J. S. Bach’s cantata for Trinity 10, via
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Sermons of Dr. Martin Luther for Trinity 10
Gospel Sermon (August 13, 1525)
Luke 19:41-48. And when he drew nigh, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known in this day, even thou, the things which belong unto peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, when thine enemies shall cast up a bank about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall dash thee to the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.
And he entered into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold, saying unto them, It is written, And my house shall be a house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of robbers.
And he was teaching dally in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people sought to destroy him: and they could not find what they might do; for the people all hung upon him, listening.
The Summary of This Gospel
1. This Gospel teaches us faith and love. It reminds us of faith in that it pictures to us Christ the Lord, who he is, and how he is disposed. Here view the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9.
2. It teaches us love in that Christ forgets his own praise which men gave him, when he entered Jerusalem riding upon an ass and wept over the misfortune which should come upon the people.
3. The time of their visitation they knew not, who now, since the Gospel is preached to them, do not accept Christ. Therefore they must also perish, and this is given as a warning and an admonition.
4. What is the church today but a house of merchandise, where people sell everything, even the forgiveness of sins. Woe to us!
Part 1: The Prophecy of the Destruction of Jerusalem
1. This Gospel presents that which took place on Palm Sunday, when Christ rode into Jerusalem. On this occasion, he preached two or three days in the temple, which was more than he ever did before at one time.
The sum and substance of this Gospel is, that Christ grieves and laments over the afflictions of those who despise God’s Word.
2. Now you have often heard what the Word of God is, what it brings us, and what kind of scholars it has. Of all this nothing is said here. Only the punishment and distress which shall come upon the Jews because they would not recognize the time of their visitation, are here described. And let us well consider this, because the time of their visitation also deeply concerns us. If they are punished who do not know the time of their visitation, what will be done to those who maliciously persecute, blaspheme and disgrace the Gospel and the Word of God? However, here he only speaks of those who do not know it.
3. There are two methods of preaching against the despisers of God’s Word. The first is by threats, as Christ threatens them in Matthew 11:21-24: “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long’ ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, it shail be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And thou, Capernaum (which was his own city, where he performed most of his mighty works), shalt thou be exalted unto heaven? thou shalt go down unto hell; for if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in thee, it would have remained until this day. But I sos’ unto you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.” With these threatening words he would frighten them to their senses, and not to cast to the winds the Word which God sends them.
4. The other method the Lord gives here when he weeps, and shows his sympathy for the poor blinded people, and rebukes and threatens them, not as the hardened and stubbornly blind; but when he melts in love and compassion over his enemies, and with great heart-rending pity and cries, he tells them what shall befall them, which he would gladly prevent, but all is in vain. In the passage just quoted, Matthew 11:21-24, where he rebukes them, he does not treat them in love, but in the severity of faith.
However here, it is all sincere love and mercy. This is worthy of our consideration.
5. First, as he approached the city they went before and followed him with songs of great joy, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David? and spread their garments in the way and cut branches from the trees and strewed them in the way; the whole scene was most glorious. But in the midst of all this joy he begins to weep. He permits all the world to be joyful, while he himself was bowed with grief, when he beheld the city and said: “If thou hadst known in this day, even thou, the things that belong unto peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.”
6. As though he would say: Oh, if you only knew what belongs to your peace, that you might not be destroyed, but be preserved with both temporal and eternal peace, you would yet this day consider, and redeem the time! And now it is high time for you to know what is for your highest welfare. But you are blind, and will neglect the opportunity, until there shall be neither help nor counsel. As though to say: Here you stand, firmly built, and within you are strong and mighty men, who, secure and happy, think there is no danger! Yet, about forty years more, and you shall be utterly destroyed. The Lord plainly says this in these words: “For the days shall come upon thee, when thy enemies shall cast up a bank about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side and shall dash thee to the ground, d and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knowest not the time of thy visitation.”
7. But the Jews were stubborn, and depended on God’s promises, which they thought meant nothing else than that they should continue forever.
They were secure, and vainly thought: God will not do such things to us.
We own the temple; here God himself dwells; besides we have mighty men, money and treasures enough to defy all our enemies! For even the Romans, and the emperor after he had conquered the city, confessed that the city was so well and firmly built, that it would have been impossible to take it, had God not especially willed it. Therefore they trusted in their own glory, and built their confidence on a false delusion, which finally deceived them.
8. The Lord, however, saw deeper into the future than they when he said:
O, Jerusalem! if thou hadst known what I know, thou wouldst seek thy peace. Peace in the Scriptures means, when all things go well with us. You now think you have pleasant days, but if you knew how your enemies will encamp round about you, compass you about and hedge you in on every side, crush you to the ground and demolish all your beautiful buildings, and leave not one stone upon another; you would eagerly accept the Word, which brings to you solid peace and every blessing. [The woeful history of the destruction of Jerusalem you can read in books, from which those who wish will easily understand this Gospel.] 9. God caused his threats to be executed even thus, that the city was besieged at the time of the Easter festival, when the Jews were assembled within the walls of Jerusalem from every land, and as the historian Josephus writes, there were together at that time about three million people. This was an enormous multitude. Only one hundred thousand people would have been enough to crowd the city. But all this great multitude God in his wrath intended to bake, melt and weld together into one mass of ruin. Yet, the Apostles and Christians were all out of the city, they had withdrawn into the land of Herod, Samaria, Galilee, and were scattered among the heathen. Thus God separated and saved the good grain and poured the chaff into one place. There was such an immense multitude of Jews present, that they were sufficient to devour a whole kingdom, to say nothing of only one city. They also fell into such distress and famine, that they devoured everything and had nothing left, until they were at last compelled to eat their leather bow-strings, shoe latchets and shoe leather; and finally mothers moved by their distress butchered their own children, which the soldiers snatched from them, for they smelt the odor of the boiling meat through the squares of the city. They used dove’s dung for salt, which commanded a high price. In short, there was distress and bloodshed enough to melt a rock to tears; so that no one could have believed that God’s wrath could be so horrible and that he would so unmercifully martyr a people. The buildings and the streets were piled full of the dead, who perished from starvation, and yet the Jews were so raging that they defied God and refused to yield, until the emperor was compelled to use force and capture the city, when they could no longer maintain their ground.
10. And as some Jews were such rogues as to swallow their money so that it could not be taken from them, the soldiers thought that they all had swallowed their money; therefore they cut them open by the thousands, hunting for it. The slaughter and destruction were so great, that even the heathen were moved to compassion, and the emperor was forced to give orders no longer to destroy them, but to take them prisoners and sell them as slaves. The Jews then became so cheap, that thirty were sold for a penny; and thus they were scattered throughout the whole world, and were everywhere despised as the vilest people on earth, and thus they are everywhere regarded at the present day, everywhere dispersed, without a city or a country of their own, and they can never meet again as they vainly believe to establish their priesthood and kingdom. Thus God avenged the death of Christ and all his prophets, and paid them back because they knew not the day of their visitation.
Application to Germany
11. Here let us learn a lesson, for this concerns us, not us alone who are here present, but the whole country of Germany. It is not a mere jest, nor should we think that it will go different with us. The Jews would not believe until they experienced it and became conscious of it. God has now also visited us, and has opened the precious treasures of his holy Gospel unto us, by which we can learn God’s will, and see how we were held by the power of the devil. Yet no one will earnestly believe it, yea, we much more despise it and make light of it. No city, no officer of the government is thankful for the Gospel; and what is still worse the great majority persecute and blaspheme it. God has great patience; he waits to see how we will deal with his Gospel; but when we once let the opportunity slip, he will take his Word from us, and then the wrath which consumed the Jews will also con-st, me us. For it is one and the selfsame Word, the very same God, and the identical Christ, the Jews themselves had; therefore the punishment in body and soul will also most certainly be the same. [We, of course, regard it as mockery, and care nothing for it. This is only an evidence of our own blindness. We ought to perceive that God is hardening us; for there is not a single city that is concerned about it; no officer of the law shows any zeal in its favor. It is most deplorable.] And I fear the time will yet come when Germany will lay in a heap of ruins. The evil winds have already begun to blow destruction in our peasant war. We have already lost many people. Nearly one hundred thousand men, only between Easter and Pentecost! It is an awful work of God, and I fear it will not stop at this. It is only a foretaste of a threat to frighten us, that we may prepare ourselves for the coming ordeal. So far it is but a fox’s tail, but God will soon come with a terrible scourge, and lash us to pieces.
12. But we will act just like the Jews, and care nothing for it, until all help and counsel are lost forever. Now we might check it, for now it is high time for us to know what is best for us, and accept the Gospel in peace, while grace is brought, and peace is offered unto us. But we permit one day after another, one year after another to pass, and do even less than formerly. No one prays now, no one is in earnest. When the time is past, prayers will be of no avail. We do not lay it to heart, and think we are safe, and do not see the awful calamity which has already begun, and are not aware that God so dreadfully punishes us with false prophets and sects, which he sends us everywhere, and who preach so securely as though they had swallowed the Holy Spirit whole. Those whom we had thought were the very best among us, go to work and lead the people astray, until they scarcely know what to do or leave undone.
13. But this is only a beginning, although it is frightful and terrible enough.
For there is no greater distress and calamity than when God sends us sects and false spirits, because they are so impudent and daringly bold, that they are really to be pitied. On the other hand the Word of God is such a great treasure, that no one can sufficiently comprehend its worth. For God himself considers his treasure immensely great, and when he visits us with his grace, he earnestly desires that we should gladly and freely accept it, and does not compel us as he is able to do, but it is his will that we should gladly obey it from choice and love. For he does not wait until we come to him, but he comes first to us. He comes into the world, becomes man, serves us, dies for us, rises again from the dead, sends us his Holy Spirit, gives us his Word, and opens heaven so wide that all men can enter; besides he gives us rich promises and assurances that he will care for us in time and in eternity, here and there, and pours out into our bosoms all the fullness of his grace. Therefore the acceptable time of grace is now at hand.
Yet, we neglect it, and cast it to the winds, so that he will not and cannot give it to us.
14. For when we fall and sin in other ways, he can better spare us and be lenient, he of course will spare us and forgive; but when we despise his Word, it calls for punishment, and he will also punish us, even if he delays a hundred years. But he will not wait that long. And the clearer the Word is preached the greater the punishment will be. I fear it will be the destruction of all Germany. Would to God I were a false prophet in this matter. Yet it will most certainly take place. God cannot permit this shameful disregard of his Word to go unpunished, nor will he wait long, for the Gospel is so abundantly proclaimed that it has never been as plainly and clearly taught since the days of the Apostles, as it is at present. God be praised! Hence it applies to Germany, as I fear it will be destroyed, unless we act differently.
15. We, who have heard the Gospel for a long time, ought earnestly to pray God that he continue to grant us peace. The princes and officers want to settle everything with the sword, and too impudently interfere with God’s office, until God himself shall smite them down. So it is high time faithfully to beseech God to permit his Gospel to be further spread through Germany, to those who have not yet heard it. For if the punishment came suddenly upon us, all will be lost, and many souls will be taken before the Gospel comes to them. Therefore I wish that we would not so terribly despise the Gospel, the costly treasure, not only for our own sakes, but also for the sake of those who have not yet heard it. It has become a little quiet, God grant that it may so continue, and that both the princes and the citizens may become more sane; for if it should begin afresh, I fear it would have no end.
16. But we act just like the Jews, who cared more for the belly than for God. They were more concerned how to fill their stomachs than how to be saved. For this reason they have lost both, and have been served just right.
Because they would not accept eternal life and peace, God took their bodily life, so that they have lost both body and soul. They also immediately put forth the excuse, just as our own people do to-day. We would of course gladly accept the Gospel, if it would not place our bodies and property in jeopardy, and if thereby we would not hazzard the loss of our wives and children. For the Jews said, if we believe in him, the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation, John 11:48. As nothing will happen sooner than what the wicked fear, as Solomon says, Proverbs 10:24: “The fear of the wicked, it shall come upon him.”
This prevented the Jews to believe God, and they did not consider the great and rich promises God bestowed upon them. So we also pass them by, and are not aware of the all powerful and comfortable promises Christ gives when he says, Matthew 19:29: Ye shall receive a hundredfold here, and there ye shall inherit eternal life. Let wife and child go, I will care for them, and restore them again to you. Only courageously trust in me. [Do you not think that I can build you another house? Do you regard me as being a hard man’: Yet I will give you heaven; will you not risk it on my Word?] If you are robbed of your treasures, blessed are ye, heaven and earth are mine, I will reward you a hundredfold.
17. We pass over these and many like passages, and besides despise them, and depend only on what we have in our banks, and how we may keep our purses filled, and do not consider that God has also given us what we have, and will still give us more; nor do we consider that when wo lose Clod, the stomach will also be lost. Therefore we are served just right in losing both the creator and the creature besides.
18. But believers in God risk all in him and transfer all things into his care, for him to do according to his pleasure, and think thus: God has given you your home and wife, you have not produced them yourself; now because they are God’s, I will entrust them all to his care, he will keep them from all harm. I must otherwise leave all at any rate, therefore I will bravely trust him with them, and for his sake give up all I have. If God wants me here, he will give me other treasures, for he has promised to give enough for this life and for the life to come. If he does not want me here, I owe him a death, which will bring me into eternal life; when he calls me, I will go trusting in his Word.
19. Whoever is not thus disposed, denies God, and must at the same time lose both, the present and the eternal life. The belly with its foul odors is our God, and prevents us from clinging to God’s Word. First, I will be certain how I shall feed, and where my supplies are. The Gospel says:
Trust in God; and your stomach shall most certainly be provided for, and have enough [without believing or trusting in it]. But if I have only five dollars they give me so much courage to think I have anyhow enough food for ten days, that I trust in such limited provisions, and do not trust God who fed me hitherto, that he will care for me to-morrow.
20. Is it not a shameful vexation or calamity that I trust in a penny that I will have something to eat to-morrow? How contemptible this carcass!
Shall a penny have more weight in my heart and give me more courage than God himself, who holds heaven and earth in his power, who gives us the air we breathe and the water we drink, who makes our corn to grow and gives us all things? It is so scandalous that it cannot be uttered, that God should not amount to as much with us as a hundred guilders. Why not think that God, who has created me, will surely feed me, if he wants me to live? If he does not want this, very well, I shall be satisfied.
21. Yes, says the stomach, I find no God in my chest! You silly donkey, who assures you that you will live tomorrow? You are not certain whether you will have a belly to-morrow, and you want to know where to find the bread and the food! Yes, you have a fine assurance! When our hearts are thus prompted, we see what a government of hell there would be on earth; yes, it would be the devil himself. Is it not a thing most abominable, that God who feeds so ninny mouths, should be held in such low esteem by me, that I will not trust him to feed me? Yea, that a guilder, thirty-eight cents, should be valued more highly than God, who pours out his treasures everywhere in rich profusion. For the world is full of God and his works, He is everywhere present with his gifts, and yet we will not trust in him, nor accept his visitation. Shame on thee, thou cursed world! What kind of a child is that, who cannot trust in God for a single day, but trusts in a guilder?
22. Now, I think, we see what the world is. how on account of the belly the world despises God, and yet must lose the belly together with body and soul. Oh, what godless people we are, and yet we are to spit upon or despise the world. If one would consider that he is such a godless wretch, that he cannot trust in God, he would not wish to live. Only choke away; for as captives we stick too deeply in the old Adam. The world is hell in prospect, yea, the real kingdom of Satan, a court yard in hell, except that the body is still here, otherwise it is true hell.
23. For this reason Christ admonishes us with tears to know our salvation and accept his visitation, that the calamity may not follow, which will surely come upon those who do not accept it, who are secure, until swift and sudden destruction comes upon them. May God give us grace, that we may know ourselves! The Gospel further reads: “And he entered into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold, saying unto them: It is written, And my hoarse shall be a house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of robbers.”
Part 2: The Cleansing of the Temple
24. This is the second part of our Gospel, where the Lord takes hold of matters in earnest with his powerful hand, when he goes into the temple and casts out those who bought and sold there. For the first part was nothing but an admonition and incentive unto faith. Here the Lord now tells us what the temple of God is, and quotes passages from the Scriptures, and especially from the prophet Isaiah, 56:7, where God says: “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” You, however, have made it a house of merchandise. This is a strong passage which the prophet utters: “for all peoples, for all Gentiles,” is against the Jews, who trusted in the temple of God at Jerusalem, and thought that this material house in Jerusalem would stand forever, and that it was impossible for God to demolish this temple or destroy this city. The Word of God does not lie. For this reason they also murdered Stephen, because he spoke against that holy place and said, Acts 6:14: “Jesus shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered unto us.” And they said: have not the prophets praised this house, and Christ himself says here, that it is a house of prayer, and you Apostles say, he will destroy it.
25. But we must rightly understand this expression, that the city of Jerusalem, the temple and the people, should remain until the time of Christ. With this agree all the prophets, who have given all things into the hands of Christ; as he would then dispose of it, so it should be and remain.
Hence the passage in Isaiah goes no further than unto the times of Christ, as also all the prophets say, that after that there shall come a kingdom extending over the whole world, as in Malachi 1:10-11 we read: “For from the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering; for my name shall be great among the Gentiles, saith Jehovah of hosts.” Here the prophet speaks of the spiritual kingdom of Christ, who shall build himself a house of prayer as extensive as the whole world.
26. It is true that God himself has established the temple at Jerusalem, not because it consisted of beautiful stones and costly buildings, or because it was consecrated by bishops, as at present men employ such foolery and juggling tricks; but God himself had consecrated and sanctified it with his Word, when he said: This house is my house: for his Word was preached in it. Now, wherever God’s Word is preached, there is God’s own true house, there God most certainly dwells with his grace. Wherever his Gospel is, there is a house of prayer, there men shall and may truly pray, and God will also hear their prayer, as Christ in John 16:23-24 says: “If ye shall ask anything of the Father, he will give it you in my name. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name; ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be made full.” Here again, where the Word is not found, there the devil has full sway.
27. That we have imitated the Jews and built so many churches, would be well enough, if we had done it in order that the Word of God might be preached there; for where the Word goes there God is present, and looks down from heaven and pours out his grace. Therefore he says to the Jews here: I will not that you should make out of my house a den of robbers. For there were money changers in it who sold sheep and oxen, that strangers might buy them for their offerings in divine service. Why then does he call it a den of robbers? Surely, he gives it a scandalous name. He does it however because they no longer appreciate the house as the house of God, but as a market house; that is, the priests did not inquire how the Word of God was preached in it, although they sang, they babbled and read the prophets and Moses; but God cares nothing for such a murmuring of Psalms; that belongs to children.
28. They did just as our priests and monks do now, who have also made dens of robbers of our churches and cloisters, and have preached poison, and held masses only that the people might give them money and presents for holding them that they might thus fill their stomachs. They made the church a market house, in which they carried on their idle talk, corrupted and destroyed the sheep of God’s pastures by their scandalous false doctrine, that it may well be called a robber’s den for the soul. This title we should write on all churches in which the Gospel is not preached, for there they mock God, destroy souls, banish the pure Word and establish dens of murder; for he who listens to their words must die. Oh, how shamefully we have been deceived! Now, however, we should praise God, that this Word again brings us life, drives out the murderers, and teaches us how to pray aright; for an honest heart must pray, not with the mouth, but with the heart.
29. Thus we have heard the second part of our Gospel, how Christ drove out the merchants that pandered to base appetites, and made room for his Word. It would be a good thing, in this same way to cleanse our cloisters, and turn them into schools or preaching places; if this is not done they will be and continue to be nothing but dens of robbers; for if Christ calls Iris own house a den of robbers, how much more will our churches and temples, not consecrated by God, be called dens of robbers?
30. I have often requested you to pray God to turn his wrath and restrain the devil now in the world. For you have undoubtedly heard of the great calamity, how many have been slain in the insurrection. We fear they have all been lost, for God requires obedience, and has himself pronounced the sentence, Matthew 26:52: “For all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” The devil has taken possession of the world, who knows when our turn will come. Therefore let us pray that God’s kingdom may come and Christians may be multiplied, that he send wise and intelligent ministers to care for the people and listen to their wants, he who knows the gift of God prays for others who have not yet heard the Word, it is high time to do so. [Pray the Lord’s Prayer.] 31. Well, wherever this calamity begins and prevails, that the people maliciously despise the day God visits us with his Word and grace, for the sake of the belly and a little temporal benefit and advantage; there must follow as a consequence of such treatment the final punishment and wrath of God, who will utterly destroy them, remove the foundation of their trust, and overthrow the country and the people, so that both temporal and eternal interests go down together. For how shall he otherwise treat us, because of our scandalous ingratitude for his great love and mercy which he publicly declared unto us by his gracious visitation? How shall or can he do more for us, while we with wantonness and defiance spurn his help, and ever struggle and strive after wrath and destruction? For if those are not free of punishment who transgress the law and sin against the ten commandments; how much less will he permit those to go unpunished, who blaspheme and despise the Gospel of his grace, seeing the law by far does not bring as many good things as the Gospel?
32. If we will not wish to enjoy this happy day which he gives us unto grace and our salvation, he can also instead permit us to see and experience nothing but the dark and terrible night of all affliction and misfortune. And since we will not hear this precious Word and the proclamation of peace, we will be forced to hear the devil’s cry of murder ring in our ears from every direction. Now is the time for us to know the day, and well employ the rich and golden year, while the annual fair is before our very doors, and acknowledge that he has severely punished us. If we neglect it and allow it to pass, we can never hope for a better day or expect any peace; for the Lord, who is the Lord of peace, will be with us no longer.
33. But if Christ be no longer with us, our hope will vanish; and wherever this beloved guest is rejected, and his Christians no longer tolerated, government, peace and everything shall perish, for he too desires to eat with us, to rule and to provide bountifully. However, he desires also to be known as such a Lord, in order that we may be thankful to him, and also permit this guest and his Christians to eat with us, and give him his due tribute; if not, we will then be forced to give it to another, who will so thank and reward us for it, that we shall not be able to retain a bite of bread or a penny in peace. But the world will not believe this, just as the Jews also would not believe it, until they experienced it, and faith came to their assistance. For God has ordained, that this Christ shall be Lord and King upon the earth, under whose feet he has put all things, and whoever would have peace and good days, must be kind and obedient to him, or he will be dashed to pieces like a potter’s vessel. Psalm 2:9.
The Second Part of This Gospel
“And he entered into the temple, and began to cast out those that sold, saying unto them: It is written, And my house shall be a house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of robbers.”
34. Here he shows the aim of his great activity, and what concerns him most of all, which was also the cause of his weeping. It is indeed a terrible history, that he who so recently wept out of great sympathy and compassion, so soon can change and come forth in great anger, (for our beloved Lord burns with great devotion and zeal), and goes into the temple as in a storm, and strikes with his uplifted arm as the Lord of the temple, of course with an excellent and warm spirit by which he is moved, beholding the chief cause of distress and the destruction, of which he spoke and over which he wept; namely, that the chief government, which should be God’s own and be called his temple, is all perverted and desolate, God’s Word and true worship entirely suppressed and corrupted, even by those who would be leaders and teachers of the people, on account of their disgraceful greed and their own glory. He would say by this: Yes, it is this, that . will completely bring on the calamity, and make an end of everything among this people.
35. Therefore, as merciful and compassionate as he showed himself to be to the poor multitude of people who are so wretchedly misled to their destruction; so great was the anger he showed against those who are the cause of this destruction. Otherwise he did not often resort to physical force and cause an uproar, as he does here, so that it is a strange act for an excellent and kind man, so full of love. But the cause of it is the great and powerful zeal and fervency of Spirit, which sees whence all affliction and sorrow come, namely, because the true worship of God is abolished and the name of God is so blasphemed that it is used merely for a show.
36. For the temple and the whole priesthood were or-dained for the purpose of enforcing God’s Word, to praise his grace and mercy, etc. ; and to testify to this and thank him for his Word by an external worship of offerings. However, they did not teach praise and thanksgiving to God, but instead they perverted it into the doctrine of monks and works, so that with such offerings one merited the grace of God, and if they only offered a great deal, God would give them heaven and every good thing on earth.
And hence they built their hopes for everything, which they ought to look for out of pure grace and mercy of God, on their own works and merits.
And besides they were misled so far in the devil’s name, that their avarice set up there in the temple tables for bankers and counters for traders in doves and all kinds of cattle used for offerings, so that those coming from distant lands and cities could find enough there to purchase, or if they had no money, they might barter for or borrow it, so that there might by all means be as many and as great offerings as possible.
Thus under the name of divine worship the true worship of God was overthrown and rooted out; and they substituted for God’s grace and goodness their own merits, and for his free gift their own works, which he was obliged to accept from us and thank us for them, and allow himself to be treated as an idol, compelled to do what pleases us, be angry or laugh, just as we wish it; and besides satiate their outrageous greed, by such idolatrous . doings, and without any sense of shame carry on a public annual fair.
37. Just as our Pope’s crowd, priests and monks, also did, who taught nothing but to trust in human works, and on this doctrine constructed everything in their church government, So that the people are compelled to purchase these things from them, who thus established a daily public fair over the whole world. And nothing was omitted that could be made to serve their greed, and for money they sold God, Christ, the Sacrament of the mass, absolution, and forgiveness of sins, the losing and binding key.
And. to this must be added their own invented human nonsense, which they pretend is divine worship, such as the brotherhood of monks, and their own superfluous merits; yea, even to put upon the dead a monk’s hood and cords; likewise the bishop’s and priest’s nasty oil, all kinds of bones of the dead which they call holy, letters of indulgence to eat butter, married women, children of priests and the like. All this had to bring and yield them money daily.
38. And especially the great rat king at Rome with his Judas purse, which is the great money gulch that in the name of Christ and the church has appropriated to itself all the possessions of the world. For he has reserved unto himself the power to forbid whatever he pleased and again to allow it for money, even to take and give kingdoms, whenever and as often as he pleased, and taxed lords and kings as it suited him.
This is a much more infamous and barefaced perversion of the temple of God into a house of merchandise, than was perpetrated by the Jews at Jerusalem. For it belonged to Antichrist, as is prophesied of him, to levy and collect for himself the treasures of the world; and St. Peter. speaking of such a hoard in 2 Peter 2:3 says: “And in covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose sentence now from of old lingereth not, and their destruction slumbereth not.”
39. Therefore Christ is justly angry at such desecration of his temple by these bloated misers, who do not only despise and forsake the true worship of God, but also pervert it and trample it under their feet. And thus they truly make out of the temple which God ordained for the purpose of teaching the people the Word of God and guiding them to heaven, nothing but a den of robbers, where nothing but the destruction and the murder of immortal souls take place, because they silence God’s Word, through which alone souls can be saved, and instead they are fed on the devil’s lies, etc.
This is truly the chief sin and principal cause, why the Jews with their temple and all they had, deserved to’ go to destruction and ruin. For, as they destroyed the kingdom of God itself, he will no longer build up their kingdom for them. Wherefore he says: Because you go to work, and instead of my kingdom you build the kingdom of Satan, so will I also work against you, and will destroy everything utterly, that I have built for you.
This is an example he began to do on that very day when he rushed among them in the temple, as his last public act before his death, which after his departure the Romans would effectually complete; namely, they with all they had would be totally swept away, as he cleanses his temple of them, that they may no more possess either their worship, temple nor priesthood, country or people.
40. He has, God be praised, even commenced to overthrow our idols and spectres, and Popery’s abominable merchandise of perfidy, and to purify his churches through the Gospel, also as a prelude, that it may be seen that he will also make an end of them, as before our eyes they have already begun to fall, and they must daily fall more and more, and they will be much more horribly dashed to the earth and everlastingly destroyed, than the Jews were destroyed and exterminated, because theirs is still a much more shameful abomination. This shall first properly begin when the Gospel has departed on account of their disgraceful, horrible blasphemy; but it will finally come to an end on the last day and be completely and forever destroyed.
41. Let Germany, which, praise to God, now has the Gospel, beware, that she may not meet the same fate, as it already so strongly everywhere indicates she will. For we dare not think that the contempt and unthankfulness, which are gaining control among us as great as among the Jews, will remain unpunished. After that he will let the godless world complain and cry: If the Gospel had not come, such things would not have come upon us; just like the Jews at Jerusalem blamed all their calamities to the preaching of the Gospel, and they themselves at the risk of their own necks prophesied that if Christ with his Gospel should continue, the Romans would come and take away their place and nation. And afterward also, even the Romans blamed their destruction to this new God and new doctrine. Just as it is said at present, since the Gospel has appeared things have never been right.
42. And thus it will also go with the world; as its people despise and persecute God’s Word, and become so hardened and blinded, they will blame no one as the cause and merit of their destruction but the precious Gospel itself; which nevertheless alone preserves, thank God, what is still preserved; otherwise all things would long since lay in one common heap of ruins. And yet it must bear the blame for everything that the devil and his clans transact. Because people continue to blaspheme and will not recognize what our sins deserve and the grace and mercy which we have in the Gospel, God must thus repay such blasphemers, so that they become their own prophets, and for a double wickedness receive a double reward.
This premonition has already gone forth, except that it is yet withheld on account of the faithful few; just as he beforehand admonished the Jews by this example when he cast those that sold and bought out of the temple, and afterwards went into the temple himself and finally taught until the day of his death, and yet for a time withheld as long as he could, and afterwards by his Apostles until they would no longer tolerate them; so now we, who cleave to Christ, restrain punishment as long as we live; but when these too shall lay down their heads, then the world will realize what it once had.
Epistle Sermon (August 1 & 8, 1535)
Text: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Now, concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that when ye were Gentiles ye were led away unto those dumb idols, howsoever ye might be led. Wherefore I make known unto you, that no man speaking in the Spirit of God saith, Jesus is anathema [accursed], and no man can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are diversities of ministrations, and the same Lord. And there are diversities of workings, but the same God, who worketh all things in all. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal. For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit: to another faith, in the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healings, in the one Spirit; and to another workings of miracles; and to another prophecy; and to another discernings of spirits: to another divers kinds of tongues; and to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each one severally even as he will.
Spiritual Counsel For Church Officers
1. This epistle selection treats of spiritual things, things which chiefly pertain to the office of the ministry and concern the Church authorities.
Paul instructs how those in office should employ their gifts for the benefit of one another and thus further the unity and advancement of the Churches. Inharmony is a deplorable offense in the case of Christians, putting them in the worst possible light, and making it impossible for them to steer clear of factions. Divisions are an offense to the world’s wisest and best, who cry out, “If the Christians’ doctrine were true, they would preserve unity among themselves, but as it is they envy and slander and devour one another.” For, though the world carries its own great beam in its eye, it cannot refrain from judging us for our mote, and thus exalting itself as if it were pure and beautiful.
Perfect Harmony Not To Be Expected
2. Well, we cannot altogether prevent inharmony in the Church. Paul says ( 1 Corinthians 11:19), “For there must be also factions among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you.” Wherever the Word of God has a foothold, there the devil will be. By the agency of his factions he will always build his taverns and kitchens beside God’s house.
So he did at first, in Paradise. In the family of Adam he entrenched himself, establishing there his church. And such has been his practice ever since, and doubtless will ever be. He who takes offense at differences in the Church, who when he sees any inharmony at once concludes there is no Church there, will in the end miss both the Church and Christ. You will never find any congregation of such purity that all its members are unanimous on every point of belief and teaching and all live in perfect harmony.
3. Paul had experience in this matter in the case of the beautiful and famed Church at Corinth in Achaia, which he himself planted and where he taught two years. Soon after his departure they began to disagree about their preachers and to attach themselves to certain ones — some to Paul, some to Peter, some to Apollos. Though these had all taught correctly, though they had been unanimous in their doctrine, yet men would cleave to a certain one because he was more or differently gifted than the others, could speak better, or was more attractive in personal appearance. And among the ministers of the Church, if one had a special gift or office, he thought he ought to be a little better and a little greater than the others. Necessarily, from such division and inharmony, grew hatred, strife and jealousy, resulting in great injury and disorder to the Church.
4. We must, then, so far as possible, guard against this fatal evil, though we cannot altogether keep it out of the Church. Were we to offer no resistance at all, the devil would seize all authority and bring every element into discord. But when we resist Satan, God will continue to extend his grace and favor, and some fruit and improvement will follow. Even were it not possible for us to accomplish anything, yet as faithful ministers we must not keep silent if we would not be regarded indolent hirelings who flee when the wolf comes. See John 10:12.
5. Such is the tenor of this text from Paul. He begins by preaching on spiritual gifts and admonishing the Corinthians how to conduct themselves in respect to them. In proportion to the greatness and excellence of the gifts are flesh and blood inclined to discord and to coveting personal honor. Let one have a good understanding of the Scriptures and be able to explain them, or let him have the power to work miracles, and he will soon begin to have an extravagantly good opinion of himself, deeming himself worthy the honor of all men, desiring the multitude to follow only him, and positively refusing to regard anyone his equal. He will seek to create something new in doctrine, to change the old order, as if he could introduce something better than others, who must be infinitely below him or at least his inferiors.
6. The same thing has taken place in our day — and will continue to take place — with respect to the Gospel. But through the grace of God that Gospel is brought to light again, and rightly instructs and harmonizes the people. The devil, unable to rest, had to rouse his factious rabble, his selfish souls, who desired the name of being superior and inspired people, a people who could preach, write and explain the Scriptures better than others; for they had learned a little from us. They conceded that the Gospel had indeed made a beginning, had somewhat purified ecclesiastical doctrine, but claimed it had not gone far enough; it was necessary that greater improvement be made — Church doctrine must be brought to far greater perfection. But as Paul says ( 1 Corinthians 3:11), they could, with their doctrine, lay no other foundation, could preach no other Christ, than the Christ of the Gospel. Nevertheless, they pretended to teach something better and higher. They hindered and perverted the true doctrine. Their work could not be called building up the faith, but was rather breaking up and destroying its foundation and leading the people back into error and blindness. So Paul begins his admonition in these words: “Ye know that when ye were Gentiles ye were led away unto those dumb idols, howsoever ye might be led.”
7. Paul reminds the Corinthians of their manner of life before they became Christians, for he would have them pause to think that their gifts, past and present, are not of their own procuring, nor are any gifts bestowed upon them because of merit on their part. It is his intent to restrain them from pride in their gifts and from disputations concerning them; to keep them from divisions and from pretending to teach and introduce into the Church something new and better. But at the same time he deals a blow to those who take offense at inharmony among Christians.
8. “Recall, all of you,” Paul would say, “your manner of life before you came to Christ. What were you? Mere darkened heathen, having no knowledge of God but suffering yourselves blindly to be led by anyone who should say aught to you of God. All your devotion was but a discordant worship. Each one — even the child in the cradle, the infant at the mother’s breast — must find his own idol wherever he might turn.” St. Augustine tells us that the city of Rome alone had more than four hundred gods, and that it erected a church for all the gods in the world, which building still stands — the Pantheon. “These superstitions,” Paul’s word imply, “you followed as you were led; you flocked after them, praying and sacrificing, hanging your hearts upon dumb idols which could not teach and advise you, could not comfort, relieve or help you. In return for your devotion you obtained only the privilege of being a blind, wretched, divided, miserable people, unable to fortify yourselves against any error, and allowing yourselves to be distracted by the advocate of any doctrine. You were like a flock of helpless sheep scattered by wolves.
9. “But now you have been turned from that manifold idolatry to the one true worship and have been enlightened by God’s Word. More than that, in Christ have been bestowed upon you great and glorious gifts — discerning of the Scriptures, diversities of tongues, power to work miracles — things impossible to the world. It is unmistakably evident that you embrace the true God, who does not, like dumb idols, leave you to wander in the error of your own speculations, uncounseled by the Word; a living God, who speaks to you that you may know what to expect from him, and works among you publicly and visibly. “Therefore, it is not for you to make divisions among yourselves after the manner of the heathen as you see in the great Babel confusion and divisions of the world, where no one agrees with another, where one runs to this his idol and another to that, each claiming superiority for his own. Knowing that you all embrace the one true God and his Word, you are to hold together in one faith and one mind, not disagreeing among yourselves as if you had a variety of gods, of faiths, of baptisms, spirits and salvations.”
Cavilers Themselves Led Astray
10. Paul speaks with particular plainness to the faultfinding and insolent cavilers against Christians and to other factious leaders when he says, “Ye were led away unto those dumb idols, howsoever ye might be led.” This class peremptorily judge and criticise the life and doctrine of the Church because they see therein a measure of defects, and even some divisions and disagreements; notwithstanding the fact is plainly evident to them that the Church possesses the Word of God in purity, a knowledge of Christ, an illumined understanding of God’s will and his grace, and true comfort for all distress of conscience, and that, in addition to all these, the Holy Spirit manifestly operates with them. At the same time, these same uncalled-for and self-constituted critics would never have been able to say anything about the Christian religion had they not witnessed that religion in the little company of Christians who have the Word of God and the Spirit’s gifts.
11. These fault-finders were individuals who, undoubtedly to a greater extent than others, suffered themselves to be blindly led in whatever way was pointed out, and who gave credence to what was taught and preached to them concerning the way to serve God, yet who all the time were but worshipers of dumb idols, possessing not the Word of God and having no witness to the truth of their faith and their works. Each believed and followed the devices of his own imagination or the popular choice. No man was able to teach anything certain and steadfast, anything to give the heart satisfaction and perfect security. They continually changed from one thing to another, accepting every new thing presented as real worship and true doctrine.
12. And the world, ever from the beginning, has had naught but dumb idols in the countless forms of worship offered to the numerous gods — gods which never existed, but of which images were made and to which divine honors were shown. Worship has been rendered to the mere names of misfortune, disaster and disease, of all sorts; yes, to insects, and to garlic and onions even. Yet, in the practice of all this idolatry, supposed to be evidence of great holiness, each one sacrificing to the idol of his choice — in it all no one could have the assurance of being heard and answered by his god. Men had no word or sign of the divine will or work; they possessed naught but a vain dream and delusion of the human imagination; man devised and made his own idols.
13. And what did we under the papacy but walk blindly? We suffered ourselves to be led just as we were directed by the names of God and the saints. I was myself a pious monk and priest, holding mass daily, wherein I worshipped St. Barbara, St. Anna, St. Christopher and others — more saints than the calendar mentions, some of whom no one knew anything about. I had no knowledge of Christ, I knew not why I should find comfort in him nor what I should expect of him. I was as much afraid of him as of the devil himself, regarding him more a stern Judge than a Savior. How many shameful pilgrimages were made to dead idols of wood and stone, images of Mary and of the saints! How many were the pilgrimages to the graves of the dead, and to bones called “holy relics”! These relics were mere open deception, devised by shameless impostors; yet such worship was established by popes and bishops, and indulgences granted therefor.
14. How many new saints, new brotherhoods, new psalms to Mary, and new rosaries and crowns did the monks daily invent! In fact, everything each individual monk might dream of had to be a special form of worship, and no one inquired whether or not it was at all authorized by God’s Word. When we had done all, we were uncertain that we had pleased God.
What was this sort of worship but a worship of dumb idols in the place of the living God — idols which could not talk with us and could not give any definite information or comfort, but left the people fettered and ruined with eternal doubts?
Faith in the One Christ Productive of Unity
15. But Christians, as Paul says, have not a dead and dumb god, for which the Lord be praised! Nor will we countenance such idols. We have a living, speaking God, who gives us his infallible Word. We know how he is disposed toward us and what we may expect from him; namely: through faith in Christ we have forgiveness of sins and are his beloved children; and as evidence of acceptance with God, we have baptism and the Holy Supper, the office and gifts of the Holy Spirit, by which he works in our hearts. We know that in the faith of Christ our works and lives are pleasing to God, and that he will hear and help when in our distress and weakness we cry unto him.
16. Where this confidence obtains, where hearts enjoy such faith, there will be unity in the Church; for verily no one then will allow himself to be led into the manifold doctrines of insensible idols. But dissensions, sects and divisions are sure signs that the true doctrine is either ignored or misunderstood, men thus being left in a condition to be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine,” as Paul says (Eph 4, 14); which is indisputably the case with these same schismatics who condemn the Church and her doctrines because of some discordant ones.
The schismatics show by their very instability that they do not embrace the true, uniform and established doctrine, nor can exhibit any substitute for it.
They refuse to see that in cases where the Christian doctrine does not obtain, there is only blindness, distraction and confusion, and warring factions and sects, none agreeing with another, each claiming to be better than the other. Numerous have been the sects of monks, and of saints of the Pope and his god the devil, no two of which agreed. Each class regarded its own whims and speculations, and claimed to be holier than the others. The Pope, however, gave validity to them all, granting great indulgence to these factious fraternities. And I am not saying anything of other discords in the papacy — among the monasteries and in the parishes, and between these and the cloisters everywhere, perpetual quarreling, rioting and bitter contention. Such is inevitably the case when righteousness and divine worship are made to consist in external selfdevised works and forms, for then each individual, pleased with his own ideas, thinks his way right; under such circumstances, there can never be unanimity of opinion as to what is right and the best.
17. “From these numerous sources of disunion and idolatry,” Paul would say to the Corinthians, “you are now delivered. You know you embrace the real Word of God, the true faith. You worship one God, one Lord, and enjoy the same grace, the same Spirit, the same salvation. You need not seek other forms and ceremonies as essential to salvation — wearing a white or a gray cowl, refraining from this or that food, forbearing to touch certain things. No diversity of external service, of persons, offices and conditions, destroys the unity in Christ. “But take heed to continue in unity, to hold fast to it.
Unquestionably, you should be made wiser by the experience you have had with error; in the future you ought to be prudent, and watchful against being allured from the unity of this settled mind and true faith into your former blindness again. But so it will certainly befall you if you forget such grace and seek your own honor and praise more than the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and his gifts, and come to despise one another and to conduct yourselves as if you had many and not the same God, the same Christ, the same Spirit. God’s gifts cannot be different from, but must be one with his nature, and hence he cannot give to one a better Gospel or a different baptism from that given another.”
In short, Paul teaches there must be unity in Christ, otherwise we have no Christ, no God and Holy Spirit, no grace nor salvation; as the next verse emphasizes. “Wherefore I make known unto you that no man speaking in the Spirit of God saith, Jesus is anathema [calleth Jesus accursed]; and no man can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit.”
18. “Why make divisions and differences,” Paul inquires, “in the doctrine and faith of the Church, which rests wholly upon the one Christ? In him you are to be one if you are Christians at all; you must harmoniously praise him, according to your individual gifts. No one can possibly possess the Holy Spirit if he does not regard Christ as the Lord, much less if he call him accursed. Destroy the foundation and you destroy all; there will be no God, no Spirit, and all your claims, teaching and works are naught. You must recognize and be governed by the fact that either Christ must be received and believed in as the one true Lord, and praised and glorified as such, or else he will be cursed; between these alternatives is no medium.”
The Spirit, the Test of the True Teacher
It is easy, then, to judge the doctrine of every official teacher of the Christian Church. No one need resort to faction, no one need gaze hither and thither in uncertainty and hesitate as to which gift or which person is most to be regarded. We are to make the doctrine of this verse the standard and authority as to what and how we preach concerning Christ.
He who speaks by inspiration of the Holy Spirit certainly will not curse Christ; he will glorify and praise him. So doing, he surely will not teach error, or give occasion for divisions. If his teaching is not to the glory of God, you may safely conclude that he is not true, not inspired by the Holy Spirit.
19. Thus Paul rejects the glorying and boasting of the sects over their offices and gifts — they who pretend to be filled with the Spirit and to teach the people correctly, and who make out that Paul and other teachers are of no consequence. Themselves the chief of apostles, the people must hear them and accept their baptism. More than that, they demand a higher attainment in the Spirit for Gospel ministers, deeming faith, the Sacrament and the outward office not sufficient.
But Paul says: “Boast as you will about the great measure of the Spirit you possess, it is certain that the Spirit-inspired teacher will not curse Christ.”
In other words, such boasting of the Spirit will not answer the purpose.
What you believe and teach concerning Christ must receive attention. You are either reproaching and cursing Jesus, or praising him and owning him your Lord. If your preaching and teaching fail to point to Christ, something else being offered, and you nevertheless boast of the Spirit, you are already judged: the spirit you boast is not the Holy Spirit, not the true Spirit, but a false one. To it we are not to listen. Rather we are to condemn it to the abyss of hell, as Paul declares ( Galatians 1:8), saying: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any Gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema.”
20. When Paul here speaks of calling Jesus accursed, he does not only have reference to openly blaspheming or cursing Christ’s name or person after the manner of heathen and of ungodly Jews; with them Paul has nothing to do here, nor are the Corinthians supposed to be of that character. Paul refers rather to the Christian who, though boasting of the Holy Spirit, does not preach Christ as the ground of our salvation as he should, but, neglecting this truth, points the soul away to something else, pretending that this substitute is of the Holy Spirit and is something better and more essential than the common doctrine of the Gospel.
All such teachers are in reality simply guilty of condemning, reproaching and cursing Christ, though themselves bearing and boasting that name. To slight Christ’s Word and ministry, and exalt in their stead other things as mediums for obtaining the Holy Spirit and eternal life, or at least as being equally efficacious and essential — what is this but scorning Christ and making him of no consequence? Indeed, according to Hebrews 6:6 and 10:29, it is crucifying the Son of God afresh, and treading under foot his blood.
21. Christ himself explains the office and ministry of the Holy Spirit — what he is to teach in the Church — saying ( John 15:26), “He shall bear witness of me.” Again ( John 16:14): “He shall glorify me: for he shall take of mine, and shall declare it unto you.” The tongue of a minister of Christ — the language he employs — must be of that simplicity which preaches naught but Christ. If he is to testify of the Savior and glorify him, he cannot present other things whereby Christ would be ignored and robbed of his glory. He who does so, certainly is not inspired by the Holy Spirit, even though he possess great gifts and be called a teacher, a bishop, a pope, a council, an apostle even — yes, an angel from heaven. There were among the Corinthians some who thus neglected to preach only Christ, and presented instead the apostles, making choice of them — one Cephas, another Apollos and a third Paul.
And just so our monks have done. They have in a way highly extolled Jesus, have in words honored and worshiped his name and used it to clothe all their lying nonsense and idolatry. For instance, they exalt Mary as the mother of Jesus and Anna as his grandmother. But they have thus torn men’s hearts away from Christ, turning over to Mary and the saints the honor due him alone, and teaching the people to invoke these as mediators and intercessors having power to protect us in the hour of death. This is substituting dumb idols for Christ. No saint has ever taught such things; still less does the Word of God enjoin them. Thus the monks really curse and insult Christ.
22. The Pope, throughout his whole administration, has been guilty of such insult to Christ, notwithstanding his boast that his kingdom represents the Christian Church, that he truly possesses the Holy Spirit and that his decrees and ordinances must be respected. Nothing can dissuade the Papists from their practice. They ever boast of being led by the Spirit, yet their vaunting is mere malediction, not only of Christ in person, but of his Word and his sacraments. For they openly condemn, and denounce as heresy, the doctrine of the Gospel, which Gospel assures us that to Christ alone we owe the unmerited forgiveness of our sins; they condemn also the use of the sacraments according to Christ’s command and institution. And they destroy the people who thus offend them.
The fact is, the Pope has in our doctrine nothing to curse but Jesus Christ, its foundation and principle, expressed by his Word and sacraments. The same is true of other factions — the Anabaptists and similar sects. What else do they but slander baptism and the Lord’s Supper when they pretend that the external Word and outward sacraments do not benefit the soul, that the Spirit alone can do that? But in these matters you have Paul’s sure word of judgment to strengthen your faith. You may be assured that the factions of the Pope and other sects are not, as they boast, the Church of Christ, but accursed schisms of the devil. The true Church, the righteous bride of Christ, certainly will not curse him nor persecute his Word. Let no one be moved by hearing men loudly boast about Christ after the manner of the false apostles who called themselves disciples of the true apostles of Jesus, and claimed that certain of their number had even seen Christ in person. The Savior himself warns us against this class when he says ( Matthew 25:5,24), “Many shall come in my name.. and shall show wonders”; and ( Matthew 7:21), “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
The Holy Spirit Alone Gives Assurance
23. Paul has the same thought here when he says, “No man can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit.” To call Jesus “Lord” is to confess one’s self his servant and to seek his honor alone; to act as his messenger or the bearer of his Word and command. Paul’s reference here is chiefly to the office representative of Christ and bearing his Word. Where the office answers these conditions and points to Christ as the Lord, it is truly the message of the Holy Spirit, even though the occupant of the office does not in his own person possess the Spirit; the office itself is essentially the Holy Spirit. Hypocrisy and invention have no place here. One must proceed in sincerity if he would be certain he is Christ’s minister, or apostle, and really handles his Word. Only the inspiration of the Holy Spirit can give one this assurance.
24. All Christians — each in his own work or sphere — equally may call Christ “Lord.” One may be assured he serves Christ if he can call him “Lord,” for only by the Holy Spirit is he enabled to do that. Let him try for a single day — from morning until evening — whether or no he can truly say at all times that he is the servant of God and of Christ in what he does.
When delivering a sermon or listening to one, when baptizing a child or bringing a child to baptism, when pursuing your daily home duties, ask yourself if the act is attended by such faith that you can, without misgiving and not hypocritically nor mechanically, boast — and if necessary die by your word — that you serve and please Christ therein. This is calling Christ “Lord.” Unquestionably you will often feel your heart doubting and trembling over the matter.
25. In the papacy we were altogether hindered from feeling thus confident — yes, frightened from it by accursed scepticism. No one could — no one dared — say, “I know I am a servant, a bondsman, of Christ, and that my conduct pleases him.” Flesh and blood are too weak to obtain this glorious confidence; the Holy Spirit is essential. Reason and our own hearts cry out in protest: “Alas, I am far too evil and unworthy! How could I be proud and presumptuous enough to boast myself the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ? I might if I were as holy as St. Peter, St. Paul and others.”
26. I used often to wonder that St. Ambrose was so bold as, in his letters, to call himself a servant of Jesus Christ. I supposed we all ought to be terrified at thoughts of this kind, and that none but the apostles might boast of such honor. But the fact is, we must all say to Christ: “Thou art my Lord and I am thy servant; for I believe on thee and aspire to be with thee and all the faithful and to possess thy Word and Sacrament.” Otherwise Christ will not acknowledge us.
Christians to Give All Glory to God
It is written ( Matthew 4:10) — indeed, it is the first commandment — “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”
There Christ requires of us, under the penalty of forfeiting eternal life, to honor him as our Lord and so to regulate our lives that we shall know we serve him. Peter also teaches ( 1 Peter 4:11) that all the Christian’s words and deeds should be regarded not as his own, but as God’s. The word and the act are to be of the ability which God gives, that in it all God may be glorified. Of necessity this condition can obtain only through the Holy Spirit.
27. In this point — the glorification of Christ — do the true Christians distinguish themselves from false Christians, hypocrites and factious spirits, who likewise triumphantly boast of the Spirit and of their divine office. But the vanity of their boasting is evident from the fact that they do not hold to the doctrine that glorifies Christ, but preach that which leads to other evils and deceives; yes, which condemns and persecutes the right doctrine and the true faith of Christ. Further evidence of the emptiness of their boasting is apparent in the fact that they have no conscious testimony that they serve Christ, nor can their followers give assurance on the same point. You have here the clear sentence of Paul declaring this class devoid of the Holy Spirit and thus separated from the true Church and from Christians. He exhorts us to be on our guard against them, and would bring Christians together in one faith and under one Lord and Spirit. Now he teaches how to employ rightly the manifold gifts of a united Church for the general benefit of its members. “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.”
28. “In former time, when you were heathen, you followed many kinds of idolatrous worship, many doctrines and spirits; but it was only a divided religion, and representative of blindness and error. Now, however, you possess various beautiful divine gifts and offices. These are mutually related and all emanate, not from man’s reason or faculties, but from the one true God. They are his work — the expression of his power.
Notwithstanding the dissimilarity of gifts, offices and works, of a certain order in one and otherwise in another, many and few, great and small, weak and strong — notwithstanding all, we are not to divide the Spirit, God and faith; we are not to create factions, exalting this individual or that one solely because of his gifts, and despising others. All gifts are direct from one God, one Lord, one Spirit, and to serve the same purpose — to bring men to the knowledge of the one God and to build up the Church in the unity of faith. Therefore, you are united in the one doctrine, your object being to serve God and the Church in a harmonious way.” This verse is briefly the substance of all that follows in the text.
29. Paul presents three different points: “Diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit ;” “diversities of administrations, and the same Lord;” “diversities of workings, but the same God.” Unquestionably, Paul touches the article of faith concerning the Trinity, or three persons in the Divine Essence, and shows that both Christ and the Holy Spirit are true God and yet different in person from the Father and from each other. He teaches the same elsewhere ( 1 Corinthians 8:5-6), saying: “For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or on earth; as there are gods many, and lords many; yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him.”
30. In the text before us, the apostle likewise distinguishes the three — one God, one Lord, one Spirit. He assigns to each the particular operation whereby he manifests himself. One is God the Father, and from him as the origin and first person emanates all power. Another is the Lord, Christ the Son of God, who as the head of the Church appoints all offices. The third is the Spirit, who produces and dispenses all gifts in the Church. Yet all three are of one divine, almighty and eternal essence. They are of the same name, and are truly one since God must be an indivisible essence.
To each individual is attributed only the characteristics of the Divine Majesty. As he who is the source of all operative power in the Church and in the entire creation is true God; so also must the Lord who appoints all offices, and the Spirit who confers all gifts, be true God. No creature is able to impart spiritual offices and gifts; that is impossible to any but God.
These three — God, Lord and Spirit — are not Gods of unlike nature, but one in divine essence. The Lord is no other God than God the Father; and the Spirit is none other than God and the Lord. But more on this topic elsewhere.
Spiritual Gifts Specified
31. The names and nature of the spiritual gifts, the apostle here specifies.
He names wisdom, knowledge, prophecy, power to discern spirits, capacity to speak with tongues and to interpret, extraordinary gifts of faith, and power to work miracles. “The word of wisdom” is the doctrine which teaches a knowledge of God, revealing his will, counsel and design. It embraces every article of belief and justification. The world knows nothing of this loftiest, most exalted gift of the Spirit.
The Word of Knowledge
The “word of knowledge” also teaches of the outward life and interests of the Christian: how we are to conduct ourselves toward all others, making a profitable use of the Gospel doctrine according as necessity of time and person demands; it teaches us the wisest course toward the weak and the strong, the timid and the obstinate.
The Gift of Prophecy
The gift of prophecy is the ability to rightly interpret and explain the Scriptures, and powerfully to reveal therefrom the doctrine of faith and the overthrow of false doctrine. The gift of prophecy includes, further, the ability to employ the Scriptures for admonition and reproof, for imparting strength and comfort, by pointing out, on the one hand, the certainty of future indignation, vengeance and punishment for the unbelieving and disobedient, and on the other hand presenting divine aid and reward to godly believers. Thus did the prophets with the Word of God, both the Law and the promises.
The Gift of Faith
32. Paul is making mention of gifts not common to all. Only to certain ones are they given, and the gifts in themselves are unlike. “To another faith,” he says, “to another workings of miracles, and to another prophecy.” In “faith” here the reference is not to ordinary faith in Christ which brings justification before God and forgiveness of sin; such faith is essentially the property of every Christian, even if they do not possess the particular gifts here enumerated. Paul is speaking of a particular virtue or power of the Spirit operating in the Church, whereby certain ones can effect great and glorious things by reason of their remarkable and confident courage; as instanced in Paul’s words later on ( 1 Corinthians 13:2), “If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains.”
To work such wonders, a very strong and sure faith is certainly necessary.
An unwavering, vigorous, courageous faith may accomplish a special work in the name and power of Christ although the worker may not himself be truly repentant nor possess the right kind of faith to secure forgiveness of sins and grace in Christ. He may be a hypocrite, a false saint. Christ says ( Matthew 7:22), “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works?” It is true that such gifts are exercised, such works performed, in the name of Christ, and that the gifts are granted to none but individuals in the Church of Christ, and yet the possessor may not be altogether righteous, may even be a false Christian. For the effects wrought do not emanate from the individual but from the office he represents, being the operation of the Spirit given in behalf of the Church.
Thus, as occupants of the office and by virtue of the Church, these persons perform many and great works, benefiting not themselves but others.
33. Paul says of all these, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit,” by way of admonishing us against creating sects. The Spirit is equally effective through him whose gifts are few and less significant and through him of remarkable gifts. And as with gifts, so it is with workings and ministrations.
Meaning of “Workings”
34. The term “workings,” or operations, has reference to remarkable works of God wrought through certain individuals in an exceptional way. For instance, he grants to Paul a ministerial office of unusual influence: Paul is permitted to convert more souls than other apostles, to perform more wonders and accomplish more. He says himself ( 1 Corinthians 15:10) that by the grace of God he labored more abundantly than all.
Meaning of “Administrations”
35. The meaning of “administrations” is easily apparent. Office is an ordained and essential feature of every government. It represents various duties imposed and commanded by sovereign authority. It may have reference to the duties enjoined upon a society collectively, in the service of others. There are various offices in the Church; for instance, one individual is an apostle, another an evangelist, another a teacher, as Paul mentions in Ephesians 4:11. And as he says in 1 Corinthians 14:26 and also hints in this text, the office of one is to read the Scriptures in different languages, of another to interpret and explain. So it was ordained in the Church at that time, and similarly today are ordained certain offices — of pastors, preachers, deacons or priests, their duties being to hear confessions, to administer the Sacrament, and so on.
36. Not every Christian is obliged, nor is able, to execute such duties; only upon certain ones are they enjoined. “Administrations” differ from what Paul terms “workings” and gifts. There have ever been many Christians who, though possessing the Holy Spirit, were not “administrators;” for instance, virgins and wives — Agnes Anastasia and others — and martyrs, many of whom wrought miracles and had other gifts. True, both gifts and workings are imparted chiefly for the execution of Christian duties. It is essential here, especially in the superior office of preaching, that the occupant be peculiarly qualified for the place. The preacher must be able to understand and explain the Scriptures and be familiar with the languages. It is necessary to the effectiveness of his labors that he be accompanied by God’s operative power. Thus the three — gifts, workings, administrations are harmonious features of one divine government in the Church; Christ is the Lord, who regulates and maintains the offices, while God works and the Holy Spirit bestows his gifts.
Diversity of Gifts No Reason for Sects
37. As we said, offices are many and varied, even as one gift is greater than another, an apostle, for instance, is superior to a teacher or expounder, while the office of a baptizer is inferior to that of a preacher. Yet notwithstanding, we are to remember, Paul says, that all are ordained of the same Lord, and the occupant of a superior office is not to consider himself any better by reason of his position and to despise others. He must bear in mind that all serve the same Lord, the least as well as the greatest, and consequently the holder of the inferior office is not necessarily inferior with his Lord, nor the executor of the higher office greater with him. Christ is ever Lord of all; one belongs as much to his realm as another. Therefore he will have no divisions and sects over this point; rather he wills that such diversity of gifts and offices be promotive of unity.
38. When I preach and you listen, we are not exercising the same gift and office, yet you as truly serve Christ by listening as I by preaching. If you preach, explain the Scriptures, baptize, comfort or aught else, through you works the same Christ who works through another. All is wrought in obedience to the order of him who commands me to hear his Word as well as to preach to you, and to exercise the same faith and Spirit with you.
Thus all alike praise the one Lord. You say, “The Word I hear is the true Word of God,” and I as a preacher prove and declare the very same thing.
When I baptize, administer the Sacrament or absolve, and you accept my administrations, we are both engaged in the service of the same Lord and harmoniously execute his command. You and I, however, so far as office and gifts are considered, may be of different capacities.
39. A peculiarity of the Christian profession, and the chief point of distinction between Christians and the heathen, is their recognition of the fact that workings, offices and gifts are of God, Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. The world does not perceive this truth, though it, too, enjoys the gifts of God. For God remembers all his creatures, though, like swine that enter the trough on all fours with no thought but of eating and rooting therein, not even lifting their eyes, they cannot raise their thoughts to the source of all their good and have not a thought as to whom they should thank for it. He who is not a Christian comes before God in an insensible and beastly attitude. The world is but a pen of animals indifferent to the kingdom of God and with no idea of gratitude for his rich beneficence, his gifts for body and soul. The worldly seek only their husks and their troughs. To these they cleave like fattening swine intended for slaughter.
Jeremiah ( Jeremiah 12:3) says concerning the ungodly, who with great satisfaction persecute the righteous: “Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and prepare them for the day of slaughter.”
40. God gives the ungodly mighty kingdoms, riches, lands and houses, making them to enjoy greatness and abundance. But when the swine are fed and fat, the question of bacon and sausage introduces a struggle. A slaughterer — a sausage-maker — appears, perchance, to slaughter the swine in their sty; one comes desolating the country, overthrowing the kingdom, destroying people and all; for, desiring to be but swine, the people must be destroyed like swine. Even though the world have personal knowledge of such punishment, it continues its course so long as possible — until the slaughterer comes. Swine remain swine; they are capable of standing ever unmoved by their trough, one perfectly indifferent if another be struck dead before its eyes. Christians Recognize the Divine Source of Their Gifts.
41. Christians, however, though obliged to live among swine and to be at times trampled under foot and rooted about, have nevertheless surpassing glory; for they can look up and intelligently behold their Lord and his gifts.
They are not of the pen of swine intended only for slaughter; they know themselves children of God, adorned by him with gifts and graces not merely temporal. They are conscious that, having given them body and life — for these they realize are not of their own obtaining — he will also supply their further needs, providing for them forever.
42. Christians are able to recognize even God’s least blessing as most precious, as truly excellent; not only because it comes from him, but because of its inherent value. No one who recognizes even temporal blessings would give an eye, or a less important member of the body, to redeem the riches of the entire world. How much loftier and more precious to the Christian are the spiritual gifts concerning which Paul here speaks — gifts bestowed as means unto salvation! The baptizing of a child or the absolution of a penitent makes no great show, but were the office viewed in the true light, the bestowed treasure rightly appreciated, all the officers, authority and riches of kings and emperors would be nothing at all in comparison.
43. Regarding the baptizer — who may be a woman even — and the baptized, we certainly can see nothing wonderful. The humanity in the case does not effect any great work; the work is wrought by him who is God, Lord and Spirit. It is he who gives to the office power and greatness above that of all emperors, kings and lords, however inferior the instrumentality — the occupants of the sacred offices. By these ministrations souls are won from the devil, snatched out of hell and transformed into saints blessed forever. Person and office may be apparently inferior, but the office is of God and God is no inferior being. His greatness cannot be equaled by a hundred thousand worlds. He accomplishes things incomprehensible to the world and impossible to angels. The combined efforts of all creation could not produce baptism. Were the world to unite in baptizing an infant, the infant would receive no good therefrom unless God the Lord commanded the deed. Let the Sultan be many thousands of times more powerful than at present and he could not, with all his riches, his dominion and peoples, free himself or any other from the power of the least sin. He could not effectively pronounce the absolution, “God has forgiven you your sins.”
For the Sultan has neither gift, office nor work; indeed, he knows nothing about them. They belong to God alone, though human mouths and hands are instrumental therein.
44. Note why Paul boasts of the fact that God bestows such great blessings. It is that Christians may discern them and thank him; and that such discernment may lead them to serve one another in humility, with mutual faith and love, each one learning to praise God fervently wherever he beholds God’s gifts and offices operative in the Church, and to esteem them as he would esteem God himself. For, unquestionably, none would possess office and gifts had not God ordained and bestowed them.
45. How we have exalted our own nonsense — pilgrimages, cloisters, cords, cowls, running to the dead in the wilderness and so on! But to what purpose? What benefit have we derived therefrom, notwithstanding we walked until our feet were bleeding, and watched and fasted and tormented ourselves to death? Such a life, it is true, may be called holy, divine, yet it is not at all the gift, the work, the office, of God. No God, no Lord, no Spirit, is in that practice. God has nowhere commanded such a life. We have devised it and may reward and help ourselves for so doing. We cannot boast his authority for it nor find divine comfort therein.
But the discerning Christian can with satisfaction boast on this wise: “My baptism or my absolution is not of my own devising or ordaining, nor of another man’s. It is of Christ my Lord. For here is his command ordaining the office: ‘Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ Matthew 28:19. Upon authority of the office, work and gift here presented, I can boast and be strong in faith against the devil and all the gates of hell; otherwise I cannot withstand Satan for one moment. He would not be afraid of me and my works though I should be able to boast of having lived seventy years as a member of a holy order, serving God every day and hour, praying, fasting, and so on.”
46. The devil hurls both person and work, as he finds them, into the abyss of hell. If he ask you where God has commanded such works as yours, you have no answer. But let him hear you boast in the confident faith God’s command inspires: “I have received from Christ my Lord baptism and absolution; of this I am certain, and what I do is done at his command and by his power” — let him hear that and he is forced immediately to leave you. He must flee, not from your person or works, but from Christ’s office and gifts found with you.
47. Paul presents these thoughts to teach us what we Christians have from God in the three forms, blessings superior to those enjoyed by all others in the world. The apostle would have us be grateful for these things and make use of them in a spirit of Christian love. He desires that the possessor of gifts devote them to the service of others. He teaches we are to honor God in the gifts another possesses; that we are highly to esteem them, remembering they are not of man’s production, not wrought of man’s ability or skill, but are the offices, gifts and works of God. They are not the inferior and trivial things they seem to the world because making no show and noise. God does not give unredeemable coin or empty shells and mere husks. His gifts and works in his Church must effect inexpressible results, taking souls from the jaws of the devil and translating them into eternal life and glory.