us. God would not have anxiety dwell in our hearts, for it does not belong there; it is put there by the devil.
42. Therefore, a Christian, even though obliged to suffer all manner of adversity, temptation and misfortune, can cheerfully go forward and say:
Dear Lord God, thou hast commanded me to believe, to teach, to govern and to act; this I will attempt in thy name, and I will commend to thee whatever may happen to me in the course of duty. There you have a man who is equal to any task, and can do much good. For he is freed from the greatest misfortune and has laid the heaviest weight upon God, whilst another man does nothing except fill his heart with anxiety and gloom. This other can apply himself to no good work. He becomes unfit both to do and to suffer. He is afraid of every trifle and, because of his vexation or impatience, can do nothing worth mentioning.
What is the world doing now? Princes, lords, counselors, citizens, and peasants—all want only power, honor, and wealth. None desires to render service. Everyone fears that this or the other thing might happen to him.
Though the world never needed more careful rule than at the present time, lords and princes, simply because they are such, idly sit adorned with beautiful crowns, though they have received their trust from God to discharge their princely office. For the world must be governed, the youth must be educated, the wicked must be punished. But if thou desirest the honor only, and art not willing to step in the mire, to suffer people’s displeasure, and through it all learn to trust God and for his sake do everything, thou art not worthy of the grace given for the accomplishment of a good and praiseworthy work. In punishment, resting under God’s wrath, thou must remain unfit for every good work.
III. “Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he way devour: whom withstand steadfast in your faith.”
43. The apostle has set forth two things to be practiced throughout the Christian life; namely, Christian humility—which is fear of God—and faith and confidence in God. Now he admonishes his readers to battle and warfare, that these blessings may be preserved. He shows us our enemy and adversary who seeks to rob us of our treasure and deprive us of our salvation and eternal blessedness. Hence he would say: Be not concerned about living a life of earthly glory, and let not anxious cares fill your soul But be intent on humbling yourselves before God. Trust in him. Let this be your care, that you may abide in the grace of humility. Let it never be wrested from you. For the devil seeks to instill these forbidden cares, and to produce disobedience against God, that he may tear faith and God’s Word out of your heart.
Therefore, you must not ignore these facts, and meanwhile strive after something else. You are not to go along in false security or sleep and snore as though there were no danger. You must rather know that you have not been placed in a garden of roses here, but in the midst of heavy conflicts, where you must be on your guard, always watchful and prepared for resistance. For you have an adversary who is not insignificant or to be despised, but is strong, mighty, and moreover wicked and ferocious. He does not fight with stone and wood, destroying rocks and trees, but he has his eye fixed on you Christians. He never grows tired or weary, but without rest and ceasing he pursues you not only to spy upon you and to harass you, in which he can be withstood, but he desires utterly to devour you.
44. His sole purpose and plan is to murder and destroy men, spiritually and bodily; even as, at the beginning, when man had been created, he led and cast him into death. He practices his schemes with awful and deadly effect in the world against those who do not believe in Christ, and he will never stop until the judgment day. One can perceive his incessant activity. He bustles about and openly raves and roars against all Christendom. He uses for his purpose the Turks, and other tyrants and godless people, not to speak of the sorrow and murder he works by so possessing people that in their frenzy they do themselves injury, or without cause murder others. He otherwise, through wicked and shameful snares, leads men into misfortune and sorrow.
In short, the world is nothing else than the devil’s murderous cave, both spiritually and physically. God, in order to somewhat hinder and restrain physical murder, has ordained temporal government, parental and other authority. These in their office are to be sober, watchful, and diligent. We ought to thank God for his preservation of such authority, for otherwise there would be no peace—everywhere on earth nothing but murder.
Nevertheless, the awful murder the devil perpetrates on those who are without God’s Word and faith, is not thereby checked.
45. Some other defense and protection, then, another kind of watchfulness, must be sought, in order that men may remain undestroyed and unharmed in the presence of this bloodthirsty murderer. Of this Peter speaks here to the little company of Christians, and says: Ye, through Christ’s blood and death rescued from the devil’s lies and murderous intent, have been made alive and have been transplanted into the heavenly life, like your beloved fathers, Adam, Abel, and others. They are no longer under bondage to Satan, but live in Christ, though the body lie for a time in the earth and truth and life must be supplied to their body and soul. But because ye still dwell in the world, ye are exposed to all danger. Physically, ye are yet in the murderer’s house; therefore ye must take good heed, that he may not kill you again, and murder your souls dwelling in these mortal bodies. It shall harm you none that the soul was ruined and the body is yet subject to death. “Because I live,” says Christ ( John 14:19), “ye shall live also.”
However, ye must struggle if ye are to abide in the truth and life. To this ye are appointed whilst ye live here on earth; otherwise ye would already be in Paradise. But the devil has not yet been consigned wholly to the punishment of his damnation, which will be at the last day, when he will finally be cast down from his airy height, and from the earth, into the abyss of hell. Then he will no more be able to attack us, and there will no longer be cloud or veil between us and God and the angels.
46. In order, now, he continues, that ye may be saved from his murderous designs, and may preserve the life you have begun, ye must be sober and watchful; not only mindful of the body, but much rather of the mind and soul. It is true that a Christian who is to resist the devil must be physically sober, for a full hog and drunkard cannot be watchful nor can he plan defense against the devil. Yet must a Christian much more guard himself, lest the soul become sleepy or drunken. As the soul is burdened by the body when the latter is overwhelmed by drunkenness, so, when the soul is watchful and sober, the body also is temperate and prepared to hear God’s Word. But where the body is oppressed by drunkenness, there the soul must first have been a drunkard, not heeding God’s Word nor giving attention to prayer. Where the soul is drunken and drowned in such security, it will not avail that the body suffer hurt by strict fasting and selfmortification, after the fashion of the Carthusians and hermits.
47. Saint Peter, then, forbids not only bodily drunkenness, but also drunkenness of the soul. One’s soul is drunk when he lives in carnal security, without thought and anxiety as to whether he have and hold God’s Word or not: when he asks no questions, either about God’s wrath or his grace; and when he, moreover, lets himself be filled with the sweet poison of false doctrine through the mob of evil spirits Satan employs for this purpose, until he grows numb, loses faith and clear judgment and finally becomes overfull of drunkenness and spews it out upon others.
48. The same thing results when men begin to be wise in divine things by following human reason. Saint Peter aptly describes this false doctrine with the expression, “cunningly devised fables,” 2 Peter 1:16. He says: “We did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Such are the beautiful words and sermons which make a great show of wisdom and holiness, and naturally please men. For instance it is a cunningly devised fable when one with the aid of philosophy, which reason can understand, sets forth in grandiloquent words what a fine thing it is for a man to live honorably, chastely, and to practice good works and virtues. The aim is, with such pretense, to have us believe that we, through these works (not alone through faith), are justified before God; that is, are redeemed from sin and death.
49. Again, other factious spirits travel about with worthy sayings which they have heard from us—externals do not help souls; the Spirit must do the work—and then they proceed to fling contempt on baptism and the Lord’s Supper. So Thomas Munzer, with his seditious peasants, and the Anabaptist rabble, went about, with great demonstration, preaching about the shameful, wicked life of the world, especially of the authorities, declaring that these were godless people and tyrants, and deserved God’s wrath and punishment; that therefore men should depose and execute them, and establish a new government, of only pious and holy people.
These and similar things Peter calls “cunningly devised fables.” They are exaggeratingly pretended to be the product of great wisdom and art, and are rendered sweet and palatable to reason. So has all idolatry, heresy, and false doctrine, from the beginning on, prevailed, being fashioned and most beautifully adorned by people learned and wise and held in the esteem of the world.
50. How admirable did the position of Arius and his adherents appear in comparison with the true faith concerning the divinity of Christ, when they declared that though Christ should be exalted above all angels and creatures, and that all honor, dominion and power in heaven and on earth belong to him, yea, that he is quite equal to God—all this, yet he is not “homo-ousios”; that is, he is not in one undivided, divine, eternal essence, which is of such unity that it could be imparted to no one else. It would be too much to say that a man is God, etc. With such pretense was a great multitude of Christians seduced. Even few bishops remained in the pure doctrine and faith. And afterward this poison prevailed among the wise people of Asia and Greece, until Mohammed, with his Saracens and Turks, had miserably corrupted the greatest part of the world.
51. Likewise the Pope has adorned and colored with a glorious form his abominations and idolatry, claiming for his order of service that it is a meritorious and beautiful thing. Again, he calls attention to the serviceableness of the beautiful, orderly government and power of the Church, with its well regulated gradations of office and position—bishops superior to the ordinary priests, and over the bishops Saint Peter’s chair at Rome. In that chair is vested the authority for the convocation of general councils so often as these may be necessary. These councils are to judge and decide in all matters of faith, and their decisions everyone must follow and obey. Again, he boasts what great service and consolation to the whole world is the work of the priests in the mass, when they daily renew and offer to God the sacrifice made by Christ on the cross. This is the sweet wine in the “golden cup” of the scarlet harlot of Babylon, with which she has made drunken all kings and nations, Revelation 17:2-4.
52. Where the devil finds those who give ear to such fables, he takes them captive and so fills them with these falsehoods that they neither see nor hear anything else. They think their belief is the only one, and they will not suffer themselves to be instructed out of God’s Word. And so, in their madness, without rightful intelligence of faith and all principles of pure doctrine, they continue in their darkened mind, with their fantastic, lying prattle, without repentance and amendment, having no grace to learn or do anything good. This is amply proved by the example of all seditious spirits.
53. Therefore, Peter admonishes us to be “sober and watchful,” especially in spirit, and to guard ourselves against this sweet poison and these beautiful, adorned lies and fables of the devil. He teaches us how to equip and defend ourselves against his wicked devices. “Whom withstand steadfast in your faith.”
54. The true defense and resistance, in which we are to be sober and watchful, is to be well grounded in God’s Word and cling firmly thereto when the devil seeks, with his cunningly devised fables, born of human understanding and reason, to overthrow our faith. Reason is the devil’s bride, and always vaunts itself wise and skillful in divine things, and thinks what it holds to be right and good must be accounted so before God. But faith holds to God’s Word alone. It knows that before God, human wisdom, skill and power, and whatever gifts and virtues man may have, count for nothing. Only his grace and the forgiveness of sins in Christ has value. Therefore, faith can repel and defeat all these fine pretensions and cunning fables.
55. Worldly dominion and authority boasts before God in this fashion: My crown is a crown in God’s sight, for my power and sovereignty have been given me by God. Therefore, whatever I say he must respect and regard as valid, and everyone must endorse my words and actions.
The wise philosopher or jurist would thus give expression to his boasts and pretensions: We are the learned, the Wise rulers of the world, and have admirable laws and statutes. We have superior and beautiful doctrines concerning good works and virtues. Men must listen to us and allow our judgment to have precedence. He who can do, or does, such things as we have done is, in God’s sight, superior to others.
Faith, not worldly wisdom, essential
56. No, dear man, says faith to this, I grant that the things of which thou boastest have been ordained and corn firmed by God; but they are not of value save for this temporal life. The world regards it a crown to be known as wise. But in the presence of God thou shouldst lay aside thy crown, let thy might and power, thy law and wisdom, go, and say: God, be merciful to me a poor sinner! Reason has this advantage, that it is equipped and adorned with God’s promise to confirm its rule here on earth and to be pleased therewith; but with the provision that reason shall not interfere in God’s government, or boast over against him. Let it be known that what is called wisdom and prudence on earth, is foolishness before God. What in the sight of the world is commended and honored as beautiful, valuable, as of honor and virtue, is before God sin, and subject to his wrath. What on earth is called life, is before God nothing but death.
57. If, now, the parental, governmental, and other authority which he, himself, has arrayed and through his word established, and which is even administered by Christians, does not endure before him in that other life, how much less will he allow that to stand which man has devised or subtly contrived out of his own head and heart! Wouldst thou be wise and prudent, then cultivate these virtues in the sphere appointed thee, in thy home, the State, and whatever office thou hast. In these temporal things, rule as well as thou canst. Thou wilt find little enough to help in all thy books, thy reason and wisdom. But when thou beginnest to devise out of thine own reason the things of God, though they may all seem trustworthy wisdom, yet, as Peter says, they are nothing else than fables and lies.
58. For example, a monk’s words: Whoever dons a cowl can lead a holy life, for he is cut off from the world, can banish all care and sorrow, and can undisturbed, in peace and quietness, serve God—these words appear wisely spoken, but at bottom they are nothing but unreliable and useless chatter. This is proved from God’s Word, which teaches that God has forbidden us to invent our own worship; also, that God would have us serve him in our ordinary life and station and not by fleeing therefrom.
Hence, such monkery can not be a holy, godly life. In <19B985>Psalm 119:85, we read: “The proud have digged pits for me, who are not according to thy law.” That is, they preach to me about praiseworthy things, and represent their cause as most worthy, in order to overcome me.
But when I look at their words aright, I do not find them to be in accord with thy Word and commandments, which (says he) “are faithful.” A lie is always beautiful. It attracts and pretends to be truth. It has, further, the advantage that it can adorn itself from the wardrobe of God’s Word, and, perverting the Word, can use it in an uncertain sense. On the other hand, the truth does not so glitter, because it does not make itself plain to reason.
For example, a common Christian, a type of the brethren, hears the Gospel, believes, uses the sacraments, leads a Christian life at home with wife and children—that does not shine as does the fascinating lie of a saintly Carthusian or hermit, who, separated from his fellow men, would be a holier servant of God than other people. Yet the latter is useful to nobody.
He lets others preach and rule, and labor in the sweat of their brows.
God’s Word the Christian’s guide
59. The one important thing, then, is to see to it that we have God’s Word, and that we regulate all the teachings and claims of men in accordance therewith. We will thus distinguish between the true and the false. We must remember, also, that human reason holds a far inferior position to faith and is not to be acknowledged as trustworthy, save as it is authorized by God for temporal authority. He who has faith can easily perceive when reason conflicts with God’s Word or seeks, in its wisdom, to rise superior thereto; just as, in worldly things, each one in his station, office, or calling, knows full well, when another attempts the same work, whether he does it right or not. So every householder well understands that in his home wantonness and wrongdoing on the part of the servants are not to be tolerated.
However, in divine things, reason can so attire and adorn itself as not to be recognized except by one who, guided by faith, has a right knowledge of God’s Word.
Reason will not refrain from intruding, with its wisdom and prudence, into the affairs of God, where it has no orders. Thus the devil creates endless misery, as he did at the beginning in the case of our first parents. And yet reason will not permit, in its own domain, the slightest interference of one unskilled in reason’s code.
60. If a cobbler were to arise in the Church and censure the people because they did not wear his make of shoes, and should try to convince people that such a procedure was necessary to salvation, they would pursue him out of the Church with shoes and slippers, and cry after him: Stay at home in your shop with your shoes and lasts! What does that concern the spiritual estate?
But when a factious spirit stands up and in his supposed wisdom grunts forth: I am a holy, pious man. I have a special illumination from the spirit.
Therefore do not believe what the others say, which is nothing but the dead letter, that one person can be God and man; that a virgin can be a mother; that a man can be cleansed from sin by water and the spoken Word, etc.,— when he does this, then there is no one to offer resistance. Reason then gains the victory if it only claims the glory of guidance by the Spirit, of a holy life, etc., even though God’s Word and faith are not present in their purity. Behold, what mischief the Turk, with his Mohammed, has wrought and is still working, solely by claiming the honor of worshipping the one God, and asserting that he alone has the true God! He declares that only he and his followers are God’s people on earth, to honor which God they war and fight against the Christians. He presses his cause the more vigorously because he has such large fortune and victory; so even many Christians who come among them adopt their faith and become Turks. But none of the Turks turn Christian.
61. Therefore, no other counsel can be offered for resisting the devil and escaping destruction by him, than this, that we remain firm in faith, says Saint Peter. One must have a heart which holds fast to God’s Word and fully understands the same and holds it to be true. For faith cannot exist or endure without the Word, nor can it hear or understand aught else. One must separate the Word far from all reason and wisdom, placing it above these. He must hold reason as nothing—yea, as dead—in matters pertaining to God’s government and to how man is to escape sin and eternal death. Reason must keep silent and give to God’s Word alone the honor which belongs to the truth, “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,” as Saint Paul says, 2 Corinthians 10:5. If reason is to be my teacher in these things, what need is there of faith? And why should I not throw away all the Scriptures? We Christians, says Paul ( 1 Corinthians 1:20-21), preach something else and higher than reason comprehends, for the wisdom of the world is mere folly. If reason taught me that the mother of Christ is a virgin, the angel Gabriel might have remained in heaven and kept silent concerning the matter. Your faith, says Paul again ( 1 Corinthians 2:4), should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Now you have seen the tricks and wiles of the devil with which he seeks to devour you, which he bases on reason as opposed to God’s Word.
62. Peter admonishes all Christians, especially the preachers, how to defend themselves against the devil’s intrigues and artifices, with which he seeks to capture them. In order that Christians may be properly equipped, Saint Peter calls attention to two things: First, we must know the enemy and realize his purpose; second, we must be armed to meet him and defend ourselves, that we may stand before him and conquer. He is a terrible, mighty foe, says Peter, and is the god of this world. He has more wisdom and more deceptive snares than all men, and can so blind and unsettle reason that it will cheerfully believe and follow him.
He is, moreover, a wicked and bitter enemy to you who in Christ have life.
He cannot bear to see you Christ’s. He thinks and plots about nothing else than your overthrow. And think not that he is far from you, or that he will pursue you from a distance. He has encamped close to you and right around you; yea, in your own territory—that is, in your flesh and blood.
There he seeks how to reach you, and overtake you when unguarded, attempting now this, now that. Misguided faith, doubt, anger, impatience, covetousness, evil passions, etc., are points of attack—any place where he finds an opening or discovers that you are weak. Therefore, think not that he is simply jesting. He is more furious and hungry than a famished and angry lion. He does not purpose merely to wound or prick you, but wholly to consume you, so that nothing of body or soul will remain.
63. Whoever would withstand such a foe must be equipped with other armor and weapons than those furnished by human wit and understanding, by human powers or ability. Your defense is nothing else, says Peter, than faith, which holds and grasps God’s Word. And because the believer holds fast to this, the devil can gain nothing. It is God’s truth and power, before which, with his lying and murdering, he cannot stand; he must yield and flee. Therefore Ephesians 6:16 says: “Taking up the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one.”
These fiery darts are chiefly those he hurls into the heart through the beautiful thoughts of human reason. He thus transforms himself into an angel of light, to displace right thoughts and faith, and to introduce human whims and false faith. His aim is, also, to lead into doubt, distrust, hatred, and anger toward God.
Thus it is, too, in the other temptations and trials of life, when Satan drives men into sin and disobedience against God’s commandment, into such sins as avarice, usury, anger, revengefulness, unchastity, and other vices. Here he uses the same insidious arts, first tearing God’s Word out of the heart, then blinding reason with sweet and beautiful thoughts. He says: The thing proposed is not so wicked. God will not be so angry with you. He can afford to be patient with you, you still love the Gospel. With such suggestions as these he carries you away and plunges you under God’s fearful anger and condemnation.
64. If you would withstand these wiles, there can be no other plan or counsel than this: Fight with God’s Word in firm faith against these suggestions and allurements. Further, keep in mind both your former misery and your present treasures of grace. Remember how you were once under God’s wrath when, without fear of God and without faith, you were the devil’s own, subject to all his will, and must have perished had not God, in boundless goodness, forgiven you your sin and bestowed on you his grace. And now give heed that you may not lose this treasure, to which end the Holy Spirit has been promised you. You need not succumb if you remain in faith. Again, if you experience weakness and suffer want, you are bidden to call upon him, certain that he will hear you. The promise is: “If ye shall ask anything of the Father, he will give it you in my name,” John 16:23. Also: “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you,” John 15:7.
65. Peter would, with his admonitions, make Christians bold and confident for resisting the temptations of the devil and defending themselves. He would not have us feel terrified nor despair before Satan, even though that wicked one press us hard through the instrumentality of the world and of our own flesh, as well as by his direct onslaughts. We are not to fear though he seem too strong for us, and though surrender to his prowess seems inevitable. We are to have a manly heart and fight valiantly through faith. We must be assured that, if we remain firm in the faith, we shall have strength and final victory. The devil shall not defeat us; we shall prove superior to him.
We have been called of God and made Christians to the end that we renounce the devil and contend against him, and thus maintain God’s name, Word, and kingdom against him. Christ, our head, has already, in himself, smitten and destroyed for us the devil and his power. In addition, he gives us faith and the Holy Spirit, whereby we can wholly defeat Satan’s further wickedness and his attempts to overthrow us.
66. A Christian should bear all this in mind, I say, and learn to experience the strength and power of faith. So will he not yield to temptation and enticement. Nor will he, from love of the devil or the world, to his own eternal hurt, and for the sake of small temporal advantage, pleasure, or honor, cast from him God’s grace and the Holy Spirit, and put himself again under God’s eternal anger and condemnation.
IV. “Knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world.”
67. This is a very precious and comforting passage, the truth of which Peter learned not only by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but from his own experience. One instance of his experience was when, in the high-priest’s house, he thrice denied his Lord, and soon thereafter fell into such anxiety and despair that he would have followed the traitor Judas had not Christ turned and looked on him. It was for this reason that Christ, so soon after his resurrection, first of all commanded that the glad tidings should be announced to Peter. Christ also said to him, before all this happened: “Simon, I made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not; and do thou, when once thou hast turned again, establish thy brethren,” Luke 22:31-32.
Conduct in suffering
Peter makes faithful use of the present passage for his readers’ comfort: Ye must expect, in the world, says he, to suffer many and severe things, both in temptations of soul and body, against the first and the second table of the law, Satan lying in wait for you with his deceitful and murderous arts.
68. Weak Christians suffer beyond measure because they are plagued and beset so constantly by the devil. Their afflictions so sorely oppress them that they conclude that no one suffers so severely as do they. Especially does this seem the case in the great spiritual temptations which come to those endowed with peculiar gifts and who are called to positions of prominence in the Church. So Paul often laments his great temptations, which the common people do not understand and cannot endure. God, moreover, is careful to lay on each one just the cross he is able to carry.
Still these sufferings are such that even the great and strong must languish and wither beneath them were it not for the comfort God bestows. These troubles grip the heart, and consume the very marrow, as the Psalms often lament.
69. Some of those living in cloisters, and other pious, tender consciences, have learned by experience how hard such burdens are to bear, especially in the darkness of the papacy, where they receive but little genuine comfort. There are, also, some inexperienced and forward spirits who have seen but have not understood these things, and who yet desire to be regarded as people of large experience. When, however, the test comes, they are found wanting. It is related of one of this class, who heard others bemoaning their temptations, that he prayed God to let temptation visit him also; whereupon God permitted him to be tempted with carnal lust. But when he found he could not bear it, he again prayed God, asking that the burden of his brother, whom he regarded inferior to himself, be given him.
But when this request was granted, he prayed yet more earnestly that God would give him back his former burden.
70. Amid such temptations Peter comforts suffering Christians by telling them that they are not the first, nor the only ones, to be thus assailed. They are not to feel as if it were a wonderful, rare, unheard of cross which they bear, or that they bear it alone. They are to know that their brethren, the Christians of all times, and scattered through all the world, must, because they are in the world, suffer the same things at the hand of Satan and his minions. It assuages and comforts beyond measure for the sufferer to know that he does not suffer alone, but with a great multitude.
71. It is true that in external temptations this comfort is easily grasped, because of the knowledge of others’ experiences. But when Satan assails thee alone with his poisonous darts—for example, when he tempts thee to doubt God’s grace, as if thou alone hadst been cast off; or when he suggests horrible blasphemies, hatred of God, condemnation of his government, and so tortures and fills with anguish thy heart that thou art led to think that no man on earth is more fearfully assailed than thyself— then there is need to make use of this comfort which Peter offers thee and all Christians. In other words, Peter would say: “My friend, let not the devil and thy sufferings terrify thee or lead thee to despair. Thou shouldst know this for a certainty, that thou sufferest not alone. No matter how shamefully he attacks thee, he has done and is doing the same to others.”
The devil seeks, not only our own destruction, but also that of all Christendom. It is ever his purpose to tear out of men’s hearts, in the midst of their sufferings, God’s Word and faith. He would rob them of their comfort in Christ, and depict God in the most horrible and hostile light, that the heart may have not one kind thought regarding him. And he can do this; not only with lofty, refined, subtle thoughts, but also by gross suggestions from without, before which a man must fear and shudder. I, myself, saw and heard a girl who complained of a temptation of this nature; namely, that while she stood in the church and saw the sacrament elevated, the thought occurred to her: Lo, what a big knave the priest is elevating.
And she was suddenly so frightened at the terrible thought that she sank to the floor.
72. Such terror and anxiety proceed from the fact that one imagines that no one else has ever experienced such dreadful assaults. He thinks he has a special, strange, and unusual affliction. Although it is true that men’s temptations differ and come from different sources and one may imagine his own a peculiar kind, yet the sufferings and temptations of all Christians are alike in this, that the devil tries to drive them all from the fear and confidence of God into unbelief, contempt, hatred, and blasphemy against God. Therefore, the apostles are accustomed to call Christians’ sufferings a fellowship in pain and tribulations. They point all men who suffer to the agonies of Christ our Lord, as the head and exemplar. Peter says Peter 1:11: “The Spirit of Christ… testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them.” And Paul says, “I fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh,” Colossians 1:24.
73. If one would speak of specially severe sufferings, surely no human heart can comprehend, much less tell, how great and heavy were the anxiety and sorrow of our first parents on account of their miserable fall And what sorrow must Adam have witnessed during the nine hundred years of his life in the experiences of his first son Cain, and his children! No man has ever borne such a burden as lay on both parents for nearly a hundred years after Abel’s death, until their third son was born. Truly, these nine hundred years were a period of sorrow and misery.
Perhaps, on the last day, we shall discuss with this our father the solitary suffering of that time, of which we know nothing. And we shall willingly confess that in sorrow’s school he stands far above us and we have been only insignificant pupils. It must have been most severe and dangerous for him, since he had no example before him of similar suffering with which to comfort himself.
74. Likewise, if thou couldst rightly understand what the other holy patriarchs, the prophets and apostles—especially Paul and Peter—and later all the beloved martyrs and saints, have endured thou wouldst be forced to say that all thy temptation and suffering are nothing in comparison. But above all these must we reckon the experiences of the Lord Christ, whose heart was so pierced by Satan’s fiery darts and bitter thrusts that the bloody drops of sweat were pressed out of his body. He has gone before and surpassed us on the way of sorrow. We, with all our suffering, can only follow his footsteps.
75. Therefore, learn well this saying of Peter, and think not that thou alone endurest this severe, fearful temptation and these onslaughts of the devil.
Remember that thy brethren, not only they who are dead—who also have set thee a good example—but also those who live with thee in the world, have suffered and do suffer such terror and distress. For they have the very same enemy Christ and all Christendom have. Thou canst be glad and shout: God be praised! I am not the only one that suffers, but with me there is a great multitude, all Christians on earth, my beloved brothers and sisters, even down to the last who shall walk this earth. And in this passage Peter comforts and strengthens me, as Christ commanded him, who also has tasted of these sorrows, and, indeed, in far greater measure than I and others have.
76. I have at times thought, in my trials, that I should like to argue with Peter and Paul as to whether they were tried more severely than I. For, when he can do nothing else, the devil resorts to the plan of leading a man to fix his attention solely on his own affliction, and oppresses him with the thought: No man has been so cast off by God, or has sunk so deep into anxiety and distress. The devil has often so wearied me with such arguments that at length I could offer no further opposition to him, but simply turned him over to Christ, who can quickly silence him with arguments. If we have not Christ with us, Satan proves far too strong for us. We cannot silence him. He soon renders helpless all our skill, and slays us with our own sword.
77. Ah, these seditious leaders and other self-secure spirits are poor, miserable people, who know nothing at all of this conflict! They drown in their own imaginations, and think they are perfect. And some of them are so shameless and without fear as to blaspheme, saying that God himself could not take their virtue from them. The devil simply strengthens them in these thoughts, and hardens them the more. This very thing is a sign that they do not yet know the devil; they are already blinded and taken captive by him, so that he can ruin them when he pleases.
78. Genuine Christians are not thus self-confident and boastful when they are attacked. In severe conflicts and anxieties they labor that the devil may not deprive them of the sword. I know that I am learned and have seen something of what the devil can do; but I must bear him witness, from my daily experience, that he can overcome me unless I am well established in faith and have Christ in my heart. Thomas Munzer was so firm and inflexible, as he thought, that he dared to say that he would not behold Christ, if he did not himself wish to speak with him. But at last, when the devil began to attack him, men saw what his pride and boasts were. No, they are not the ones to accomplish anything, who go about so boastful, as if they had consumed the devil. They do not see that they, themselves, were long since devoured seven times over by him and are held fast in his jaws.
79. The heretic Arius was also secure and proud enough against the pious bishops and Christians. Yea, when he was punished for his error by his bishop, and admonished to desist, he became the more obstinate. He complained about the bitter persecution to which he was subjected. But his suffering was that they would not approve his horrible blasphemy. Just so in every age the heretics and blasphemers, yea, even open murderers and tyrants, pose as martyrs when they are not permitted to run against God’s Word and against pious people. So confident do they try to be that they have no fear of God. They count the devil a dead bee until, at length, he suddenly seizes and destroys them in a moment.
80. But the poor, tempted Christians have need of the comfort and the strength furnished by God’s Word. They must anxiously contend lest they lose, in their hours of severe temptation, God, Christ, faith, and Our Father. Therefore, the mission intrusted to Peter, to strengthen his brethren, is most needful. So the same comfort was necessary in his own temptations, and he was even given it beforehand by Christ, who declared that he had prayed for him that his faith might not be extinguished nor fail, which faith, however, from the time of his denial on to the third day did almost die, and scarcely the smallest spark remained.
Hence he now, as a true apostle, comforts those who are in the like fears and straits of a sinking and expiring faith. He says to all the suffering and comfortless: My dear brother, think not that thou alone sufferest distress and temptation. Many of thy brethren have suffered quite as heavily, perhaps more heavily. I, myself, have been as weak as thou canst ever be.
If thou dost not believe this, look and see what occurred in the house of Caiaphas, the high-priest, when I, who protested my readiness to go with Christ into prison and death, at a word spoken to me by a maid, fell, and denied and abjured most shamefully my beloved Lord. For three whole days I lay in misery. I had no one to comfort me and none who suffered equally with myself. I had no consolation except that my dear Master gave me, with his eyes, one friendly look.
81. Therefore, no one should regard his distress and need as too heavy and fearful, as if it were an entirely new thing, something which had never been experienced by others. To thee it may be something new and untried. But look about thee, at the great multitude of the Church, from the beginning until this hour. The Church has been set in the world to suffer the attacks of the devil, and without ceasing it must be sifted as wheat, as Christ’s words suggest, Luke 22:31.
My friend, thou hast not yet seen nor experienced what our first parents endured their whole life long, and after them all the holy fathers until Christ. Peter, also, has been farther in this school than I and thou, and I would say that the same temptation as his could hardly be found. Paul says of him and the beloved apostles ( 1 Corinthians 4:9): “For, I think, God hath set forth us the apostles last of all, as men doomed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, both to angels and men”—so that Satan may torment us according to his will, and thus work out his pleasure upon us. And what are the sufferings of all men combined when compared with Christ’s agony and conflict, in that he sweat blood for thee?
82. When the devil plagues and assails thee with his manifold temptations, refer him to Christ, with whom to dispute about the severe temptations, the death struggle, the anguish of hell, etc. Comfort thyself that thou art one of a great company of sufferers, past present and future. O beautiful, glorious company! All under one lord and head, who took from the devil his power and hell-fire. In short, thy affliction cannot prove so great that thou wilt not find it paralleled in the lives of the apostles, prophets, patriarchs and all the saints, especially of Christ himself; with whom, if we suffer, let us not doubt, says Paul, that we shall “be also glorified,” Romans 8:17.