Bach Cantata/Luther Sermons: Trinity 6

J. S. Bach’s cantata for Trinity 6, via
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Sermons of Dr. Martin Luther for Trinity 6

Gospel Sermon (April 16, 1534)

Text: Matthew 5:20-26

For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire. If therefore thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art with him in the way; lest haply the adversary deliver thee to the fudge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou have paid the last farthing.

1. The righteousness of God is through faith and that is the righteousness of the heart. The outward righteousness, however holy and beautiful it may appear, is hypocritical, deceptive righteousness.

2. The Lord wants a good tree, without Which the fruit can not be good.

3. It is a hypocritical, deceptive righteousness, if one does not commit murder with the hand, and yet at the same time cherishes anger in his heart; but the Christian righteousness requires that we be not angry. To do this we must constantly obtain from God grace and forgiveness, and confess ourselves to be sinners, which belongs to Christian righteousness.

4. It is not pleasing to God, if we be not reconciled to our brother. Here we all can learn, what the good works are that God esteems as great.

1. This Gospel teaches us the difference between true piety and dissimulation, or hypocrisy. And it is one of the best Gospels for teaching how our works cannot render us pious; something higher than anything we can do is re-required. For the Pharisees also led a pious life; they did what they should, externally; they did not break any of the commandments of God, abstained from property not their own, went about in fine showy clothes, and hence derived their name, being called Pharisees, meaning those set apart, or the select.

2. In like manner he also attacks the scribes, the flower of the Jews, who were so well versed in the law of God and the Scriptures as to teach other people, lay down rules for the community and render decisions in all matters. To sum up, we here have the best, the most learned and the most pious of the Jews. These Christ attacks, whom of all men he should least have attacked. But he says of them to his disciples: “Unless your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

3. As though he would say, Behold the Pharisees and scribes lead such a good life that both they and other people believe they will possess the kingdom; but they are wide of the mark. Therefore he reproves them and says: Verily, I say unto you, if you will not be more pious than the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter heaven. Here the question of those is disposed of who ask, What shall we do in order that we may be pious? For here all works that man can do are overthrown and disposed of, and the most holy of the sanctimonious are cast to the’ ground. Hence you cannot do any deed by means of which one may be saved and rescued from sin. If a man now says that, he surely is a heretic.

4. They at that time might have said, Well, you are a heretic; ate you going to reject good deeds? He pays no attention to that, however, but freely concluded that their works are nought. They might now have said, Pray, if works do not make us holy, why have we the law through which we hope to be saved, if we live up to it? This now gives Christ an occasion to introduce the commandments, explaining them, telling us how they are to be understood. He says: “Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not kill and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shalt say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire.”

5. These words are too high and too deep for any one fully to put into practice. To this our Lord not only here testifies, but every man’s experience and his very emotions. Four points are here presented, to-wit:

Thoughts, demeanor, words and deeds; which no one can avoid; he must be guilty. As though he would say, You might find persons that do not kill with their hands; but to be without hatred, not to be angry, be of smiling countenance, not to snub persons — of such a nature none is to be found.

Now, experience teaches this.

6. For take a godly man or a godly woman; as long as everybody keeps his distance, peace and harmony prevail, but if one comes along that speaks harshly and possibly intrudes, even to the extent of the smallest word, he cannot keep from becoming angry; and follows this up by irritating and enraging the offender. Our reason can never come to the conclusion that we are to be considerate to the wicked. Peruse all your heathen books, enter into your own experience, and you will find it so, we cannot refrain from becoming angry, if not against our friends, then against our enemies.

Now God is not satisfied with this, nor can my flesh and blood evade the question, for mark the wording closely when he says, “Thou shalt not kill.”

Who is “thou?” Your hand? No. Your tongue? No; but thou, thou and all that is in thee and with thee; thine hand, heart, and thoughts shall not kill.

7. Thus Christ interprets the law saying with authority, “Every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment. “This sentence pertains to the whole world, for I ask, Who is there on this earth that is not a debtor to this commandment? Seeing that we are to comply with it and cannot, what are we to do? For we can never remove the filth. Then despair must be ours, depend on that. So the commandments of God are but a mirror, wherein we behold our filth and wickedness; for they conclude us all under sin, we being unable to work our way out by our own efforts and free will; unless something else comes to our assistance.

This is the first point.

8. The Lord continues: “Whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca,” which indicates various manifestations of wrath and hatred. But no one is free from this. For if I am told to be friendly to the person I hate, they can tell it on me that my heart is not in it. For you cannot confine the heart; it will out, and show its presence by signs or words. It does not hide itself, and it cannot be hidden. Hence we conclude that we are found guilty of saying Raca, that is, of not being kind to both friend and foe. Now go to past experiences and see this in other people and in yourselves, namely, that no one can deliver himself out of this condition, from this wicked heart, which is planted so deeply in the nature of man. You may act friendly toward your brother; but for you to give him your heart, this you cannot do though you should rend yourself to pieces. Therefore no man can here help himself.

9. Following this he says, “Whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire.” This too makes you appear as nought, without the grace of God, for nobody is so fraught with loving-kindness as never to utter an unseemly word, if not to his friends then to his enemies. Even when you are compelled to speak kindly to your neighbor, your heart is not in it, and whenever you with seeming propriety can do so, you will say, “Thou fool.” That already is contrary to this commandment, embracing, as it does, both friend and foe, since it reads, “Thy brother. “We all, you know, are brethren, descended from one common father, and Scripture brings us so closely together as to call us all one flesh. Isaiah says, 58:7, “When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh. “Here the prophet is speaking of your neighbor; and the word “fool” is to embrace all manner of infamy, cursing, slandering, abuse, judging, maligning and all reviling.

10. It clearly follows that we all are guilty of the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill,” and whoever is not born again of God cannot abstain from murder. Though he desist from the act itself, he cannot banish thoughts and inclinations, for if our enemy meet with death, we will be ready to say, This served him right! And soldiers compose a song on the enemy they have slain or put to flight. But that again conflicts with this commandment, for God does not look at the outward act, but at the heart. Hence much is contained in the words: “Thou shalt not kill,” as much as to say: You must be born again and become a new creature.

11. So the Gospel always reverts to this question, What shall a man do that he may become pious? For, pray as long as you will; fast as long as you will; give alms as long as you will; pay for masses and build churches as many as you will; you are, nevertheless, still a murderer, for you hate your brother; you cannot give him a kind look nor a kind word. It follows that your righteousness is nought; it is of and pertains to perdition.

And now we have two more points that are about as severe as the preceding. We read: “If therefore thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there remeberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art with him in the way; lest haply the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and thou be cast into prison.

Verily, I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou have paid the last farthing.”

12. Here are two things that go against our nature. The first: When I am angry, my brother is to conciliate me. The other: My feelings being hurt, I am to forgive my brother, though he offer no apology; I am to have a kind heart toward him, so he does not deliver me to the judge, as you have just heard. This last part they formerly severed from this Gospel, and I hold that Augustine did so in writing, as appears from his book, “De spiritu et litera.” The sense of the passage is as follows:

13. Here are two persons: the one offending is to ask pardon. The other being offended, is to forgive kindly and willingly, even though he be not asked to do so. By nature we can do neither. Our nature may prompt us to go and say, My dear friend, forgive me! but doing this under compulsion, in fear of hell and God’s wrath, hatred still remains in our heart. On the other hand, the one offended cannot forgive from his heart; and as the one acts the hypocrite in asking forgiveness, so does the other in granting it.

But that certainly is of no avail before God, for thus says our text: “If therefore thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. And this reconciliation must proceed from the heart; mark well the words of the text.

14. The passage conveys the meaning that God does not want you to come and serve him without having previously been reconciled with your brother; “then come and offer thy gift.” As though he said: “Behold, man, I have created and redeemed thee; recognize this, and shape thine whole life toward serving thy neighbor. If not, do not serve me either. If thou wilt not do the one (serve thy neighbor), seeing that is needed, you had better not do the other (serve me), since that is not needed. “So God would much rather be deprived of his service than of the service you owe your neighbor, and would sooner see you less stringent in your service toward himself, if you are pious at the expense of serving your neighbor. Summing up, God wishes you to see first to your neighbor’s service and interests.

15. Now, there are many ways of harming our neighbor, as for instance, when I do not protect his reputation, being well able to do so; when I am not kind to him, or fail to aid him; I am already his antagonist. So, if I want to be agreeable to God, I must, in the first place, be reconciled to my brother; if not, I cannot be pleasing to him. For God rejects the service rendered him, if the service due our neighbor is not performed.

16. Now look at the kind of life we have led hitherto. We have been going to St. James, to Aix-la-Chapelle, to Rome, to Jerusalem, have built churches, paid for masses, and withal have forgotten our neighbor; this now is the wrong side up. The Lord, however, here says, Go and take the money with which you were about to build a church and give it to thy neighbor. Look to your neighbor how you may serve him. It is not a matter of moment to God if you never build him a church, as long as you are of service to your neighbor. But all this is now being neglected, and only the contrary is observed. Oh, the miserable, perverted life that we have learned from the Papists! This is why no one wants to enter the married state, for nobody lends him a helping hand, nobody offers him any aid, so that he might support himself and get along. Hence it comes to pass that the one turns monk, the other nun, the third a priest, a thing we could indeed obviate if we would but show works of love. Thus they go along, forgetful of maidservants and manservants, and finally bequeath a legacy and go to perdition with their legacy.

17. It follows that God simply wants you to serve your neighbor, doing your duty to him, so that matters are righted first of all between yourself and him and you be first reconciled to him; or God will neither see nor hear you. Furthermore, if my adversary come to me, I am to forgive him willingly; if he does not come, I am still to be conciliatory and kind to him, while I am on the way with him, in this life, so that he does not deliver me to the judge.

18. How does that come about? He does not take me by the hand and conduct me to the judge; but when I face judgment my conscience realizes that it had been unwilling to forgive the neighbor, entertaining secret but inveterate hate even then. My conscience over against my neighbor delivers me to the judge; he delivers me to the officer; and he, in turn, casts me into prison, that is to say, into hellfire, until I pay the uttermost farthing, which means forever; for there the liquidation of the debt and deliverance are impossible. Here you see the exalted works that no one can attain, neither by work righteousness nor by the law. For works, if alone, will make hypocrites and dissemblers; the law, if alone, brings forth despair.

19. But what am I to do? Do I hear correctly: am I to be damned? Do as follows: Flee to Christ when thus conscious of iniquity, saying: Oh, my God, thy law is now a mirror to me, whence I see how perverted and lost a being I am! Oh God, now save me for thine only begotten Son’s sake.

Thus, by faith God gives you the Spirit, who changes your heart, so that you will be very kind to your neighbor and will argue thus: Behold, if God has acted thus toward me, forgiving me more than I can ever hope to forgive, why should I not be willing to forgive my neighbor a little?

20. Now the sword of the government seems to conflict with this, and the question arises: If I am to forgive, not to hate, not to kill, how then am I to correct and chastise? If I am to wield the sword and with it execute, how can I help being angry? This question is in order, for the Gospel here seemingly subverts the sword of the government. But we are to bear this in mind: Christ is here a spiritual teacher, solely guiding the consciences, showing them how much hatred, envy and wrath they contain, and how to get rid of it. That is his office in which he is engaged; with the worldly sword he has nothing to do, he lets those see to it whose duty it is.

21. Well, this doctrine does not enter all hearts; most of it remains on the surface. But those, into whose heart it falls, prostrate themselves before God and cry to him for help, are at once pious and have no need of the worldly sword, for they are being ruled by words. Now those who do not grasp this but lead an outwardly wicked life, there the worldly sword must be used. Thus you are now to understand that a secular prince or whoever he be that wields the worldly sword, must conform to what is here taught, namely, not to be angry and not to kill.

22. How then are they to conduct themselves who wield the sword in God’s stead? Thus: the fact that they wield the sword is a part of their office. In a sense, the Gospel has claims on them’, and then they are to be very kind in heart; meek and compassionate; then again, when duty calls, they are to be grave, punishing with alacrity, without regard to friend, foe, beauty, riches or learning. We see this in the case of Moses. He was the meekest man that has ever lived, so much so as to fall down and ask to be blotted out of the Book of Life, Exodus 32:32, if only the multitude be saved. Behold, was he not a mild, sweet and kind man, being willing to go to perdition and be condemned in body and soul that the people might be spared? But, when placed as chief in command, he, in questions of government, took energetic measures, executing three and twenty thousand, by which he might appease the wrath of God.

St. Paul acted in like manner. He too was ready to surrender his soul’s salvation for the Jews, as shown by Romans 9:3. But on learning that a man at Corinth “had his father’s wife,” he wrote so stern and severe an epistle as he had never done before, ordering that such a one be delivered unto Satan, “that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus,” 1 Corinthians 5:5. Likewise David and others acted. In fact, we find a number of such in the Old Testament as would, externally, use the sword in full rigor, executing the people as they would kill chickens, and at the same time be very tender and kind at heart.

23. Let us take a bold illustration, that you may see how a person in authority is to conduct himself. Take the coat of arms of the Elector of Saxony. It shows, two swords in a white and black field, so arranged as to have the hilt below on a white background, and the blade above on a black background. These indicate how you are to conduct yourself when in authority: below, holding the sword by the hilt, you are to be clean, white, tender-hearted and gracious, having the best of intentions; above, when on duty, you have the blade in a black field, that is to say, a determined and strict enforcement is called for, in order outwardly to stay transgressors.

And the red color of the swords indicate that blood is to be shed. Moses, David and others have thus beautifully handled the sword by the hilt in the white field, being sober, mild and kind at heart; and have wielded the blade in the black field, being grave and austere in their official duties.

24. Just so should a citizen or civil judge also do. When dealing with a wicked person that will not be controlled by words, his thoughts are to be: “Oh, my God, how gladly I would die for this man, if it could be done! He has a soul that I cannot succor; besides, he leads a wicked life, not being able to bring his flesh and blood under subjection to the spirit. “And then when comparing the two and seeing which outweighs the other, he will find that it is an easy thing for the man to die, but a grave matter for the soul to die, for the soul’s dying is eternal. Hence his thoughts and words should be: “Ah, see how your soul might enter into judgment; see, how you might enter into perdition. For that reason, in order that sin may make no further inroads, I must divest you of your body, and see to the saving of your soul, since I cannot save your body. “And then we must strike hard, resolutely take to the sword, so that we may prevent wrath and stern judgment, as did Moses with the children of Israel. In that event you are carrying your swords in a white and a black field.

25. The design of the two swords crossing each other, as though one would stay the other, is well conceived. This is to teach that a judge should be wise and prudent, and see, where he must temper and modify a harsh sentence, where it is just and right. It is like two sentences clashing when one will annul the other. You are not always to proceed secundum strictum jus, strictly according to law, but see what is just and right, and where a case can be adjusted, there he should also give his attention.

26. Take an example. The disciples of the Lord plucked ears of corn and ate, when passing through the fields. Now the Sabbath was by divine command to be observed under pain of death, Numbers 15:35; but the disciples were hungry, so one law cancelled the other. For that reason the Lord excuses them over against the Pharisees, saying: “The Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day,” Matthew 12:8. Although the observance of the Sabbath was a matter of divine command, the disciples nevertheless were excused, inasmuch as the Sabbath was not to be so strictly observed as to prevent them from eating and thus to cause them to perish because of this very observance. The same holds true of David, who partook of the consecrated bread which no layman was allowed to eat, 1 Samuel 21:6. This was a case of the two swords clashing, it being necessary for one law to give room to the other. For this reason David and also the disciples were excused. For no law has been established by God for the ruin of man, but for his bodily and spiritual welfare.

27. Hence, to sum up all, civil authorities should be severe externally, staying transgressions; but internally, they should harbor a tender, gentle, Christian, amiable spirit; withal they are to be wise and prudent, so that they may know how to temper stern justice, in accord with what is right and proper. This may suffice on this Gospel. Let us pray God for grace.

See also:

Epistle Sermon (June 20, 1535)

Text: Romans 6:3-11

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


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


2. Such argument Paul now confutes. He says: It is not the intention of the Gospel to teach sin or to allow it; it teaches the very opposite — how we may escape from sin and from the awful wrath of God which it incurs.

Escape is not effected by any doings of our own, but by the fact that God, out of pure grace, forgives us our sins for his Son’s sake; for God finds in us nothing but sin and condemnation. How then can this doctrine give occasion or permission to sin when it is so diametrically opposed to it and teaches how it is to be blotted out and put away P 3. Paul does not teach that grace is acquired through sin, nor that sin brings grace; he says quite the opposite — that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,” Romans 1:18. But because the sins of men which are taken away are so grievous and numerous, the grace which drowns and destroys them must be mighty and abundant also. Where there is great thirst, a great draft is needed to quench it. Where there is a mighty conflagration, powerful streams of water are necessary to extinguish it. In cases of severe illness, strong medicine is essential to a cure. But these facts do not give us authority to say: Let us cheerfully drink to satiety that we may become more thirsty for good wine; or, Let us injure ourselves and make ourselves ill that medicine may do us more good. Still less does it follow that we may heap up and multiply sins for the purpose of receiving more abundant grace. Grace is opposed to sin and destroys it; how then should it strengthen or increase it ?

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

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


6. When he says, “All we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death,” and again, “We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death,” he speaks in his own Pauline style concerning the power of baptism, which derives its efficacy from the death of Christ.

By his death he has paid for and taken away our sins; his death has been an actual strangling and putting to death of sin, and it no longer has dominion over him. So we, also, through his death have obtained forgiveness of sins; that sin may not condemn us, we die unto sin through that power which Christ — because we are baptized into him — imparts to and works in us.

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

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

9. Thus Paul shows us in these words what has been effected by Christ’s death and burial, and what is the signification of our being buried with him.

In the first place, Christ was buried that he might, through forgiveness, cover up and destroy our sin, both that which we have actually committed and that which is inherent in us; he would not have it inculpate and condemn us. In the second place, he was buried that he might, through the Holy Spirit, mortify this flesh and blood with its inherent sinful lusts; they must no longer have dominion over us, but must be subject to the Spirit until we are utterly freed from them.

10. Thus, we still lie with Christ in the grave according to the flesh.

Although it be true that we have the forgiveness of sins, that we are God’s children and possess salvation, yet all this is not perceptible to our own senses or to the world. It is hidden in Christ by faith until the judgment day.

For we do not yet experience in ourselves such righteousness, such holiness, such life and such salvation as God’s Word describes and as faith expects to find. Wherefore Paul says in Colossians 3:3-4 (as we have heard in the Easter sermons), “Your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory.”

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

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

13. Being placed under the water in baptism signifies that we die in Christ.

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

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


15. Paul gives the reason for new growth. He says: “Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin.” It does not become us, as baptized Christians, to desire to remain in our old sinful estate. That is already crucified with Christ, the sentence of condemnation upon it has been pronounced and carried out. For that is what being crucified means.

Just so, Christ, in suffering crucifixion for our sins, bore the penalty of death and the wrath of God. Christ, innocent and sinless, being crucified for our sins, sin must be crucified in our body; it must be utterly condemned and destroyed, rendered lifeless and powerless. We dare not, then, in any wise serve sin nor consent to it. We must regard it as actually condemned, and with all our power we must resist it; we must subdue and put it to death.

16. Paul here makes a distinction. He says, “Our old man was crucified with him [Christ],” and “that the body of sin might be done away.” He intimates that the “old man” and “the body of sin” are two different things.

By the term “old man” he means not only the body — the grossly sinful deeds which the body commits with its five senses — but the whole tree with all its fruits, the whole man as he is descended from Adam. In it are included body and soul, will, reason and understanding. Both inwardly and outwardly, it is still under the sway of unbelief, impiety and disobedience.

Man is called old, not because of his years; for it is possible for a man to be young and strong and vigorous and yet to be without faith or a religious spirit, to despise God, to be greedy and vainglorious, or to live in pride or the conceit of wisdom and power. But he is called the old man because he is unconverted, unchanged from his original condition as a sinful descendant of Adam. The child of a day is included as well as the man of eighty years; we all are thus from our mother’s womb. The more sins a man commits, the older and more unfit he is before God. This old man, Paul says, must be crucified — utterly condemned, executed, put out of the way, even here in this life. For where he still remains in his strength, it is impossible that faith or the spirit should be; and thus man remains in his sins, drowned under the wrath of God, troubled with an evil conscience which condemns him and keeps him out of God’s kingdom.

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

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

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

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


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

Such is to be the result of the death of Christ into which ye are baptized; Christ has died and has commanded you to be baptized in order that sin might be drowned in you.

22. The other, the “little death,” is that outward, physical death. In the Scriptures it is called a sleep. It is imposed upon the flesh, because, so long as we live on earth, the flesh never ceases to resist the spirit and its life.

Paul says: “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would.” Galatians 5:17. The spirit, or soul, says: I am dead unto sin and will not sin any more. But the flesh says: I am not dead and must make use of my life while I have it. The spirit declares: I believe that God has forgiven my sins and taken them away from me through Christ. But the flesh asks: What do I know of God or his will? The spirit resolves: I must be meek, pure, chaste, humble, patient, and seek the future life. But the flesh in reply makes a loud outcry: Away with your heaven! if only I had enough of bread and money and property here! Thus the flesh does continually, as long as it lives here; it draws and drags sin after itself; it is rebellious and refuses to die. Therefore God must finally put it to death before it becomes dead unto sin.

23. And after all, it is but a gentle and easy death. It is truly only a sleep.

Since soul and spirit are no longer dead, the body shall not remain dead; it shall come forth again, cleansed and purified, on the last day, to be united with the soul. Then shall it be a gentle, pure and obedient body, without sin or evil lust.

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

25. That dreadful death which is called in the Scriptures the second death is taken away from the Christian through Christ, and is swallowed up in his life. In place of it there is left a miniature death, a death in which the bitterness is covered up. In it the Christian dies according to the flesh; that is, he passes from unbelief to faith, from the remaining sin to eternal righteousness, from woes and sadness and tribulation to perfect eternal joy.

Such a death is sweeter and better than any life on earth. For not all the life and wealth and delight and joy of the world can make man as happy as he will be when he dies with a conscience at peace with God and with the sure faith and comfort of everlasting life. Therefore truly may this death of the body be said to be only a falling into a sweet and gentle slumber. The body ceases from sin. It no longer hinders or harasses the spirit. It is cleansed and freed from sin and comes forth again in the resurrection clothed with the obedience, joy and life which the spirit imparts.

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

But it does not follow that he has suffered such loss; he has simply deluded himself with a false idea.

27. Thus it is not the reality of death and burial that terrifies; the terror lies in the flesh and blood, which cannot understand that death and the grave mean nothing more than that God lays us — like a little child is laid in a cradle or an easy bed — where we shall sweetly sleep till the judgment day.

Flesh and blood shudders in fear at that which gives no reason for it, and finds comfort and joy in that which really gives no comfort or joy. Thus Christians must be harassed by their ignorant and insane flesh, because it will not understand its own good or harm. They must verily fight against it as long as they live, at the cost of much pain and weariness.

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

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

30. He does not say that the body is destroyed as soon as a man has been baptized and is become a Christian, but that the body of sin is destroyed.

The body which before was obstinate and disobedient to the spirit is now changed; it is no longer a body of sin but of righteousness and newness of life. So he adds, “that we should no longer be in bondage to sin.” “But if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him; knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth, no more; death no more hath dominion over him. For the death that he died, he died unto sin once; but the life that he liveth, he liveth unto God.”

31. Here he leads us out of the death and grave of sin to the resurrection of spirit and body. When we die — spiritually unto sin, and physically to the world and self — what doth it profit us? Is there nothing else in store for the Christian but to die and be buried.? By all means yes, he says; we are sure by faith that we also shall live, even as Christ rose from death and the grave and lives. For we have died with him, or, as stated above, “we have become united with him in the likeness of his death.” By his death he has destroyed our sin and death; therefore we share in his resurrection and life.

There shall be no more sin and death in our spirit or body, just as there is no more death in him. Christ, having once died and been raised again, dieth no more. There is nothing to die for. He has accomplished everything. He has destroyed the sin for which he died, and has swallowed up death in victory. And that he now lives means that he lives in everlasting righteousness, life and majesty. So, when ye have once passed through both deaths, the spiritual death unto sin and the gentle death of the body, death can no more touch you, no more reign over you.

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

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