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Sermons of Dr. Martin Luther for Trinity 22
Gospel Sermon (1524)
(Note from the Lenker edition: This sermon is found in all the editions of the Church Postil and in three pamphlet prints, which appeared in 1524, two at Wittenberg and one at Augsburg by S. Otmar. Title: “Sermon on the 23 Sunday after Pentecost.” Erl. 14, 279; W. 11, 2383; St. L. 11, 1786.)
Text: Matthew 18:23-35.
Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, who would make a reckoning with his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought to him, that owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not wherewith to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
The servant therefore fell down and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And the lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants, who owed him a hundred shillings: and he laid hold on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay what thou owest. So his fellow-servant fell down and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay that which was due. So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were exceeding sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord called him unto him, and saith to him, Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou besoughtest me: shouldest not thou also have had mercy on thy fellow-servant, even as I had mercy on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due. So shall also my heavenly Father do unto you, if ye forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.
1. Through the mercy and grace of God all sins will be forgiven, however great they may be. But his sins will not be forgiven, who will not forgive his brother, as Christ has taught us to pray: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12. This Gospel or parable Christ our Lord spoke in reply to St. Peter, to whom he had just entrusted the keys to loose and to bind, Matthew 16:19, when Peter asked him how often he should forgive his neighbor, whether seven times were enough? He answered: “Not seven times, but seventy times seven,” and Christ then related this parable, and with it concludes, that our heavenly Father will do unto us, if we forgive not our neighbor, as this king did unto his servant, who would not forgive his fellow-servant a very small debt, after he had forgiven him so great a debt.
2. First, before we consider the Gospel itself, let us examine what kind of a rebuke it is, by which this servant’s right is denied. For the other servant who owed him a hundred shillings, should according to justice have justly paid him this money. Even the first also had a good right to demand what was his own. If an appeal had been made to the public sentiment, every one would have been compelled to agree with him and say: It is just and right for him to pay what he owes. Why then this procedure, that his lord abolishes his claim, and besides condemns the servant because he demands and executes his right? Answer: It was thus written that we might know that it is altogether a different thing in the eye of God than it is in the eye of the world, and often that which is not right before God, is right and just before the world. For before the world this servant stands an honorable man; but before God he is called a wicked servant, and he is blamed for acting as one who is worthy of eternal condemnation.
3. It is therefore decreed when we deal with God that we must stand free, and let goods, honor, right, wrong, and every thing go that we have; and we will not be excused when we say: I am right, therefore I will not suffer a man to do me wrong, as God requires that we should renounce all our rights and forgive our neighbor. Concerning this, however, our high schools and the learned have preached and taught quite differently, that we are not obliged to give way to another and surrender our rights, but that it is just for every one to secure his dues. This is the first rebuff. Now let us consider this Gospel more fully.
4. We have often said that the Gospel or kingdom of God is nothing else than a state or government, in which there is nothing but forgiveness of sins. And wherever there is a state or government in which sins are not forgiven, no Gospel or kingdom of God is found there. Therefore we must clearly distinguish these two kingdoms from each other, in which sins are rebuked, and sins are forgiven, or in which our right is demanded, and our right is pardoned. In the kingdom of God, where God rules with the Gospel, there is no demand for right and dues, but all is pure forgiveness, pardon and giving, no anger, no punishment, but all is pure brotherly service and kindness.
5. By this, however, our civil rights are not abolished. For this parable teaches nothing of the kingdom of this world, but only of the kingdom of God. Therefore, whoever is only under the civil government of the world, is far from the kingdom of heaven, for all this still belongs to perdition. As when a prince so rules his people as not to permit anyone to be wronged, and punishes the evil doer, does well and is praised. For thus it is in this government: Pay what thou owest, if not, you will be cast into prison. Such government we must have, but no one will thereby get to heaven, nor will the world be saved by it. But it is necessary for the reason that the world may not become worse, it is only a protection against and a prevention of wickedness. For if it were not for this government, one would devour the other, and no person could protect his life, goods, wife and child. So in order that everything may not go to ruin, God has instituted functions of the sword, by which wickedness may in part be prevented, so that the civil government may secure and maintain peace, and no one may wrong another. Therefore it must be tolerated. And yet as we have said, it has not been established for citizens of heaven, but simply in order that the people may not fall deeper into hell, and make matters worse.
Therefore no one dare boast, who is under the civil government, that he therefore does right before God. Before him, all is yet wrong. For you must come to the point, that you also avoid what the world claims to be right.
6. The aim of this Gospel is to describe to us forgiveness for both parties.
First the lord forgives the servant all his debt. Then he demands of him that he also in like manner forgive his fellow-servant and pardon his debt. This God demands, and thus his kingdom shall stand. Hence no one should be so wicked and allow himself to be so angry, as to be unable to forgive his neighbor. And, as is written, if he would even offend you seventy times seven times, that is, as often as he is able to offend you, you are to let your right and claim go, and freely give him everything. Why so? Because Christ has also done the same for you, in that he began and established a kingdom in which there is nothing but grace, that is to endure forever, that every thing, as often as you sin, may be forgiven; because he has sent forth his Gospel, not to proclaim punishment, but grace alone. Now, because this government stands, you can at all times rise again, however deep and often you fall. For even if you fall, yet this Gospel and mercy-seat remain and stand forever; therefore as soon as you come and rise again, you again have grace. But he requires of you to forgive your neighbor whatever he has done against you, else you will neither be in this gracious kingdom nor enjoy the Gospel, that your sins may be forgiven. This in short is the idea and sense of this Gospel.
7. However, it is here not forgotten who those are who grasp and enjoy the Gospel. For it is indeed a glorious kingdom and a gracious government, because there is preached in it nothing but the forgiveness of sins, though it does not enter every one’s heart. Hence there are many rude and vicious people who misuse the Gospel, who live a free life and do as they please, and think no one shall ever rebuke them, because the Gospel preaches nothing but the forgiveness of sins. To those the Gospel is not preached, who thus despise the great treasure and treat it wantonly; for this reason they do not belong to this kingdom, but only to the civil government, where they may be prevented from doing whatever they wish.
8. To whom then is the Gospel preached? To those who feel their distress as this servant does his. Therefore observe, how it is with him? The lord has compassion on his wretchedness, and gives him more than he could desire. But before this is done, the text says that the lord would make a reckoning with his servants; and as he began to reckon this one appeared before him, who owed him ten thousand talents; but as he had not wherewith to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. This was indeed no cheering sermon, nothing but great earnestness, and the most terrible sentence. Now he becomes so uneasy that he falls down and pleads for grace, and promises more than he has and can pay, and says: “Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” Here are pictured and set forth those who enjoy the Gospel in its full measure.
9. For thus it is between God and us. When God wishes to reckon with us, he sends forth the preaching of the law, by which we learn to know what we owe. As when God says to the conscience: “Thou shalt have no other gods,” but esteem me only as God and love me with all thy heart, and trust in me alone; this is the reckoning and the register, in which is written what we owe, this he takes in hand and reads to us and says: Do you see what you are required to do? You are to fear, love and honor me alone, and trust only in me, and hope in me for the best. But you do the contrary and are my enemy, you do not believe in me, but put your trust in other things.
To sum up, you see here you do not keep a single letter of the Law.
10. Now when the conscience hears such things, and the Law thoroughly comes at us, then we see our duty, and that we have not done it, and we perceive that we have not kept a letter of it, and must confess we have not believed or loved God a single moment. What now will the Lord do? When the conscience is thus led captive and confesses that it must be lost, and becomes anxious and fearful, he says: Sell him and all he has, that payment may be made. This is the sentence which immediately follows, when the Law reveals sins and says: This thou shouldst do and have done, but thou hast not done it. For punishment follows sin, that payment may be made.
For God has not given his Law to the end to allow those to escape who disobey it. It is not sweet nor friendly, but brings with it bitter, horrible punishment, and delivers us to satan, casts us into hell, and leaves us in punishment until we have paid the uttermost farthing. This St. Paul has correctly explained to the Romans, 4:15: “For the Law worketh wrath.”
That is, when it reveals to us that we have done wrong, it brings home to our hearts nothing but his wrath and displeasure. For when the conscience sees it has done wrong, it feels that it is worthy of eternal death; and if punishment would soon follow, it would have to despair. This is meant, when the lord commands this servant to be sold with all he has, because he cannot make payment.
11. What does the servant do now? He foolishly goes to work and thinks he will still pay the debt, falls down and asks the lord to have patience with him. This is the torment of all consciences, when sin comes and smarts deeply until they feel in what a sad state they are before God; then they have no rest, run hither and thither, seek help here and there, to become free from sin, and in their presumption think they can do enough to pay God in full. As we have been taught hitherto; from which also have come so many pilgrimages, charitable foundations, cloisters, masses and other nonsense; so we fasted and scourged ourselves, and became monks and nuns. And all this came because we undertook to begin a life and to do many works of which God should take account and allow himself to be paid by them, and had thought to quiet and put the conscience at peace with God; and so we have acted just like this fool in today’s lesson.
12. Now a heart that is thus smitten with the Law, and feels its blows and distress, is truly humiliated. Therefore it falls before the Lord and asks for grace, except that it still makes the mistake that it will help itself; for this we cannot root out of our nature. When the conscience feels such misery, it dare promise more than all the angels in heaven are able to do. Here one can easily promise and bind himself to do every thing that may be required of him; for he finds himself at all times thus prepared, that he still hopes to do enough for his sin by means of his good works.
13. Now behold the things men were guilty of heretofore in the world’s history, and you will find it so. Then men preached: Give to the church, run into the cloister, establish many masses, and then your sins will be forgiven.
And when they forced our consciences in the confessional, we did everything they imposed upon us, and gave more than they demanded of us. What should the poor people do? They were glad to be helped in this manner; therefore they ran and martyred themselves to get rid of their sins; and yet it did no good whatever, for the conscience remained in doubt as before, so that it did not know on what terms it stood with God; or if it were secure; it became still worse and fell into the presumption, that God had to regard their works. Reason cannot let this alone nor get around it, so as to abandon it.
14. Hence the Lord comes and sympathizes with this distress, because the servant thus lies captive and bound in his sins, and in addition to this is such a fool as to want to help himself, looks for no mercy, knows nothing to say of grace, and feels nothing but sins, which press him heavily, and knows no one to help him. Then his lord has mercy on him and sets him free.
15. Here is represented to us the Gospel and its nature, and how God deals with us. When you are thus held fast in sins and you torment yourself to become free from them, the Gospel comes and says: “No, not so, my dear friend, it will do no good for you to torture and torment yourself to madness; your works accomplish nothing, but God’s mercy does it all; he has compassion on your affliction, and sees you a captive in such anguish, struggling in the mire and that cannot help yourself out, he sees that you cannot pay the debt, therefore he forgives you all.”
Hence it is nothing but pure mercy. For he forgives you the debt, not because of your works and merit, but because he pities your cries, complaints and humiliation. This means that God has regard for an humble heart, as the Prophet David says in Psalm 51:19: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” Such a heart, he says, is broken and cast down and cannot help itself, and is glad when God gives it a helping hand; this is the best sacrifice before God, and the true way to heaven.
16. Now this follows out of mercy; because God pities our distress, he yields his claims and nullifies them and never says: Sell what you have and make payment. He might well have proceeded and said: You must pay, I have the right to demand it, I will not on your account annul my own right, and no one could have blamed him. Yet, he does not wish to deal with him according to our ideas of right, but changes justice into grace, has mercy on him, and gives him liberty, with wife and child and everything he has, and makes him a present of the debt besides.
This is what God preaches through the Gospel, namely: He who believes, to him not only the debt, but also the punishment shall be remitted. To this no works are to be added; for whoever preaches that through his works one can atone for his debt and punishment, has already denied the Gospel.
For the two can not be tolerated together, that God should have mercy, and that you should have any merit. If it is grace, then it is not merit: but if it is merit, then it is justice and no grace. Romans 11:6. For if you pay what you owe, he shows you no mercy; but if he shows mercy, you do not pay for what you receive. Therefore we must leave him alone to deal with us, receive from him and believe. This is what to-day’s Gospel teaches.
17. Now you see, since this servant is thus humbled through the knowledge of his sins, that the Word ministers very strong comfort to him, when the Lord declares him free, and remits him both the debt and the punishment.
By this is indicated that the Gospel does not reach vicious hearts, nor those who walk forth impudently, but only troubled consciences whose sins oppress them, from which they desire to be free; on these God will have mercy and bestow upon them all things.
18. Thus this servant now received the Word, and thereby became God’s friend. For if he had not received the Word, it would have done him no good, and forgiveness would have amounted to nothing. Therefore it is not enough that God has the forgiveness of sins offered to us, and has proclaimed the golden year of the kingdom of grace; but it must also be grasped and believed. If you believe it, then you are free from sin, and all is right. Now this is the first part of a Christian life, taught by this and all the Gospels, which properly consists in faith, that deals only with God. Besides it is also indicated that we cannot grasp the Gospel, unless there be present first a conscience that is afflicted and miserable because of sin.
19. Now conclude from this that it is nothing but deception that is preached in relation to our works and free will, and if a different way to blot out sin and obtain grace is taught, than this Gospel here advocates, namely, that the divine Majesty looks upon our wretchedness and has mercy upon us. For the text says clearly, that he presents and remits to those who have nothing; and thus concludes that we have nothing wherewith to remunerate God. So you may have free will as you wish in temporal things, in outward life and character, or in outward piety and virtue, as man can have in his own strength, yet you hear now that it is nothing before God. What can free will do here? There is nothing in it at any rate but struggling and trembling. Therefore, if you would be free from sin, you must desist from and despair in all your own works, and cling to the cross and plead for grace, and then lay hold of the Gospel by faith.
20. Now follows the second part of this parable, that of the fellow-servant.
We would gladly die every hour for the sake of our faith. For this servant has enough, he retains his life and goods, wife and child and has a gracious lord; so he would be a great fool if he would now go and do everything he could to obtain a gracious lord. His lord might then well say, he only mocks me. Therefore, he dare not add any work, but only receives the grace offered him, be joyful and thank the Lord, and do unto others as the Lord did to him.
21. Thus it is now with us. If we believe, then we have a gracious God, and need no more, and it would indeed be well for us to die soon. But if we are to live on earth, our life must not be devoted to obtain God’s favor by means of our works; for he who does this mocks and blasphemes God. As men hitherto have taught, that we must so long lie at God’s ears with our good works, praying, fasting and the like, until we obtain grace. Grace we have already received, not through our works but through God’s mercy.. If you are to live, you must have something to do and work at, and all this must be devoted to your neighbor, says Christ.
22. But that servant went out. How does he go out? Where has he been within? He had been in faith, but now he goes out through love, by which he is to show himself to the people. For faith leads the people from the people unto God, but love leads out unto the people. Previously he was within, between God and himself alone, for no one can see or vouch for faith, how both work together. Therefore one must needs go out of the eyes of the people, where no one is seen or felt but God; this is transacted alone through faith, and no external work can be added to it. Now he comes out before his neighbor. If he had remained within, he could well have died; but he must come out and live among other people and mingle with them. Here he finds a fellow-servant whom he strikes and beats, and throttles him, demands payment and shows no mercy.
23. This is what we have often said, that we Christians must break forth, and show by our deeds and before the people that we have the true faith.
God does not need your works, he has enough in your faith. Yet he wants you to work that you may show thereby your faith to yourself and all the world. For God indeed sees faith, but you and the people do not yet see it, therefore you should devote the works of faith to the benefit of your neighbor. Thus this servant is an example and picture of all those who should serve their neighbor through faith.
24. But what does he do? Just as we who think we believe, and partly do believe, and rejoice that we have heard the Gospel and can say a great deal about it; but no one wants to follow it in his life. We have brought matters so far, that the doctrine and jugglery of the devil have been partly overthrown, and we now see what is right and what is wrong, that we must deal with God alone through faith, but with our neighbor through our works. But we cannot bring it to pass, that, as to love, one does to another as God has done to him; as we ourselves complain that some of us have become much worse than they were before.
25. As this servant will not forgive his neighbor, but seeks to collect his claim; so we also do and say: I am not in duty bound to give what is my own to another, and yield my rights. If another has offended me, he owes it to me to reconcile me and ask pardon. For thus the world teaches and acts.
And here you are right, and no prince or king will compel you to give to another what is your own; but they must permit you to do what you wish with your own. The civil government only compels so far, that you may not do with another’s goods what you would, not that you must give your goods to another. This is right before the world, as reason concludes: To every one belongs his own. Therefore, he does not do wrong, who uses his goods as he will, and robs no one of his own.
26. But what says this Gospel? If God also would have acted thus and had maintained his right and said: I act in harmony with justice, when I punish the wicked and take what is my own, who will prevent me? where then would we all be? We would all go to ruin. Therefore, because he has given up his claim on thee, he desires that you too should do likewise. Therefore, also give up your right and think: If God has given me ten thousand pounds, why should I not give my neighbor a hundred shillings?
27. Thus your goods are no longer your own, but your neighbor’s. God could indeed have kept his own, for he owed you nothing. Yet he gives himself wholly unto you, becomes your gracious Lord, is kind to you, and serves you with all his goods, and what he has is all yours; why then will you not also do likewise? Hence, if you wish to be in his kingdom you must do as he does; but if you want to remain in the kingdom of the world, you will not enter his kingdom. Therefore the sentence in Matthew 25:42, which Christ will speak on the last day belongs to those who are not Christians: “For I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink,” and so on.
28. But you say: Do you still insist that God will have no regard for our good works, and on their account will save no one? Answer: He would have them done freely without any thought of remuneration; not that we thereby obtain something, but that we do them to our neighbor, and thereby show that we have the true faith; for what have you then that you gave him and by which you merit anything, that he should have mercy on you and forgive you all things that you have done against him? Or what profit has he by it? Nothing has he, but that you praise and thank him, and do as he has done, that God may be thanked in thee, then you are in his kingdom and have all things that you should have. This is the other part of the Christian life, which is called love, by which one goes out from God to his neighbor.
29. Those who do not prove their faith by their works of love are servants who want others to forgive them, but do not forgive their neighbor, nor yield their rights; hence it will also be with them as with this servant. For when the other servants, who preach the Gospel, see that God has freely given them all things, and they refuse to forgive anyone, they become sad to see such things, and they are pained, that they act so foolishly toward the Gospel, and no one lays hold of it. What do they do then? They can do no more than come before their Lord with their complaint and say: So it goes; you forgive them both the debt and the punishment, and freely give them all things; but we cannot prevail upon them to do to others as you have done to them. This is the complaint. Then God will summon them to appear before him at the last judgment and accuse them of these things and say: When you were hungry, thirsty and afflicted, I helped you; when you lay in sins I had compassion upon you and forgave the debt; therefore you must also now pay your debt. There is now no grace nor mercy, nothing but wrath and eternal punishment, no prayers will help from now on, and they become speechless, and are cast into torment until they pay the uttermost farthing.
30. St. Peter said the same of those who heard the Gospel and again fell away. 2 Peter 2:21: “For it were better for them, not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” Why would it be better? Because. if they turn back it will be twofold worse with them, than it was before they had heard the Gospel; as Christ says in Matthew 12:45, of the unclean spirit, who takes unto himself seven other spirits worse than himself, comes with them and dwells in the man out of whom they were cast, and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.
31. Thus it is now with us also, and it will be still more so. So it also was with Rome. There things were in a fine condition in the days of the martyrs. But afterwards they went to ruin, and abominations arose and Antichrist ruled, and the city became so wicked that it could not be worse.
The grace of God preached through the Gospel is so great that the people do not grasp it, therefore great and terrible punishment must also follow.
Thus we will see just punishment come upon us, inasmuch as we do not obey the Gospel we have and know.
32. For as often as God has afflicted the people with severe punishment, he previously set up a great light; as when he led the Jews out of their country into captivity, he first brought forth the pious king Josiah, who again restored the law in order to reform the people; but when they again fell away, God punished them as they deserved. So also when he wished to overthrow the Egyptians, he sent Moses and Aaron to preach and enlighten them, Exodus 4:14. Again, when he wished to destroy the world with the flood, he raised up the patriarch Noah, Genesis 6, and 7. But when the people would not believe and only grew worse, terrible punishment followed. So it was with the five cities; Sodom and Gomorrah with the rest were punished, because they would not hear pious Lot, Genesis 19.
Therefore such terrible punishments will also now come upon those who hear the Gospel and do not receive it. So this servant in the Gospel is cast off, and must pay what he owes. This means, that he must endure the pain and consequences. But he who endures the pain for the debt, will never be saved. For to sin belongs death, and when one dies he dies forever, and there is no more help nor salvation for him. Therefore let us receive these things as a warning; those, however, who are hardened and will not hear, will guard against it.
33. This is an elegant, comfortable Gospel, and is sweet to the afflicted conscience, because it contains nothing but forgiveness of sins. But for stubborn heads and hardened hearts it is a terrible sentence, and particularly so because this servant is not a heathen, but belongs to those under the Gospel, who held the faith. For as the Lord has mercy on him and forgives him what he had done, he must without doubt be a Christian.
Hence this is not a punishment for the heathen, neither for the common crowd who hear the Gospel with the external ear, and have it on their tongue, but do not live according to it. Thus we have the sum of this Gospel.
34. What further the sophists are accustomed here to discuss, whether the sins will come back that were once forgiven, I let pass. For they do not know what forgiveness of sin is, and think it is something that sticks in the heart and lies still there, whereas it is the whole kingdom of Christ, which lasts forever without end. For as the sun shines and gives light none the less, although I close my eyes, so this mercy seat or forgiveness of sins stands forever, though I fall. And as I see the sun again as soon as I open my eyes, so I have the forgiveness of sins again when I look up and again come to Christ. Therefore we must not make forgiveness so narrow, as the fools dream. This is said on to-day’s Gospel.
Epistle Sermon (date unknown)
Text: Philippians 1:3-11
I thank my God upon all my remembrance of you, always in every supplication of mine on behalf of you all making my supplication with joy, for your fellowship in furtherance of the gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ: even as it is right for me to be thus minded on behalf of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as, both in my bonds and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how I long after you in all the tender mercies of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment; so that ye may approve the things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and void of offense unto the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.
1. First, the apostle Paul thanks God, as his custom is in the beginning of his epistles, for the grace whereby the Philippians came into the fellowship of the Gospel and were made partakers of it. Secondly, his desire and prayer to God is for their increase in the knowledge of the Gospel, and their more abundant fruits. His intent in extolling the Gospel is to admonish them to remain steadfast in their faith, continuing as they have begun and as they now stand. Apparently this is a simple passage, especially to learned and apt students of the Scriptures. They may not think it holds any great truth to be discovered. Yet we must explain this and like discourses for the benefit of some who do not fully understand it, and who desire to learn.
2. These words give us an exact delineation of the Christian heart that sincerely believes in the holy Gospel. Such hearts are rare in the world. It is especially difficult to find one so beautiful as we observe here unless it be among the beloved apostles or those who approached them in Christlikeness.
For in the matter of faith we today are entirely too indolent and indifferent.
3. But the Christian heart is such as inspired Paul’s words; here its characteristics are shown. He rejoices in the Gospel with his inmost soul.
He thanks God that others have come into its fellowship. His confidence is firm regarding certain beginners in the faith, and he is so interested in their salvation he rejoices in it as much as in his own, seeming unable to thank God sufficiently for it. He unceasingly prays that he may live to see many come with him into such fellowship and be preserved therein until the day of the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall perfect and complete all the defects of this earthly life. He prays these beginners may go forth faultlessly in faith and hope until that joyful day.
Thus the godly apostle expresses himself, pouring out the depths of his heart — a heart filled with the real fruits of the Spirit and of faith. It burns with love and joy whenever he sees the Gospel recognized, accepted and honored, and the Church flourishing. Paul can conceive for the converts no loftier desire — can offer no greater petition for them than to implore God they may increase and persevere in the Gospel faith. Such is the inestimable value he places upon possessing and holding fast God’s Word. And Christ in Luke 11:28 pronounces blessed those who keep the Word of God.
5. Now, the first thing in which Paul is here an example to us is his gratitude. It behooves the Christian who recognizes the grace and goodness of God expressed in the Gospel, first of all to manifest his thankfulness therefor; toward God — his highest duty — and toward men.
As Christians who have abandoned the false services and sacrifices that in our past heathenish blindness we zealously practiced, let us remember our obligation henceforth to be the more fervent in offering true service and right sacrifices to God. We can render him no better — in fact, none other — service, or outward work, than the thank-offering, as the Scriptures term it. That is, receiving and honoring the grace of God and the preaching and hearing of his Word, and furthering their operation, not only in word, but sincerely in our hearts and with all our physical and spiritual powers.
This is the truest gratitude.
6. God calls that a “pure offering” which is rendered to him “among the gentiles” ( Malachi 1:11), where his name is not preached and praised from avariciousness, not from pride and presumption in the priesthood and in the holiness of human works. These motives actuated the boasting Jews, who, as God charges in this reference, presumptuously thought to receive honor from him for every trivial service like closing a door or opening a window. But the offering of the gentiles is joyfully rendered from a sincere, willing heart. This kind of thanksgiving and sacrifices are acceptable to God, for he says in <19B003>Psalm 110:3, “Thy people shall be willing”; and in 2 Corinthians 9:7, “God loveth a cheerful giver.” The knowledge of the Gospel should inspire us with gratitude of this order. Let us not be found unthankful, and forgetful of God’s infinite goodness.
7. The heathen everywhere, despite their ignorance of God and his grace, condemned to the utmost the evil of ingratitude. They regarded it the mother of evils, than which was none more malevolent and shameful.
Among many examples in this respect is one left us by a people in Arabia called Nabathians, who had an excellent form of government. So strict were they in regard to this evil that anyone found guilty of ingratitude to his fellows was looked upon as a murderer and punished with death.
8. No sin is more abominable to human nature, and of none is human nature less tolerant. It is easier to forgive and to forget the act of an enemy who commits a bodily injury, or even murders one’s parents, than it is to forget the sin of him who repays simple kindness and fidelity with ingratitude and faithlessness; who for love and friendship returns hatred. In the sentiment of the Latin proverb, to be so rewarded is like rearing a serpent in one’s bosom. God likewise regards this sin with extreme enmity and punishes it. The Scriptures say: “Whoso rewardeth evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house.” Proverbs 17:13.
9. Thus we have the teaching of nature and of reason regarding the sin of men’s ingratitude toward one another. How much greater the evil, how much more shameful and accursed, when manifested toward God who, in his infinite and ineffable goodness, conferred upon us while yet enemies to him and deserving of the fires of hell — conferred upon us, I say, not ten dollars, not a hundred thousand dollars even, but redemption from divine wrath and eternal death, and abundantly comforted us, granting us safety, a good conscience, peace and salvation! These are inexpressible blessings, incomprehensible in this life. And they will continue to occupy our minds in yonder eternal life. How much more awful the sin of ingratitude for these blessings, as exemplified in the servant mentioned in the Gospel passage for today, to whom was forgiven the debt of ten thousand talents and who yet would not forgive the debt of his fellow-servant who owed him a hundred pence!
10. Is it not incredible that there are to be found on earth individuals wicked enough to manifest for the highest and eternal blessings such unspeakable ingratitude? But alas, we have the evidence of our own eyes.
We know them in their very dwelling-places. We see how the world abounds with them. Not only are the ingrates to be found among deliberate rejecters of the acknowledged truth of the Gospel, concerning God’s grace, an assured conscience and the promise of eternal life, terrible as such malice of the devil is, but they are present also in our midst, accepting the Gospel and boasting of it. Such shameful ingratitude prevails among the masses it would not be strange were God to send upon them the thunders and lightnings of his wrath, yes, all the Turks and the devils of hell.
There is a generally prevalent ingratitude like that of the wicked servant who readily forgot the straits he experienced when, being called to account for what he could not pay, the wrathful sentence was pronounced against him that he and all he possessed must be sold, and he be indefinitely imprisoned. Nor have we less readily forgotten how we were tortured under the Papacy; how we were overwhelmed, drowned as in a flood, with numberless strange doctrines, when our anxious consciences longed for salvation. Now that we are, through the grace of God, liberated from these distresses, our gratitude is of a character to increasingly heap to ourselves the wrath of God. So have others before us done, and consequently have endured terrible chastisement.
11. Only calculate the enormity of our wickedness when, God having infinitely blessed us in forgiving all our sins and making us lords over heaven and earth, we so little respect him as to be unmindful of his blessings; to be unwilling for the sake of them sincerely to forgive our neighbor a single slighting word, not to mention rendering him service. We conduct ourselves as if God might be expected to connive at our ingratitude and permit us to continue in it, at the same time conferring upon us as godly and obedient children, success and happiness. More than this, we think we have the privilege and power to live and do as we please.
Indeed, the more learning and power we have and the more exalted our rank, the greater knaves we are; perpetrating every wicked deed, stirring up strife, discord, war and murder for the sake of executing our own arbitrary designs, where the question is the surrender of a penny in recognition of the hundreds of thousands of dollars daily received from God notwithstanding our ingratitude.
12. Two mighty lords clash with each other like powerful battering rams, and for what? Perhaps for undisputed possession of a city or two, a matter they must be ashamed of did they but call to mind what they have received from God. They would be constrained to exclaim: “What are we doing that we injure one another — we who are all baptized in one name, the name of Christ, and pledged to one Lord?” But no, it will not do for them to consider this matter; not even to think of it. They must turn their eyes away from it, and put it far from their hearts. Wholly forgetting God’s benefits, they must wage war against each other, involving nations, and subjecting people to the Turk. And all for sake of the insignificant farthing each refused to yield to the other.
13. The world permits the very devil to saddle and ride it as he pleases. It seems to be characteristic of every phase of life that one will not yield to another — will not submit to any demand. Everyone is disposed to force his arrogant authority. The presumption is that supreme honor and final success depend upon an unyielding, unforgiving disposition, and that to seek to retain our possessions by peaceable means will prove our ruin.
Even the two remaining cows in the stall must be brought into requisition, and war waged to the last stick, until when the mutineer comes and we have neither cow nor stall, nor house nor stick, we are obliged to cease.
Oh, had we but grace enough to reflect on how it would be with us did God require us, as he has a perfect right to do, to pay our whole indebtedness, none being forgiven! grace enough to think whether we would not this very moment be in the abyss of hell! But so must it finally be with those who disregard the question and continually heap to themselves the wrath of God, being at the same time unwilling for him to deal otherwise with them than he did with the servant he forgave. But against that servant was finally passed the irrevocable sentence which, without mercy, delivered him to the tormentor till he should pay the debt, something he could never do.
14. Nor is there any wrong or injustice in this ruling. For, as St. Bernhard says, ingratitude is an evil damnable and pernicious enough to quench all the springs of grace and blessing known to God and men; it is like a poison-laden, burning, destructive wind. Human nature will not tolerate it.
Nor can God permit you, upon whom he has bestowed all grace and goodness, all spiritual and temporal blessing, to go on continually in wickedness, defiantly abusing his benevolence and dishonoring him; you thus recklessly bring upon yourself his wrath. For God cannot bless you if you are ungrateful, if you reject his goodness and give it no place in your heart.
In such case the fountain of grace and mercy that continually springs for all who sincerely desire it, must be quenched for you. You cannot enjoy it. It would afford you an abundant and unceasing supply of water did you not yourself dry it up by the deadly wind of your ingratitude; by shamefully forgetting the ineffable goodness God bestows upon you; and by failing to honor the blood of Christ the Lord, wherewith he purchased us and reconciled us to God — failing to honor it enough to forgive your neighbor, for Christ’s sake, a single wrong word.
15. What heavy burden is there for the individual who, in submission and gratitude to his God, and in honor to Christ, would conduct himself something like a Christian? It will cost him no great effort nor trouble. It will not break any bones nor injure him in property or honor. Even were it to affect him to some trifling extent, to incur for him some slight injustice, he should remember what God has given him, and will still give, of his grace and goodness.
Yes, why complain even were you, in some measure, to endanger body and life? What did not the Son of God incur for you? It was not pleasure for him to take upon himself the wrath of God, to bear the curse for you. It cost him bloody sweat and unspeakable anguish of heart, as well as the sacrifice of his body, the shedding of his blood, when he bore for you the wrath and curse of God, which would have rested upon you forever. Yet he did it cheerfully and with fervent love. Should you not, then, be ashamed in your own heart, and humiliated before all creatures, to be so slow and dull, so stock-and-stone-hardened, about enduring and forgiving an occasional unkind word — something to be suffered in token of honor and gratitude to him? What more noble than, for the sake of Christ, to incur danger, to suffer injury, to aid the poor and needy? in particular to further the Word of God and to support the ministry, the pulpit and the schools?
16. It would be no marvel had Germany long ago sunk to ruin, or had it been razed to its very foundations by Turks and Tartars, because of its diabolical forgetfulness, its damnable rejection, of God’s unspeakable grace. Indeed, it is a wonder the earth continues to support us and the sun still gives us light. Because of our ingratitude, well might the heavens become dark and the earth be perverted — as the Scriptures teach (Psalm 106) — and suffer the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, no longer yielding a leaf nor a blade of grass, but completely turned from its course — well might it be so did not God, for the sake of the few godly Christians known and acknowledged of him, forbear and still delay.
17. Wherever we turn our eyes we see, in all conditions of life, a deluge of terrible examples of ingratitude for the precious Gospel. We see how kings, princes and lords scratch and bite; how they envy and hate one another, oppressing their own people and destroying their own countries; how they tax themselves with not so much as a single Christian thought about ameliorating the wretchedness of Germany and securing for the oppressed Church somewhere a shelter of defense against the murderous attacks of devil, Pope and Turks. The noblemen rake and rend, robbing whomever they can, prince or otherwise, and especially the poor Church; like actual devils, they trample under foot pastors and preachers. Townsmen and farmers, too, are extremely avaricious, extortionate and treacherous; they fearlessly perpetrate every sort of insolence and wickedness, and without shame and unpunished. The earth cries to heaven, unable longer to tolerate its oppression.
18. But why multiply words? It is in vain so far as the world is concerned; no admonition will avail. The world remains the devil’s own. We must remember we shall not by any means find with the world that Christian heart pictured by the apostle; on the contrary we shall find what might be represented by a picture of the very opposite type — the most shameless ingratitude. But let the still existing God-fearing Christians be careful to imitate in their gratitude the spirit of the apostle’s beautiful picture. Let them give evidence of their willingness to hear the Word of God, of pleasure and delight in it and grief where it is rejected. Let them show by their lives a consciousness of the great blessing conferred by those from whom they received the Gospel. As recipients of such goodness, let their hearts and lips ever be ready with the happy declaration: “God be praised!”
For thereunto are we called. As before said, praise should be the constant service and daily sacrifice of Christians; and according to Paul’s teaching here, the Christian’s works, his fruits of righteousness, should shine before men. Such manifestation of gratitude assuredly must result when we comprehend what God has given us.
19. Notwithstanding the world’s refusal to be influenced by the recognition of God’s goodness, and in spite of the fact that we are obliged daily to see, hear and suffer the world’s increasing ungratefulness the longer it stands, we must not allow ourselves to be led into error; for we will be unable to change it. We must preach against the evil of ingratitude wherever possible, severely censuring it, and faithfully admonish all men to guard against it. At the same time we have to remember the world will not submit. Although compelled to live among the ungrateful, we are not for that reason to fall into error nor to cease from doing good. Let our springs be dispersed abroad, as Solomon says in Proverbs 5:16. Let us continually do good, not faltering when others receive our good as evil.
Just as God causes his sun to rise on the thankful and the unthankful. Matthew 5:45.
20. But if your good works are wrought with the object of securing the thanks and applause of the world, you will meet with a reception quite the reverse. Your reward will justly be that of him who crushes with his teeth the hollow nut only to defile his mouth. Now, if when ingratitude is met with, you angrily wish to pull down mountains, and resolve to give up doing good, you are no longer a Christian. You injure yourself and accomplish nothing. Can you not be mindful of your environment — that you are still in the world where vice and ingratitude hold sway? that you are, as the phrase goes, with “those who return evil for good”? He who would escape this fact must flee the boundaries of the world. It requires no great wisdom to live only among the godly and do good, but the keenest judgment is necessary to live with the wicked and not do evil.
21. Christianity should be begun in youth, to give practice in the endurance that will enable one to do good to all men while expecting evil in return.
Not that the Christian is to commend and approve evil conduct; he is to censure and restrain wickedness to the limit of the authority his position in life affords. It is the best testimony to the real merit of a work when its beneficiaries are not only ungrateful but return evil. For its results tend to restrain the doer from a too high opinion of himself, and the character of the work is too precious in God’s sight for the world to be worthy of rewarding it.
22. The other Christian duty named by Paul in this passage is that of prayer. The two obligations — gratitude for benefits received, and prayer for the preservation and growth of God’s work begun in us — are properly related. Prayer is of supreme importance, for the devil and the world assail us and delight in turning us aside; we have continually to resist wickedness.
So the conflict is a sore one for our feeble flesh and blood, and we cannot stand unvanquished unless there be constant, earnest invocation of divine aid. Gratitude and prayer are essential and must accompany each other, according to the requirements of the daily sacrifice of the Old Testament: the offering of praise, or thank-offering, thanks to God for blessings received; and the sacrifice of prayer, or the Lord’s Prayer — the petition against the wickedness and evil from which we would be released.
23. Our life has not yet reached the heights it is destined to attain. We know here only its incipient first-fruits. Desire is not satisfied; we have but a foretaste. As yet we only realize by faith what is bestowed upon us; full and tangible occupancy is to come. Therefore, we need to pray because of the limitations that bind our earthly life, until we go yonder where prayer is unnecessary, and all is happiness, purity of life and one eternal song of thanks and praise to God.
But heavenly praise and joy is to have its inception and a measure of growth here on earth through the encouragement of prayer — prayer for ourselves and the Church as a whole; that is, for them who have accepted and believe the Gospel and are thus mutually helpful. For the Gospel will receive greater exaltation and will inspire more joy with the individual because of its acceptance by the many. So Paul says he thanks God for the fellowship of the Philippians in the Gospel, and offers prayer in their behalf.
24. Yes, it should be the joy of a Christian heart to see multitudes accept the offer of mercy, and praise and thank God with him. This desire for the participation of others in the Gospel promotes the spirit of prayer. The Christian cannot be a misanthrope, wholly unconcerned whether his fellows believe or not. He should be interested in all men and unceasingly long and pray for their salvation; for the sanctification of God’s name, the coming of his kingdom, the fulfilment of his will; and for the exposure everywhere of the devil’s deceptions, the suppression of his murderous power over poor souls and the restraint of his authority.
25. This prayer should be the sincere, earnest outflow of the true Christian’s heart. Note, Paul’s words here indicate that his praise and prayer were inspired by a fervent spirit. It is impossible that the words “I thank my God upon all my remembrance of you, always in every supplication” be the expression of any but a heart full of such sentiments.
Truly, Paul speaks in a way worthy of an apostle — saying he renders praise and prayer with keenest pleasure. He rejoices in his heart that he has somewhere a little band of Christians who love the Gospel and with whom he may rejoice; that he may thank God for them and pray in their behalf.
Was there not much more reason that all they who had heard the Gospel should rejoice, and thank Paul in heart and in expression for it, praying God in his behalf? should rejoice that they became worthy of the apostle’s favor, were delivered from their blindness and had now received from him the light transferring from sin and death into the grace of God and eternal life?
26. But Paul does not wait for them to take the initiative, as they ought to have done to declare their joy and their gratitude to him. In his first utterance he pours out the joy of his heart, fervently thanking God for them, etc. Well might they have blushed, and reproached themselves, when they received the epistle beginning with these words. Well might they have said, “We should not have permitted him to speak in this way; it was our place first to show him gratitude and joy.”
27. We shall not soon be able to boast the attainment of that beautiful, perfect Christian spirit the apostle’s words portray. Seeing how the apostle rejoices over finding a few believers in the Gospel, why should we complain because of the smaller number who accord us a hearing and seriously accept the Word of God? We have no great reason to complain nor to be discouraged since Christ and the prophets and apostles, meeting with the same backwardness on the part of the people, still were gratified over the occasional few who accepted the faith. We note how Christ rejoiced when now and then he found one who had true faith, and on the other hand was depressed when his own people refused to hear him, and reluctantly censured them. And Paul did not meet with more encouragement. In all the Roman Empire — and through the greater part of it he had traveled with the Gospel — he only occasionally found a place where was even a small band of earnest Christians; but over them he peculiarly rejoices, finding in them greater consolation than in all the treasures on earth.
28. But it is a prophecy of good to the world, a portent of ultimate success, that Christ and his apostles and ministers must rejoice over an occasional reception of the beloved Word. Such acceptance will tell in time. One would think all men might eagerly have hastened to the ends of the earth to be afforded an opportunity of hearing an apostle. But Paul had to go through the world himself upon his ministry, enduring great fatigue and encountering privations and grave dangers, being rejected and trampled upon by all men. However, disregarding it all, he rejoiced to be able now and then to see some soul accept the Gospel. In time past it was not necessary for the Pope and his officials to run after anyone. They sat in lordly authority in their kingdom, and all men had to obey their summons, wherever wanted, and that without thanks.
29. What running on the part of our fathers, even of many of us, as if we were foolish — running from all countries, hundreds of miles, to Jerusalem, to the holy sepulcher, to Compostella, St. James, Rome, to the heads of St.
Peter and St. Paul; some barefooted and others in complete armor — all this, to say nothing of innumerable other pilgrimages! We thus expended large sums of money, and thanked God, and rejoiced to be able thereby to purchase the wicked indulgences of the Pope and to be worthy to look upon or to kiss the bones of the dead exhibited as holy relics, but preferably to kiss the feet of His Most Holy Holiness, the Pope. This condition of things the world desires again, and it shall have nothing better.