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Sermons of Dr. Martin Luther for Trinity 5
Gospel Sermon (July 12, 1528)
Text: Luke 5:1-11
Now it came to pass, while the multitude pressed upon him and heard the word of God, that he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; and he saw two boats standing by the lake: but the fishermen had gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And he entered into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the multitudes out of the boat. And when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answered and said, Master, we toiled all night, and took nothing: but at thy word I will let down the nets. And when they had done this, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes; and their nets were breaking; and they beckoned unto their partners in the other boat, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, Lord. For he was amazed, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken; and so were also James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.
And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they bad brought their boats to land, they left all, and followed hint.
1. This Gospel brings before us two parts, in which it exhorts to faith and strengthens faith. In the first part it shows that Christ cares for those who believe in him, so that they are abundantly supplied against temporal and bodily needs. In the second part it shows that he will help them still more against spiritual needs, thus in reality proving the truth of what St. Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:8: “Godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come.” The Scriptures are everywhere full of these two kinds of promises.
2. To faith he assures temporal and bodily help by giving to Peter and his partners so great a draught of fishes after they had vainly toiled all night and caught nothing, and now could have no expectation or hope of taking anything. But herein he adheres to the rule and order which he himself has given and taught in Matthew 6:33: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” He here acts according to this saying and shows its truth by example and experience, inasmuch as the people press upon him in crowds, first to hear his words, and to such an extent that, in order to preach to them, he sets out from land in one of the boats. But when he has taught them he proceeds further to provide for their bodily needs, inasmuch as they are in distress and want.
3. Although it is not indeed the purpose of Christ’s coming or preaching to foster and provide for the body, yet he is not unmindful of it when the first thing sought is his kingdom. He therefore takes upon himself the distress of these poor fishermen who, through all this night, and with all their efforts and toil, have caught nothing. However, as they have lent him their boat to preach, and have listened to him, he, without any thought on their part, and before they have uttered any prayer, provides for them a draught of fishes so great that they are thereby enabled fully to learn and clearly to understand that in him they have a Master who cares for them and will not forsake them, provided they abide in his Word and remain his disciples.
4. He would that his Church, or believing people, should be comforted by the fact that he provides for them, and that somewhere on earth they shall find bread and an abiding place, even though they are everywhere so persecuted and scattered, that their place and provision in the world must be uncertain. We find this set forth, not only in the present instance, and in others like it, but in many a beautiful passage, such as Psalm 34:10: “The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger; but they that seek Jehovah shall not want any good thing.” And Psalm 33:18-19: “Behold, the eye of Jehovah is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his loving kindness; to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.” And Proverbs 10:3: “Jehovah will not suffer the soul of the righteous to famish,” etc.
5. By this example he especially shows how it goes with those upon whom he is to bestow his gifts and assistance, and how he is accustomed to bestow these favors. It goes with them as it went with those fishermen, who labored all the night, yet had nothing for all their trouble and labor, and had nothing to hope for from human counsel or aid. Manifold tribulations, miseries and distress are the daily experience of all Christendom. If Christ is to help, there must be trials, trouble and toil, and it must come to this, that we despair of all human counsel, comfort and ability. Then he comes with his help, and shows that he still has the means of comfort, counsel, protection and deliverance, and that he is able to bestow all this when everything else has failed us, and when all that we have done or suffered, and still may be able to do, is nothing and in yam; yea, that in such need and weakness he gives and helps in richer measure than could be done by all human power, skill and aid.
6. On the other hand, by saying to his disciples: “Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught,” Christ shows that he does not forbid work, or would have that neglected which we have been commanded to do. He thereby enjoins upon them to continue in their handicraft. The two things are thus well maintained over against each other, namely, that we must work, and that our work accomplishes nothing. For if toil and trouble could have accomplished anything, then would the disciples have accomplished it during the hours of the night; and all the more so then, as they had hopes of taking a greater number of fishes while the silence and darkness continued than when Christ, in broad daylight, commanded them to let down their nets. Nevertheless, at Christ’s word, and at one draught, they drew them in full to overflowing.
7. From this every one may see and learn that no man lives by his labor or exertion, however great and unhampered this may be, but must live by God’s blessing and grace. Let it remain at this, as the Germans say, that “God helps,” or “God bestows his gifts over night,” which saying has come down to us from pious men of old who realized its truth in their experience. Daily experience still shows that many a one toils, tooth and nail, in anxiety and hard work, who yet can scarcely earn his bread or get rid of his debts and poverty; whilst to another, who takes it easy and newer overexerts himself, everything comes and flows in so abundantly that we really must say: “All this comes from God’s help and not from any man’s labor.” In Psalm 127:2 we are told: “So he giveth it unto his beloved in sleep,” as if the Psalmist would say: “It is in vain that you fret and plague yourself with cares and labor, day and night, in order to provide what is needed in the home. Much may be needed there; but it does not depend upon your hands and labor at all. Nothing will come of your effort unless God himself is the “House Father” and makes it possible for you to say: ‘God bestows his gifts over night. ’ Grain and all food from the earth, yea, all that a man has, or may acquire, must be given him of God.”
8. Such favors he also bestows upon the godless and unbelieving, and upon them more than upon others. With temporal goods he fills to overflowing the house and home of many wicked men who never think of a God. And he does this, not by their exertion and labor, but by a simple act of blessing, as we are told concerning such men in Psalm 17:14: “Whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure.” It is as if the Psalmist here said: “Deliver me from the men of this world who have their portion in this life, whose belly thou fillest with thy treasure,” that is, with such goods as are divine and hidden treasures of thine own, concerning which no man knows whence they come, and over which he has no power, — treasures which he cannot provide for himself, but must be provided and bestowed by thee alone.
9. Hereby Christ would have Christians aroused and strengthened in faith, and protected against unbelief with its harmful fruits, such fruits, especially, as covetousness, and anxious cares for the body and the present life. These cling to man by nature like an inborn plague which, together with the lusts of unbelief, moves and rages against the Spirit, as St. Paul teaches in Galatians 5:17. Moreover, the devil seeks to hinder faith by his temptations and suggestions to mistrust and doubt God. This, too, the world does by its hatred, envy and persecution of the righteous, whose goods and honor and life it is after, and whom it would use as mats for its feet. On the other hand (I say), we here perceive both the power and advantage of the faith which holds fast to Christ’s Word and ventures thereon, as Peter does, saying: “Although we have toiled all night and taken nothing, yet at thy word I will let down the nets.” It is this faith that so enlarges the draught of fishes as to fill the two boats; for without this the nets would not have been let down, nor would any fish have been caught.
10. Scripture, however, everywhere shows the harm that is done by the avarice and anxieties of unbelief. For unbelief can by no means obtain anything from God that would benefit, comfort or bless it, but so deprives itself of the divine benediction that it can have no satisfaction or joy in the temporal goods it desires, and can never possess a good and peaceful conscience. Hence it is that Christ, in Matthew 13:22, speaks of all anxiety, with regard to sustenance, as thorns, on account of which the Word of God cannot put forth its strength or its fruits. St. Paul expounds the meaning of the thorns in 1 Timothy 6:9-10, saying: “They that are minded to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil; which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
11. Here compare the good things that faith brings and does, with the harm that is done by unbelief. For, in addition to this, that faith has the divine grace and blessing, it also has the promise that it shall be sufficiently supplied with all that it needs. It fills the heart with such goodness, peace and joy that it may well be called the root of all good things. Unbelief, on the other hand, with all its cares and covetousness, shall have this as its reward, that it is not bettered thereby, but must fall into all sorts of snares through many hurtful lusts and desires; and thus it attains to nothing in the end but eternal destruction. It is therefore nothing but the root whence all misfortunes spring.
12. These two things are clearly seen in the world. Those men are at rest and in peace who content themselves with the things that God provides.
They journey onward cheerfully and courageously, whatever their calling may be. They have enough to live on, and all their necessities are so well supplied that they must say to themselves: “No evening yet have I gone hungry to sleep,” although it appears as if affliction and want are at their very doors, as, according to our text, was the case with Peter. They have this benefit from their confidence and faith in God, that they need not fret and wound themselves among the thorns (cares for the body), or be stung and injured by them, but can, so to speak, sit amid roses in a garden of pleasure. As Solomon says in Proverbs 15:15: “He that is of a cheerful heart hath a continual feast.”
The others, however, who plant themselves among the thorns of avarice, and seek after great possessions, must suffer the consequences of being stung and torn and must fall, not only into manifold temptations and dangers, (which would be a mercy, if it only remained at that), but also into snares wherein they are so thoroughly caught that they sink to a temporal destruction and eternal damnation from which they can never again escape.
13. Of this we see daily examples in those who boast of the Gospel and their Christianity. Everywhere we find robbery, oppression, assessment, usury, etc. , to such an extent that even God and conscience are set aside for the sake of a miserable penny. Then, as if such a fall were not deep enough, they harden themselves, and keep on their course defiantly and sacriligiously, until they sink so far as to become enemies of God’s Word, become blind and deaf, yea, become so unblessed and accursed that they are of no service in any station, and can do nothing that is wholesome and good or useful to the pleasure and improvement of others. All they can do is to cause and bring harm, misfortune and misery upon land and people.
14. All comes from this, as St. Paul says, that men are bent on being rich.
For such covetousness and cares do assuredly keep company with a pride that makes men aim at being something great and powerful. Covetousness would appropriate everything to itself. It begins at first by saying: “Would that I had this house, this field, this castle, this village,” etc. Thus it grows greater and greater till it becomes a dragon’s tail that draws everything after it. And where covetousness has once become rooted there it daily brings forth cares of a hundred different kinds, as it seeks to obtain still more goods and gold. There the human heart boils and bubbles with countless insatiable lusts, and desires, that serve no other purpose than its own destruction, and spring from no other source than man’s fall from faith, and thence from one temptation and snare into another. It is a dreadful plague that has taken such thorough possession of men that, on account of it, they can do nothing good or useful in their station, and no longer ,an have any thought of serving God or man.
15. When one has scraped together a great deal, he has no less trouble in retaining and protecting it. He must then try to gain favor and friendship, and in all sorts of ways seek to prevent the loss of his property. In the meantime he brings upon himself hatred and envy and troubles of many kinds, from which he cannot escape; and thus, as St. Paul shows, there is nothing left but disturbance and sorrows of conscience, and a veritable hell, into which the man has cast himself. Upon the covetous man the plague and curse have already been pronounced that he shall never be satisfied, and, furthermore, that he must endure all sorts of misfortune and heartgriefs through the very things he has coveted to his everlasting destruction and damnation.
16. We see from daily experience what shameful and accursed vice covetousness is, and what harm it does, especially in high office, whether clerical or lay. If the money fiend has taken possession of a pastor’s or preacher’s heart, so that he, like the rest of the world, only aims at securing for himself great riches, then has he already, like Judas the traitor, fallen into the jaws of the devil, and is prepared, for a few pieces of silver, to betray Christ and his Word and his Church. Thus has the Pope, in order to secure and maintain his riches and dominion, introduced, in the name of God and the Church, all sorts of idolatries and abominations, and has openly led multitudes of souls to the devil, so filling men with the false terrors of his ban that no one dares to say a word against it.
17. How harmful it is in civil governments when lords and princes are dominated by this shameful vice, aiming to appropriate everything to themselves. Thereby they forget to exercise their princely office so as to be of help to the land and people over whom, for this purpose, they have been placed as lords, and thus they forfeit the commendation and love which, with all honor and praise, they should receive as the fathers of their people and country. They do not concern themselves about the spread of God’s Word, the administration and support of churches and schools, the proper instruction of the people, or the maintenance of law and order among their subjects. They permit destitute pastors, with their children, widows and orphans, to suffer injustice, violence and want. In the meantime they go about with their tax lists, and only consider how they may collect money enough for their excessive expenditures and pomp. And when this does not suffice, they flay and tax their poor subjects to such an extent that they themselves fall into perplexities and difficulties which must bring poverty and ruin upon themselves, their land and their people. Or if, in their avarice, they have already accumulated enough to make them think they are quite rich, then, in order to carry out their undertakings, they involve themselves in manifold strange dealings and affairs that finally, to their own punishment, they bring upon themselves great burdens and ruin.
18. What a dreadful disaster and ruin has been brought upon Germany merely by the shameful and accursed usury which has everywhere gotten the upper hand, so that there is no longer any check or restraint to it, especially as those who should check it are themselves mixed up in it.
Nowadays every one who has the power, by means of his money, impoverishes his neighbors, and thereby sets God and conscience aside.
Thus, with open eyes, and with an evil, self-accusing conscience, he speeds off to hell, burdened with the curse that has been pronounced upon the abominations of covetousness, — the curse, that he shall not himself enjoy such property in peace and tranquility as has been gained by usury, but either himself shall lose it by God’s visitation or it shall not descend to his heirs. Upon such un-Christian doings must come the fearful wrath and punishment of God, which alas! we have long ago greatly deserved; and the time must come when he will turn us out of doors, together with the Turks and other terrible plagues, so that, since we would not heed his Word and admonition, he him. self may put a forcible end to this godless business.
19. This the believer avoids and escapes who, with good conscience and godly fear, occupies his station in life peacefully and quietly, and is satisfied with the things that God gives him. He does not expose himself to the dangers of temptation or snares. He is in no need of troubling himself with cares and anxieties, or of engaging with others in bickering and brawling disputes, quarrels, jealousies and hatreds. He is a man of fine, blessed and useful character, one who can be of service and assistance to many. He finds grace and favor with God and man that shall benefit and honor even his children’s children.
20. The example before us in this Gospel should teach and admonish us that we may learn to believe, and thus experience through faith, that God cares for his children and provides for them to such an extent that they need not worry and condemn themselves with cares or covetousness. And yet, though cares and covetousness are forbidden, it should be borne in mind, as I have already said, that no one dare cease from labor. The world turns these two things upside down, as it usually does with all the words and ordinances of God. To care and to strive for the obtaining of gold and goods is something it is determined to do. Such care, however, concerns God alone, and for himself alone has he reserved it. And yet the world is willing enough to let God attend to the work which it has been commanded to do; yea, all the aim of its cares and covetousness is to be set free from working in the sweat of its face. God wants just the opposite. He wants us to keep the work and to leave the care with him. By doing this we shall do our part, and, with moderate labor and no care, we shall soon come into possession of all we need.
21. When Christ wished to bestow his gift upon Peter and others he did not cause the fish to leap into the boat without labor or nets, as he very well might have done. But he commanded them to put out into the deep and let down their nets. That is, they should engage in the handicraft they understood and had learnt and were accustomed to, and should act as fishermen. Christ keeps aloof from the lazy, unfaithful idlers who will not do as they have been commanded, and will not keep their hands and feet from straying. Thus he teaches a twofold lesson, that he will not give us anything unless we work for it, and that the things we obtain do not come from our work, but only from God’s help and blessing. You are to work, but you are not to depend upon that work, as if that which resulted therefrom were of your own accomplishment.
22. In short, our work produces and bestows nothing. Yet it is necessary as a means through which we may receive what God gives. The disciples must use their hands to let down the nets and to draw them in, if they wish to secure anything, and must be willing to do so. Yet they are obliged to acknowledge that their labor did not bring about the result, otherwise they would have succeeded, in the first place, without Christ. He therefore permits them to make a sufficient trial, and to discover by experience that the toil of this entire night has been in vain and to no purpose.
23. This he teaches us by daily experience in all sorts of affairs and doings and governments on earth. Very often he permits us to labor long and arduously and without results, till it becomes bitterly painful to us, and we are forced to complain with Peter: “We toiled all night, and took nothing.”
This he does that we may not venture to depend upon our labor, but may know that he must grant it success, and that we have not secured this through our own effort, skill or diligence.
24. What diligence, money and effort many a father and mother have bestowed in order to rear their son to honor and virtue, and that with a hope and confidence as great as if (to use a common expression) he were to become an angel. And yet he has become nothing but a notoriously willful and prodigal child. On the other hand, many a poor and forlorn orphan, upon whom very little effort and diligence have been expended, has grown up so surprisingly well-bred as to make us think that it just happened so, and did not depend upon any diligence or care of our own.
25. Of what do all civil governments more generally complain than of fruitless labors and efforts, even where their work is carried on energetically and in earnest, and where there are men who are willing and able to rule well, — men who are not lacking in wisdom, understanding, power and might? These are obliged to learn, after a long period of governing, that thereby they have not accomplished anything. How often it happens, indeed, that the best plans, the wisest counsels, and the brightest ideas prove to be the very worst, and result in nothing but harm and ruin.
The very wisest rulers have always experienced and complained of this.
And thus we may learn that God will not grant prosperity and success through human wisdom, plans and intrigues, if these are the things we depend upon.
26. Hence, if the world be willing to receive counsel from a plain and straightforward man, namely, from the Lord our God, who certainly has had some experience and understands the art of ruling, the best counsel would be, that each one, in his administration of government, should simply direct his thoughts and plans to a faithful prosecution and believing performance of the duties enjoined upon him, not placing any dependence upon his own thoughts and plans, but casting all his cares upon God. The man who does this will at last be sure to discover that he who trusts in God accomplishes more than he who seeks to transact his affairs according to his own wisdom and thought, or in his own power and might.
27. So it goes in the spiritual government of the Church, as specially indicated in the narrative now before us. Where I have preached and taught during the past ten or twenty years, there another could, perhaps, have done more in one year; and one sermon may bring forth more fruit than many others. Here, also, it is true that our labor, diligence and effort can accomplish nothing. These two things must go together, namely, that each one does his duty, and that he, nevertheless, acknowledges with Peter: “My labor cannot bring forth anything, if thou dost not give the increase.” As Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase,” etc.
28. In short, all human nature and life are so that, until God gives the increase, we may often labor long and much, and all to no purpose. But the work is not to cease on that account, nor should any man be found without work. He must wait for the increase till God gives it, as Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 11:6: “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand; for thou knowest not which shall prosper, whether this or that,” etc.
29. However, the circumstances are especially pointed out under which work becomes useful and fruitful, namely, when Christ appears and commands to let down the nets, etc., that is, when there is a faith that takes hold of his Word and promise and then, cheerfully and bravely, does what has been commanded, waiting, with prayer and supplication, for his help and blessing. This is to say with Peter: “Lord, I have indeed done and labored and suffered ninth, but I know that I shall accomplish nothing thereby, unless thou art present to give strength and increase. I will therefore depend, not upon myself or my own works, but upon thy Word, and will leave everything to thy care.” Thus shall we prosper; and experience shows that Christ, when he is present, gives more as the result of little labor and effort than any one would have dared to hope. For there can be no failure or scanty fruits where he adds his blessing.
30. Thus the disciples could see the experience for themselves what a difference there is between the work they had done all the previous night without faith in Christ, and the work they did when, without prospect of taking anything, they nevertheless, through faith in Christ’s word, and at one draught, drew in an overflowing multitude of fishes. Therefore, if we accomplish little or nothing through our labor and effort, we must put the blame upon our unbelief, or upon the weakness of our faith, and not upon anything else.
31. Yet this is also true, that Christ often delays the bestowal of his help, as he did on this occasion, and on another, John 21, when he permitted the disciples to toil all the night without taking anything, and really appeared as if he would forget his own Word and promise.
But this he does that he may drive us to implore his help the more earnestly, and that we may learn to strengthen and maintain our faith, so that we do not doubt, or cease to labor, but continue to wait for the bestowal of his gifts in his own good time and way. For it is his purpose to guide all Christians into a knowledge and experience of the fact that their livelihood and help do not depend on what they see or do, but upon what is invisible and hidden. This he therefore calls his “hid treasure,” as we have already said in regard to Psalm 17:14:, that is, such blessing, help and deliverance as we have not perceived or laid hold of before, but are hidden in his Word and are grasped by faith.
32. Behold, this is the first part of our Gospel, the events of which took place and were recorded that Christians might be instructed and comforted by the fact that Christ cares even for the temporal needs of his Church, so that it is fed and supported, although it should come into a distress where everything is at the point of ruin, and where it seems to have done and suffered everything in vain. Always and everywhere does it happen that the Gospel, as it advances, brings poverty in its train, together with hunger and nakedness and want. But at last, when the storms of the devil have blown over a little, and the world’s greed and appetite have been satisfied, Christ comes and declares that he, too, is a Lord of the earth. For in Psalm 24:1 it is written: “The earth is Jehovah’s, and the fullness thereof,” etc.
Also in Psalm 8:6-8: “Thou hast put all things under thy feet; all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea.” All these must obey our Lord, and must bend beneath his scepter, so that the world, after all, cannot prevent him and his from sharing in its food.
33. But, as I have said, we must first have hunger and want, that is, Peter’s empty boat and net, even where there has been long-continued labor. Yet Christ, after such a trial, makes his gifts all the more abundant, not only a tub full, with which the disciples might have been satisfied, but the entire net full and the two empty boats full. He does this that their faith in his spiritual help may thereby be strengthened, He shows this sign to Peter, and to the others whom he intends to call to be his Apostles, not only in order that they should believe that he would care for their bodies, but that he would so strengthen and help them in their apostolic calling that it should not prove to be in vain or fruitless.
34. The second part of this Gospel presents the great doctrine of the inner distress and conflict of conscience, and what constitutes our true comfort in the midst of it. Only after Peter saw this wonderful work of Christ and the abundance it produced, did he begin to consider what sort of a Man this Wonderworker must be, and what sort of a man he himself was in comparison. Out of this great blessing there comes upon him a greater distress than he has ever experienced from any bodily want. He now becomes so thoroughly poor and destitute, that, on account of terror, he almost sinks to the earth and bids Christ depart from him. He has begun to feel his unworthiness and sins. He is forced to acknowledge and lament that he is a poor sinner.
35. Peter is to become a different man; and a greater miracle is to be wrought in him than in the draught of fishes. The sermon which Christ had previously preached from the boat now first began to have its effect upon him. He, with the others, had indeed listened to Christ before this, but he had given no thought to the character of his Person. He had not thought of obtaining any temporal or eternal good from him; nor had he yet begun to tremble on account of his sins.
But now when Peter perceives the miracle and the blessing, and realizes, through the present event, what sort of a Man this Jesus is, he stumbles at the greatness of the blessing and of the Person on the one hand, and, on the other, at the extent of his own unworthiness. He trembles on account of his sins. His heart tells him that he does not deserve such great favor, and that he is far more deserving of God’s wrath and disfavor. He is now filled with anxiety and fear, not as to temporal poverty, or as to means of support, for he has been supplied with what he needs; but as to his ability to stand before God and before this man who has shown this great favor to such an unworthy and sinful human being as he.
36. This is the way Christ begins to make Peter spiritually rich in things that are eternally good, so that he may be able to impart them to others, yea, to the entire world. As on a previous occasion, he must first feel spiritual hunger and distress, that is, terror and anguish of conscience, before he can attain to forgiveness and to comfort. The boat and the world have become too narrow for him. He knows not whither to betake himself from Christ, whom, however, he has found to be, not terrifying, but friendly and helpful.
37. Here you see how poor and miserable conscience is when it really begins to feel its sins. how it trembles’.
How it runs to escape from God when he draws nigh, as if it would run across a hundred worlds! Thus Adam in Paradise thought to hide himself when God kindly asked: “Adam, where art thou?” So shy and timorous is such a heart and conscience that it gets frightened at itself, and flees from a rustling leaf as from thunder and lightning. It cannot endure the judgment of the Law, which reveals its sins and God’s eternal wrath. And here it is of no use to comfort a man by reminding him of the favors that God has shown him in the past. This only terrifies him all the more, as thereby he realizes that he deserves still greater wrath on account of his ingratitude and sins.
38. Yea, even they have ever to contend with this temptation and fear who already have received the comfort of the grace of God through faith. For his goodness and grace are too great and overwhelming. On the other hand, our heart, in the feeling and consideration of its own unworthiness, is far too narrow and feeble to hold and comprehend such great goodness and mercy. At this it is simply filled with amazement. God therefore shows himself merciful to us by veiling and covering these things under simple words and beneath great weakness.
39. But such is the awful wickedness of our nature that, even when Christ comes to us with his grace and comfort, we avoid and flee from our Savior, while we rather, though naked and barefooted, should run after him to the ends of the earth. We turn and twist, and resort to our own works, and would first, by our own efforts, cleanse and make ourselves worthy enough to deserve such a gracious God and Christ. Thus Peter thinks to seek peace and to escape sin by running away from the Lord. He first looks for something in himself to make him worthy of coming to Christ, but thereby only falls all the more deeply into terror and despair, until the Savior, by his word, raises him up again.
40. All this does, and indeed must, come to pass, where nothing but the Law is taught and understood, and where Christ is not rightly and fully known through the Gospel. A knowledge of the Law has been inscribed and implanted in every human heart by nature, as St. Paul says in Romans 2:15. The Law teaches us what we are to do, and pronounces us guilty of disobedience. It does so in many ways, not only through dreadful tokens and feelings of punishment and of God’s anger, but also through the various gifts and operations of the Lord, that appear to the eyes and ears of man and point out to him the sin and divine wrath which follow upon their abuse in contempt and disobedience towards God. From this he may conclude that those who are ungrateful to God for his gifts and favors, are worthy of his wrath and condemnation.
41. All God’s benefits when they move the heart, are really living sermons unto repentance that lead a man to acknowledge his sins and make him fear them, as St. Paul, in Romans 2:1, says to the impenitent, hardened hypocrite: “Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”
42. Hence, there is nothing in the juggling tricks which our Antinomians play upon this example, when they say that repentance is not to be preached and practiced through the Law, but through the Gospel, or, as they put it, through the revelation of the Son. They change the proper order of the two parts: the revelation of grace and the revelation of wrath, as if we are first to preach comfort through grace and afterwards to terrify through wrath. This is nothing but a blind and foolish pretext on the part of these people. They have no understanding of wrath or grace or repentance, and know not how to comfort the conscience.
43. All preaching of sin and God’s wrath is a preaching of the Law, no matter how or when it may be done. On the other hand, the Gospel is such preaching as sets forth and bestows nothing but grace and forgiveness in Christ. And yet it is true that the Apostles and preachers of the Gospel sanctioned the preaching of the Law, as Christ himself did, and began with this in the case of those who had not yet acknowledged their sins and had felt no fear of God’s anger. Thus our Lord says in John 16:8: “The Comforter, when he is come, will convict the world in respect of sin,” etc.
Yea, what more solemn and terrible proof and preaching of God’s wrath can there be than the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, his son?
It is not the preaching of the Gospel, nor is it Christ’s own preaching, but the preaching of Moses and the Law to the impenitent, so long as nothing but God’s wrath is preached and men are terrified. For the Gospel and Christ were neither ordained nor given in order to terrify or condemn, but to comfort and raise up such as are fearful and faint-hearted. And from this it follows that the man, whose heart has been rightly impressed by the sufferings of Christ, must, of his own accord, see and feel in these the unbearable wrath of God against sin, and thereby be so stricken with fear that the world becomes too narrow for him. St. Bernard testifies that this was his experience as soon as he gained a right insight into the sufferings of Christ. He says: “Alas, I thought I was safe! I knew nothing of the judgment and wrath that had come upon me, till I saw that the only begotten Son of God had to take my place,” etc.
This idea is so terrible that even the damned in hell can have no greater torment, no greater feeling of God’s wrath and condemnation, than this vision of the death of the Son of God, the benefits of which they have forfeited. Thus Judas, the traitor, as he would not heed the kindly admonitions and warnings of the Lord Jesus, and would not take into consideration how he acted towards him, was finally driven into such terror by this vision that he preached the Law and damnation to himself in saying: “I have betrayed innocent blood,” etc. , Matthew 27:4.
44. In like manner, Peter preaches to himself the Law concerning his sins and God’s wrath, and takes as his text Christ’s great kindness towards him.
From this kindness he can gather nothing but wrath and terror on account of his unworthiness before God. For he has, as yet, no other understanding in his heart than that of the Law, which Law shows that God is hostile to sin and will punish it. He is still ignorant of the grace of Christ which, through the Gospel, is freely offered to all sinners. To this grace he could not have attained, but must have despaired in ‘the midst of his terror, had not Christ delivered another sermon whereby he comforted him and raised him up. For, of himself, no man can grasp this doctrine, or arrive at an understanding of it, without the revelation of the Holy Spirit through the word of the Gospel.
45. Hence those foolish souls are entirely wrong, who allege that the Law is not to be preached under the New Testament dispensation, or that men are to be terrified with God’s wrath through the Gospel only after grace has been preached to them. For it is certain that the Gospel preaches no wrath; nor does it cause fear and anguish. When it comes, it is for the purpose of comforting consciences. The order everywhere indicated and observed by Scripture is this, that sin must always be acknowledged and fear of God’s wrath be realized, through the preaching or experience of the Law, before there can be such comfort as proceeds from forgiveness, the purpose of this order being that men may be led to long for grace and be made fit to receive the comfort of the Gospel. Those, therefore, who are yet without any fear of God’s wrath, who are secure and hardened and unyielding, must be strongly admonished and urged to repentance by the threats and terrors of that wrath, that is, to them no Gospel is to be preached, but only the Law and Moses.
46. On the other hand, no law is to be preached to those in whose hearts it has wrought its purpose so that, through the realization of their sins, they have become terrified, faint-hearted and fearful. To such as these nothing is to be preached but the Gospel and its comfort. For it is really the purpose of Christ’s coming, and of his command to preach the Gospel to all poor sinners, that they should believe that it abolishes and does away with all the accusations and fears and threatenings of the Law, and puts a perfect comfort in their place. This he everywhere teaches in the Gospel; and in Luke 4:18, quoted from Isaiah 61:1, he says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor.” I have often said, therefore, that Moses must not be permitted to dominate the consciences that are agitated by the assaults of the devil and the dread of God’s wrath, but that these are straightway to dismiss Moses, together with the entire Law, and not listen to him.
47. But besides, we must bear in mind that the doctrine of the Law is not to be entirely done away with, even in the case of those who are Christians, inasmuch as Christians must exercise themselves in daily repentance, because they still live in the flesh which is moved by sinful lusts. hence they must be so taught and admonished, after they have received the forgiveness of sins, that they do not fall back again into a state of security, or give the flesh occasion to war against the Spirit. Galatians 5:13.
48. Such is Peter’s experience at this time. In his terror he has not, as yet, any revelation or knowledge of grace or forgiveness of sins. The revelation of wrath is working in him, and this impels him to flee even from Christ, which he certainly would not hare done, had he rightly known him. But Christ is now about to make of him a true Christian, about to make him experience the real comfort of conscience which overcomes the terror of the Law and raises man from the misery of sin to grace and blessedness, from death to life, from hell to heaven. It is necessary, therefore, that he should first have a real taste of that power of the Law which is roused and wrought, not by Christ, but by Moses through the ten Commandments.
49. Now, see how kindly Christ comforts the terrified heart and conscience. He says: “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” In tones so truly loving does the Savior speak to all who are in fear and terror by reason of their sins. He will not have them to remain any longer in fear and anguish. He takes away from them all the dread of the Law, and shows them that they should not, on account of their sins, flee from him but to him, so that they may learn to know him as the loving Savior who has come into this world, not to reject poor sinners, but to allure them to himself, and to enrich and bless them with his comfort and help. He therefore says, in Luke 19:10: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” And in 1 Timothy 1:15 St. Paul says: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”
50. Not only does Christ give comfort to poor, terror-stricken Peter by the kindly words in which he declares and offers to him his grace and absolution, but he goes on to strengthen this comfort by the great promise that he will give him something far beyond anything he has hitherto received from him; and all this in order that Peter may perceive and experience how Christ’s heart and love go out to him. “From henceforth,” Christ says, “thou shalt catch men.” That Peter is not to be alarmed on account of his unworthiness and sins is, in itself, an abundant comfort and grace. However, he is not only to have the forgiveness of his sins, but is also to know that God intends to accomplish still greater things through him by making him a help and comfort to others.
What Christ would say is this: “That which thou hast accomplished by this draught of fishes is much too little; really, it is nothing at all. Thou art henceforth to become a different kind of fisherman, in a different sea, with a different net and boat. For I am going to engage thee in a business which shall be called ‘catching men’; and this means that, throughout the entire world, thou art to draw away souls from the power of the devil into the kingdom of God. Then, first, wilt thou become the sort of man that can help others, even as thou thyself hast been helped.”
51. From this Gospel let us rightly acknowledge and lay hold upon Christ and the power of his comfort, in order that we may comfort both ourselves and others, and may instruct and remind the consciences which are in distress and fear that they are by no means to run or flee away from Christ, but should much rather flee to him and wait for his comfort. Thus to run away, thus to fear, is nothing else than to drive your own salvation and happiness away from you. For Christ has not come to make you afraid, but to remove from you your sins and distress. Nor does he draw nigh and follow after you in order to drive you away, but that he may kindly allure you to himself.
You must therefore not do him the dishonor of thrusting him away from you. And you must not pervert to your own fear and despair the comfort he brings you, but much rather run to him in all confidence. Then you will soon hear the cheering and comforting words: “Fear not?’ which he speaks to your heart, and to the hearts of all troubled consciences, and through them he pronounces absolution for all sins and removes all fear. Yea, he will grant you a still richer grace by making you such a holy, blessed and useful man in his kingdom, that you can be of comfort to others, and can bring those to him who, like yourself, are now full of fear and in need of comfort and grace.
52. Here you see how a man is delivered from spiritual poverty and distress, that is, how, through Christ’s Word, he obtains forgiveness of sins and peace of conscience together with grace and increase of spiritual gifts, without any merit or worthiness of his own but only through the grace of Christ. It is in this respect as it was with the temporal miracle of the draught of fishes, which the disciples did not secure by reason of their toil, and which was not given to them before they had labored and striven in vain, and had despaired of taking anything. And yet, as Christ on that occasion does not forbid their laboring, but commands them to let down their nets for a draught, so now he does not abolish works. Although Peter does not deserve grace and forgiveness by what he does, but receives forgiveness and grace freely, yet the Lord will not permit him to dispense with all work and effort. Yea, he assigns to him the duty and business of bringing the same blessings to others, and, in the assignment of this duty, comforts him with the assurance that the necessary power and blessing shall be added. “For,” says he, “I will make thee a fisher of men.” Thus are the two parts rightly taught, namely, that faith deserves nothing by its works, and yet, that it performs all sorts of works in its station and calling, according to the word and command of God.
THE SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THIS DRAUGHT OF FISHES
53. Christ himself teaches the meaning of this history of Peter’s draught of fishes when he says: “From henceforth thou shalt catch men.” Herein is represented the spiritual rule of the Church, which consists in the office of preaching. The sea, or the water, represents the world, the fishes represent men, while the outward office of preaching is represented by the hand and the net by which the fishes are caught. For as the net is let down among the waves, so the sermon finds its way among men.
54. But this office of preaching is of twofold One seeks to win men without Christ. This is the preaching of the Law, which demands of us nothing but works, and either makes arrogant saints who, without accomplishing anything, would pursue their own free, unhampered course through the wild and watery wastes, or only terrifies and drives away the consciences which, without works, are timid and weak.
55. Hence the labor and effort of the entire night (of the Law) must prove vain and lost until Christ comes with the other kind of preaching, — until he brings with him the dawn and revelation of the comforting and cheering Gospel that enlightens the hearts of men with the knowledge of the grace of God, — until he commands us to let down the net for a draught. When this is done at his word and command, great and rich fruits are the result.
Then men’s hearts are willing and ready to come to the obedience of faith in Christ, yea, even to press forward to it, and to venture life and limb in its attainment, as Christ says in Matthew 11:12: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and men of violence take it by storm.”
56. This draught of fishes is so great that the one boat alone (hitherto representing the Church of the Jewish people) is not able to draw it up or large enough to contain it. Those in the one boat must beckon to their partners in the other to come and help them. This other boat is the assembly and Church of the Gentiles which has been established and spread by the Apostles. Thus were the two boats filled with one and the same draught of fishes, that is, with one and the same sort of preaching, and with a corresponding faith and confession.
57. Owing to the great draught the nets began to break, and some of the fishes fell out. These are they who are not sincere, and do not abide in the Gospel, but cast themselves out of it, preferring to continue amid their free and wild waves rather than submit themselves to Christ. So there were many, especially among the Jews, who disobeyed and gainsaid the Gospel.
These, and all others who establish sects and factions of their own, may not and cannot continue with the true band of God’s people in the assembly of the Church, but make themselves manifest as being good for nothing.
Hence St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:19: “There must be also factions among you, that they who are approved may be made manifest among you.” These sects and factions must therefore fall away, while the others are gathered together out of the net and put into the two boats, where they are so kept, in the unity of the Church and of faith in Christ, that they do not fall away again. Otherwise they would be in danger of falling away at last, together with the factions by whom they had been seduced.
58. And as the net suffers through being let down into the water and becomes wet, so must the office of preaching suffer through all sorts of trials and persecutions in the world, even to the extent of being rent and torn. It cannot produce profitable or fruitful results in all men; yet great power and much fruit are found in those who remain steadfast and are kept to the end. It is our comfort, however, that Christ, through our preaching, will lead his own into the boat, and will keep them there, although we know that we cannot make devout men of all to whom we preach, and that we cannot escape persecution on account of our office; yea, though we know that many will fall away even among those of whom we felt sure that we had them in the net.
Epistle Sermon (June 20, 1535)
Text: 1 Peter 3:8-15
Finally, be ye all like-minded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tender-hearted, humble-minded: not rendering evil for evil, or reviling for reviling; but contrariwise blessing; for hereunto were ye called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For, He that would love life, And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips that they speak no guile: And let him turn away from evil, and do good; Let him seek peace, and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, And his ears unto their supplication: But the face of the Lord is upon them that do evil. And who is he that will harm you, if ye be zealous of that which is good? But even if ye should suffer for righteousness’ sake, blessed are ye: and fear not their fear, neither be troubled; but sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord.
1. Here you have enumerated again a long list of eminently good works enjoined upon Christians who believe and have confessed their faith in the Gospel. By such fruits is faith to be manifest. Peter classifies these works according to the obligations of Christians to each other, and their obligations to enemies and persecutors.
2. Immediately preceding the text, Paul has been instructing concerning the domestic relations of husband and wife; how they should live together as Christians in love and companionship, giving due honor and patiently and reasonably bearing with each other. Now he extends the exhortation to Christians in general, enjoining them to live together in Christian love, like brothers and sisters of a household. In the rehearsal of many preeminently noble virtues and works, he portrays the ideal church, beautiful in its outward adornment, in the grace wherewith it shines before men. With such virtues the Church pleases and honors God, while angels behold with joy and delight. And what earthly thing is more desirable to man’s sight?
What happier and more pleasing society may he seek than the company of those who manifest a unity of heart, mind and will; brotherly love, meekness, kindliness and patience, even toward enemies? Surely, no man is too depraved to command such goodness and to desire companionship among people of this class.
3. The first virtue is one frequently mentioned by the apostles. Paul, for instance, in Romans 12:16, says: “Be of the same mind one toward another.” Also in Ephesians 4:3: “Giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Harmony is the imperative virtue for the Christian Church. Before the other virtues — love, meekness — can be manifest, there must first be concord and unity of heart among all. It is impossible that outward circumstances of human life be always the same; much dissimilarity in person, station, and occupation is inevitable.
To this very unlikeness and to the natural depravity of flesh and blood is due the discord and disagreement of men in this world. Let one become conscious of personal superiority in point of uprightness, learning, skill or natural ability, or let him become aware of his loftier station in life, and he immediately grows self-complacent, thinks himself better than his fellows, demands honor and recognition from all men, is unwilling to yield to or serve an inferior and thinks himself entitled to such right and privilege because of his superiority and virtue.
4. Pride is the common vice of the world, and the devil fosters it among his numerous followers thereby causing every sort of misery and unhappiness, corrupting all ranks and stations, and rendering men vicious, depraved and incapable of executing good. In opposition to this vice the apostles diligently admonish Christians to be of one mind, regardless of station or occupation, since every individual must remain in the position to which he has been ordained and called of God. All ranks and stations cannot be one.
Particularly is this true in the Church; for in addition to the outward difference of person, station, and so on, there are manifold divine gifts unequally distributed and varyingly imparted. Yet these many dissimilarities, both spiritual and secular, are to be amenable to the unity of the spirit, as Paul calls it, or a spiritual unity. Just as the members of the physical body have different offices and perform different functions, no one member being able to do the work of the other, and yet all are in the unity of one bodily life; so also Christians, whatever the dissimilarity of language, office and gift among them, must live, increase and be preserved in unity and harmony of mind, as in one body.
5. This matter of harmony is the first and most necessary commandment enjoined by the doctrine of faith; ay, this virtue is the first fruit which faith is to effect among Christians, who are called in one faith and baptism. It is to be the beginning of their Christian love. For true faith necessarily creates in all believers the spirit that reasons: “We are all called by one Word, one baptism and Holy Spirit, to the same salvation; we are alike heirs of the grace and the blessings of God. Although one has more and greater gifts than another, he is not on that account better before God. By grace alone, without any merit of ours, we are pleasing to God. Before him none can boast of himself.”
6. How can I think myself better than another by reason of my person or my gifts, rank or office? Or what more than I has another to boast of before God concerning himself? No one has a different baptism or sacrament, a different Christ, from mine, or grace and salvation other than I have. And no individual can have another faith than have Christians in general, nor does he hear any other Gospel or receive a different absolution, be he lord or servant, noble or ignoble, poor or rich, young or old, Italian or German. When one imagines himself different from or better than his fellows, desiring to exalt and glorify himself above others, he is truly no longer a Christian; because he is no longer in that unity of mind and faith essential to Christians. Christ with his grace is always the same, and cannot be divided or apportioned within himself.
7. Not without reason did the beloved apostles urge this point. They clearly saw how much depends upon it, and what evil and harm result from disregard of the commandment. Where this commandment is dishonored, schisms and factions will necessarily arise to corrupt pure doctrine and faith, and the devil will sow his seed, which afterwards can be eradicated only with difficulty. When once self-conceit rules, and one, pretending more learning, wisdom, goodness and holiness than his fellows, begins to despise others and to draw men to himself, away from the unity of mind which makes us one in Christ, and when he desires the first praise and commendation for his own doctrine and works, his own preaching, then the harm is already done; faith is overthrown and the Church is rent. When unity becomes division, certainly two sects cannot both be the true Church.
If one is godly, the other must be the devil’s own. On the other hand, so long as unity of faith and oneness of mind survives, the true Church of God abides, notwithstanding there may be some weakness in other points. Of this fact the devil is well aware; hence his hostility to Christian unity. His chief effort is to destroy harmony. “Having that to contend with,” he tells himself, “my task will be a hard and wearisome one.”
8. Therefore, Christians should be all the more careful to cherish the virtue of harmony, both in the Church and in secular government. In each instance there is of necessity much inequality. God would have such dissimilarity balanced by love and unity of mind. Let everyone be content, then, with what God has given or ordained for him, and let him take pleasure in another’s gifts, knowing that in eternal blessings he is equally rich, having the same God and Christ, the same grace and salvation; and that although his standing before God may differ from that of his fellows, he is nevertheless in no way inferior to them, nor is anyone for the same reason at all better than or superior to himself.
9. In temporal affairs, every inequality in the world can be harmonized by a unity of mind and heart. In relations other than spiritual there is mutual love and friendship. How great the outward dissimilarity between man and wife — in person, nature and employment! likewise between masters and their subjects. Yet, in mutual conscientiousness they mutually agree and are well satisfied with each other. So it would be possible to enjoy life upon earth in peace and happiness were it not that the devil cannot suffer it. He must divide hearts and alienate love, allowing no one to take pleasure in another. He who is illustrious, of noble birth, or has power or riches, feels bound to despise others as silly geese or witless ducks.
SYMPATHY A CHRISTIAN VIRTUE
10. The other virtues enjoined by Peter are easily recognized — “Compassionate, loving as brethren, tenderhearted, and humbleminded” [Luther translates “friendly” — courteous]. These particularly teach that Christians should esteem one another. God has subjected them all to love and has united them, with the design that they shall be of one heart and soul, and each care for the other as for himself. Peter’s exhortation was especially called for at that time, when Christians were terribly persecuted.
Here a pastor, there a citizen, was thrown into prison, driven from wife, child, house and home, and finally executed. Such things happen even now, and may become yet more frequent considering that unfortunate people are harassed by tyrants, or led away by the Turks, and Christians are thus dispersed in exile here and there. Wherever by his Word and faith God has gathered a church, and that spiritual unity, the bond of Christianity, exists in any measure, there the devil has no peace. If he cannot effect the destruction of that church by factiousness, he furiously persecutes it. Then it is that body, life and everything we have must be jeopardized — put to the stake — for the sake of the Church.
11. Christians, according to Peter, should, in the bond of a common heart and mind, sympathetically share the troubles and sufferings of their brethren in the faith, whoever and wherever the brethren may be. They are to enter into such distresses as if themselves suffering, and are to reason: “Behold, these suffer for the sake of my precious faith, and standing at the front, are exposed to the devil, while I have peace. It does not become me to rejoice in my security and to manifest my pleasure. For what befalls my dear brethren affects me, and my blessings are the cause of their misfortune. I must participate in their suffering as my own.” According to the admonition of Hebrews 13:3: “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; that is, as if in the same bonds and distress. Remember them that are illtreated, as being yourselves also in the body;” as members of the same body.
12. We are all bound to one another, just as in the body one member is bound to another. As you know by your own physical experience, “Whether one member suffereth, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it,” as Paul says in Corinthians 12:26. Note how, when a foot is trodden upon or a finger pinched, the whole body is affected: eyes twitch, nose is contorted, mouth cries out — all the members are ready to rescue and help. No one member can forsake the others. In reality not the foot or the finger is injured, but the whole body suffers the accident. On the other hand, benefit received by one member is pleasing to all, and the whole body rejoices with it. Now the same principle should hold in the Church, because it likewise is one body of many members with one mind and heart. Such unity naturally entails the participation by each individual in the good and evil of every other one.
13. This virtue of sympathy, resulting as it does from a unity of mind and faith, is impossible to the world. In the world every man looks only upon what benefits himself and regards not how others, especially the godly, fare. Indeed, the world is capable of scornful smiles and extreme pleasure at sight of Christians in poverty and distress, and in their sufferings it can give them vinegar and gall to drink. But you who claim to be a Christian, should know it is yours to share the sufferings of your brethren and to prove your heartfelt sympathy with them. If you cannot do more, at least show it with comforting words or prayer. Their suffering concerns you as well as themselves, and you must expect the same afflictions from the devil and the wicked world.
14. “Loving as brethren.” This virtue must prevail among Christians everywhere. They are to manifest toward one another the love and faithfulness of brothers according to the flesh. It is a law of nature that brothers have a peculiar confidence in one another, being of the same blood and flesh and having a common inheritance. Particularly is this true when in distress. Although they may not be united in other respects, yet when stranger blood assails and necessity comes, they of the same flesh and blood will take one another’s part, uniting person, property and honor.
15. Likewise Christians should exercise a peculiar brotherly love and faithfulness toward one another, as having one Father in heaven and one inheritance, and in the bond of Christianity being of one faith, united in heart and mind. None may despise another. Them among us who are still weak, frail and eccentric in faith and morals, we are to treat with gentleness, kindness and patience. They must be exhorted, comforted, strengthened. We should do by them as do the brothers and sisters of a household toward the member who is weak or frail or in need. Indeed we cannot otherwise dwell in peace. If we are to live together we must bear with one another much weakness, trouble and inconvenience; for we cannot all be equally strong in faith and courage and have equal gifts and possessions. There is none without his own numerous weaknesses and faults, which he would have others tolerate.
16. “Tenderhearted, humbleminded” [friendly]. Here Peter has in mind mankind in general — friends and enemies, Christians and persecutors.
Owing to original sin, man is naturally disposed to seek revenge, especially upon those who injure him without cause. If he can do no more, he at least maliciously invokes evil upon his enemy and rejoices in his misfortune.
Now, Christians more than any others in this world are innocently persecuted, injured, oppressed and aggrieved, even by those having the name and honor of Christians, a thing of frequent occurrence today. God’s people are aggrieved by such treatment, and if the natural instinct of flesh and blood could have its way, they would gladly revenge themselves; just as they of the world mutually exercise their revenge, not content until passion is cooled.
17. But a Christian should not, and indeed consistently he cannot, be unmerciful and vindictive, for he has become a child of God, whose mercy he has accepted and therein continues to live. He cannot seek pleasure in injury to his neighbor or enjoy his misfortune. He cannot maintain a bitter or hard and stubborn heart toward him. Rather he is disposed to show mercy even to his hostile neighbor, and to pity his blindness and misery; for he recognizes that neighbor as under God’s wrath and hastening to everlasting ruin and condemnation. Thus the Christian is already more than revenged on his enemy. Therefore he should be friendly towards the hostile neighbor and do him every kindness he will permit, in an effort to lead him to repentance.
18. Yet, in showing mercy, as frequently enjoined heretofore we are not to interfere with just and ordained punishments. God’s Word does not teach us to demand mercy or commend kindness where sin and evil practices call for punishment, as the world would have us believe when their sins merit rebuke, particularly the vices of those in high places. These transgressors claim that when reproved their honor is assailed and occasion is given for contempt of their office and authority, and for rebellion, a thing not to be tolerated. This is not true. The lesson teaches the duty of each individual toward all other individuals, not toward the God-ordained office. Office and person must be clearly distinguished. The officer or ruler in his official capacity is a different man from what he is as John or Frederick. The apostle or preacher differs from the individual Peter or Paul. The preacher has not his office by virtue of his own personality; he represents it in God’s stead. Now, if any person be unjustly persecuted, slandered and cursed, I ought to and will say: “Thank God;” for in God I am richly rewarded for it.
But if one dishonors my baptism or sacrament, or the Word God has commanded me to speak, and so opposes not me but himself, then it is my duty not to be silent nor merciful and friendly, but to use my God-ordained office to admonish, threaten and rebuke, with all earnestness, both in season and out of season — as Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:2 — those who err in doctrine or faith or who do not amend their lives; and this regardless of who they are or how it pleases them.
19. But the censured may say: “Nevertheless you publicly impugn my honor; you give me a bad reputation.” I answer: Why do you not complain to him who committed the office to me? My honor is likewise dear to me, but the honor of my office must be more sacred still. If I am silent where I ought to rebuke, I sully my own honor, which I should maintain before God in the proper execution of my office; hence I with you deserve to be hanged in mid-day, to the utter extinguishment of my honor and yours. No, the Gospel does not give you authority to say the preacher shall not, by the Word of God, tell you of your sin and shame. What does God care for the honor you seek from the world when you defy his Word with it? To the world you may seem to defend your honor with God and a good conscience, but in reality you have nothing to boast of before God but your shame. This very fact you must confess if you would retain your honor before him; you must place his honor above that of all creatures. The highest distinction you can achieve for yourself is that of honoring God’s Word and suffering rebuke.
20. “Yes, but still you attack the office to which I am appointed.” No, dear brother, our office is not assailed when I and you are reminded of our failure to do right, to conduct the office as we should. But the Word of God rebukes us for dishonoring that divinely ordained appointment and abusing it in violation of his commandment. Therefore you cannot call me to account for reproving you. However, were I not a pastor or preacher, and had I no authority to rebuke you, then it would be my duty and my pleasure to leave your honor and that of every other man unscathed. But if I am to fill a divine office and to represent not my own but God’s dignity, then for your own sake I must not and will not be silent. If you do wrong, and disgrace and dishonor come upon you, blame yourself. “Thy blood shall be upon thine own head,” says Scripture, 1 Kings 2:37. Certainly when a judge sentences a thief to the gallows, that man’s honor is impugned. Who robs you of your honor but yourself, by your own theft, your contempt of God, disobedience, murder, and so on? God must give you what you deserve. If you consider it a disgrace to be punished, then consider it also no honor to rob, steal, practice usury and do public wrong; you disgrace yourself by dishonoring God’s commandment.
21. This much by way of reminder of the difference between official rebuke and personal anger and revenge. It must constantly be kept before us because of the artfulness of flesh and blood, which ever seeks to disregard that difference. True, God would have all men to be merciful and friendly, to forgive and not to avenge wrong; but the office, which is ordained for the punishment of the wicked, will not always admit of that course. Few are willing to forgive, and therefore God must enforce his government over the merciless. They must be punished without mercy. This divine principle must not be restricted. Neither must it be applied beyond measure. Every official must be careful not to exceed the demands of his office, exercising his own revenge, his own envy and hatred, in the name and under pretense of that position.
22. Peter continues to expatiate upon this topic — the good works he has been discussing: gentleness, mercy, friendliness — citing beautiful passages of Scripture and using other exhortations — to incite Christians to practice these virtues. He says: “Not rendering evil for evil, or reviling for reviling; but contrariwise blessing: for hereunto were ye called, that ye should inherit a blessing.”
23. We have now seen whose prerogative it is to avenge, rebuke and punish evil. This passage does not refer to official duty. When the judge declares sentence of execution upon a thief we have truly an instance of vengeance and reproach, and a public and extreme reflection upon honor.
But it is God’s judgment and his doing, with which we are not here concerned. The Christian of true faith and innocent life, who confesses his doctrine and belief, and as he is commanded rebukes opposing forces, will provoke the devil and the world, and will be persecuted, oppressed and harassed in the name of office and right, even by individuals whose official duty it is to protect the godly and restrain unjust power. If these cannot do more, they will at least annoy, hinder and oppose that Christian as far as possible. If the Christian be quick-tempered and fail to curb his anger and impatience, he will effect no good. He will only bring upon himself that disquiet of heart which consumes and worries itself with thoughts of revenge and retaliation upon the offender; which when the devil perceives, he rejoices. He so urges and instigates as to cause more mischief on both sides. Thus he doubly injures the Christian — through his enemy and through the anger wherewith the Christian torments himself and spoils his own peace.
24. What then shall we do, you say, when we must suffer such abuse and without redress? The only resource, Peter says, is to possess your heart in patience and commit the matter to God. This is all that remains when they whose duty it is will not help you, nor restrain and punish the wrong, but even do you violence themselves. If the evil receive not judicial punishment, let it go unpunished until God looks into it. Only see that you keep a quiet conscience and a loving heart, not allowing yourself, on account of the devil and wicked men, to be disturbed and deprived of your good conscience, your peaceful heart and your God-given blessing. But if in your official capacity you are commanded to punish the evil, or if you can obtain protection and justice from rightful authorities, avail yourself of these privileges without anger, hatred or bitterness, ay, with a heart that prompts to give good for evil and blessing for reviling.
25. Such conduct is becoming you as Christians, the apostle says, for you are a people called to inherit a blessing. Oh, wonderful and glorious fact, that God has decreed and appropriated to you this blessing whereby all the riches of his grace and everything good are yours! and that he will abundantly give you his Spirit to remain with you, blessing body and soul, if only you hold fast his grace and do not allow yourselves to be deprived of it. What price would you not gladly pay for this blessing, were it purchasable, instead of being freely given, without your merits, and were you privileged thus to buy the assurance of having a God so gracious, one willing to bless you in time and eternity? Who would not willingly give even body and life, or joyfully undergo all suffering to have the perfect assurance of heart which says: “I know I am a child of God, who has received me into his grace and I live in the sure hope that I will be eternally blessed and saved.” Think, Peter says, what a vast difference God makes between you and others because you are Christians. He has appointed you to be heirs of everlasting grace and blessing and of eternal life. But they who are not Christians — what have they but a terrible sentence like a weight about their necks? the sentence pronouncing them children of the curse and of eternal condemnation.
26. If men would take this to heart, it would be easy by teaching and persuasion to win them to friendship and kindness toward their fellow-men; to induce them not to return evil or reviling from motive of revenge, but when their own privileges and protection and the punishment of evil cannot be obtained, quietly and peaceably to suffer injury rather than lose their eternal comfort and joy. Christians have excellent reason, a powerful motive, for being patient and not revengeful or bitter in the fact that they are so richly blessed of God and given that great glory whereof, as Peter afterwards remarks, they cannot be deprived, nor can they suffer its loss, if only they abide in it. The apostle emphasizes this fact and further persuades Christians by citing the beautiful passage in Psalm 34:12-16: “He that would love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: and let him turn away from evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears unto their supplication: but the face of the Lord is upon them that do evil.”
27. These words the Holy Spirit uttered long ago through the prophet David, for the instruction and admonition of all saints and children of God.
David presents to us the matter as he daily saw it in his own life and learned from his own experience, and as he gathered from examples of the dear fathers from the beginning of the world. “Come hither, dear children,” he would say, “if you will be taught and advised, I will give you sound instruction as to how we are to fear God and become his children. Who desires peace and comfort?” “Oh, who would not desire peace and comfort?” cries the world. For these everyone seeks and strives, and all the efforts of the world are directed toward this end.
THE CHRISTIAN’S PEACE
28. There are two ways to the goal of peace. One is that chosen by the world. The world seeks to obtain peace by preserving its own with violence. It desires the death of all who oppose it and will suffer injury or evil in word or deed from no one. This method, it is true, is appointed to govern mental authority. It is the duty of civil rulers to faithfully employ it to arrest and hinder evil as far as possible. But they can never wholly restrain evil nor punish every offense. Much wickedness will remain, particularly secret evil, which must punish itself, either by repentance here or in hell hereafter. By this procedure Christians will not accomplish for themselves any personal advantage; the world is too wicked and it will not give them support.
29. Therefore, if you desire peace for yourself personally, particularly as a Christian, you must choose another way. The Psalm shows it to you when it says: “Refrain thy tongue from evil, and thy lips that they speak no guile.” This injunction really applies to doctrine, meaning that we are to abide by the true Word of God and not to allow ourselves to be seduced by false teaching. But Peter here extends the application to the outward life and conduct of Christians in the work, the circumstances being such as to call for this admonition in the matter of refraining the tongue. On account of the faith and confession for which men are called Christians, they must suffer much; they are endangered, hated, persecuted, oppressed and harassed by the whole world. Christ foretold ( Matthew 10:22): “Ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake.” Easily, then, Christians, might believe they have cause to return evil, and being still flesh and blood mortals, they are inevitably moved to be angry and to curse, or to forsake their confession and doctrine and with unbelievers to join the false church with its idolatrous teaching. Here the Psalm admonishes: Dear Christian, let not all this move you to rave, curse, blaspheme and revile again, but abide in the blessing prepared for you to inherit; for you will not by violence remedy matters or obtain any help. The world will remain as it is, and will continue to hate and persecute the godly and believing. Of what use is it for you to hate, chafe and curse against its attitude? You only disturb your own heart with bitterness, and deprive yourself thereby of the priceless blessing bestowed upon you.
30. We have the same teaching in the fourth verse of Psalm 4, which comforts saints and strengthens them against the temptation and provocation to anger and impatience which they must experience in the world. “Be ye angry,” David says, “and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.” That is, although according to the nature of flesh and blood you fret because you are compelled to witness the prosperity of the world in its ungodly life and wickedness, and how it spites, despises and persecutes you with pride and insolence, nevertheless let not yourselves be easily provoked; let wrong, displeasure, vexation and worry remain outside the inner life; let them affect only the outward life, body and possessions. By no means let them become rooted in your heart.
Still your hearts and content yourselves, and regard all this vexation as not worth losing sleep over. If you desire to serve God truly and to render acceptable sacrifice to him, then with faith in his Word place your hope in him as your dear Father who cares for you, hears you and will wondrously support you.
GUARDING THE LIPS
31. But the psalmist’s additional words, “Refrain your lips that they speak no guile,” refer, as I have said, primarily to confession of the doctrine; but there is another thought: When one is prompted to anger and to complaint about injury and wrong, in his impatience and irritation he cannot speak fairly concerning the matter of offense, but invariably exaggerates. So it is with anger and retaliation. One receiving but a pin-point wound will fly into a passion and be ready to break the offender’s head. The individual that suffers a single adverse word immediately proceeds to abuse and slander in the extreme his opponent. In short, an angry heart knows no moderation and cannot equally repay, but must make of a splinter, even a mote, a great beam, or must fan a tiny spark into a volcano of flame, by retaliating with reviling and cursing. Yet it will not admit that it does wrong. It would, if possible, actually murder the offender, thus committing a greater wrong than it has suffered.
32. So wicked and unjust is human nature that when offended it stops not with equal measure in retribution; it goes beyond and in its anger and revenge spares neither the neighbor’s honor nor his body and life. James 1:20 says: “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God”; that is, it suffers not a man to abide in his faith and good conscience. But official indignation, which is God’s wrath, does not so. It seeks not the destruction of man, but only the punishment of the actual fault. Man’s anger and revenge, so wicked and insatiable are they, return ten blows for one, or even double that number, and repay a single abusive word with a hundred.
33. So Peter admonishes you to restrain your tongues, to curb them, lest they suddenly escape your control and sin with wicked words, doing injury double that you have received. Guard your lips that your mouth utter not guile or falsehood through your anger, and that it may not calumniate, abuse and slander your neighbor contrary to truth and justice and in violation of the eighth commandment. Such conduct is, before God and man, unbecoming a Christian and leads to that most disgraceful vice of slander, which God supremely hates. It is the devil’s own, whence he has his name of liar or slanderer — diabolus, or devil.
34. The Psalm says further: “Turn away from evil and do good”; that is, beware lest on account of the wickedness of another you also become wicked, for anger and revenge meditate only harm and wickedness.
Therefore be all the more diligent to do good, if you can, that your heart may retain its honor and joy and that you may abide in righteousness, and not fall from God’s grace and from obedience to him into the service of the devil. By anger and revenge the devil tempts you, endeavoring to get you again into his toils and to embitter your heart and conscience until you shall exceed others in sin.
35. “Seek peace and pursue it,” continues the apostle. This is a sublime exhortation, and faithful, divine counsel. You must not think, Peter would say, that peace will run after you, or that the world — much less the devil — will bring it into your house. Rather you will find the very opposite true.
From without strife will be carried to you in bales, and within your own heart will be kindled anger and bitterness to fill you with everlasting disquiet. Therefore if you desire peace, wait not until other people help you to obtain it, nor until you create it for yourself by force and revenge. Begin with yourself. Turn from the evil to the good. Even undergo suffering to provide your heart with the peace which endures in spite of all that would rob you of it. Strive ever to keep your heart firm in the resolve: I will not be angry nor seek revenge, but will commit my affairs to God and to those whose duty it is to punish evil and wrongdoing. As for my enemy, may God convert and enlighten him. And however much more of violence and wrong I may suffer, I will not allow my heart to be robbed of its peace.
36. Notice, the way to preserve peace and to see good days even in evil times is to keep a silent tongue and a quiet heart through the comfort of divine grace and blessing. No outward occasion may be given for strife, but always peace is to be sought with good words, works and prayers. We must even pursue peace, follow after it, with genuine and strong suffering.
Thus we preserve it by force. In no other way can a Christian see good days and hold fast his blessing. Remember you must make strenuous effort if you would not reject your blessing nor be influenced by another to carelessly lie and otherwise sin with your tongue. Flesh and blood are weak and sluggish in the matter of preserving peace, therefore Peter strengthens his exhortation and further encourages us by the promise of God’s help and protection for the faithful and his punishment of their enemies. He says: “For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears unto their supplication.”
37. Inscribe this verse upon your heart in firm faith and see if it does not bring you peace and blessings. Try to believe that God sits above, sleepless and with his vigilant eye ever upon you. With watchful vision he beholds the righteous as they suffer violence and wrong. Why will you complain and become discouraged by reason of the harm and grief you experience, when the gracious eyes of the true Judge and God are upon you and his intent is to help you? All the wealth of the world would I give, if I might, to purchase that watchful care, or rather to obtain the requisite faith; for surely the lack is not in his regarding, but in our faith.
GOD OVER ALL
38. More than this, God’s ears, the apostle tells us, are also open to the prayers of the righteous. As he looks upon you with gracious, winning eyes, so also are his ears alert to even the faintest sound. He hears your complaint, your sighing and prayer, and hears, too, willingly and with pleasure; as soon as you open your mouth, your prayer is heard and answered.
39. Again, Peter says: “The face of the Lord is upon them that do evil.”
True, God’s eyes are upon the righteous, but nevertheless he sees also the others. In this case he beholds not with a friendly look or gracious countenance, but with a displeased and wrathful face. When a man is angry the forehead frowns, the nostrils dilate and the eyes flash. Such a manifestation of anger are we to understand by the Scripture when it refers here to “the face of the Lord.” On the other hand it illustrates the pleased and gracious aspect of God by “the eyes of the Lord.”
40. Now, why is “the face of the Lord” upon evil-doers and what is its effect? Certainly God’s purpose is not to heed or to help them, to bestow blessing or success upon their evil-doing. His purpose is, according to the succeeding words in the psalm, “to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.” This is a terrible, an appalling sentence, before which a heart may well be prostrated as from a thunderbolt. And ungodly hearts would be thus appalled were they not so hardened as to despise God’s Word.
41. Notwithstanding the indifference of the wicked, the sentence is passed.
Verily it is no jest with God. It illustrates how sincerely he cares for the righteous and how he will avenge them on the wicked, toward whom his countenance bespeaks punishment in due time and the cutting off of their memory from the earth. In contrast, the righteous, because they have feared God and abode in their piety though suffering for it, shall, even here upon earth, live to see blessing and prosperity upon their children’s children. Although for a time the company of the wicked conduct themselves with pride upon the earth, and imagine themselves secure beyond the possibility of being unseated, nevertheless when their hour comes they are suddenly hurled down from earth into the abyss of hell and must suffer the righteous to remain in possession of the earth. So testifies Christ in Matthew 5:5, and Psalm 37 more fully explains the matter.
42. It is proven by all the examples of Scripture and also by the experience of the whole world from the beginning, that God casts down those who seek only to injure. They who have despised God’s threats and angry countenance with security and defiance have at last experienced the fulfillment of these warnings and perished thereby. King Saul thought to destroy godly David, to exterminate his root and branch and blot out his name as if he had been a rebellious, accursed man. But God effected the very opposite. Because David in his sufferings and persecution walked in the fear of God and trusted him with simplicity, desiring no harm to his enemy, God’s gracious eye was ever upon him and preserved him from that enemy. On the other hand, the angry face of God was bent upon King Saul, and before David was aware of it the king had fallen, and his whole family met ruin with him; they were obliged to surrender crown and kingdom to the persecuted David.
43. Christians should strengthen their faith with the comforting thought that God’s gracious countenance is over them and he turns eye and ear toward them; and that on the other hand he looks with angry face upon their enemies and those seeking to injure, and will take a hand in their game, obliging them either to refrain from their evil-doing, or to perish by it. Such retribution is certain. No one can live long without proving by his own experience and that of other men the truth of the proverb, “Right will assert itself.” However, we lack in faith and cannot wait God’s hour. We think he delays too long and that we suffer too much. But in reality his time will come speedily, and we can well wait and endure if we believe in God, who but grants our enemies a brief opportunity to be converted. But their appointed hour is already at hand and they will not escape if it overtakes them without repentance. “And who is he that will harm you, if ye be zealous of that which is good? But even if ye should suffer for righteousness’ sake, blessed are ye.”
44. According to Peter’s words here, you have a very great advantage over all your enemies, whoever they be, in being richly endowed by God with eternal blessing. You know he will protect, support and avenge you, hence you abide in your faith and godliness. Although your adversaries think to trouble and harm you, they can do you no real injury whatever they effect.
For wherein can persecution harm if you strive for godliness and abide in it? Not by malice, might and violence can your enemies take from you, or diminish, your piety and God’s grace, his help and blessing. And even from all the bodily and temporal harm they can inflict, you suffer no loss. For the more they seek to injure you, the more they hasten their own punishment and destruction, and the greater is your recompense from God. By the very fact that they slander, disgrace, persecute and trouble you, they multiply your blessing with God and further your cause, for God must the sooner consider your case, supporting you and overthrowing them. They but prepare your reward and benefit by their wicked, venomous hatred, their envy, anger and fury. At the same time they effect for themselves conditions the very reverse. Being condemned by their own evil consciences, they cannot in their hearts enjoy one good day, one peaceful hour; and they heap up for themselves God’s wrath and punishment.
45. Indeed, you are all the more blessed, temporally and eternally, Peter declares, for the very reason that you suffer for righteousness’ sake. You are so to regard the situation and to praise and thank God for your suffering. The apostle looks upon tribulation in this light and exalts it as supreme blessedness and a glorious thing. Christ says in Matthew 5:11-12: “Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.” Oh, your adversaries should purchase a little of this comfort regardless of cost and boast of suffering a little for the sake of righteousness! Could they understand the promise and be worthy of it, how intensely might they desire to have suffered all and much more than they thought to inflict upon you, if only they might be blessed and prove the comfort of this precious, divine promise! “Fear not their fear, neither be troubled; but sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord.”
46. Here again Peter resorts to Scripture and cites a verse from the prophet Isaiah ( Isaiah 8:12-13) where he admonishes God’s people not to be terror-stricken by the wrath and threats of men, but firmly and confidently to trust in God. The prophet speaks similarly in Isaiah 51:7: “Fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye dismayed at their revilings.” As if he would say: Why will you permit yourselves to be disturbed by the persecutions of men, however great, mighty and terrible enemies they may be, when you are blessed and happy in God to the extent that all creatures must pronounce you blessed? Moreover, you know the eyes of your God behold you and his ears are open to your cry, and whatever you desire and pray for is heard and granted. More than this, your adversaries are threatened by his angry face. What are all men — tyrants, pope, Turk, Tartars, ay, the devil himself — compared to this Lord, and what can they do against him, when and wheresoever he chooses to show his power?
They are but as a straw to a mighty thunderbolt which makes the earth tremble. Therefore, if you are indeed Christians and believe in God you ought in no wise to fear all these adversaries, but rather, joyfully and with scornful courage to despise their defiance, their threatening and rage, as something utterly harmless to you; they are but effecting their own destruction in hurling themselves at the Majesty before which all creatures must tremble.
TRUST IN GOD ENJOINED
47. But this you are to do: Sanctify God; that is, regard and honor him as holy. This is nothing else than to believe his Word; be confident that in God you have truly one who, if you suffer for righteousness’ sake, neither forgets nor forsakes, but graciously looks upon you and purposes to give his support and to revenge you on your enemies. Such faith and confession honors him as the true God, upon whom man can confidently and joyfully call for help, reposing his whole trust in him upon the authority of his sure Word and promise, which cannot deceive or fail.
48. In contrast, unbelievers cannot sanctify God; they cannot render him due honor, although they may talk much of him and display much divine worship. They do not accept God’s Word as the truth, but always remain in doubt. In the hour of suffering they deem themselves utterly forgotten and forsaken by the Lord. Therefore they murmur and fret, being very impatient and disobedient toward God. They rashly seek to protect and revenge themselves by their own power. That very conduct betrays them as beings without a God, as blind, miserable, condemned heathen. Such are the great multitude of Turks, Jews, Papists and unbelieving saints today throughout the world.