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Sermons of Dr. Martin Luther for Trinity 18
Gospel Sermon (1537)
(Note from the Lenker edition: This sermon appeared instead of the preceding one in the e edition, and in two pamphlet editions printed at Wittenberg in 1537, titled: “A beautiful sermon on the law and the Gospel.” Erl. 14, 178; W. 11, 2268; St. L. 11, 1700.)
Text: Matthew 22:34-46
But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, gathered themselves together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, trying him: Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law? And he said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second like unto it is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments the whole law hangeth, and the prophets.
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, What think ye of the Christ? whose son is he?
They say unto him, The son of David. He said unto them, How then doth David in the Spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Till I put thine enemies underneath thy feet? If David then calleth him Lord, how is he his son? And no one was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.
1. In this Gospel Christ answers the question the Pharisees put to Him:
“Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” and in turn asks them the question: “What think ye of the Christ, whose son is He?” Thus this Gospel presents to us that which we continually hear and should hear, so that these two sermons must continue to be preached in Christendom, namely: the first, the teaching of the Law or of the Ten Commandments, and the second, the doctrine concerning the grace of Christ. For if either of these fall it pulls the other with it; while on the other hand, wherever the one remains steadfast and is faithfully put into practice, it brings the other with it.
2. And God has ordained that these two themes shall be preached forever in the Christian Church, yea, they have always since the beginning of the world accompanied one another; they were given to our father Adam, while he was still in Paradise, and were later confirmed through Abraham, Moses and the Prophets.
For they are required by the needs of humanity, fallen as it is under the power of Satan, so that we live and move in sin and are worthy of eternal death. Adam felt and lamented sin and its injuries; but later the sense of sin soon weakened and was disregarded, so that the heathen did not consider it sin although they indeed felt evil lust and desire in their bodies; but they imagined all that belonged to the character and nature of man. Yet they taught man should restrain such lust and desires and not allow them to go too far; but this nature in itself they did not condemn.
3. Therefore God gave this one simple teaching that reveals what man is, what he has been, and what he should again become. This is the doctrine of the Law, which Christ here cites: “Thou shalt love God with all thy heart, etc.” As if to say: “Thus thou hast been, and thus thou shalt still be and become. In Paradise you were in possession of the treasure, and were thus created that you loved God with all your heart; this you have lost; but now you must again become as you were, or you will never enter the Kingdom of God.” In like manner He speaks clearly and plainly in other places, as in Matthew 19:17: “If thou wouldst enter into life, keep the commandments.” Likewise, Luke 10:28: “This do and thou shalt live, etc.” This must in short be kept; and that we wish to dispute so much about it amounts to nothing, as if one might be saved without it, namely, without that which is called loving God with the whole heart and your neighbor as yourself. This Divine Law must be fulfilled by you as purely and completely as the angels in heaven fulfill it.
4. Therefore it is wrong and not to be allowed, as some in ancient times said and as some stupid spirits now say: “Although you do not keep the commandment, and do not love God and your neighbor, yea, although you are even an adulterer, that makes no difference, if you only believe, then you will be saved.” No, dear mortal, that amounts to nothing; you will never thus gain heaven; it must come to the point that you keep the commandments, and abide in love toward God and your neighbor. For there it stands briefly determined; “If thou wouldst enter into life, keep the commandments.” Again, to the Galatians, 5:19-21: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that those who practice such things, shall not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, etc.”
5. And Christ wishes this doctrine to be observed by the Christians so that they may know what they have been, what they are still lacking and what they should again become, that they continue not in the misery and filth in which they find themselves now; for if they do, they must be lost.
Christ speaks right out plainly in Matthew 5:17-18: “Think not that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, the Law must be so taught and observed that not the smallest letter or one tittle of it shall in any wise pass away, till all things be accomplished.” Again, Christ says further in Matthew 12:36: “And I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof on the day of judgment.” And St. Paul in Romans 8:4: “God sent His Son in the flesh that the righteousness, required by the Law, might be fulfilled in us.” And in Romans 3:31: “Do we then make the Law of none effect if we teach man is justified through faith, and not through works. That is far from us; nay, we establish the Law.” That is, for this very reason we teach faith, by which the Law is fulfilled.
6. For this is indeed a glorious doctrine that teaches what we are to become; but that it may also be realized and not continue to be preached in vain, the other doctrine must be added, namely, how and through what means we may again return to our former state. We return when we hear what we lost in Paradise; when Adam lived in full love to God, and in pure love to his neighbor, and in perfect obedience without evil lust, and that had he remained thus we would still be so; but now, since through sin he fell from this command, we also lie in the same misery, full of sin and disobedience, under God’s wrath and curse, and fall from one sin to another, and the Law stands there, holds us guilty, urges and requires us to be pious and obedient to God.
7. What shall we then do here, since the Law continually commands and drives us, and we are powerless? For here my own conscience argues ever against me: “Since I am to love God with my whole heart and my neighbor as myself, and I do not do it, I must therefore be condemned and God approves and confirms the sentence of condemnation.” Who will counsel me in this instance? “I do not know what to counsel you,” says the Law; but it decrees and demands plainly that you be obedient.
Here the Prophets come now, and preach Christ, and say: “One is coming Who will give counsel how man may regain what he lost and again enter the state from which he fell, to which the Law points him.” This is the other sermon that should and must be preached until the day of judgment, namely, the help from sin, death and Satan, and restoration of our bodies and souls, so that we may come into the state that we love God and our neighbor from our hearts. This is to be done fully and perfectly in the future life, but here in this life it should be commenced.
8. For in the life beyond there will be no longer any faith, but perfect love, and all the Law demands we will do with our whole heart. Therefore we must now preach what we should become and should forever continue to be, namely, that we are to love God and our neighbor with our whole heart. “This I will commence,” says Christ, “and complete, not alone as to my own person, but I will aid you to make a beginning, and to continue ever in it, until you come where you will also fulfill it perfectly.”
9. Now this will come to pass thus. Since we are unable to keep the Law and it is impossible for the natural man to do so, Christ came and stepped between the Father and us, and prays for us: “Beloved Father, be gracious unto them and forgive them their sins. I will take upon me their transgressions and bear them; I love thee with my whole heart, and in addition the entire human race, and this I will prove by shedding my blood for mankind. Moreover, I have fulfilled the Law and I did it for their welfare in order that they may partake of my fulfilling the Law and thereby come to grace.”
10. Thus there is first given us through Christ the sense that we do not fulfill the Law and that sin is fully and completely forgiven: however, this is not bestowed in a way or to the end, that we in the future need not keep the Law, and may forever continue to sin, or that we should teach, if we have faith then we need no longer to love God and our neighbor. But there is bestowed upon us the sense that the fulfilling of the Law may now for the first time be successfully attempted and perfectly realized, and this is the eternal, fixed and unchangeable will of God. To this end it is necessary to preach grace, that man may find counsel and help to come to a perfect life.
11. But the help offered us is that Christ prays the Father to forgive us our sins against this Law, and not to impute what we are still indebted. Then He promises also to give the Holy Spirit, by Whose aid the heart begins to love God and to keep His commandments. For God is not gracious and merciful to sinners to the end that they might not keep His Law, nor that they should remain as they were before they received grace and mercy; but He condones and forgives both sin and death for the sake of Christ, who has fulfilled the whole Law in order thereby to make the heart sweet and through the Holy Spirit to kindle and move the heart to begin again to love from day to day more and more.
12. Thus begins in us not only love, but also truth, that is, a true character, as the Law requires; like St. John says in 1:17, that Christ is “full of grace and truth,” and through Him grace and truth grow in us, which neither Moses nor the Law can give us. For the Law is not abolished thus by grace, that the truth is to be overlooked, and that we should not love God; but through Him we experience that we do not as perfectly keep the Law as we ought in the kingdom of forgiveness or of grace. But besides the Holy Spirit is given us, Who kindles a new flame or fire in us, namely, love and desire to do God’s commandments. In the kingdom of grace this should begin and ever grow until the day of judgment, when it shall no longer be called grace or forgiveness, but pure truth and perfect obedience. In the meantime He continues to give, forgive, to bear and forbear, until we are laid in our graves.
13. Now if we thus continue in faith, that is, in what the Holy Spirit gives and forgives, in what He begins and ends, then the fire on the judgment day, by which the whole world is to be consumed, will cleanse and purify us, so that we will no longer need this giving and forgiving, as if there were something unclean and sinful in us, as there really is at present; we will certainly be as the brightness of the dear sun, without spot and defect, full of love, as Adam was at the beginning in Paradise.
Thus will it then be truly said, the Law is established and fulfilled (Romans 3:31). For it will then no longer blame and rebuke us; but the Law shall be considered satisfied, and the debt paid, even by ourselves; since all is now fulfilled, not through us, and yet by it we are freed and saved, so that we creep under Christ’s mantle and wings, that he makes satisfaction for us until we lie under the earth and then come again out of the grave with a beautiful, glorified body that will be nothing but holiness and purity, with a cleansed soul full of the love of God. Then we will no longer be in need of His mantle and of His prayers, but we will all be there perfect and complete, as we should be. Now, since I believe in Him, my sins are forgiven and I am called a child of grace. And moreover, the truth also should arise in me, that is, a new righteous character, that shall continue until it perfects me; since Christ, the truth, has come, not to destroy the Law, but to establish it, not only in Himself, which was done long ago, but in me and in all Christians.
14. These are the two doctrines that should accompany one another, since they belong together or the one is in the other, and they must always go together as long as we live here, by which the Law or God’s commandment may begin to work in Christians, so that the wicked, disobedient persons of the world may be restrained and punished. Since they will not fear and love God like Christians and believers, they are obliged to fear eternal fire, perdition and other punishments. Others, however, will be taught by it from what they have fallen and how sorely and fully they have inherited sin.
15. For when I compare my life with the Law I see and experience always the contrary of what the Law enjoins. I shall entrust to God my body and soul, and love Him with my whole heart; yet, I would rather have a gulden in my chest than ten Gods in my heart, and I am happier when I know how to make ten guldens, than when I hear the whole Gospel. Let a prince give a person a castle or several thousand guldens, what a jumping and rejoicing it creates! On the other hand, let a person be baptized or receive the communion which is a heavenly, eternal treasure, there is not one-tenth as much rejoicing. Thus we are by nature; there is none who so heartily rejoices over God’s gifts and grace as over money and earthly possessions; what does that mean but that we do not love God as we ought? For if we trusted and loved Him, we would rejoice more that he gave us the sense of sight than if we possessed the whole world. And the word of consolation He speaks to me through the Gospel ought to give me higher joy than the favor, money, wealth and honor of the whole world. But that it is not so and ten thousand guldens can make people happier than all the grace and possessions of God, proves what kind of fruit we are, and what a distressing and horrible fall it is in which we lie. And yet we would not see nor realize it, if it were not revealed to us through the Law, and we would have to remain forever in it and be lost, if we were not again helped out of it through Christ. Therefore the Law and the Gospel are given to the end that we may learn to know both how guilty we are and to what we should again return.
16. This now is the Christian teaching and preaching, which, God be praised, we know and possess, and it is not necessary at present to develop it further, but only to offer the admonition that it be maintained in Christendom with all diligence. For Satan has continually attacked it hard and strong from the beginning until the present, and gladly would he completely extinguish it and tread it under foot. For he cannot endure that the people continue in it and conduct themselves uprightly and he seeks a hundred thousand arts and wiles only to crush it. Therefore I so gladly preach it, as it is greatly needed; for until the present it has never been heard nor known in the Papacy.
17. For I myself was a learned doctor of theology and yet I never understood the Ten Commandments rightly. Yea, there were many highly celebrated doctors who did not know whether there were nine, ten or eleven commandments, and much less did we know the Gospel and Christ.
But the only thing that was taught and advocated was: “Invoke the Virgin Mary and other saints as your mediators and intercessors; fast often and pray much; make pilgrimages, enter cloisters and become monks, or pay for the saying of many masses and like works.” And thus we imagined when we did these things we had merited heaven.
18. That was the time of blindness when we knew nothing of God’s Word, but led ourselves and others into misery by our own idle talk and dreams.
And I was one of those who indeed bathed in this sweat or in this bath of anxiety. Therefore let us give heed that we may thoroughly grasp and retain this doctrine, if other fanatics and false spirits wish to attack it, so that we may be fore-armed and learn, while we have the time and the beloved sun again enlightens us, and buy while the market is at our door.
For it will come to this when once these lights, which God now gives, have departed, Satan will not take a furlough until he raises up other fanatical spirits to do harm; as he has already commenced to do in many places during our generation. What will take place after we are gone?
19. Therefore learn, who can learn, and learn well, so that we may know, first the Ten Commandments, what we owe to God. For if we do not know this, then we know nothing and we will not inquire about Christ in the least. Just like we monks did who either held Christ to be an angry judge or despised Him entirely in the face of our imaginary holiness. We fancied we were not in sin, which the Ten Commandments show and punish; but we had the natural light of reason and free will, and if we lived according to that, as much as we were able, then God would have to bestow upon us His grace, etc. But now, if we are to know Christ as our helper and Savior, then we must first know, out of what He can help us, not out of fire or water, or other bodily need and danger, but out of sin and the hatred of God. But whence do I know that I lie drowned in misery? From no other source than from the Law, that must show me what my loss and disease are, or I will never inquire for the physician and His help.
20. Thus we have both parts of the help of Christ: the one, that He must represent us over against God and be a cloak to cover our shame, as the one Who takes upon Himself our sins and disgrace; a cloak, I say, for us, as the one Who takes our sins and shame upon Himself, but before God a throne of grace in Whom there is no sin or shame; but only virtue and honor. And like a hen He spreads out His wings against the buzzard, the devil with his sin and death, so that God for His sake forgives all, and to us He can do no harm. But on the condition that you only remain under these wings. For while you are under His mantle and protection and do not come out from under it, sin that is still in you must not be sin for the sake of Him who covers you with His righteousness.
21. Then in the second place Christ does not only thus cover and protect us, but He will also nourish and feed us as the hen does her little chickens, that is, He gives us the Holy Spirit and strength, to begin to love God and to keep His commandments. And this shall continue to the last day when faith and this cloak of shame will cease, so that we will behold the Father without any medium or covering, and we ourselves stand before Him, and there will be no longer any sin in us to be forgiven; but all will be again restored and brought back or perfected, as St. Paul says in Acts 3:21, purified and perfect, what Satan from the beginning disturbed and ruined.
22. Now Christ wishes to teach this by his answer and the question, with which He in reply upbraided the Pharisees. As if He should say, “You know nothing more than to speak of the Law, which teaches you that you should love God and your neighbor and yet you do not understand it; for you imagine you have fulfilled it, though you are still far from doing so.” Just like the one in Matthew 19:20-21, who boasts he had kept all the commandments from his youth; but Christ says to him: “If thou wouldst be perfect, go sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor.” This is as much as to say: “Whoever will love God aright and keep his commandments, must be able to sacrifice his possessions, body and life. Therefore another thing is necessary,” Christ will say, “for you to know, namely, that you know and possess the man called Christ, Who helps us to the end that this doctrine of the Law may be established and perfected in you.”
23. But what does it mean to know Christ aright? This the Pharisees and scribes do not know; for they do not consider Him more than David’s son, that is, he who is to sit on David’s throne (as born from his flesh and blood) and is lord and king, also greater and mightier than David was, and yet only to be a temporal ruler to make his people the lords of the world and bring all heathen under his rule, etc. But that they should need Him in their lost state, to help them out of sin and death, of that they knew nothing. Therefore the Holy Spirit must teach that He was not only David’s son, but also God’s Son, as was taught after His resurrection.
24. Now here Christ does not explain this, but He only broaches that David in Psalm 110:1 called Christ his Lord: “How then,” He says, “doth David in the Spirit call him Lord?” It does not sound right and it is against nature for a father to call his son lord, and to be subject to him and serve him. Now David calls Christ his Lord, and a Lord, to Whom Jehovah Himself says: “Sit Thou at my right hand until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool”—that is, “Be like me, acknowledge and worshipped as the right and true God”; for it becometh none other to sit at His right hand; He is indeed so jealous that He allows no one aside from Himself to sit equal to Him, as He says in the prophesy of Isaiah 48:11, “My glory will I not give to another.” Since Jehovah now places Christ equal with Himself, He must be more than all creatures. Therefore He proposes to them a great question, but lets them thus stick; for they did not understand it and it was not yet the time to make this known public. But the meaning is as our articles of faith teach us to believe: that Christ was both David’s true natural son of his blood and flesh and also David’s Lord, Whom David himself must worship and hold as God. However, it was impossible to make these statements harmonize, as it is still impossible for human reason, where the Holy Spirit does not reveal it, how the two should be at the same time in the one Christ, both that He was truly David’s seed and God’s Son by nature.
25. Now Christ propounded this question to teach that it is not enough to have the Law, which is the only thing that shows from what state we have fallen; but whoever will return again to it and become renewed, that Christ must do through a knowledge of Him who is indeed born of David and is his flesh and blood, but not born in sin, as David and all men are born, but had to be born without man of a drop of the pure blood of a virgin, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, that He was born a real and true man without any sin.
26. He is the only man that has been able to keep and fulfill the Law; like all other men by nature, and yet not in the same guilt, but reared without sin and God’s wrath. This one had to intercede in our behalf before God and be our right hand and protection, be to us what the hen is to her little chickens, in Whom we have forgiveness of sins and deliverance from God’s anger and hell. And not only this, but He also gives us the Holy Ghost to follow him, and here begins to extinguish and slay sin, until we come to Him and be like Him without any sin and in perfect righteousness; for He was raised from the dead to the right hand of the Father to totally abolish sin, death and hell and bring us to the new eternal righteousness and eternal life. Amen.
Epistle Sermon (date unknown)
Text: 1 Corinthians 1:4-9
I thank my God always concerning you; for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus; that in everything ye were enriched in him, in all utterance and all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye be unreprovable in the clay of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
1. We have before us the opening words of the Epistle to the Corinthians, which Paul was moved to write because of unpleasant conditions in the Church at Corinth after his departure. Divisions had arisen and sad confusion prevailed in doctrine and life. Hence the apostle was constrained to rebuke their wickedness and correct their infirmities. Because of these wholesome admonitions, the reading and heeding of this epistle is not only profitable but essential to this day; for the devil takes no respite, but whenever the Gospel is preached in its purity he mixes with the children of God and sows his seed.
2. Paul intends to be rather severe — yen caustic — but he begins very leniently, showing them what they have received through the Gospel. His purpose is to arouse their gratitude to God, and to induce them, for his honor and glory, to be harmonious in doctrine and life, avoiding divisions and other offenses. “I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus,” etc.
3. In other words, Paul would say: Dear brethren, consider, I pray you, what abundant grace and gifts have been given you of God. They are bestowed not because of the Law, or because of your righteousness, your merits and works; you are given no reason to exalt yourselves above others, or to originate sects or schisms. Nay, all these blessings have been freely given you in Christ and for his sake, through the preaching of the Gospel. The Gospel is a grace which brings to you all manner of gifts, by him enriching you in everything. You lack nothing from God, but you await this one thing, that blessed day when Christ will reveal himself to you with all those heavenly gifts which you now possess in faith.
4. In this wise he extols to them the preaching of the Gospel (as indeed he does on different occasions); his purpose is to induce them to regard it most appreciatively. He gives them an example of his own gratitude, thanking God on their behalf, for the purpose of calling forth their especial gratitude when they should consider what they formerly were and what they now had received through the Gospel. And again, he would have them beware lest, forgetful of their former misery and present grace, they relapse into their old blindness. A sad beginning in such backsliding had been made by factions in their midst, who, satiated with the Gospel and indifferent to the abundant grace they enjoyed, began to cast about for something else.
5. Now observe: If the exalted apostle and venerable teacher of the Gentiles in his day had to witness in his own parish such factions and sects as those which, in sinful security and ingratitude toward the Gospel, arose during his life, what wonder is it that today, when we do not have the excellent preachers and pious Christians of those times, there are similar sects? We are aware of the great benefits bestowed upon us, but at the same time we see and realize that the devil instigates divisions and scandals. And the cause of these evils may be traced to our ingratitude; we have quickly forgotten the ills we endured under the blindness of popery, and how miserably we were deluded and tormented. Necessarily, where God’s mercies are lightly dismissed from the mind and disregarded, gratitude and regard for God’s Word cannot be the result; satiated, listless Christians go their way fancying that spiritual conditions always were and always will be as now.
6. The people, therefore, must be awakened to consider their former destitution, the very wretchedness they were in. The apostle later on vividly pictures such condition to his Corinthians, while here, in the opening chapter, he intimates to them, in kind and courteous words, to consider, in the light of the Gospel benefits they now enjoy, what they lacked before and might be deprived of again.
7. Therefore he says, You now have received the grace whereby in everything ye are enriched. Formerly you had not this grace and would not have it today had not the Gospel been preached to you. You are enriched in everything pertaining to yonder life, for it is not the purpose of the Gospel to give earthly riches. But in spiritual blessings ye come behind in no gift and have need of naught except this one thing, that the Lord himself should come. This blessing you are yet to have, and biding its advent you here live by the gifts and grace with which you were enriched, until you are finally redeemed from the sinful, wicked life of the world and from all its oppressions. You must know, and must thank God for it, that you need not seek after any higher calling or better gifts, thinking you have not all that is essential, as the factious spirits would have you believe.
8. For in your own judgment, what better thing could you have than is the Christian’s in his Gospel and his faith? He has assurance of sins forgiven and washed away in holy baptism, of justification and holiness before God, and of the fact that he is God’s child and heir to eternal life. Furthermore, although the Christian is conscious of remaining weakness and sin, yea, although he be overcome by a fault, he may avail himself of absolution, comfort and strength through his fellow Christians and by the aid of the sacraments; and he has daily guidance for his conduct and faith in all the walks of life. Again, he can call upon God in prayer in the day of trouble, and the firm assurance is his that God will hear and help him. What further can one desire, or what more does he need, than the knowledge that he is God’s child through baptism and has God’s Word at hand for comfort and strength in weakness and sin? Do you consider it slight enrichment to have assurance of the fact that God himself is speaking to you and, by means of the office of the ministry, is effective in you, teaching, admonishing, comforting, sustaining you, yea, granting you victory over the devil, death and all evil influences on earth?
9. Formerly what would we not gladly have given and done for but a single Gospel truth in our distress and trials of conscience! True, when one was discouraged or perplexed he was advised to seek and follow the counsel of some intelligent and judicious mind; but such judicious one who might assist with his counsel was nowhere to be found. For a wise man’s counsel does not answer in such case. The Word of God alone suffices, and you are to rely on it as if God himself revealed his counsel to you from heaven.
10. As Paul says, it is great riches, a precious treasure, to possess in very fact the Word of God and not to doubt that it is the Word of God. It is this that will answer; this can comfort your heart and support it. Of spiritual benefits you know we had none under the tyranny and darkness of the Pope. At that time we suffered ourselves to be led and driven by his commandments, vain human baubles, by bulls, lies, invocation of saints, indulgences, masses, monkery. And we did whatever was enjoined in the name of the Church, solely to gain comfort and help, that we might not despair of God’s grace. But instead of comforting us, these things led us to the devil and thrust us into greater anguish and terror; for there was nothing in the doctrine of the papists that could give us certainty. Indeed, they themselves had to confess that by its teachings no man could or should be certain of his state of grace.
11. Yea, they forced poor, timid, tempted hearts to dread and fear Christ more than the devil even, as! myself experienced full well. I resorted to the dead — St. Barbara, St. Ann and other departed saints — regarding them as mediators between me and Christ’s wrath. But this availed me nothing, nor did it free me from a fearful and fugitive conscience. There was not one among us all — and we were called very learned doctors of Holy Writ — who could have given true comfort from God’s Word, saying: This is God’s Word; this one thing God asks of you, that you honor him by accepting comfort; believe and know that he forgives your transgressions and has no wrath against you. If someone could have told me this, I would have given all I possessed for the knowledge; yea, for such word of comfort I would not have taken in exchange the glory and the crowns of all kings, for it would have restored my soul, it would have refreshed and sustained my body and life.
12. All this we should bear in mind, by no means should we forget it; that we may return thanks to God, recounting the superior and wonderful gifts which have enriched us in all things. We have besides the Word, free prayer and the Lord’s Prayer, knowing what to pray for and how to pray — knowledge common to the very children today, thank God. In former times, all men, especially we monks, tormented themselves with lengthy repetitions in reading and singing; yet our prayers were but chattering, as the noise of geese over their food, or of monks repeating a psalm.
13. I, too, wanted to be a pious and godly monk and I prepared with earnest devotion for mass and for prayers. But when most devout! went to the altar a doubter and left the altar a doubter. When I had rendered my confession I still doubted, and I doubted when! did not render it. For we were wholly wrapped up in the erroneous idea that we could not pray and would not be heard unless we were absolutely dean and without sin, like the saints in heaven. It would have been much better not to pray at all and to have done something else, than thus to take God’s name in vain. Still, we monks — in fact all the ecclesiastics — eluded the people, promising them our prayers for their money and possessions, actually selling our prayers, though we did not even know that we prayed in a manner acceptable to God. But today, thank God, we do know and understand, not only what to pray for and how to approach God “nothing doubting,” but we can also add a hearty Amen, believing that according to his promise he will certainly hear us.
14. The Christian has indeed inestimable treasure. In the first place he has the testimony of the Word of God, which is the word of eternal grace and comfort, that he has a right and true conception of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Ten Commandments and the Creed. In addition he has the sure refuge of God’s promise to deliver us from every trouble in which we shall call upon him, and to give us, as he promised by the prophet Zechariah 12:10, the Spirit of grace and of prayer. And the Christian, by virtue of his enlightened understanding, can wisely discern what are good works and what callings are pleasing to God; on the other hand, his judgment is equally true as to unprofitable and vain works and false services. Before, we had not this wholesome knowledge. We knew not what we believed, or how we prayed and lived. We sought comfort and salvation in self-devised trivialities, in penances, confessions and satisfactions, in self-righteous works of monkery and in obedience to the commands of the Pope. We believed such works to be fully satisfactory and, indeed, the only things that were holy; the pursuits of common Christians we considered worldly and dangerous.
15. In illustration of this idea, a picture was exhibited — with the sanction of the Pope — representing a great ship in the wild, wide sea, containing only the holy monks and the super-holy popes, cardinals, bishops, etc., who were throwing their merits to those in peril struggling in the water, or extending a hand, or by means of ropes and their stoles drawing the drowning to safety in the boat.
16. In contrast to this darkness, consider the priceless and to-be-cherished blessing of knowing with certainty wherein the heart is to take comfort, how to seek help in distress and how to conduct one’s self in one’s own station. If, though provided with spiritual riches on all sides, you are not sufficient of yourself at all times to grasp them, you can, nevertheless, always reach and appropriate them by means of the ordinary ministry and office of the Church, yes, by the aid of your fellow-Christians. Again, it is productive of the greatest happiness to know that when living aright in the ordinary walks of life established by God, you are more acceptable and pleasing to him than you would be to purchase the works and merits of all the monks and hermits.
17. What Paul terms being “enriched,” first, “in all utterance,” or knowledge — which, in the exalted spiritual meaning of the words, bears on life everlasting — is having the comfort o£ faith in Christ and of invocation and prayer. And enriched in “all knowledge,” means having true conception and right judgment in all things o\ our physical life and in all our earthly relations. All things that a Christian should know and should possess are comprehended in these two terms. These blessings are gifts and treasures indescribably great. He who will contrast them with the destitution of our former condition cannot but be joyful and thankful. I remember the time when I, engaged in earnest study of Holy Writ, would have given a great deal for the right exposition of a psalm; and when had I but begun to understand a verse aright, I would have been as rejoiced as if born to life anew.
18. Truly, then, we should now render to God heartfelt thanks for the great favor and blessing of restored light and understanding in Scripture, and the right conception of doctrinal matters. But, alas! it is likely to be with us as with the Corinthians, who had received most abundantly from Paul but by way of return had made ill use of it and proved shamefully unthankful. And they met with retribution, the worst of it being false doctrine and seductions, until at last that grand congregation was wholly ruined and destroyed. A similar retribution threatens us, yes, is before the door with appalling knock, in the instance of the Turks and in other distress and calamity. For this reason we should, with a thankful heart and serious mind, pray, as Paul here does for his Corinthians, that God would keep us steadfast in the possession of his gifts and blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
19. Paul admonishes us to continue in this knowledge and appreciation of the grace and gifts of God. Since by these blessings we have received riches and happiness to the satisfying of all our need, the apostle further admonishes us to look only for the Lord to reveal to us publicly by his coming that which he has promised and through faith already granted us.
20. In the past, much has been written and ingeniously devised on the topic of preparing for death and the final judgment. But it has only served to further confuse timid consciences. For these comforters were not able to show anything of the comfort to be found in the riches of grace and bliss in Christ. They directed the people to oppose with their own works and good life, death and God’s judgment. In place of this delusion is now evident the precious truth; he who knows the Gospel doctrines, goes on and performs his own work and duty in his respective calling. He takes comfort in the fact that through baptism he is engrafted into Christ; he receives absolution and partakes of the holy supper for the strengthening of his faith, commending his soul and body to Christ. Why should such a one fear death? Though it come at any time, in form of pestilence or accident, it will always find the Christian ready and well prepared, be he awake or asleep; for he is in Christ Jesus.
21. For all these things the Christian may well thank and bless God, realizing that he has no further need, nor can he gain anything better than he already has in the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the faithful prosecution of his calling; however, he should remain in, and daily grow in, faith and supplication. But he cannot hope to attain to another and better doctrine, faith, Spirit, prayer, sacrament, reward, etc., than had all the saints, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, or in fact than has now every Christian that is baptized. Therefore I need not idly spend time in trying to prepare people for death and inspire them with courage by such commonplaces as recalling and relating the innumerable daily accidents, ills and dangers of this life. This method will not answer; death will not thereby be frightened away, nor will the fear of death be removed. The Gospel teaching is: Believe in Christ, pray and live in accordance with God’s Word, and then, when death overtakes and attacks you, you will know that you are Christ the Lord’s. Paul says ( Romans 14:8): “Whether we live… or die, we are the Lord’s.” Indeed, we Christians live upon this earth to the very end that we may have assured comfort, salvation and victory over death and hell.
22. Of this Paul here reminds us, and dwells on it more fully later in this Epistle; he would have us duly thankful for this great grace and living among ourselves in a Christian and brotherly manner, in doctrine and practice, ignoring and avoiding that wild, disorderly conduct of the contentious and disorderly. He who recognizes such grace and blessing cannot but love and thank God and conduct himself aright toward his neighbor; and when he finds himself falling short in this he will, by admonition and the Word of God, make amends.
23. Here you might put the question: Why does Paul speak in such a commendatory way of the Corinthians, saying that they were enriched in everything and came behind in no gift, when he himself confesses later on that they had contentions and schisms — in regard to baptism, to the sacrament, to the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead and in regard to abuse of liberty, and some lived as they pleased. Would you not call these things faults and shortcomings? How, then, is he in a position to say that they were abundantly supplied with all things spiritual, lacking not one thing?
24. Well, you should recall what I have repeatedly stated: Christendom is never so spotless that there are not some spurious and wicked admixed, just as you will always find weeds, darnel, tares, or wild mustard together with pure grain. And he who will examine the Church with only a view of finding faults and frailties among those called Christians, will miss the Church, yes, the Gospel and Christ, and never discover a Church at all.
25. But we have the consolation of knowing that if we have the Gospel pure, we have the treasure God gives his Church and we cannot go astray nor want. But as yet we have not reached that degree of perfection where all hearers of the Gospel will grasp it fully and wholly or are faultless in faith and life; at all times there will be some who do not believe and some who are weak and imperfect. However, that great treasure and rich blessing of doctrine and knowledge is present. There is no defect in this, and it is effective and fruitful. The fact that some do not believe, does not weaken baptism or the Gospel or the Church; they only harm themselves.
To sum up, where the Word remains, there most assuredly is also the Church. For wherever the doctrine is pure, there you can also keep purity in baptism, the sacrament, absolution, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, good works and all callings; and wherever you find a defect or an irregularity, you can admonish, amend and rectify by means of the Word.
26. Some there must be who have the Word and sacraments pure and unadulterated, who have faith, pray aright, keep God’s commandments and do other things, as, thank God, we have with us. Then we may firmly conclude: If the true Church were not here, these characteristics would be lacking; therefore we must have among ourselves true members of the Church and true saints. Now even though children of the world intermingle (as will be the case always and in all places), who show neither faith nor a godly life, it would corrupt neither faith, nor baptism, nor doctrine, nor would the Church perish on that account — the treasure remains in its integrity and efficacy, and God may graciously cause some to turn from their unbelief and wicked life and be added to the faithful and to mend their ways.
27. Again, they with whom this treasure — the Word or doctrine and its knowledge — is not found, cannot be the Christian Church nor members of it, and for that reason they cannot pray or believe aright or do good works pleasing to God. It follows that their whole lives are in God’s sight lost and condemned, though they may assiduously extol God and the Church and before the world may have the appearance and reputation of leading particularly holy lives and excelling even the upright Christians in virtues and honor. It is a settled fact that outside the Church of Christ there is no God, no grace, no bliss; as Paul says ( Ephesians 4:5): “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all,” etc. And Acts 4:12 says: “And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved.”
28. And so Paul, when here extolling the Corinthians, has not an eye to the contentious, the Epicureans, or to those who give public offense, as the man that “had his father’s wife;” but the apostle looks to the fact that a few remain who have the pure Word of God, faith, baptism and the sacrament, though some hypocrites be among them. Because of these few — and few indeed there may be — we recognize the presence of that inestimable treasure of which the apostle speaks. It is found as well where two or three are gathered together as with thousands. Neither the Gospel nor the ministers nor the Church is to be blamed that the multitude miss this treasure; the multitude have but them, selves to blame, for they close their ears and eyes.
29. Now behold how loftily Paul has extolled and how beautifully portrayed the Christian Church — where she is to be found on earth and what inestimable blessings and gifts she has received of Christ, for which she is in duty bound to thank and praise him in her confession and in her life. This subject the apostle concludes with the words: “God is faithful, through whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”
30. The good work which Christ has begun in you and already assured to you, he will without fall establish in you until the end and for ever, if you but do not fall away through unbelief, or cast grace from you. For his Word or promise given to you, and his work begun in you, are not changeable as is man’s word and work, but are firm, certain, divine, immovable truth. Since you are in possession of this your divine calling, draw comfort therefrom and rely on it without wavering. Amen.