Bach Cantata/Luther Sermon: Michaelmas

J. S. Bach’s cantata for Michaelmas via
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Portion of Dr. Martin Luther’s Sermon for Michaelmas

From a discourse on good and evil angels, preached at Wittenberg, at the Feast of Michaelmas, 1533, from the words…

“Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” — Matt, xviii. 10.

This, peradventure, is a childish sermon, but, nevertheless, it is good and needful; and so simple, and so needful, that it may profit us old folks also. For the angels are not only present with children, but also with us who are old. So says St. Paul, in the first epistle to the Corinthians, xi. 10, ‘For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head, because of the angels.’ Women should not be adorned in the church and congregation as if they were going to a dance, but be covered with a veil for the sake of the angels. St. Paul here fetcheth in the angels, and saith that they are present at the sermon, and at sacred offices and Divine service. This service of the angels doth not seem to be precious; but herein we see what are genuine good works. The dear angels are not proud, as we men; but they walk in Divine obedience, and in the service of men, and wait upon young children. How could they perform a meaner work than to wait day and night upon children? What doth a child? It suckles, weeps, sleeps, and is like other beings. Truly an admirable thing, that the holy ministering Spirits should wait upon children, who eat, drink, sleep, and wake! To look at it, it doth indeed seem a lowly office. But the dear angels perform it with joy, for it is well-pleasing to God, who hath enjoined it upon them. A monk, on the contrary, saith, Shall I wait upon children? That will I not do. I will go about higher and greater works. I will put on a cowl, and will mortify myself in the cloister. But if thou wilt consider it aright, these are the highest and best offices which are rendered to children, and to pious Christians. What do parents? What are their works? They are the menials and the servants of young children. All that they do— they themselves confess— they do for the sake of their children, that they may be educated. So do also the dear angels. Why, then, should we be ashamed to wait upon children? And if the dear angels did not take charge of children, what would become of them? For parents, with the help of prince and magistrate, are far too feeble to bring them up. Were it not for the protection of the dear angels, no child would grow to full age, though the parents should bestow all possible diligence upon them. Therefore hath God ordained and set for the care and defence of children, not only parents, but also emperors, kings, princes, and lastly, His high and great Spirits, the holy angels, that no harm may befall them. It were well that the children were impressed with these things.

On the other hand, one should also tell children of the wiles of the devil, and of evil spirits. Dear child, one should say to to them, if thou wilt not be pious, thy little angel will run away from thee, and the evil spirit, the black Popelmann, will come to thee. Therefore, be pious, and pray, and thy little angel will come to thee, and the Popelmann will leave thee. And this is even the pure truth. The devil sits in a corner, and if he could throttle both parent and child, he would do it not otherwise than gladly. . . .

Thus are the dear angels watchmen also, and keep watch over us, and protect us. And were it not for their guardianship the black Nick would soon find us, seeing he is an angry and untiring spirit; but the dear angels are our true guardians against him. When we sleep, and parents at home, and the magistrate in the city, and the prince of the country sleep like wise, and can neither govern nor protect us, then watch the holy angels, and guard and govern us for the best. When the devil can do nothing else, he affrighteth me in my sleep, or maketh me sick, that I cannot sleep. Then no man can defend me; all they that are in the house are asleep; but the dear angels sit at my bedside, and they say to the devil, Let this man sleep. This is the office which the angels perform for me, unless I have deserved that God should withdraw His hand from me, and not permit His angels to guard and defend me, but suffer me to be scourged a little, to the end that I may be humbled, and acknowledge the blessing of God, which He conferreth upon me by the ministry of the dear angels. . . .

I myself do often feel the raging of the devil within me. At times I believe; at times I believe not. At times I am merry; at times I am sad. Yet do I see that it happeneth not as the evil multitude wish, who would not give so much as a penny for preaching, baptism, and sacrament. Now, although the devil is beyond measure wicked, and hath no good thing in purpose, yet do all orders proceed and remain according to wont. . . .

If we keep these instructions of which I have spoken, then shall we continue in the true understanding and faith, and the dear angels will continue in their office and honours. They will do what is commanded them by God, and we shall do whatsoever is commanded us, that thus we and they may know and praise God for our Creator and Lord. Amen.