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Sermons of Dr. Martin Luther for Trinity 24
Gospel Sermon (date unknown)
(Note from the Lenker edition: This sermon is given instead of the preceding one in edition c. A part of it, §§ 33-39, is in the little book, “Etliche Trostschriften etc.” Title: “The daughter of the ruler of the synagogue raised from the dead, Matthew 9.” Erl. 14. 349; W. 11, 2468; St. L. 11, 1850.)
Text: Matthew 9:18-26
While he spake these things unto them, behold, there came a ruler, and worshipped him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live. And Jesus arose, and followed him, and so did his disciples. And behold, a woman, who had an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: for she said within herself, If I do but touch his garment, I shall be made whole. But Jesus training and seeing her said, Daughter, be of good cheer; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. And when Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute-players, and the crowd making a tumult, he said, Give place: for the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn. But when the crowd was put forth, he entered in, and took her by the hand; and the damsel arose. And the fame hereof went forth into all that land.
1. This narrative is more fully and faithfully presented by the other Evangelists, Mark and Luke, and is a rich and beautiful Gospel, both in its doctrine and consolation, for it teaches the correct knowledge of the divine will in spiritual wisdom and understanding, (as may be noted in the Epistle for to-day) and affords consolation and strength under the cross and amid suffering. Let us note a few of its lessons.
2. First, the Lord is here represented surrounded by the people, as a kind and affable man, as St. Paul in Titus 3:4, says, that through him the grace and love of God have been made manifest, through which he shows himself willing and ready to help and serve all men, and also renders help to those who in true faith seek it from him.
3. But they are people who are in misery, trouble, sorrow and distress. He will be with them and permit himself to be found by them; for with such, his Word and work can be made effective. But his Word and miracles are useless and lost among the carnally secure, the mighty, the rich and prosperous, because they are not capable of receiving his grace and favors, for they are already satisfied and satiated, and seek comfort and happiness in other things or even in themselves. In order to receive the grace and benefits of Christ, men must realize they have no comfort and help in any creature, and that they experience nothing but trouble and sorrow; and it is true as the Church sings in Luke 1:53: “The hungry he hath filled with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.”
4. From this you see how graciously and paternally God manifests himself toward us, since he comes to us so closely through his beloved Son and seeks the poor and miserable, in order to pour out his grace upon all, who are willing to receive it; because he sent his Son to us, in order to be with us and dwell among us, as St. John, 1:14, says, and take care of us as his own flesh and blood. He assumed the same poverty and misery, so that he might deliver us from our misery, that is, from sin and death. Therefore, he also desires that we seek and expect such help from him through faith, as he says in John 6:40: “For this is the will of my Father, that every one that beholdeth the Son and believeth on him, should have eternal life.”
5. This is the knowledge which Christians require and through which alone they become Christians and children of God, as Isaiah, 53:11, says: “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many,” and John 1:12: “To them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name.” For whatever else can be taught, done, or comprehended, however great, beautiful, praiseworthy, valuable or holy it may appear, cannot make Christians of people, that is, persons who have obtained forgiveness of sins and a gracious God, unless they know and by faith lay hold of the Savior, the Son of God, who came into the world that by the shedding of his blood he might take away our sins and reconcile us to God.
6. This doctrine and knowledge of the Gospel should be cherished and lauded by the whole world, because it alone publishes this true and joyous consolation, that God has had mercy on poor, unworthy and miserable sinners, and does not wish to impute unto them their sins, but out of pure grace forgives them. No other doctrine or sermon on earth can save or give the same, as the whole world, Jews, Gentiles and Turks, must acknowledge.
7. Therefore, no person can of himself reach that point where he is before God free from horrible unbelief, and a condemned conscience, is able with a true heart to call upon God, and knows for a certainty that God will hear him, except alone through this knowledge of Christ, whom God himself has appointed as his Mediator and publicly testified that he will be gracious, hear and bless all who call upon him through Christ. Hence those only are Christians who render true service to God and can comfort themselves in the joyful assurance, that the true God is their God and that he will be with them and help them; whereas all others, who do not know Christ, are truly without God and cannot call upon him with true hearts, nor be comforted, but must perish before God in eternal and terrible doubt and destruction.
8. This Gospel presents two beautiful examples both of the help of Christ and of faith which clings to and finds comfort in Christ, and obtains help from him. First, that is a beautiful faith of the ruler of the synagogue, which leads him to Christ in his distress, at the time when his daughter was lying at the point of death and when he could only say that she must die before he could return home; for he says: “My daughter is even now dead,” and when all men had given up the hope and thought that help could be secured for her. Yet he did not despair, but, while the rest of his household despaired, wept and lamented, and could think of nothing except how to lay out the dead body and arrange it for the flute-players and others, he went to Christ in the firm confidence that if he brought him to his daughter, she would be restored to life. He believed Christ was the one who could help not only to restore and maintain health as long as body and soul were still united, but that he could also restore life after body and soul had been separated by death. This was certainly at the time a remarkable example of faith, since nothing like it had ever before been heard or seen, unless perhaps the miracle of the raising of the widow’s son to life, Luke 7:11 sq., had occurred before and the report of it had reached his ears. Nor was it a greater mark of faith that he could without a doubt conclude in his heart that Christ would restore his daughter to life; for if he would have doubted and followed the human thoughts of reason, he would certainly not have gone to Christ, but would have thought that he had delayed too long; or that although Christ had restored some one else to life, it would not necessarily follow that his daughter should also be restored to life, since so many sons and daughters of parents were daily dying, none of whom were being restored to life.
9. This is the virtue of the right kind of faith, which was also, shortly afterwards, praised in the woman who had an issue of blood, namely, that it clings steadfastly to Christ, grasps and holds fast to the Word heard from him, does not inquire or look to that which the human mind may suggest, nor to what other people believe or do; but straightway concludes, with reference to the reports concerning Christ, that he is the one who can help in time of need; who has helped others and therefore will help now. Such a heart and faith truly find Christ and receive according to their faith.
10. In the second place, his faith concerning the Person of Christ was of such a character (which was indeed a great spiritual knowledge) that he rightly regarded him as the true Messiah sent by God, not such as the great mass of the Jews, especially the scribes, thought that he would come publicly before the people as a great and mighty lord and king with great pomp and show, so that everybody would regard and receive him as the one sent to them from God and in addition expected that he would deliver them from bodily slavery under the foreign dominion of the Roman Emperor and establish them as the mighty rulers of the world. On the contrary, overagainst such dreams and Jewish notions, he regarded him as the true Lord and Messiah, although he was not thus regarded and received by his own people, the Jews, who was sent from God, not to confer temporal power, possessions, honor and freedom, but to help in those things and necessities where no man can help, namely, to redeem us from the peril of death and the power of the devil, yea, to turn death into life and confer life. He must not be regarded as a mere man, but as that one who truly has in himself divine and eternal power and authority over all creatures, because he believes that he holds in his hands power over life and death, that is, that he truly is the Son of God, as the Scriptures declare.
11. The other example of faith deserves no less praise, namely, that of the poor woman who had an issue of blood twelve years, on account of which she suffered in her body and lost all her strength, and because of this she had long despaired of receiving human help and comfort. She came to Christ, as she had heard of him, and could come to him in the certain and undoubted confidence that he could help her in her great need, and with the heartfelt assurance that he was so good and gracious as to help her and not let her go away unaided. Of this she was so certain and confident that her heart was free from care and grief, although she had reason to doubt. She was concerned only with the thought of how she would be able to get to Christ, wondering and thinking: “Ah! If I could but touch the hem of his garment.” Then she firmly and confidently concluded in her heart, “I shall be made whole.” But she did not know how to reach him, because she saw the crowd was so great and she, a poor, sick woman, could not well break through such a crowd of people. Besides, the law did not permit her to come among the people; yet her faith and desire urged her not to desist, but to press through the crowd until she came behind him and touched his garment.
12. Behold here, how her faith overcame two obstacles. First, her faith was so strong that she believed she could obtain help, if only she could touch his garment. She did not deem it necessary to come to him and with many words present her complaint and pray that he would have mercy on her and help her, nor did others pray for her; but she sought only to reach him and touch him, for she thought, if only she could do this, she would receive help. She neither doubted his power, nor his willingness to help. Hence she did not deem it necessary to do more, in order to secure his help, than to touch merely the fringe of his outer garment. Therefore she did not deem it necessary that she should come before him to be touched by him; yea, she did not regard herself worthy to be addressed by him; nor was her heart so full of confidence that, notwithstanding this, she lacked courage to come into his presence, and hence was neither seen nor heard by him. But she was satisfied simply to come up behind him, secretly and unnoticed by the crowd, and did not doubt as to the help she expected to receive. Nor did her faith deceive her, for as soon as she touched the hem of his garment, the fountain of blood was stopped.
13. Now, that a poor, simple woman should be able to see and know that this man’s help and power were such that it was not necessary to speak to him at length, but that he was able to see in secret, even though he should not publicly show that he knows anything of our necessities or wished to help us, must be the result of a great and extraordinary illumination of the Spirit and the knowledge of faith. Accordingly, her faith produced such an assurance in her, that all doubt was removed, and she realized that if she could only reach him with even the most insignificant means, she would be helped. This, indeed, means a strong faith that this man must possess divine, almighty power and authority, that he can see and understand the secret thoughts and desires of the heart, although not a word is spoken; and that he can prove his work and help, although she sees and feels nothing externally except the words we heard him utter, which produced faith in her heart.
14. She desired nothing besides this Word, nor did she ask for more than merely to touch his garment, which she used as an external means and sign to gain the desired help. Likewise, we need nothing more in our lives and in the kingdom of faith than the external Word and Sacraments, in which he permits himself to be touched and seized as if by his garment.
15. Hence you may see what faith, which clings to the Person of Christ is and does, namely, a heart that regards him as the Lord and Savior, the Son of God, through whom God reveals himself and bestows upon us his grace, assuring us that through him and for his sake, he will hear and help us. This is the true spiritual and heartfelt worship of God, where the heart has to do with Christ and prays in his name, even though not a single word may be uttered aloud, and gives the honor due him, regards him as the true Savior, who can hear and know the secret desires of the heart and manifest his power and help, although he does not permit himself to be externally touched or approached, according to our thoughts.
16. The other master-piece of her faith is, that she is able to overcome the feeling of her own unworthiness and roll from her heart the heavy stone, which weighed her down so heavily, and yet makes her so diffident that she dare not publicly approach Christ like other persons. The judgment passed upon her by the law was that, as an unclean woman, she was not allowed to associate with other people. For, in Leviticus 15:19 we read that a woman like her shall be regarded unclean as long as she has the issue of blood; and that whatever she has on or about her, shall be unclean; and that whoever touches her or whatever she touches, shall be unclean. This proved no small distress to her, not only by reason of her malady and bodily uncleanness, but especially because she recognized and felt in it the punishment of God, imposed upon her before all people, and which separated her from the congregation of God’s people. This continued for twelve long years, during which time she had tried all kinds of remedies with many physicians and yet was not helped by any, but grew worse continually, so that she was compelled to conclude that God had punished her with special severity because of her sins and would not help her. She was now forced to despair of human aid and thought she had to die of her disease and punishment.
17. It was, therefore, not without a struggle and conflict that she maintained her faith in that which she sought in Christ; for she could not help but think: Behold, I am an unclean woman, punished of God, and every one knows me. If I appear before this Lord, every one and even he himself may simply condemn my boldness and impudence for coming into his presence and I may receive more wrath and severer punishment from God instead of mercy, and be forced to confess that I had been served rightly if he casted me from him in his anger. This trial and struggle show also that, as the text says, after she had been discovered, she was terrified and trembled, even though she had received the desired help; and yet she was filled with fear, lest he would speak harshly to her and censure her, because she had not been afraid to come to him and secretly steal the desired help.
18. But her faith, which clearly set before her the good and gracious heart of Christ, broke through all these barriers; besides, her great need, yea, even her despair compelled her to become impudent before God and, regardless of the prohibition and judgment of the law, her own shame urged her to conclude: This Savior must be laid hold of, in spite of what the law, her own heart and all the world, yea, what even he himself may say. Here is the man who can help and who is also a good, gracious and faithful Savior. On the other hand, I am a poor, miserable woman, who needs his help. He will certainly not become other than he is, because of me, nor permit his grace and help to fail me. Let his will be done in me; it will be better for me that I should be covered with shame, than the injury I would receive if I should fail to seek the help which I may be able to receive from him. She fixed her heart on the idea that if she could only touch this man, her need would be removed and the desired help received; and she would afterwards speak with Moses and the law, so that she might remain uncondemned by him, etc.
19. Behold, that is a beautiful faith, which realizes its unworthiness and yet does not permit itself to be hindered on this account to place its confidence in Christ, nor to doubt his grace and help, but breaks through the law and everything that frightens it away from him; yea, if the whole world would attempt to hinder and thwart, yet it does not think of leaving this man until it has laid hold on him. Therefore it presses through all barriers and attains what it seeks in Christ, and immediately experiences the power and work of Christ, even before he begins to speak. For it cannot apply to Christ in vain, even as Christ himself testifies, when he says: “Thy faith hath made thee whole.”
20. Besides, faith like this is so pleasing to Christ that he does not wish it to remain concealed in her and that the power and work made effective by it should remain a secret, but what is in her heart must be published to everybody so that her faith may be praised before the whole world and be strengthened in her. Therefore, turning and looking around, he asked and desired to know who touched him; for he felt that power had gone forth from him. When she found she had to be discovered, she became afraid and began to tremble; for a heart filled with the great and implicit trust which she had in him, and yet also with humility and the knowledge of her unworthiness, must regard itself guilty, because she had gone contrary to Moses and because she realized he might justly be angry with her, because she could be so bold and impudent as to press through the crowd to him.
And hence in the midst of the work, after she had already been healed and her heart was filled with joy, her faith had to contend with fear and terror, and yet only to enjoy all the more consolation and joy in Christ. For Christ does not wish faith to remain concealed in the heart, but desires it to be publicly confessed, so that the glory of God may thereby be praised and others also be spurred on to believe.
21. Therefore, when this woman was in fear and danger, lest she should be disgraced before all and be condemned according to the law, yea, even she herself be compelled to make a public confession, Christ began to confirm her faith, to say she had done well in disregarding Moses and the law, that is, the judgment passed upon her unworthiness; and now he publicly shows the same disregard, will have her unaccused and uncondenmed, yea, esteems her faith so highly that he ascribes to it alone the power and efficacy that helped her, just as if he had done nothing in the matter. In like manner, he was accustomed to speak at other times, as to the ruler, Matthew 8:13, “As thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee,” and again to the Canaanite woman, Matthew 15:28, “Be it done unto thee, even as thou wilt.”
22. We should learn from this woman to realize the power of faith, and in our temptations and conflicts to call for help. For, as I have already stated, it is through such faith that we become Christians, and a distinction is shown between us and all other people on the earth, the Turks, heathen and Jews. For we must know that it is one thing to be a good man, perform many and great deeds, live a good, honorable and virtuous life, but quite another thing to be a Christian. For in that which concerns our lives and work we often receive great praise and honor before men, even from Jews and Turks, as many great and excellent men have been highly praised in pagan histories for their uprightness and virtue. Again, there have been many among the Jews, as Gamaliel, Paul before his conversion, Nicodemus and others (as this poor woman), who have with all zeal lived according to the law, so that in their external life before the world, they surpassed many true Christians.
23. But even here a difference as great as between heaven and earth must be noted between Christians and others. A Christian is one who has a different kind of light in his heart, that is faith, which truly knows and lays hold on God and truly worships him. Through the Word of God he knows and realizes his own unworthiness and receives the true fear of God; and again finds comfort in his faith, believes and trusts he has obtained forgiveness of sin and redemption in Christ, the Son of God, and for his sake is acceptable to God and elected to eternal life; and in all his need, when he feels his own weakness, or is tempted, can find refuge in God, appeal to him and expect his help; and he knows he shall be heard.
24. No other person than a Christian has this faith and assurance, be he Jew, Turk, Papist, or whatever he may be called, no matter how pious and good his life may be, or how much he may pride himself that he worships and serves God and hopes for eternal life; for the service, worship and life of such persons still lack two great things, which prevent them from being acceptable to God: first, they do not have the true God, that is, do not know him as he has revealed himself and will be known, towit, as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, his Son. Hence they walk in blindness and miss God, because they seek him according to their own notions and apart from Christ, and are deprived of the knowledge of the true Divine Being.
25. Secondly, they lack the possibility of the true and assured knowledge of the will of God, because they do not have the Gospel. Hence, they cannot be certain that God will assuredly hear them, and must always remain in doubt whether or not God will hear them and interest himself in their behalf. Accordingly their appeals and prayers can be nothing more than mere vain and useless thoughts and babblings, through which the heart finds no consolation in God, nor expect anything from him, but rather flee from him and are therefore truly without God, and use the name of God in vain.
26. But the Christian’s prayer consists in this that he prays to the true God, namely, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has revealed himself to men through his Word; and besides he has the certain confidence and assurance against all doubt that God will be gracious to him and hear his prayer for the sake of Christ, his beloved Son.
27. This is the beautiful example of the woman. Now we turn to the daughter of the ruler of the Synagogue. But here, too, faith must contend and be strengthened; for although, as we have already heard, he had an excellent faith, yet it could scarcely have been maintained, had it not been strengthened. For, while Christ was still speaking with the woman, Mark 5:35-36 and Luke 8:49, say a message was brought, stating the man’s daughter had died, and requesting him not to trouble the Master.
This meant all would amount to nothing, since they had delayed too long; hence he should leave the matter and think only of how to bury his child.
28. This must have been a severe blow to the ruler’s faith. But the fact that the woman had just been healed, must have prevented his faith from failing, and indeed strengthened it to resist the doubts concerning his daughter.
And Christ himself is present to comfort and strengthen him against this stumbling-block, in order to show that he is unwilling that even such weak faith should be injured in any way, but be established and strengthened; and in view of this he admonishes and encourages all persons by saying: “Doubt not, only believe, etc.” This he said in order to see how highly he was pleased with the faith that clings to him, and that he was ready to guard against its being overcome; as he spoke to the Apostles, and especially to Peter, who fell so easily, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.”
29. Now when Christ came to the house, this man’s faith had to receive another blow; for there they saw and heard nothing but the tumult, weeping and wailing, and the blowing of trumpets (which they used at the death of their friends, as we do bells). All this cries in his heart that nothing was left but death, and his faith had nothing on which to lay hold against despair, except the word which Christ spoke against the tumult and lamentations: “The child is not dead, but sleepeth,” on account of which he was mocked and laughed at as a fool; for they all saw and knew that the maid was dead, and that there was no breath nor spark of life in her. They could not but think: See, our master or ruler must be mad or silly to bring this fool here, who tries to convince us that the maid is not dead, when every one can clearly see she lies stiff in death, a dead corpse, ready to be placed under ground.
30. They had come together at the synagogue, as at a common gatheringplace, as we do at our churches, where on the Sabbath the Word of God was taught, because throughout the whole country there was neither church nor temple, except at Jerusalem. And this ruler of the synagogue occupied the same position among them that our pastors occupy, and others occupied the place of assistants or readers, who read Moses or preached, circumcised the children and instructed the young, and visited the sick and sorrowing to comfort them. These had to be together in the synagogue and testified concerning this work of Christ, even with their mocking and scornful laughter, namely, that the maiden had certainly died and been raised from the dead. The ruler therefore, before he could experience the work of Christ, was compelled, in the face of this offense and mockery, to cling to the one word of Christ and with him be regarded as a fool and in his folly learn this spiritual wisdom that death is not death to Christ, but only a sleep.
II. CHRIST’ S CALL FROM THE DEAD.
31. Let us learn from this to become fools with Christ and this ruler and teacher, in order that we may understand these words. Although this man’s words may be despised by the world and be regarded as foolishness, yet they are very precious, for in them there certainly lies hid the highest wisdom of heaven and earth. For this passage, as a general expression, teaches you that your death in Christ is nothing more than a mere sleep, so that you may be able to look through and beyond the horrible sight and frightful larva of death and the grave, yea, apprehend the same truth of death, if only you hear these words in faith and accept them as true in Christ.
32. Here we have nothing to do with ox-eyes, or even man’s eyes, but with the eyes with which Christ sees, and with the ears with which Christ hears, yea, a mind and heart like Christ himself has. A swine, when it sees the dead body of a man lying before it, can only conclude that it is a carcass like any other dead body, which is devoured by birds or animals, or is decomposed. So also a person without faith neither sees nor understands more, and in this respect cannot be distinguished from the brute, except in so far as he carries his head upright, while that of the brute is turned to the ground; for his thoughts can reach only as far as this life is concerned.
Therefore, it is not to be wondered at that the mind should affect such socalled wisdom as this: “How can a person be said to sleep when he no longer has either breath or life, is buried under ground and is in process of decomposition?” On the other hand, he who desires to learn how to perceive and understand God’s kingdom, power and work, must shut his mind and understanding, purify his eyes, cleanse his ears, and see and hear what Christ says in this matter, and how it is in his sight apart from this life, where our understanding, mind and thought cannot reach.
33. In this passage you hear that Christ says that to him the dying of a person is not death, but a sleep, yea, from his point of view none of those who have lived and died before our time are dead, but are all alive, as those we see standing before us; for he has concluded that all shall live, yea, he holds their lives in his hands. For you must here clearly distinguish between the thoughts and actions of Christ, and the views, thoughts and understanding of the world, as I have said before, so that you may not remain in the blind and brutish thought and opinion concerning the dead and putrifying body, but rather perceive that this is the Lord of all creatures, whether to us they be dead or alive, and that all life comes from him and is maintained in and by him, so that if he would not maintain life no one could live a single moment.
34. Besides the regular daily maintenance of life, he must maintain it without our will and help when we sleep, a condition in which man has no control over his mind and life, and does not know how he falls asleep and wakes again. Therefore it is not difficult for Christ, in the hour when body and soul are separated, to hold in his hand the soul and spirit of man, even though we ourselves neither feel nor see anything, yea, even though the body be entirely consumed. For, since he can preserve the breath of life and spirit, apart from the body, so he can again bring the body together out of dust and ashes. This he has proved in this and similar examples, when he restored to life with one word those who had truly died and whose body and soul had been separated. Hence we must conclude that he holds in his hand the life of those who have died; for if this power did not belong to him, he could not restore life.
35. In the second place, you must not calculate how far life and death are apart, or how many years may pass while the body is wasting in the grave, and how one after another dies, but endeavor to grasp the thought of Christ with reference to the conditions apart from this time and hour. For he does not calculate time by tens, hundreds or thousands of years, nor measure the years consecutively, the one preceding, the other following, as we must do in this life; but he grasps everything in a moment, the beginning, middle and end of the whole human race and of all time. And what we regard and measure according to time, as by a long drawn out rule, all this he sees as at a glance, and thus both the death and life of the last as well as of the first man are to him as only a moment of time.
36. Thus we should learn to view our death in the right light, so that we need not become alarmed on account of it, as unbelief does; because in Christ it is indeed not death, but a fine, sweet and brief sleep, which brings us release from this vale of tears, from sin and from the fear and extremity of real death and from all the misfortunes of this life, and we shall be secure and without care, rest sweetly and gently for a brief moment, as on a sofa, until the time when he shall call and awaken us together with all his dear children to his eternal glory and joy. For since we call it a sleep, we know that we shall not remain in it, but be again awakened and live, and that the time during which we sleep, shall seem no longer than if we had just fallen asleep. Hence, we shall censure ourselves that we were surprised or alarmed at such a sleep in the hour of death, and suddenly come alive out of the grave and from decomposition, and entirely well, fresh, with a pure, clear, glorified life, meet our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the clouds.
37. Therefore we should entrust and commend to our true Savior and Redeemer ourselves, body, soul and life, with all confidence and joy, just as we must commend to him our life without care in our bodily sleep and rest, assured that we shall not lose it, but be truly and carefully preserved in his hand, maintained and again restored. Here you see, as he shows in reality, how easy it is for him to awaken men from the dead and restore them to life, as he came to the maiden, took her by the hand, as some one else might do to awaken one from sleep, and with a word called, “Maid, arise!” and the maiden suddenly arose, as if she had been awakened from sleep.
We see here neither sleep nor death, but wakefulness and freshness, even as Lazarus came forth from his tomb.
38. Behold, this Word of Christ is not a matter of laughter and foolishness to faith (as to others among the prudent and the saints according to the law, who nevertheless remain in fear and terror of death, have to do with their thoughts about death and works), but of great wisdom, by which death and all the images of death are swallowed up, and in their place true comfort, joy and life are obtained. The act and experience must assuredly follow this Word of Christ and faith in his Word cannot fail. Let this be regarded as a master-piece and a wonderful work of alchemy or a science, which indeed does not turn copper and lead into gold, but turns death into sleep, your grave into a soft sofa, the time from the death of Abel until the last day into a brief hour, a work which no creature has nor can attempt except through faith in Christ. If you can believe this, that is, let the Word of Christ be true and not a lie, you have already overcome both death and the sting of death, and in their place have obtained sweet rest.
39. Scripture everywhere affords such consolation, which speaks of the death of the saints, as if they fell asleep and were gathered to their fathers, that is, had overcome death through this faith and comfort in Christ, and awaited the resurrection, together with the saints who preceded them in death. Therefore the early Christians (undoubtedly from the Apostles or their disciples) followed the custom of bringing their dead to honorable burial and wherever possible interred them in separate places, which they called, not places of burial or grave-yards, but coemeteria , sleepingchambers, dormitoria , houses of sleep, names which have remained in use until our time; and we Germans from ancient times call such places of burial God’s acres, as St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:44, says: “It is sown a natural body;” for what we now call church-yards were not at first places of burial. This is the teaching and comfort of this Gospel lesson.
40. Further, we are shown here, as in a painting, both in the woman with the bloody flux and in the maiden, the result of attempting to govern conscience by means of the law, without a knowledge of Christ. There are two classes of people: One class consists of the sick, poor timid consciences, who feel their secret need and sins, as well as the judgment and curse of the law, that is, that they are under the wrath of God, desire earnestly to be freed from it, seek help and counsel from many physicians, expend all their possessions, body and life, and yet receive no help, neither improvement nor comfort, but continually grow worse; until they at last give up in despair and resign themselves to death; finally Christ comes to them with his Gospel. Many good-hearted people have hitherto experienced this under the Papacy, who earnestly strove to become pious, did everything as they were directed and taught, and yet gained from it only terrified and timid consciences, and on account of the fear and horror of death and of the judgment day, would gladly have ended their lives. This is the result of all teaching at its best, apart from the knowledge of Christ.
41. The other class, like the daughter of the ruler, are those who are without the law, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, that is, are free and live securely, do not feel the terrors of the law, think they are prosperous and safe until they are suddenly struck down and die, as St. Paul, speaking of himself, Romans 7:11, says that he lived without the law, but afterwards through the law sin became alive and slew him.
42. Since both the woman and the daughter were delivered from their need and from death, there is no counsel or help other than that which acknowledges Christ and hears the truly comforting, living voice of the Gospel, which has the power to abolish sin and death, and to give to the conscience everlasting comfort, joy and life, wherever these are accepted in true faith. And here the doctrine is clearly set forth, that we are justified and saved, without our merit, gratuitously, alone through faith, and so are delivered from sin and death. The poor woman brought nothing to Christ, except her great unworthiness, so that she had to be ashamed of it, yea, was filled with fear and terror when forced to make herself known. There was even far less personal merit or worthiness in the ruler’s daughter, because she lay there in death and was altogether without life and action.
In a word, we must confess that in ourselves we have nothing, nor are able to live or do anything to please or to bring us favor and life, unless his pure grace be conferred upon us.
43. But after we have received forgiveness of sin, consolation and life, let us begin to teach and do good works. Just as the woman, after she had been healed, and the maiden, after she had been restored to life, did good and living deeds. Thus we too have power in Christ to live according to the will of God, and know that our lives and works begun in Christ are acceptable to him. Whatever else might be said here, how Christ performs his works and wonders in his Church, in which are seen the fruits of faith, though secretly and obscurely, as in both these instances of the woman and the maiden, so that the world was not allowed to see them, would make our present discussion too lengthy.
Epistle Sermon (date unknown)
Text: Colossians 1:3-14
We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have toward all the saints, because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which is come unto you; even as it is also in all the world bearing fruit and increasing, as it doth in you also, since the day ye heard and knew the grace of God in truth; 7 even as ye learned of Epaphras our beloved fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit. 9 For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray and make request for you, that ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 to walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, unto all patience and longsuffering with joy; 12 giving thanks unto the Father, who made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; 13 who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love; 14 in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.
1. In this short epistle to the Colossians Paul treats of many things, but particularly of faith, love, patience and gratitude. Upon these topics he is remarkably eloquent, for as God himself declares in Acts 9:15, Paul is a chosen vessel, or instrument, of God his best preacher on earth. He is particularly strong in his discussion of the main principle of the Gospel, faith in Christ. And he exalts Christ supremely, in person and kingdom, making him all in all in his Church God, Lord, Master, Head and Example, and everything mentionable in goodness and divinity.
2. The apostle’s first words are praise for the Colossians. He remarks upon the good report he has heard of them, how they have faith in Christ and love for all saints, and hold fast the hope of eternal life reserved for them in heaven: in other words, that they are true Christians, who have not allowed themselves to be led away from the pure Word of God but who earnestly cling to it, proving their faith by their fruits; for they love the poor Christians, and for Christ’s sake have endured much in the hope of the promised salvation. So he exalts them as model Christians, a mirror of the entire Christian life.
3. “Hearing these things of you,” Paul would say, “I heartily rejoice in your good beginning.” Apparently he was not the one who first preached to them. In the first verse of the second chapter he speaks of his care for them and others who have not seen his face, and he also intimates here that the Colossians learned of Christ and the Gospel from Epaphras, Paul’s fellow servant.
4. “And therefore I always pray for you,” he writes, “that you may continue in this way; may increase and be steadfast.” He is aware of the necessity for such prayer and exhortation in behalf of Christians if they are to abide firm and unchangeable in their new found faith, against the ceaseless assaults of the devil, the wickedness of the world, and the weakness of the flesh in tribulation and affliction. “That ye may be filled,” Paul continues, “with the knowledge of his will.”
5. This is his chief prayer and desire for them and if it is fulfilled there can be no lack. The words are, “be filled”; that is, not only hear and understand God’s will, but be come rich in the knowledge of it, with ever increasing fullness. “You have begun well; you are promising shoots. But something more than a good beginning is required, and the knowledge of God’s will is not to be exhaustively learned immediately on hearing the Word. On the contrary it must be constantly pursued and practiced as long as we live if it is ever to be rounded and perfected in us.
6. “Knowing the will of God” means more than simply knowing about God, that he created heaven and earth and gave the Law, and so on, a knowledge even the Jews and Turks possess. For doubtless to them has been revealed that knowledge of God and of his will concerning our conduct which nature the works of creation an teach. Romans 1:20. But if we fail to do God’s revealed will, the knowledge of it does not benefit us. Such mere mental consciousness is a vain, empty thing; it does not fulfill God’s will in us. In deed, it eventually becomes a condemnatory knowledge of our own eternal destruction. When this point has been reached, further enlightenment is necessary if man is to be saved. He must know the meaning of Christ’s words in John 5:40: “This is the will of my Father, that every one that beholdeth the Son, and believeth on him, should have eternal life”; and in Matthew 18:14: “It is not the will of your Father, that one of these should perish, which believe on me.”
7. Since we have not done God’s will according to the first revelation and must be rejected and condemned by his eternal, unendurable wrath, in his divine wisdom and mercy he has determined, or willed, to permit his only Son to take upon himself our sin and wrath; to give Christ as a sacrifice for our ransom, whereby the unendurable wrath and condemnation might be turned from us; to grant us forgiveness of sins and to send the Holy Spirit into our hearts, thus enabling us to love God’s commandments and delight in them. This determination or will he reveals through the Son, and commands him to declare it to the world. And in. Matthew 3:17 he directs us to Christ as the source of all these blessings, saying: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him.”
8. Paul would gladly have a spiritual knowledge of these things increase in us until we are enriched and filled wholly assured of their truth. Sublime and glorious knowledge this, the experience of a human heart which, born in sins, boldly and confidently believes that God, in his unfathomable majesty, in his divine heart, has irrevocably purposed and wills for all men to accept and believe it that he will not impute sin, but will forgive it and be gracious, and grant eternal life, for the sake of his beloved Son.
9. This spiritual knowledge or confidence, is not so easily learned as are other things. It is not so readily apprehended as the knowledge of the law written in nature, which when duly recognized by the heart overpowers with the conviction of God’s wrath. Indeed, that more than anything else hinders Christians and saints from obtaining the knowledge of God’s will in Christ, for it compels heart and conscience to plead guilty in every respect and to confess having merited the wrath of God; therefore the soul naturally fears and flees from God. Then, too, the devil fans the flame of fear and sends his wicked, fiery arrows of dismay into the heart, presenting only frightful pictures and examples of God’s anger, filling the heart with this kind of knowledge to the exclusion of every other thought or perception. Thus recognition of God’s wrath is learned only too well, for it be comes bitterly hard for man to unlearn it, to forget it in the knowledge of Christ. Again, the wicked world eagerly contributes its share of hindrance, its bitter hatred and venomous outcry against Christians as people of the worst type, outcast, condemned enemies of God. Moreover, by its example it causes the weak to stumble. Our flesh and blood also is a drawback, being waywardly inclined, making much of its own wisdom and holiness and seeking thereby to gain honor and glory or to live in security a life of wealth, pleasure and covetousness. Hence on every side a Christian must be in severe conflict, and fight against the world and the devil, and against himself also, if he is to succeed in preserving the knowledge of God’s will.
10. Now, since this knowledge of the Gospel is so difficult to attain and so foreign to nature, it is necessary that we pray for it with all earnestness and labor to be increasingly filled with it, and to learn well the will of God. Our own experience testifies that if it be but superficially and improperly learned, when one is overtaken by a trifling misfortune or alarmed by a slight danger or affliction, his heart is easily overwhelmed with the thunderbolts of God’s wrath as he reflects: “Woe to me! God is against me and hates me.” Why should this miserable “Woe!” enter the heart of a Christian upon the occasion of a little trouble? If he were filled with the knowledge of God as he should be, and as many secure, self complacent spirits imagine themselves to be, he would not thus fear and make outcry.
His agitation and his complaint, “ O Lord God! why dost thou permit me to suffer this?” are evidence that he as yet knows not God’s will, or at least has but a faint conception of it; the woe exceeds the joy. But full knowledge of God’s will brings with it a joy that far overbalances all fear and terror, ay, removes and abolishes them altogether.
11. Therefore let us learn this truth and with Paul pray for what we and all Christians supremely need full knowledge of God’s will, not a mere beginning; for we are not to imagine a beginning will suffice and to stop there as if we had comprehended it all. Everything is not accomplished in the mere planting; watering and cultivation must follow. In this case the watering and cultivating are the Word of God, and prayer against the devil, who day and night labors to suppress spiritual knowledge, to beat down the tender plants wherever he sees them springing up; and also against the world, which promotes only opposition and directs its wisdom and reason to conflicting ends. Did not God protect us and strengthen the knowledge of his will, we would soon see the devil’s power and the extent of our spiritual understanding.
12. We have a verification of this assertion in that poetical work, the book of Job. Satan appears before God, who asks ( Job 1:8): “Hast thou considered my servant Job? for there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and upright man, one that feareth God.” And Satan answers on this wise: “Yea, thou hast surrounded him with thy protection and kept me at bay; but only withdraw thy hand and I venture I will soon bring him around to curse thee to thy face”; as he afterward did when he afflicted Job with ugly boils and in addition filled him with his fiery arrows terrifying thoughts of God. Further, Christ said to Peter and the other apostles: “Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat: but I made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not.” Luke 22:31
32. In short, if God hinders him not, Satan dares to overthrow even the greatest and strongest saints.
13. Therefore, although we have become Christians and have made a beginning in the knowledge of God’s will, we ought nevertheless to walk in fear and humility, and not to be presumptuous like the soon wearied, secure spirits, who imagine they exhausted that knowledge in an instant, and know not the measure and limit of their skill. Such people are particularly pleasing to the devil, for he has them completely in his power and makes use of their teaching and example to harm others and make them likewise secure, and unmindful of his presence and of the fact that God may suffer them to be overwhelmed. Verily, there is need of earnest and diligent use of the Word of God and prayer, that Christians may not only learn to know the will of God, but also to be filled with it. Only so can the individual walk always according to God’s will and make constant progress, straining toward the goal of an ever increasing comfort and strength that shall enable him to face fears and terrors and not allow the devil, the world, and flesh and blood to hinder him.
14. Such is the nature of this fullness of knowledge that the possessor never becomes satiated with it or tired of it, but it yields him ever increasing pleasure and joy, and he is ever more eager, more thirsty, for it.
As the Scriptures declare, “They that drink me shall yet be thirsty.” Ecclus 24, 21. For even the dear angels in heaven never become sated with fullness of knowledge, but as Peter says, they find an everlasting joy and pleasure in the ability to behold what is revealed and preached to us. Peter 1:12. Therefore, if we have not a constant hunger and thirst after the full and abundant comprehension of God’s will — and certainly we ought to have it in greater degree than the angels — until we, too, shall be able to behold it eternally in the life everlasting, then we have but a taste of that knowledge, a mere empty froth, which can neither refresh nor satisfy us, cannot comfort us nor make us better.
15. To create and stimulate this hunger and thirst in us, and to bring us to the attainment of full knowledge, God kindly sends upon his Christians temptation, sorrow and affliction. These preserve them from carnal satiety and teach them to seek comfort and help. So God did also in former ages, in the time of the martyrs, when he daily suffered them to be violently seized in person and put to death by sword, fire, blood and wild beasts. In this way he truly led his people to school, where they were obliged to learn to know his will and to be able defiantly to say: ““ No, O tyrant, O world, devil and flesh, though you may injure me bodily, may beat or torment me, banish me or even take my life, you shall not deprive me of my Lord Jesus Christ — of God’s grace and mercy.” So faith taught them and confirmed to them that such suffering was God’s purpose and immutable will concerning themselves, which, whatever attitude to wards them he might assume, he could not alter, even as he could not in the case of Christ himself. This discipline and experience of faith strengthened the martyrs and soon accustomed them to suffering, enabling them to go to their death with pleasure and joy. Whence came, even to young girls thirteen and fourteen years old, like Agnes and Agatha, the courage and confidence to stand boldly before the Roman judge, and, when led to death, to go as joyfully as to a festivity, whence unless their hearts were filled with a sub lime and steadfast faith, a positive assurance that God was not angry with them, but that all was his gracious and merciful will and for their highest salvation and bliss ?
16. Behold, what noble and enlightened, what strong and courageous, people God produced by the discipline of cross and affliction! We, in contrast, because unwilling to experience such suffering, are weak and enervated. If but a little smoke gets into our eyes, our joy and courage are gone, likewise our perception of God’s will, and we can only raise a loud lamentation and cry of woe. As I said, this is the inevitable condition of a heart to which the experience of affliction is unknown. Just so Christ’s disciples in the ship, when they saw the tempest approach and the waves beat over the vessel, quite forgot, in their trembling and terror, the divine will, although Christ was present with them. They only made anxious lamentation, yet withal cried for help: “Save, Lord; we perish!” Matthew 8:25. So also in the time of the martyrs, many Christians became timid and at first denied Christ from fear of torture or of long confinement in prison.
17. It is God’s will that we, too, should learn to accustom ourselves to these things through temptation and affliction, though these be hard to bear and the heart is prone to become agitated and utter its cry of woe. We can quiet our disturbed hearts, saying: “ I know what is God’s thought, his counsel and will, in Christ, which he will not alter: he has promised to me through his Son, and confirmed it through my baptism, that he who hears and sees the Son shall be delivered from sin and death, and live eternally.”
18. Now, what Paul calls being filled with the knowledge of the divine will in Christ through the faith of the Gospel, means faith in and the comfort of the forgiveness of sins, since we have not in ourselves the ability to fulfill his will in the ten commandments. This knowledge is not a passive consciousness, but a living, active conviction, which will stand before the judgment of God, contend with the devil and prevail over sin, death and life.
19. Now, the heart possessing such knowledge or faith is kindled by the Holy Spirit and acquires a love for and delight in God’s commandments. It becomes obedient to them, patient, chaste, modest, gentle, given to brotherly kindness, and honors God in confession and life. Thus it is increasingly filled with the knowledge of God’s will; it is armed and fortified on all sides to withstand and defeat the flesh and the world, the devil and hell. “SPIRITUAL WISDOM” DEFINED.
20. By way of explanation Paul adds the words, “all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” This is not the wisdom of the world. There is no necessity to strive and to endure persecution for that which concerns itself with other than spiritual matters. Nor is it the wisdom of reason, which indeed presumes to judge of divine things, but yet can never understand them; on the contrary, although it accepts them, it quickly falls away into doubt and despair.
21. “Wisdom” signifies with Paul, when he places it in apposition with “spiritual understanding,” the sublime and secret doctrine of the Gospel of Christ, which teaches us to know the will of God. And a “wise man” is a Christian, who knows himself and can intelligently interpret God’s will toward us and how we perceive his will by faith growing and obediently living in harmony with it. This wisdom is not devised of reason; it has not entered into the heart of man nor is it known to any of the princes of this world, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:8
10. But it is revealed from Heaven by the Holy Spirit to those who believe the Gospel.
22. But there is necessary to the full completion of wisdom something which the apostle calls “understanding”; that is, a careful retention of what has been received. It is possible for one having the spiritual wisdom to be overtaken by the devil through a momentary intellectual inspiration, or through anger and impatience, or even through greed and similar deceitful allurements. Therefore it is necessary here to be cautious, alert and watchful in an effort to guard against the devil’s cunning attacks and always to oppose him with his own spiritual wisdom, that he may not be undeceived. The Pauline and scriptural use of the word “understanding” signifies the ability to make good use of one’s wisdom; to make it effective as a test whereby to prove all things, to judge with keen discernment whatever presents itself in the name and appearance of wisdom. Thus armed, the soul defends itself and does not in any case violate its own discretion. To furnish himself with understanding, the Christian must ever have regard to the Word of God, must put it into practice, lest the devil dazzle his mind with some palaver and error and deceive him before he is aware of it. This Satan is well able to do; indeed, he uses every art to accomplish it if a man be not on his guard and seek not counsel in God’s Word. Such is the teaching of David’s example, who says in Psalm 119:11: “Thy word have I laid up in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.” And again in verse 24: “Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.”
23. A man may be familiar with God’s Word, yet if he walks in self security, concerned about other matters, or if perhaps being tempted he loses sight of God’s Word, it may easily come to pass that he is seduced and deceived by the secret craft and cunning of the devil; or of himself he may become bewildered, losing his wisdom and being unable to find counsel or help even in the most trivial temptations. For the devil and reason, or human wisdom, can dispute and syllogize with extraordinary subtlety in these things until one imagines to be true wisdom that which is not. A wise man soon becomes a fool; men readily err and make false steps; a Christian likewise is prone to stumble; ay, even a good teacher and prophet can easily be deceived by reason’s brilliant logic. Essentially, then, Christians must take warning and study, with careful meditation, the Word of God.
24. We read of St. Martin how he would not undertake to dispute with heretics for the simple reason that he was unwilling to fall into wrangling, to rationalize with them or to attempt to defeat them by the weapon of reason, the sole means whereby they pointed and adorned all their arguments, as the world always does when opposing the Word of God.
The shrewd Papists today pretend, as they think, very acutely to confirm and support all their anti Christian abominations by the name of the Church, making the idiotic claim that one must not effect nor suffer any change in the religious teaching commonly accepted by Christendom. They say we must believe the Christian Church is always guided by the Holy Spirit and therefore demands our obedience. Notice here the name of the Church, concerning which your spiritual wisdom teaches according to the article: “ I believe in a holy Christian Church. But that name is distorted to confirm the lies and idolatry of the Papacy, just as is true of the name of God. So there is need of under standing, of careful, keen discernment, that wisdom be not perverted and falsified, and man be deceived with its counterfeit.
25. By close examination and comparison with God’s Word, the standard and test, you may clearly prove the Papacy to be not the Church of Christ, but a sect of Satan; it is filled with open idolatry, lies and murder, which its adherents fain would defend. These things the Church of Christ does not endorse, and to tax it with resolving, appointing, ordering and demanding obedience to that which is at variance with the Word of God, is to do the Church wrong and violence.
26. The world at the present time is sagaciously discussing how to quell the controversy and strife over doctrine and faith, and how to effect a compromise between the Church and the Papacy. Let the learned, the wise, it is said, bishops, emperor and princes, arbitrate. Each side can easily yield something, and it is better to concede some things which can be construed according to individual interpretation, than that so much persecution, bloodshed, war, and terrible, endless dissension and destruction be permitted. Here is lack of understanding, for understanding proves by the Word that such patchwork is not according to God’s will, but that doctrine, faith and worship must be preserved pure and unadulterated; there must be no mingling with human nonsense, human opinions or wisdom. The Scriptures give us this rule: “We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29.
27. We must not, then, regard nor follow the counsels of human wisdom, but must keep ever before us God’s will as revealed by his Word; we are to abide by that for death or life, for evil or good. If war or other calamity results complain to him who wills and commands us to teach and believe our doctrine. The calamity is not of our effecting; we have not originated it. And we are not required to prove by argument whether or no God’s will is right and to be obeyed. If he wills to permit persecution and other evils to arise in consequence of our teaching, for the trial and experience of true Christians and for the punishment of the ungrateful, let them come; and if not, his hand is doubtless strong enough to defend and preserve his cause from destruction, that man may know the events to be of his ordering. And so, praise his name, he has done in our case. He has supported us against the strong desires of our adversaries. Had we yielded and obeyed them, we would have been drawn into their falsehood and destruction. And God will still support us if we deal uprightly and faithfully in these requirements, if we further and honor the Word of God, and be not unthankful nor seek things that counterfeit God’s Word.
28. So much by way of explaining what Paul means by wisdom and understanding to know the will of God, and by way of teaching the necessity of having both wisdom and understanding. For not only must the doctrine where by wisdom is imparted be inculcated in Christendom, but there is also need for admonition and exhortation concerning that understanding necessary to preserve wisdom, and [or defense in strife and conflict. Were not these principles exercised and inculcated in us, we would be deceived by false wisdom and vain imaginations, and would accept their gloss and glitter for pure gold, as many in the Church have ever done.
29. The Galatians had received from Paul the wisdom of justification before God by faith in Christ alone. Nevertheless, inspite of that knowledge, they were deceived and would have lost their wisdom altogether through the claim of the false prophets that the God given Law must be observed, had not Paul aroused their understanding at this point and brought them back from error. The Corinthians were taught by their spiritual wisdom the article of Christian liberty; they knew that sacrifices to idols are nothing. But they failed in this respect: they proceeded without understanding, and made carnal use of their liberty, contrary to wisdom and offending others. Therefore Paul had to remind them of their departure from his doctrine and wisdom.
30. The Scriptures record many instances of failure in this matter of understanding. A notable one is found in the thirteenth chapter of First Kings. A man of God from the kingdom of Judah, who had in the presence of King Jeroboam openly denounced the idolatry instituted by the king, and had confirmed his preaching and prophecy by a miracle, was commanded by God not under any circumstances to abide in the place whither he had gone to prophesy, nor to eat and drink there. He was to go straight home by another way than the route he had come. Yet on the way homeward he allowed himself to be persuaded by another prophet, one who falsely claimed to have a revelation from God, by an angel, commanding him to take the man of God to his home and give him to eat and drink. While they sat together at the table the Word of the Lord came to the inviting prophet and under its inspiration he told the other that he should not reach home alive. The latter, departing on his journey, was killed on the way by a lion, which remained standing by the body and the ass the man of God had ridden, not touching them further, until the old prophet came and found them. He brought the body home on the ass and buried it, commanding that after his own death he should be laid in the same grave. Such was God’s punishment of the prophet who allowed himself to be deceived and obeyed not God’s express command. However, his soul suffered not harm, as God testified by the fact the lion did not devour his body but defended it. Now, in what was the prophet lacking? Not in wisdom, for he had the Word of God. He lacked in understanding, allowing himself to be deceived when the other man declared himself a prophet whom the angel of the Lord had instructed. The man of God should have abided by the word given to him, and have said to the other: “You may be a prophet, indeed, but God has commanded me to do this thing. Of that I am certain and I will be governed by it. ! will regard no conflicting order, be it in the name of an angel or of God.”
31. So it is often with man today, not only in doctrinal controversy but in private affairs and in official capacity. He is prone to stumble and to fail in understanding when not watchful of his purposes and motives, to see how they accord with the wisdom of God’s Word. Particularly is his understanding unreliable when the devil moves him to wrath, impatience, dejection, melancholy, or when he is otherwise tempted. Often they who have been well exercised with trials become bewildered in small temptations and uncertain what course to take. Here must one be watchful and not go by his reason or his feelings, but remember God’s Word or ascertain if he does not know what it is — and be guided thereby. When tempted man cannot judge aright by the dictates of reason. Therefore he ought not to follow his own natural intelligence nor to act from hasty conclusions. Let him be suspicious of all his reasoning and beware the cunning of the devil, who seeks either to allure or to intimidate us by his specious arguments. First of all let man call upon the understanding born of his wisdom in the Gospel, what his faith, love, hope and patience counsel, in fact, what God’s will eloquently teaches everywhere and in all circumstances if only one strive, labor and pray to be filled with such knowledge.
32. Paul uses the expression, “spiritual wisdom and understanding,” because it represents that which makes us wise and prudent to oppose the devil and his assaults and temptations, or wiles as Paul calls them in Ephesians 6:11; which governs and guides, shepherds and leads, teaches and keeps us, and enables us to fare well spiritually in faith and a good conscience toward God and also in the temporal affairs of life when reason fails as a counselor or teacher. Paul further says: “To walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work; and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, unto all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks unto the Father, who made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”
33. What is meant by “walking worthily of the Lord” we have heard in other epistles, namely to believe, and to confess the faith by doctrine and life, as people worthy of the Lord and of whom the Lord can triumphantly say: “These are my people Christians who live and abide in what they have been taught by the Word, who know my will and obediently do and suffer for it.”
34. Our wisdom and understanding of the knowledge of God should serve to make us characters that are an honor and praise to God, in whom he may be glorified, and who live to God unto all pleasing, that is, please him in every way, according to his Word. And because of such wisdom and knowledge, we should, in our lives, in our stations and appointed work, not be unfruitful nor harmful hypocrites and unbelievers, as false Christians are, but doers of much good, useful characters to the honor of God’s kingdom. All the time we are to make constant growth and progress in the knowledge of God, that we may not be seduced or driven from it by the cunning of the devil, who at all times and in all places assails Christians and strenuously seeks to effect their fall from the Word and from God’s will, even as in the beginning he did with Adam and Eve in paradise.
35. The apostle continues: “strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory.” Here is preparation to sustain the conflict against the devil, the world and the flesh, and to overcome. Not our own power, nor the combined power of all mankind, can effect it. Only God’s own divine, glorious power and might can overcome the devil and win honor and praise in the contest with the gates of hell. Christ in himself proved such efficacy of the divine strength when he overcame all the devil’s superlative assaults.
36. By this power and might of God must we be strengthened in faith. We must strive after such divine agency and by the help of the Word persevere and pray, that there may be not only a beginning, but a continuation and a victorious end. So shall we become ever stronger and stronger in God’s might. Whatever we do, it must not be undertaken in and by our own strength. We must not boast as if we had our selves accomplished it, but must rely upon God, upon his strength and support. Certainly it is not due to our ability but to his own omnipotent agency if one remains a Christian, steadfast in the knowledge of God and not deceived nor conquered by the devil.
37. But, the writer tells us, the attainment of strength and victory calls for “all patience.” We must have patience to endure the persistent persecution of the devil, the world and the flesh. Not only patience is required here, but “long suffering.” The apostle makes a distinction between the two words, regarding the latter as something more heroic. It is the devil’s way, when he fails to defeat by affliction and trouble, to try the heart with endurance.
He makes the ordeal unbearably hard and long to patience, even apparently without end. His scheme is to accomplish by unceasing persistence what he cannot attain by the severity and multitude of his temptations; he aims to wear out one’s patience and to discourage his hope of conquering. To meet these conditions there is necessary, in addition to patience, long suffering, which holds out firmly and steadfastly in suffering, with the determination: “Indeed, you cannot try me too severely or too long, even though the trial continue to the end of the world.” True, knightly, Christian strength is that which in conflict and suffering is able to endure not only severe and manifold assaults of the devil, but to hold out indefinitely. More than anything else do we need to be strengthened, through prayer, with the power of God, that we may not succumb in such grievous warfare, but achieve the end.
38. And your patience and long suffering, Paul says, must be exercised “with joy.” In these severe, multiplied and long temptations you must not allow yourselves to be filled with sad and depressing thoughts. You are to be hopeful and joyous, despising the devil and the troubles and tumults of the world and himself. Rejoice because you have on your side the knowledge of the divine will in Christ, and his power and glorious might, and doubt not that his omnipotence will help you through.
39. Finally the apostle enjoins us to give thanks, or to be thankful. Forget not, he would say, the unspeakable benefits and gifts God has bestowed upon you above all men on earth. He has richly blessed you, and liberated you from the power and might of sin, death, hell and the devil, wherein you would, for all you could help yourselves, have had to remain eternally captive; he has appointed you for eternal glory, making you co heirs with the saints elected for his eternal kingdom; and he has made you partakers of all eternal, divine, heavenly blessings. In your sufferings and conflicts, remember these glories ordained for and given to you, and remembering rejoice the more and willingly fight and suffer to obtain possession, to enjoy the fruition, of what is certainly appropriated to you in the Word and in faith.
40. The writer of the epistle calls it “the inheritance of the saints in light,” or of the “light” saints, that is, the true saints. Thus he distinguishes from false saints, intimating that there are two classes of saints. To one class belong the many in the world who have only their own claim to sainthood: the Jews, for instance, with their holiness of the Law; and the world generally, the philosophers, jurists and their kind, with their self righteousness. These are not saints of light; they are saints of darkness, unclean, even defiled. In Philippians 3:8 Paul counts such righteousness loss and refuse. To this class belong also many false, hypocritical saints in the company of Christians who have the Gospel; they, too, hear the Gospel and attend upon the Holy Supper, but they remain in darkness, without the least experience of the wisdom and understanding that knows the divine will. But they who exercise themselves in these spiritual graces by faith, love and patience in temptation, and perceive the wonderful grace and blessing God imparts through the Gospel these honorably may be called the saints, destined, even appointed, to eternal light and joy in God’s kingdom. “Who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love; in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.”
41. Paul now expatiates on the things that call for our gratitude to God the Father. He sums up the whole teaching of the Gospel, showing us what is ours in Christ and giving a glorious and comforting description of his person and the blessing he brings. But first, he says, we ought, above all, to thank God unceasingly for the knowledge of his revealed Gospel In it we have no small treasure. Rather, it is a possession with which all the gold, silver and other riches of this world, all the earthly joy and comfort of this life, are not to be compared. For it means redemption from eternal, irreparable loss and ruin under God’s eternal, unbearable wrath and condemnation. And this wretchedness was the result of our sin. We were committed to sin and without help, without deliverance, ay, we were captive in such blindness and darkness that we did not recognize our misery; much less could we devise and effect our escape. Now, in place of this misery, we have, without any merit on our part, any preparation, any deed or design, ay, without even a thought, assuredly received, through God’s unfathomable grace and mercy, redemption, or the forgiveness of sins.
42. The measure of such graciousness and blessing no tongue can express; indeed, in this life no man can under stand it. In hell the wicked shall become sensible of it by the realization of their condemnation and the never ending wrath of the eternal, divine Majesty and of all creatures. No created thing shall they be able to behold with joy, because in these ever shall be reflected the condemned one’s own unceasing, lamentable sorrow, terror and despair. Nor, on the other hand, can the creature behold the condemned with pleasure, but must abhor them; it must be an object of further terror and condemnation to the damned. However, in this life God in his unspeakable goodness has subjected the creature to vanity, as Paul says in Romans 8:20, and to the service of the wicked. Yet it serves against its will, travailing as a woman in pain, with the supreme desire to be liberated from this service of the wicked, condemned world. It must, however, have patience in its hope of redemption, for the sake of those children of God yet to come to Christ and finally to be brought to glory; otherwise it is as hostile to sin as God himself.
43. But because an eternal, unchangeable sentence of condemnation has passed upon sin for God cannot and will not regard sin with favor, but his wrath abides upon it eternally and irrevocably redemption was not possible without a ransom of such precious worth as to atone for sin, to assume the guilt, pay the price of wrath and thus abolish sin.
44. This no creature was able to do. There was no remedy except for God’s only Son to step into our distress and himself become man, to take upon himself the load of awful and eternal wrath and make his own body and blood a sacrifice for the sin. And so he did, out of his immeasurably great mercy and love towards us, giving himself up and bearing the sentence of unending wrath and death.
45. So infinitely precious to God is this sacrifice and atonement of his only beloved Son who is one with him in divinity and majesty, that God is reconciled thereby and receives into grace and forgiveness of sins all who believe in this Son. Only by believing may we enjoy the precious atonement of Christ, the forgiveness obtained for us and given us out of profound, inexpressible love. We have nothing to boast of for ourselves, but must ever joy fully thank and praise him who at such priceless cost redeemed us condemned and lost sinners.
46. The essential feature of redemption forgiveness of sins being once obtained, everything belonging to its completion immediately follows.
Eternal death, the wages of sin, is abolished, and eternal righteousness and life are given; as Paul says in Romans 6:23, the grace, or gift, of God is eternal life. And now that we are reconciled to God and washed in the blood of Christ, everything in heaven and earth, as Paul again declares ( Ephesians 1:10), is in turn reconciled to us. The creatures are no longer opposed, but at peace with us and friendly; they smile upon us and we have only joy and life in God and his creation.
47. Such is the doctrine of the Gospel, and so is it to be declared. It shows us sin and forgiveness, wrath and grace, death and life; how we were in darkness and how we are redeemed from it. It does not, like the Law, make us sinners, nor is its mission to teach us how to merit and earn grace.
But it declares how we, condemned and under the power of sin, death and the devil, as we are, receive by faith the freely given redemption and in return show our gratitude.
48. Paul also explains who it is that has shed his blood for us. He would have us understand the priceless cost of our redemption, namely, the blood of the Son of God, who is the image of the invisible God. The apostle declares that he existed before creation, and by him were all things created, and that therefore he is true, eternal God with the Father. Hence, Paul says, the shed blood truly is God’s own blood. And so the writer of this epistle clearly and mightily establishes the article of the divinity of Christ. But this requires a special and separate sermon.