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Sermons of Dr. Martin Luther for the Second Sunday after Epiphany
Gospel Sermon (1523)
(Note from the Lenker edition: German text: Erlangen edition II, 36; Walch II, 634; St. Louis II, 462.)
1. Enough has been written heretofore on marriage; hence we leave that subject for the present, and treat the following three topics in this Gospel text: first, the consolation this history affords married people by virtue of their marriage; secondly, the faith and love revealed in this Gospel lesson; thirdly, the spiritual significance of this marriage.
2. In the first place, it is indeed a high honor paid to married life for Christ himself to attend this marriage, together with his mother and his disciples. Moreover, his mother is present as the one arranging the wedding, the parties married being apparently her poor relatives or neighbors, and she being compelled to act as the bride’s mother; so of course, it was nothing more than a wedding, and in no way a display. For Christ lived up to his doctrine, not going to the rich, but to the poor; or, if he does go to the great and rich, he is sure to rebuke and reprove, coming away with disfavor, earning small thanks at their hands, with no thought of honoring them by a miracle as he does here.
3. Now the second honor is his giving good wine for the poor marriage by means of a great miracle, making himself the bride’s chief cup-bearer; it may be too that he had no money or jewel to give as a wedding present. He never did such honor to the life or doings of the Pharisees; for by this miracle he confirms marriage as the work and institution of God, no matter how common or how lowly it appears in the eyes of men, God none the less acknowledges his own work and loves it. Even our Caiaphases themselves have often declared and preached that marriage was the only state instituted by God. Who then instituted the others? Certainly not God, but the devil by means of men; yet they shun, reject and revile this state, and deem themselves so holy that they not only themselves avoid marriage — though they need it and ought to marry — but from excess of holiness they will not even attend a marriage, being much holier than Christ himself who as an unholy sinner attends a wedding.
4. Since then marriage has the foundation and consolation, that it is instituted by God and that God loves it, and that Christ himself so honors and comforts it, everybody ought to prize and esteem it, and the heart ought to be glad, that it is surely the state God loves and cheerfully endure every burden in it, even though the burdens be ten times heavier than they are. For this is the reason there is so much care and unpleasantness in marriage to the outward man, because everything that is God’s Word and work, if it is to be blessed at all, must be distasteful, bitter and burdensome to the outward man. On this account marriage is a state that cultivates and exercises faith in God and love to our neighbor by means of manifold cares, labors, unpleasantnesses, crosses and all kinds of adversities, that are to follow everything that is God’s Word and work. All this the chaste whoremongers, saintly effeminates and Sodomites nicely escape, serving God outside of God’s ordinance by doings of their own.
5. For this is what Christ also indicates by his readiness to supply any want arising in marriage, bestowing wine where it is needed, and making it of water; as though he would say: Must you drink water, that is, suffer affliction outwardly, and is this distasteful? Very well, I will sweeten it for you and change the water into wine, so that your affliction will be your joy and delight. I will not do this by taking the water away or having it poured out; it shall remain, yea, I will have it poured in and the vessels filled up to the brim. For I will not deprive Christian marriage of its cares and trials, but rather add to it. The thing shall be wondrous, so that none, except they themselves who experience it, shall understand it. It shall be on this wise: 6. God’s Word shall do it, by which all things are made, preserved and transformed; that Word which turns your water into wine, and distasteful marriage into delight. That God has instituted marriage (Genesis 2:32) the heathen and unbelievers do not know, therefore their water remains water and never becomes wine; for they feel not God’s pleasure and delight in married life, which if they did feel they would experience such delight in my pleasure as not to feel the half of their affliction, feeling it outwardly only, but inwardly not at all. And this would be the way to turn water into wine, mixing my pleasure with your displeasure and placing the one against the other, so that my pleasure would drown your displeasure, and turn it into pleasure; but this pleasure of mine nothing will reveal and give to you except my Word, Genesis 1:31: “God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”
7. Here too Christ indicates that he is not displeased with a marriage feast, nor with the things belonging to a wedding such as adornments, cheerfulness, eating and drinking, according to the usage and custom of the country; which appear to be superfluous and needless expense and a worldly matter; only so far as these things are used in moderation and in keeping with a marriage. For the bride and groom must be adorned; so also the guests must eat and drink to be cheerful. And such dining and doing may all be done in good conscience; for the Scriptures occasionally report the like, even the Gospel lessons mentioning bridal adornment, the wedding garment, guests and feastings at weddings. Thus Abraham’s servant in Genesis 24:53 presents ornaments of gold and silver to Rebecca, the bride of Isaac, and to her brothers; so that in these things no one need pay attention to the sour-visaged hypocrites and self-constituted saints who are pleased with nothing but what they themselves do and teach, and will not suffer a maid to wear a wreath or to adorn herself at all.
8. God is not concerned about such external things, if only faith and love reign; provided, as already stated, it be in moderation and in accord with each person’s station. For this marriage, although it was poor and small, had three tables; which is indicated by the word Architriclinus, showing that the ruler of the feast had three tables to provide for; moreover, the groom did not himself attend to this office, but had servants; then too there was wine to drink; all of which, if poverty were to be urged, might have been dispensed with, as is frequently the case with us. So also the guests did not merely quench their thirst with the wine; for the ruler of the feast speaks of how the good wine ought first to be set on, then, when men have freely drunk, that which is worse. All this Christ allows to pass, and we likewise should let it pass and not make it a matter of conscience. They were not of the devil, even if a few drank of the wine a little beyond what thirst required, and became merry; else you would have to blame Christ for being the cause by means of his presence, and his mother by asking for it; so that both Christ and his mother are sinners in this if the sour-visaged saints are to render judgment.
9. But the excess customary in our times is a different thing, where men do not eat and drink but gorge themselves with food and drink, revel and carouse, and act as though it were a sign of skill or strength to consume overmuch: where, moreover, the intention is not to be merry, but to be full and crazy. But these are swine, not men; to such Christ would not give wine, nor would he visit them. So also in the matter of dress, it is not the marriage that is kept in mind, but display and pomp; as though the most admirable were those most able to wear gold, silver and pearls, and to spoil much silk and broadcloth, which even asses might do and switches.
10. What then is moderation? Reason should teach that, and cite examples from other countries and cities where such pomp and excess are unknown. But to give my opinion, I would say a farmer is well adorned if for his wedding he have clothes twice as fine as he daily wears at his work; a burgher likewise; and a nobleman, if he have garments twice as costly as a townsman; a count, twice as costly as a nobleman; a duke, twice as costly as a count, and so in due order. In like manner food and drink and the entertainment of guests should be governed by their social position, and the purpose of the table should be pleasure not debauchery.
11. Now is it a sin to play and dance at a wedding, inasmuch as some declare great sin is caused by dancing? Whether the Jews had dances I do not know; but since it is the custom of the country, like inviting guests, decorating, eating and drinking and being merry, I see no reason to condemn it, save its excess when it goes beyond decency and moderation. That sin should be committed is not the fault of dancing alone; since at a table or in church that may happen; even as it is not the fault of eating that some while so engaged should turn themselves into swine. Where things are decently conducted I will not interfere with the marriage rites and customs, and dance and never mind. Faith and love cannot be driven away either by dancing or by sitting still, as long as you keep to decency and moderation. Young children certainly dance without sin; do the same also, and be a child, then dancing will not harm you. Otherwise were dancing a sin in itself, children should not be allowed to dance. This is sufficient concerning marriage.
12. In the second place, to return to. our Gospel lesson, we here see the example of love in Christ and his mother. The mother renders service and takes the part of house-keeper: Christ honors the occasion by his personal presence, by a miracle and a gift. And all this is for the benefit of the groom, the bride and the guests, as is the nature of love and its works. Thus Christ lures all hearts to himself, to rely on him as ever ready to help, even in temporal things, and never willing to forsake any; so that all who believe in him shall not suffer want, be it in spiritual or temporal things; rather must water become wine, and every creature turned into the thing his believer needs. He who believes must have sufficient, and no one can prevent it.
13. But the example of faith is still more wonderful in this Gospel. Christ waits to the very last moment when the want is felt by all present, and there is no counsel or help left. This shows the way of divine grace; it is not imparted to one who still has enough, and has not yet felt his need. For grace does not feed the full and satiated, but the hungry, as we have often said. Whoever still deems himself wise, strong and pious, and finds something good in himself, and is not yet a poor, miserable, sick sinner and fool, the same cannot come to Christ the Lord, nor receive his grace.
14. But whenever the need is felt, he does not at once hasten and bestow what is needed and desired, but delays and tests our faith and trust, even as he does here; yea, what is still more severe, he acts as though he would not help at all, but speaks with harshness and austerity. This you observe in the case of his mother. She feels the need and tells him of it, desiring his help and counsel in a humble and polite request. For she does not say: My dear son, furnish us wine; but: “They have no wine.” Thus she merely touches his kindness, of which she is fully assured. As though she would say: He is so good and gracious, there is no need of my asking, I will only tell him what is lacking, and he will of his own accord do more than one could ask. This is the way of faith, it pictures God’s goodness to itself in this manner, never doubting but that it is really so; therefore it makes bold to bring its petition and to present its need.
15. But see, how unkindly he turns away the humble request of his mother who addresses him with such great confidence. Now observe the nature of faith. What has it to rely on? Absolutely nothing, all is darkness. It feels its need and sees help nowhere; in addition, God turns against it like a stranger and does not recognize it, so that absolutely nothing is left. It is the same way with our conscience when we feel our sin and the lack of righteousness; or in the agony of death when we feel the lack of life; or in the dread of hell when eternal salvation seems to have left us. Then indeed there is humble longing and knocking, prayer and search, in order to be rid of sin, death and dread. And then he acts as if he had only begun to show us our sins, as if death were to continue, and hell never to cease. Just as he here treats his mother, by his refusal making the need greater and more distressing than it was before she came to him with her request; for now it seems everything is lost, since the one support on which she relied in her need is also gone.
16. This is where faith stands in the heat of battle. Now observe how his mother acts and here becomes our teacher. However harsh his words sound, however unkind he appears, she does not in her heart interpret this as anger, or as the opposite of kindness, but adheres firmly to the conviction that he is kind, refusing to give up this opinion because of the thrust she received, and unwilling to dishonor him in her heart by thinking him to be otherwise than kind and gracious-as they do who are without faith, who fall back at the first shock and think of God merely according to what they feel, like the horse and the mule, Psalm 32:9. For if Christ’s mother had allowed those harsh words to frighten her she would have gone away silently and displeased; but in ordering the servants to do what he might tell them she proves that she has overcome the rebuff and still expects of him nothing but kindness.
17. What do you think of the hellish blow, when a man in his distress, especially in the highest distress of conscience, receives the rebuff, that he feels God declaring to him: “What have I to do with thee?” Quid mihi et tibi? He must needs faint and despair, unless he knows and understands the nature of such acts of God, and is experienced in faith. For he will act just as he feels, and will not think of God in a different way and mean the words. Feeling nothing but wrath and hearing nothing but indignation, he will consider God only as his enemy and angry judge. But just as he thinks God to be so will he find him. Thus he will expect nothing good from him. That is to renounce God with all his goodness. The result is that he flees and hates him, and will not have God to be God; and every other blasphemy that is the fruit of unbelief.
18. Hence the highest thought in this Gospel lesson, and it must ever be kept in mind, is, that we honor God as being good and gracious, even if he acts and speaks otherwise, and all our understanding and feeling be otherwise., For in this way feeling is killed, and the old man perishes, so that nothing but faith in God’s goodness remains, and no feeling. For here you see how his mother retains a free faith and holds it forth as an example to us. She is certain that he will be gracious, although she does not feel it. She is certain also that she feels otherwise than she believes. Therefore she freely leaves and commends all to his goodness, and fixes for him neither time nor place, neither manner nor measure, neither person nor name. He is to act when it pleases him. If not in the midst of the feast, then at the end of it, or after the feast. My defeat I will swallow, his scorning me, letting me stand in disgrace before all the guests, speaking so unkindly to me, causing us all to blush for shame. He acts tart, but he is sweet I know. Let us proceed in the same way, then we are true Christians.
19. Here note how severely he deals with his own mother, teaching us thereby not only the example of faith mentioned above, but confirming that in things pertaining to God and his service we are to know neither father nor mother, as Moses writes in Deuteronomy 33:9: “He who says of his father and of his mother, I know them not, observes thy Word, Israel.” For although there is no higher authority on earth than that of father and mother, still this ends when God’s Word and work begin. For in divine things neither father nor mother, still less, a bishop or any other person, only God’s Word is to teach and guide. And if father and mother were to order, teach, or even beg you to do anything for God, and in his service that he has not clearly ordered and commanded, you are to reply: Quid mihi et tibi? What have I and you to do with each other? In this same way Chris there refuses absolutely to do God’s work when his own mother wants it.
20. For father and mother are in duty bound, yea, God made them father and mother for this very purpose, not to teach and lead their children to God according to their own notions and devotion, but according to God’s command; as St. Paul declares in Ephesians 6:4: “Ye fathers; provoke not your children to wrath: but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord;” i.e. teach them God’s command and Word, as you were taught, and not notions of your own. Thus in this Gospel lesson you see the mother of Christ directing the servants away from herself unto Christ, telling them not: Whatsoever I say unto you, do it; but: “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” To this Word alone you must direct everyone, if you would direct aright; so that this word of Mary (whatsoever he saith, do it) is, and ought to be, a daily saying in Christendom, destroying all doctrines of men and everything not really Christ’s Word. And we ought firmly to believe that what is imposed upon us over and above God’s Word is not, as they boast and lie, the commandment of the church. For Mary says: Whatsoever he saith that, that, that do, and that alone; for in it there will be enough to do.
21. Here also you see, how faith does not fail, God does not permit that, but gives more abundantly and gloriously than we ask. For here not merely wine is given, but excellent and good wine, and a great quantity of it. By this he again entices and allures us to believe confidently in him, though he delay. For he is truthful and cannot deny himself; he is good and gracious, that he must of himself confess and in addition prove it, unless we hinder him and refuse him time and place and the means to do so. At last he cannot forsake his work, as little as he can forsake himself — if only we can hold out until his hour comes.
22. In the third place, we must briefly touch upon the spiritual significance of the text. This marriage and every marriage signifies Christ, the true bridegroom, and Christendom, the bride; as the Gospel lesson of Matthew 22:1-14 sufficiently shows.
23. This marriage took place in Cana of Galilee; that is, Christendom began in the days of Christ among the Jewish people, and continues still among all who are like the Jews. The Jewish nation is called Cana, which signifies, zeal, because it diligently practiced the Law and zealously clung to the works of the Law, so that even the Gospel lessons always call the Jews zealots, and especially St. Paul in Romans 9 and Romans 10. It is natural too that wherever Law and good works are, there zeal will be and contention, one claiming to be better than the other, first of all, however, opposing faith which cares naught for works and boasts only of God’s grace. Now wherever Christ is there such zealots will always be, and his marriage must be at Zeal City, for you always find by the side of the Gospel and faith work-righteous people and Jewish zealots who quarrel with faith.
24. Galilee signifies border or the edge of the country, where you pass from one country into another. This signifies the same people in Zeal City who dwell between the Law and the Gospel, and ought to emigrate and pass from works to faith, from the Law into the Christian liberty; as some also have done, and now still do. But the greater part remain in their works and dwell on the border, achieving neither good works nor faith, shielding themselves behind the shine and glitter of works.
25. Christ’s being bidden to the marriage signifies that he was promised long ago in the Law and the prophets and is earnestly expected and invoked to turn water into wine, fulfill the Law and establish faith, and make true GalileansOF US.
26. His disciples are bidden with him; for he is expected to be a great King, hence to need apostles and disciples in order to have his Word freely and fully preached everywhere. Likewise, his mother is the Christian church, taken from the Jews, who herself most of all belongs to the marriage, for Christ was really promised to the Jewish nation.
27. The six waterpots of stone, for the purification of the Jews, are the books of the Old Testament which by law and commandment made the Jewish people only outwardly pious and pure; for which reason the Evangelist says, they were set there after the Jews’ manner of purifying, as if to say: This signifies the purification by works without faith, which never purifies the heart, but only makes it more impure; which is a Jewish, not a Christian or spiritual purification.
28. There being six waterpots signifies the labor and toil which they who deal in works undergo in such purification; for the heart finds no rest in them, since the Sabbath, the seventh day, is wanting, in which we rest from our works and let God work in us. For there are six work-days, in which God created heaven and earth, and commanded us to labor. The seventh day is the day of rest, in which we are not to toil in the works of the Law, but to let God work in us by faith, while we remain quiet and enjoy a holiday from the labors of the Law.
29. The water in the pots is the contents and substance of the Law by which conscience is governed, and is graven in letters as in the waterpots of stone.
30. And they are of stone, as were the tables of Moses, signifying the stiffnecked people of the Jews. For as their heart is set against the Law, so the Law appears outwardly to be against them. It seems hard and difficult to them, and therefore it is hard and difficult; the reason in that their heart is hard and averse to the Law; we all find, feel and discover by experience that we are hard and averse to what is good, and soft and prone to what is evil. This the wicked do not feel, but those who long to be pious and labor exceedingly with their works. This is the significance of the two or three firkins apiece.
31. To turn water into wine is to render the interpretation of the Law delightful. This is done as follows: Before the Gospel arrives everyone understands the Law as demanding our works, that we must fulfill it with works of our own. This interpretation begets either hardened, presumptuous dissemblers and hypocrites, harder than any pot of stone, or timid, restless consciences. There remains nothing but water in the pot, fear and dread of God’s Judgment. This is the water-interpretation, not intended for drinking, neither filling any with delight; on the contrary, there is nothing to it but washing and purification, and yet no true inner cleansing. But the Gospel explains the Law, showing that it requires more than we can render, and that it demands a person different from ourselves to fulfill it; that is, it demands Christ and brings us unto him, so that first of all by his grace we are made in true faith a different people like unto Christ, and that then we do truly good works. Thus the right interpretation and significance of the law is to lead us to the knowledge of our helplessness, to drive us from ourselves to another, namely to Christ, to seek grace and help of him.
32. Therefore, when Christ wanted to make wine he had them pour in still more water, up to the very brim. For the Gospel comes and renders the interpretation of the Law perfectly clear (as already stated), showing that what belongs to us is nothing but sin; wherefore by the law we cannot escape sinning. When now the two or three firkins hear this, namely the good hearts who have labored according to the law in good works, and are already timid at heart and troubled in conscience, this interpretation adds greatly to their fear and terror; and the water now threatens to rise above the lid and brim. Before this, while they felt disinclined and averse to what is good, they still imagined they might yet succeed by their good works; now they hear that they are altogether unfit and helpless:, and that it is impossible to gain their end by good works. That overfills the pot with water, it cannot hold more. This is to interpret the Law in the highest manner, leaving nothing but despair.
33. Then comes the consoling Gospel and turns the water into wine. For when the heart hears that Christ fulfills the law for us and takes our sin upon himself, it no longer cares that impossible things are demanded by the Law, that we must despair of rendering them, and must give up our good works. Yea, it is an excellent thing, and delectable, that the Law is so deep and high, so holy and righteous and good, and demands things so great; and it is loved and lauded for making so many and such great demands. This is because the heart now has in Christ all that the Law demands, and it would be sorry indeed if it demanded less. Behold, thus the Law is delightful now and easy which before was disagreeable, difficult and impossible; for it lives in the heart by the Spirit. Water no longer is in the pots, it has turned to wine, it is passed to the guest, it is consumed, and has made the heart glad.
34. And these servants are all preachers of the New Testament like the apostles and their successors.
35. The drawing and passing to the guests is, to take this interpretation from the Scriptures, and to preach it to all the world, which is bidden to Christ’s marriage.
36. And these servants knew (the Evangelist tells us) whence the wine was, how it had been water. For the apostles and their successors alone understand how the law becomes delightful and pleasant through Christ, and how the Gospel by faith does not fulfill the Law by works, every thing being unchanged from what it formerly was in good works.
37. But the ruler of the feast does indeed taste that the wine is good, yet he knows not whence it is. This ruler of the feast is the old priesthood among the Jews who knew of naught but works, of whom Nicodemus was one, John 3:9; he indeed feels how fine this cause of Christ would be, but knows not how it can be, and why it is so, clinging still to works. For they who teach works cannot understand and apprehend the Gospel and the actions of faith.
38. He calleth the bridegroom and reproacheth him for setting on the good wine last, whereas every man setteth on last that which is worse. To this very day it is the surprise of the Jews that the preaching of the Gospel should have been delayed so long, coming first of all now to the Gentiles, while they are said to have been drinking the worse wine for so long a time, bearing so long the burden and heat of the day under the Law; as is set forth in another Gospel lesson. Matthew 20:12.
39. Observe, God and men proceed in contrary ways. Men set on first that which is best, afterward that which is worse. God first gives the cross and affliction, then honor and blessedness. This is because men seek to preserve the old man; on which account they instruct us to keep the Law by works, and offer promises great and sweet. But the out-come is stale, the result has a vile taste; for the longer it goes on the worse is the condition of conscience, although, being intoxicated with great promises, it does not feel its wretchedness; yet at last when the wine is digested, and the false promises gone, the wretchedness appears. But God first of all terrifies the conscience, sets on miserable wine, in fact nothing but water; then, however, he consoles us with the promises of the Gospel which endure forever.
Text: Romans 12:6-16
And having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith; or ministry, let us give ourselves to our ministry; or he that teacheth, to his teaching; or he that exhorteth, to his exhorting: he that giveth, let him do it with liberality; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to another; in honor preferring one another; in diligence not slothful; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing stedfastly in prayer;communicating to the necessities of the saints; given to hospitality. Bless them that persecute you; bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Set not your mind on high things, but condescend to things that are lowly.
1. This lesson begins in a way that would seem to call for a portion properly belonging to the epistle for the preceding Sunday, and terminates short of its full connection. Evidently it was arranged by some unlearned and thoughtless individual, with a view simply to making convenient reading in the churches and not to its explanation to the people. It will be necessary to a clear comprehension, therefore, to note its real connections.
2. In the epistle for last Sunday, the apostle teaches that as Christians we are to renew our minds by sacrificing our bodies, thus preserving the true character of faith; that we are not to regard ourselves as good or perfect without faith, if we would avoid the rise of sects and conflicting opinions among Christians; that each is to continue firm in the measure of faith God has given him, whether it be weak or strong; that he shall use his gifts to his neighbor’s profit, and then they will not be regarded special favors by the less gifted, and the common faith will be generally prized as the highest and most precious treasure, the result being satisfaction for all men. Paul next adds the simile: “For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office: so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another.” Then follows our selection for today, the connection being, “And having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us,” etc. Paul likens the various gifts to ourselves, the different members of the common body of Christ. It is an apt and beautiful simile, one he makes use of frequently; for instance, 1 Corinthians 12:12 and Ephesians 4:16. It teaches directly and clearly the equality of all Christians; that one common faith should satisfy all; that gifts are not to be regarded as making one better, happier and more righteous than another, in the eyes of God. The latter idea is certainly erroneous, and destructive of faith, which alone avails with God.
3. First, if we examine this simile, we shall find that all the members perform certain functions of the body because they are members of it; and no member has its place through its own efforts or its own merits. It was born a member, before the exercise of office was possible. It acts by virtue of being a member; it does not become a member by virtue of its action. It derives existence and all its powers from the body, regardless of its own exertions. The body, however, exercises its members as occasion requires. The eye has not attained its place because of its power of seeing — not because it has merited its office as an organ of sight for the body. In the very beginning it derived its existence and its peculiar function of sight from the body. It cannot, therefore, boast in the slightest degree that by its independent power of seeing it has deserved its place as an eye. It has the honor and right of its position solely through its birth, not because of any effort on its part.
4. Similarly, no Christian can boast that his own efforts have made him a member of Christ, with other Christians, in the common faith. Nor can he by any work constitute himself a Christian. He performs good works by virtue of having become a Christian, in the new birth, through faith, regardless of any merit of his own. Clearly, then, good works do not make Christians, but Christians bring forth good works. The fruit does not make the tree, but the tree produces the fruit. Seeing does not make the eye, but the eye produces vision. In short, cause ever precedes effect; effect does not produce cause, but cause produces effect. How, if good works do not make a Christian, do not secure the grace of God and blot out our sins, they do not merit heaven. No one but a Christian can enjoy heaven. One cannot secure it by his works, but by being a member of Christ; an experience effected through faith in the Word of God.
5. How, then, shall we regard those who teach us to exterminate our sins, to secure grace, to merit heaven, all by our own works; who represent their ecclesiastical orders as special highways to heaven? What is their theory? They teach, as you observe, that cause is produced by effect. Just as if mere muscular tissue that is not a tongue becomes a tongue by fluent speaking, or becomes mouth and throat by virtue of much drinking; as if running makes feet; keen hearing, an ear; smelling, a nose; nourishment at the mother’s breast, a child; suspension from the apple-tree, an apple. Beautiful specimens, indeed, would these be — fine tongues, throats and ears, fine children, fine apples.
6. What sort of foolish, perverted individuals are they who so teach? Well might you exclaim: “What impossible undertakings, what useless burdens and hardships, they assume!” Yes, what but burdens do they deserve who pervert God’s truth into falsehood; who change the gifts God designed for man’s benefit into acts of service rendered by man to God; who, unwilling to abide in the common faith, aspire to exalted and peculiar place as priests and beings superior to other Christians? They deserve to be overwhelmed in astonishing folly and madness, and to be burdened with useless labors and hardships in their attempts to do impossible things. They cheat the world of its blessings while they fill themselves. It is said of them (Psalm 14:4-5): “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon Jehovah?” — that is, they live not in faith. And continuing — “There were they in great fear”; meaning that here and there they make that a matter of conscience which is not, because they cling to works and not to faith.
7. In the second place, the simile teaches that each member of the body is content with the other members, and rejoices in its powers, not being solicitous as to whether any be superior to itself. For instance, the nose is inferior in office to the eye, yet in the relation they sustain to each other the former is not envious of the latter; rather, it rejoices in the superior function the eye performs. On the other hand, the eye does not despise the nose; it rejoices in all the powers of the other members. As Paul says elsewhere (1 Corinthians 12:23): “Those parts of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor.” Thus we see that hand and eye, regardless of their superior office, labor carefully to clothe and adorn the less honorable members. They make the best use of their own distinction to remove the dishonor and shame of the inferior members.
8. However unequal the capacities and distinction of the individual members of the body, they are equal in that they are all parts of the same body. The eye cannot claim any better right to a place in the body than the least distinguished member has. Nor can it boast greater authority over the body than any other member enjoys. And thus it does not essay to do. It grants all members equal participation in the body. Likewise, all Christians, whether strong in faith or weak, perfect or defective, share equally in Christ and are equal in Christendom. Each may appropriate the whole Christ unto himself. I may boast as much in Christ as Peter or the mother of God may boast. Nor do I envy Peter because he is a more distinguished member of the Christian Church than I. I am glad of it. On the other hand, he does not despise me for being a less honored member. I am a part of the same body to which he belongs, and I possess Christ as well as he does.
9. The self-righteous are unable to concede this equality. They must stir up sects and distinctions among Christians. Priests aspire to be better than laymen; monks better than priests; virgins than wives. The diligent, in praying and fasting, would be better than the laborer; and they who lead austere lives, more righteous than they of ordinary life. This is the work of the devil, and productive of every form of evil. Opposed to it is Christ’s doctrine in our text. Under such conditions as mentioned, faith and love are subverted. The unlearned are deluded, and led away from faith to works and orders. Inequality is everywhere. The ecclesiasts desire to sit in high places, to receive all honor, to have their feet kissed, and will honor and respect none but themselves. Indeed, they would ultimately intercede for poor Christians, would be mediators between them and God, attaching no importance whatever to the stations in life occupied by these. They proceed as if they alone were members of Christ, and as if their relation to him could not be closer. Then they presume by their works to constitute others members of Christ, being careful, however, to demand adequate financial return for the service. They are members of the devil; not of Christ.
10. In the third place, according to the simile each member of the body conducts itself an a manner to profit the others — the whole body. The eye prepares the way for hand and foot. The foot, in its carriage of the body, safeguards the eye. Each member ever cares for and serves the others. More beautiful figures of love and good works are not to be found than those derived from the body with its members. In the members we daily bear about with us, and with which we are continually familiar, God has described the law of love in a living and forcible manner. Upon the principle there illustrated, the Christian should act, conducting himself in a way to profit not himself but others, and having a sincere interest in them. Under such conditions, schisms and sects could not spring up among us.
11. But we are blind; we neither see nor read the beautiful lesson taught us in our own bodies. We proceed to invent good works as a means of improving our condition and bringing ourselves into a saved state. This error is attributable to our lack of faith and of heart knowledge of Christ. Hence we are restless in soul, seeking to be liberated from sin and to become righteous. The heart in its ignorance of the sufficiency of common faith, engages in these abnormal, special works. There is where foolish individuals begin to disregard faith and love, imagining such works true ways to heaven. One takes up one thing, and another something else, and so it goes, until there is nothing but sects. One sect condemns and rejects the other. Each, exalting itself beyond measure, claims superiority.
12. In the fourth place, “whether one member suffereth, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it,” as Paul says. 1 Corinthians 12:26. In short, no member lives and acts for itself; all obey and serve one another, and the more honored members serve most. Each seems to say: “I desire not to be otherwise than as I am. I am satisfied to be a member of the same body with the others, and to have equal rights and honors therein. It is unnecessary for me to exert myself to share in that body, for I am already a member of it, and content. My efforts I direct to serving the body — all the members, my beloved brothers and partners. I assume no peculiarities. I would not cause discord and conflict.”
13. Observe, this is the way all true, righteous Christians do, as we have frequently said. They who conduct themselves otherwise cannot be true Christians; they are worse — more pernicious — than heathen. They cannot refrain from instigating sects; from assuming some peculiarity, some special doctrine, wherein they proudly exalt themselves above other men. Thus they lure to themselves the hearts of the unlearned. Against this class Paul here, as everywhere, faithfully warns us.
14. See, then, that you become a member of Christ. This is to be accomplished through faith alone, regardless of works. And having become a member, if God has appointed you a duty according to your capacity, abide in it. Let no one allure you away from it. Esteem not yourself better than others, but serve them, rejoicing in their works and their offices as you do in your own, even if they are less important. Faith renders you equal with others, and others equal with you, and so on. Paul’s design in this epistle is to teach equality. He would have no one “think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but so to think as to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to each man a measure of faith.” Or, to express it differently: “Let each one regard that his work for which he has a gift, and let him perform it. But he is not consequently to esteem himself superior to others differently gifted. He should delight in their works, justly recognizing those works as of God’s grace, and knowing that God distributes the measure of faith and this his grace not in one way, but in many ways.” Paul’s peculiar choice of words here, referring to all gifts as the grace of God and the measure of faith, is meant to teach that no man may regard his individual gift as a peculiar instance in that respect, as do they who are not of the common faith. It is the one same God, Spirit and Lord, the apostle tells us (1 Corinthians 12:5-11), who effects in this work and that, whether small or great, in you or in me, in the one same faith, love and hope.
15. The importance, the nobleness and helpfulness of this doctrine is beyond our power of expression. The wretched condition of all Christendom, divided as it is into innumerable sects, is, alas, plain testimony that no body nor member, no faith nor love, seems longer to exist anywhere. Unity of mind in relation to the various gifts of God cannot exist in connection with human doctrines. Hence it is impossible for the orders and the doctrines of our ecclesiastical lords to stand with unity of mind; one or the other must fall.
16. “Measure of faith” may be understood as implying that God imparts to some more of faith itself; and to others, less. But I presume Paul’s thought in employing the expression is that faith brings gifts, which are its chief blessing. These are said to be according to the measure of our faith, and not to the measure of our will or our merit. We have not merited our gifts. Where faith exists, God honors it with certain gifts, apportioned, or committed, according to his will. As we have it in 1 Corinthians 12:11, “dividing to each one severally even as he will”; and in Ephesians 4:16, “to each member according to his measure.” The same reason may be assigned for Paul’s words, “Having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us,” not “differing according to our merits.” Grace as well as faith brings these noble jewels — our gifts — to each one according to his measure. It excludes in every respect our works and our merits, and directs us to make our works minister only to our neighbors. “Whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith.”
17. The apostle enumerates several gifts, or works of Christian members, mentioning prophecy first. Prophecy is of two kinds: One is the foretelling of future events, a gift or power possessed by all the prophets under the Old Testament dispensation, and by the apostles; the other is the explanation of the Scriptures. “Greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues.” 1 Corinthians 14:5. Now, the Gospel being the last prophetic message to be delivered previous to the time of the judgment, and to predict the events of that period, I presume Paul has reference here simply to that form of prophecy he mentions in the fourteenth of 1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians 14) — explanation of the Scriptures. This form is common, ever prevails, and is profitable to Christians; the other form is rare. That reference is to this form, Paul implies in his words, “Let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith.” Doubtless he means the Christian faith then arising. No other faith, no other doctrine, is to be introduced. Now, when he says prophecy must be according to the proportion of faith, it is plain enough he does not refer to the foretelling of future events.
18. The apostle’s meaning, then, is: “They who have the gift of Scripture explanation must be careful to explain in conformity with the faith, and not to teach contrary to its principles.” “Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 3:11. Let every man be careful not to build upon this foundation with wood, hay, stubble — things unsuited to such a foundation; let him build with gold, silver and precious stones. Every doctrine, every explanation of the Scriptures, then, which leads us to rely upon our own works, and produces false Christians and self-righteous individuals, in the name of faith, is emphatically condemned. Any doctrine that teaches we are to exterminate our sins, to become happy and righteous and to obtain peace of conscience before God, in any other way than through faith alone — without works — is not in harmony with the Christian faith. For instance, all monastic life, and the doctrine of racketing spirits from purgatory, are in conflict with faith.
19. Paul, you will observe, does not attach so much importance to the prediction of future events; for instance, the prophecies of Lichtenberger, Joachim and others in these latter times. Such predictions, though they may gratify the curiosity of men concerning the fate of kings, princes and others of prominence in the world, are unnecessary prophecies under the New Testament dispensation. They neither teach the Christian faith nor contribute to its strength. Hence this form of prophecy may be regarded as among the least of God’s gifts. More, it sometimes proceeds from the devil. But the ability to explain the Scriptures is the noblest, the best, prophetic gift. The Old Testament prophets derived their title to the name chiefly because they prophesied concerning Christ — according to Peter (Acts 4:25 and 1 Peter 1:10) — and because they led the people of their day in the way of faith by explaining — giving the sense of — the divine Word. These things had much more to do with their title than the fact of their making occasional predictions concerning earthly kings and temporal affairs. In general, they did not make such predictions. But the First-mentioned form of prophecy they daily delivered, without omission. The faith whereto their prophecies conformed is perpetual.
20. It is of much significance that Paul recognizes faith as the controlling judge and rule in all matters of doctrine and prophecy. To faith everything must bow. By faith must all doctrine be judged and held. You see whom Paul would constitute doctors of the holy Scriptures — men of faith and no others. These should be the judges and deciders of all doctrines. Their decision should prevail, even though it conflict with that of the Pope, of the councils, of the whole world. Faith is and must be lord and God over all teachers. Note, then, the conduct of the Church orders who failed to recognize faith’s right to judge, and assumed that prerogative themselves, accepting only power, numbers and temporal rank. But you know Pope, councils and all the world, with their doctrines, must yield authority to the most insignificant Christian with faith, even though it be but a seven-yearold child, and his decision of their doctrines and laws is to be accepted. Christ commands us to take heed that we despise not one of these little ones that believe in him. See Matthew 18:#10 6:10. Again, he says (John 6:45), “They shall all be taught of God.” Now, it is inconsistent to reject the judgment of him whom God himself teaches. Rather, let all men hearken to him. “Or ministry, let us give ourselves to our ministry.”
21. The office of the ministry is the second gift of God the apostle enumerates. With the early Christians the duties of this office were to serve poor widows and orphans, distributing to them temporal goods. Such were the duties of Stephen and his associates (Acts 6:5), and such should be the duties of the stewards and provosts in monasteries today. Again, this was the office of those who ministered unto the prophets and apostles, the preachers and teachers: for instance, the women who followed Christ and served him with their substance; and Onesimus, Titus, Timothy and others of Paul’s disciples. They made all necessary temporal provision, that the apostles and the preachers might give themselves uninterruptedly to preaching, teaching and prayer, and might be unencumbered with temporal affairs.
22. But things have changed, as we see. Now we have spiritual lords, princes, kings, who neglect, not alone to preach and to pray, but also to distribute temporal goods to the poor and the widow and the orphan. Rather, they pervert the rightful substance of these to add to their own pomp. They neither prophesy nor serve; yet they appropriate the position and the name of minister, their purpose being to restrain and persecute true preachers and servants, and to destroy Christianity everywhere and spend its possessions to foster their own luxury. “Or he that teacheth, to his teaching; or he that exhorteth, to his exhorting.”
23. We treated of these two gifts in the epistle lesson for Christmas night. Titus 2. Teaching consists in instructing those unacquainted with faith and the Christian life; exhortation, in inciting, arousing, impelling, reproving and beseeching with all perseverance, those having knowledge of the faith. We are enjoined (2 Timothy 4:2) to be urgent, to “reprove, rebuke and exhort,” that Christians may not grow weary, indolent and negligent, as too often they do, knowing already what is required of them. But prophecy must furnish the store of information for the teachers and exhorters. Scripture expositors must supply these latter. Prophesying, then, is the source of all doctrine and exhortation. “He that giveth, let him do it with liberality.”
24. The mention here made of giving has reference to the fund contributed into a common treasury, in charge of servants and officers, for distribution among teachers, prophets, widows, orphans and the poor generally, as before stated. This was according to an Old Testament command. Beside the annual tithes, designed for the Levites, special tithes were to be set aside every third year for the poor, the widows and the orphans. There is no New Testament law for specific giving, for this is the day of grace, wherein everyone is admonished to give freely. Paul says (Galatians 6:6), “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.” Again (verse 10), “Let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of faith.”
25. But giving is to be done with liberality — freely and gratuitously, to the honor of God alone, with no intent to secure favor, honor or profit; none shall dictate in the matter; and preference shall not be shown in giving much to the amiable and nothing to the uncongenial, as has been the case in the past in relation to the prebends and fiefs. These were distributed according to friendship and favor; for the sake of money, honor and profit. The same is true of nearly all paid services in the matter of purgatory and hell. Freely, freely, we are to give, being careful only that it be well pleasing to God and bestowed according to necessity. Paul, you will observe, frequently commends such liberality. It is rarely manifest, however. True gifts are made beyond measure, but they are unprofitable because not made with a free, liberal spirit; for instance, contributions to monasteries and other institutions. Not being given with liberality, God does not permit these gifts to be used for Christian purposes. Given in an unchristian manner, they must, in an unchristianlike way, be wasted; as Micah says (Micah 1:7): “Of the hire of a harlot hath she gathered them, and unto the hire of a harlot shall they return.” Reference is to spiritual whoredom — unbelief — which never acts with liberality. “He that ruleth, with diligence.”
25. “Ruling,” or overseeing, is to be understood as relating to the common offices in the Christian Church. Paul is not speaking of temporal rulers, as princes and heads of families, but of rulers in the Church. He says (Timothy 3:5): “If a man knoweth not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” He means those who have oversight of Church officers generally; who take care that teachers be diligent, that deacons and ministers make proper and careful distribution of the finances, and that sinners are reproved and disciplined; in short, who are responsible for the proper execution of all offices. Such are the duties of a bishop. From their office they receive the title of bishops — superintendents and “Antistrites,” as Paul here terms them; that is, overseers and rulers.
27. It is the especial duty of these to be concerned about others, not about themselves; the latter care is forbidden rather than enjoined. Matthew 6:25. Diligence in the connection in which it is used in the text, is prompted by love and not by self-interest. It being the duty of a bishop to readily assume oversight, to minister and control, and all things being dependent upon him as the movements of team and wagon are dependent upon the driver, the bishop has no time for indolence, drowsiness and negligence. He must be attentive and diligent, even though all others be slothful and careless. Were he inattentive and unfaithful, the official duties of all the others would likewise be badly executed. The result would be similar to that when the driver lies asleep and allows the team to move at will. Under such circumstances, to hope for good results is useless, especially considering the dangerous roads wherein Christians must travel here, among devils who would, in every twinkling of the eye, overthrow and destroy them.
28. Why should Paul reverse the seemingly proper order? He does not mention ruling first — give it precedence. He rather assigns to prophecy the first place, making ministering, teaching, exhorting and contributing follow successively, while ruling he places last or sixth, among the common offices. Undoubtedly, the Spirit designed such order in view of future abominations that should follow the devil’s establishment of tyranny and worldly dominion among Christians. This is the case at present. Dominion occupies chief place. Everything in Christendom must yield to the wantonness of tyranny. Prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, benevolence — all must give way to tyranny. Nothing may interrupt its sway; it must not yield to prophecy, teaching or any other office.
29. We must remember, however, that nothing takes precedence of the Word of God. The preaching of it transcends all other offices. Dominion is but a servant to arouse preaching to activity, like to the servant who wakes his master from sleep, or in other ways reminds him of his office. This principle confirms Christ’s words (Luke 22:26): “He that is the greater among you, let him become as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.” Teachers and prophets, however, are to be obedient to rulers and continue subject to them; each Christian work and office must subserve the others. Thus is carried out Paul’s doctrine in this epistle: that one should not esteem himself better than others; should not exalt himself over men, thinking of himself more highly than he ought to think; though one gift or office is more honorable than another, yet it must also subserve that other. While the office of ruler is the lowest, yet every other appointment is subject to it; on the other hand, in care and oversight the ruler serves all others. Again, the prophet, who holds the highest office, submits to the ruler, etc. “He that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.”
30. The six preceding obligations devolve upon the common governing powers of the Christian Church — at present known as the ecclesiastical order. Paul now proceeds to enumerate duties pertaining to every member of the Church. The six first-mentioned obligations are not, however, to be individualized to the extent of making but a single obligation devolve upon one individual. He who prophesies may also teach, admonish, serve and rule. And the same is true of each office. Let every man discover unto how many offices he is called, and conduct himself accordingly. He must not exalt himself over others, as if better than they, and create sects from the common gifts of God; he must continue in the common faith of his fellows, allowing mutual service and subjection in the gifts.
31. “Mercy” implies all good deeds or benefits conferred by neighbors upon one another, aside from the regular contributions of which we have spoken. The Hebrew word the apostle uses for “mercy” is “hesed.” In Latin it is “beneficium”; in Greek, “eleemosyna”; and in common parlance, “alms.” It is in this sense that Christ employs the term throughout the Gospel: “When thou doest alms” (Matthew 6:2) — that is, thy good deeds, or favors; “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matthew 12:27); “He that showed mercy on him” (Luke 10:37). And there are other similar passages where the word “mercy” is equivalent to “benefit” or “favor”; for instance (Matthew 5:7), “Blessed are the merciful.”
32. Paul would say: “Let him who is himself so favored that he may confer benefits upon others, do it cheerfully and with pleasure.” He declares (Corinthians 9:7), “God loveth a cheerful giver.” And he makes his meaning clear by another portion of the same verse, “not grudgingly, or of necessity.” That is, the giver is not to twitter and tremble, not to be slow and tardy in his giving, nor to seek everywhere for reasons to withhold his gift. He is not to give in a way calculated to spoil the recipient’s enjoyment of the favor. Nor is he to delay until the gift loses its sweetness because of the importunity required to secure it; rather he should be ready and willing. Solomon says (Proverbs 3:28): “Say not unto thy neighbor, Go, and come again, and to-morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee.” “Bis dat qui cito dat.” He gives doubly who gives quickly. Again, “Tarda gratia non est gratia,” A tardy favor is no favor. The word “hilaris” in this connection does not imply joyful giving, but free, cheerful, willing and loving generosity, a generosity moved by slight entreaty.
“Let love be without hypocrisy.”
33. How aptly the apostle points out the danger of error in each obligation, as well as the right course! Prophecy is carried beyond its proper sphere when it does not accord with the faith. This is the danger-point in all prophecy. The common error in ministering lies in the indolence manifested therein, and the constant preference for some other occupation. Again, the prevailing error in teaching and exhorting is in giving attention to something besides those obligations; for instance, deceiving men with human nonsense. The mistake in giving is that it is seldom done with liberality. Rulers are prone to seek quiet and leisure, desiring to escape being burdened with care and anxiety. Favors are seldom bestowed cheerfully and with a willing heart. So, too, pure love is a rare thing on earth. Not that love in itself is impure, but too often it is mere pretense. John implies as much in his words (1 John 3:18), “My little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth.”
34. Now, they who harbor hatred while pretending to love, or are guilty of similar gross hypocrisies, fall far short of the spirit of this teaching. But Paul refers to those of liberated conscience, who conduct themselves like true Christians, well knowing how to teach concerning Christ; but who are careless of their works, not realizing that they neglect their neighbors and fail to assist the needy and to rebuke the wicked; who are generally negligent, bringing forth none of the fruits of faith; among whom the true Word of God is choked, like seed among thorns, as Christ says. Matthew 13:22. But we have elsewhere explained the nature of pure love. “Abhor that which is evil.”
35. While to abhor evil is one of the chief principles of love, it is rare. The principle is too often lost sight of through hypocrisy and false love. We ignore, wink at, even make light of and are undisturbed by the evil deeds of our neighbor. We are unwilling to incur his displeasure by manifesting indignation and offering rebuke for his wickedness, or by withdrawing from his society. Especially do we hesitate when we thus must endanger body or life; for instance, when the vices of those in high life demand our censure. By such weakness on our part we merely dissimulate love. Paul requires, not only a secret abhorrence of evil, but an open manifestation of it in word and deed. True love is not influenced by the closeness of the friend, by the advantage of his favors, or by the standing of his connections; nor is it influenced by the perverseness of an enemy. It abhors evil, and censures it or flees from it, whether in father or mother, brother or sister, or in any other. Corrupt nature loves itself and does not abhor its own evil; rather, it covers and adorns it. Anger is styled zeal; avarice is called prudence; and deception, wisdom. “Cleave to that which is good.”
36. The second feature of real, true love is that it cleaves to the good, even though found in the worst enemy, and though directly opposing love’s desire. Love is no respecter of persons. It is not intimidated by the possible danger its expression might incur. But false love will dare, even for the sake of honor, profit or advantage, to forsake the good in its friend, particularly when danger threatens or persecution arises. Much less, then, will he whose love is false cleave to the good in an enemy and stand by and maintain it. And if it necessitated opposing his own interests, he would not support his enemy’s deed, however good. Briefly, the proverb, “The world is false and full of infidelity,” and that other saying, “Fair but empty words,” clearly express the fact that the love of our corrupt human nature is false and hypocritical, and that where the Spirit of God dwells not, there is no real, pure love. These two principles — abhorring the evil and cleaving to the good — are clearly presented in Psalm 15:4: “In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, but who honoreth them that fear Jehovah” — in other words, “Who cleaves to the good, even though it be in an enemy; and hates the evil, even though in a friend.” Try men by these two principles in their lending, their dealing and giving, reproving and teaching, tolerating and suffering, and their dissimulation and hypocrisy will be readily apparent. “In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to another.”
37. Christians exhibit perfect love when, in addition to the love they manifest toward all men, they are themselves united by a peculiar bond of Christian affection. The term “tenderly affectioned” expresses the love parents have for children, and brothers for each other. Paul would say: “Christians are not simply to manifest a spirit of mutual love, but they are to conduct themselves toward one another in a tender, parental and brotherly way.” Thus Paul boasts of doing in the case of the people of Thessalonica. 1 Thessalonians 1:11. Isaiah declares (Isaiah 66:13) that God will so comfort the apostles: “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.” And Peter says (1 Peter 3:8): “Loving as brethren, tenderhearted, humbleminded.” The nature of the brotherly love we owe our neighbors is illustrated in the love of an affectionate mother for her child. Such love Christ has shown, and still shows, toward us. He sustains us, frail, corrupt, sinful beings that we are. So imperfect are we, we seem not Christians at all. But the love of Christ makes us his, regardless of our imperfections. “In honor preferring one another.”
38. Christ’s love and friendship for ourselves should lead us to esteem one another precious. We should be dear to one another for the sake of the Christ within us. We may not reject any because of his imperfections. We must remember the Lord dwells in the weak vessel also, and honors him with his presence. If Christ regards him worthy of kindness and affection, and extends to him the same privilege in himself that we enjoy, we should bow before that weak one, honoring him as the living temple of our Lord, the seat of his presence. What matters to us the insignificance of the seat the Lord chooses? If it is not too humble to be honored with his presence, why should we his servants not honor it? “In diligence not slothful.”
39. “Diligence” here implies every form of righteous work and business that occupies us. Paul requires us to be diligent, skillful and active. We are not to proceed as do they who undertake one thing today, and tomorrow another, confining themselves to nothing and soon growing weary and indolent. For instance, some readily and very zealously engage in a good work, such as praying, reading, fasting, giving, serving, disciplining the body. But after two or three attempts they become indolent and fail to accomplish the undertaking. Their ardor subsides with the gratification of their curiosity. Such people become unstable and weak. So Paul enjoins to be “Fervent in spirit.”
40. A weak and somewhat curious disposition may undertake with fervor, being ready to accomplish everything at once; but in the very start it becomes faint and weak, and voluntarily yields. It becomes silent when opposition, disaffection and persecution must be encountered. The fervor that does not persevere in spiritual matters is carnal. Spiritual fervor increases with undertaking and effort. It is the nature of spirit not to know weariness, Spirit grows faint and weary only by idleness. Laboring, it increases in strength. Particularly does it gain in fervor through persecution and opposition. So it perseveres, and accomplishes its projects, even though the gates of hell oppose. “Serving the Lord.” (Adapt yourselves to the time.)
41. Some renderings read, “Serve the Lord,” for in the Greek “Kairos” and “Kyrios” sound much alike. One means “Time,” the other “Lord.” I am undecided which is preferable. “Serve the time” — “adapt yourselves to the time” — would be apt. And “Serve the Lord” would not be a bad construction. Let each choose for himself. To serve the Lord means to let all our acts be done as unto the Lord himself, in the effort to serve him, not seeking our own honor, and not neglecting our duty for fear of men or because of their favors; it means to follow the spirit of Nehemiah’s declaration when the temple was being built (Nehemiah 2:20) — We are servants of the God of Heaven. Such was the reply of the Jews to those who attempted to hinder them. Practically, the Jews said: “We do not serve ourselves. Our service is not designed for our own honor, but for the honor of the God of Heaven.” I shall, however, adhere to the rendering, “Adapt yourselves to the time.” It is equivalent to saying: Direct yourselves according to the time. That is, employ it well; be seasonable, in keeping with Solomon’s words (Ecclesiastes 3:3-4): “A time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh,” etc. There is a time for everything. The thought is, Exercise your privileges, confining yourself to no particular time; be able to do the duty that presents itself, as Psalm 1:3 suggests: “He shall be like a tree that bringeth forth its fruit in its season.”
42. This valuable and excellent doctrine, militates against the selfrighteous, who confine themselves to set times, to the extent of making the time conform to them and adapt itself to their convenience. They observe particular hours for praying, for eating, for drinking. Should you, in dire need of aid, approach one of them, you might perish before he would disengage himself to assist you. Note, the self-righteous man does not adapt himself to the time — does not rise to the occasion as he should. The opportunity to perform a work of love, he permits to pass. The time must be suited to him — which will never be. No opportunity to do good ever presents itself to this class, for they are so absorbed in themselves as to permit every such occasion to pass. Nor are they seasonable in things concerning themselves. They laugh when they should weep; they are gloomy when they should rejoice; they flatter when censure is due. All their efforts are untimely. It is their fortune to miss every opportunity in consequence of confining their endeavors to certain times. This is the way of the world. “Rejoicing in hope.”
43. Here is an occasion, truly, when we should be timely. The ungodly rejoice when satiate with wealth, honor and ease, but are filled with gloom at a change in the weather. Their joy is untimely as well as their grief. They rejoice when they should grieve, and grieve when they should rejoice. But Christians are capable of rejoicing, not in ease and temporal advantage, but in God. They rejoice most when their worldly condition is worst. The farther earthly advantages are removed, the nearer is God with his eternal blessings. Paul enumerates joy among the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22); the flesh knows not such pleasure. In Romans 14:17, he speaks of “joy in the Holy Spirit.” “Patient in tribulation.”
44. Throughout the Gospel we are taught that Christians must endure crosses and evil days. Hence the Gospel arms us with divine armor, and that alone. That is, it teaches us, not how to avert temporal ills and to enjoy peace, but how to endure and conquer these ills. We are not to oppose and try to avert them, but patiently to endure them until they wear themselves out upon us, and lose their power; as ocean waves, dashing against the shore, recede and vanish of their own accord. Not yielding, but perseverence, shall win here. But of this topic we have treated during the Advent season. “Continuing steadfastly in prayer.”
45. Prayer has been sufficiently defined in the third epistle for Advent. Paul does not allude to babbling out of prayer-books, nor to bawling in the Church. You will never offer true prayer from a book. To be sure, you may, by reading a prayer, learn how and what to pray, and have your devotion enkindled; but real prayer must proceed spontaneously from the heart, not in prescribed words; the language must be dictated by the fervor of the soul. Paul particularly specifies that we are to be “steadfast in prayer.” In other words, we should not become remiss, even though we do not immediately receive what we ask. The chief thing in prayer is faith. Faith relies on God’s promise to hear its petition. It may not receive at once what it is confident of receiving; but it waits, and though for a time there may be indications of failure, yet the petition is granted. Christ gives striking illustrations of such perseverence in the parable of the wicked judge (Luke 18), and in that of the friend’s importunity (Luke 11). He everywhere teaches the necessity of faith in prayer. “Whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive,” Matthew 21:22. And again, “Or what man is there of you, who, if his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone?” Matthew 7:9. “Communicating to the necessities of the saints.”
46. The meaning of this injunction is shamefully perverted. In our necessities we daily seek the assistance of saints. Hence the numerous institutions, altars and services to these, everywhere in the world. Paul’s teaching, however, is that we are to “communicate to the necessity of the saints.” Since we ignore the sanctified ones of this life who need our assistance, we are well rewarded by having to go to the dead to solicit aid in our necessities. Paul means the saints on earth — the Christians. He calls them saints out of respect to the Word of God and his grace, which, in faith, renders them holy without works.
47. It would be a great shame, a blasphemy, for a Christian to deny that he is holy. It would be equivalent to denying the holiness of the blood of Christ, of the Word, the Spirit, the grace of God, and of God himself. And all these God has applied to or conferred upon the Christian to render him holy. Paul does not hesitate to call himself a saint (Ephesians 3:8): “Unto me who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given.” And (1 Timothy 5:10) he would relieve widows who washed the feet of the saints. It is also said in Psalm 86:2, “Preserve my soul; for I am godly [holy].” Peter, too (1 Peter 1:16), quoting from Moses, speaks God’s message, “Ye shall be holy; for I am holy.” The word “holy” in the Scriptures has reference only to the living. But we have had books other than the Scriptures to read. Consequently we have been led by our seducers into the humiliating wickedness of calling holy only the dead, and regarding it the highest presumption to apply the term to ourselves. At the same time we are all desirous of being called “Christians,” a sublimer title than “holy”; for Christ is perfect holiness, and Christians are named after Christ — after perfect holiness. The shameful abomination known as “the exaltation of saints” is responsible for the deplorable error here. The Pope’s influence has created the belief that only they are holy who are dead, or whose works have exalted them to the honor of the title. But how often is the devil exalted as a saint, and how often we regard them saints who are of hell!
48. Paul’s design in mentioning “the necessities of the saints” is to teach and move us to do as much for Christians as we are inclined to do for the saints of heaven; to regard such ministration as precious service, for so it is. He commends to us the real saints — those in want; who are of saintly character, though they may be forsaken, hungry, naked, imprisoned, halfdead, regarded by the world as ungodly evil-doers deserving of every form of misfortune; who, unable to help themselves, need assistance. They differ much from those saints whose help we, staring heavenward, implore. It is the poor Christians whom Christ will array on the last day, saying, “Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me.” Matthew 25:40. Then they who so ostentatiously served the blessed of heaven must stand shamed and afraid in the presence of those whom in this life they scorned to respect as they should. Nor will the saints whom they bound themselves to serve, and whom they worshipped, avail them anything. “Given to hospitality.”
49. Now, Paul specifies concerning the “necessities of the saints” and names the treatment to be accorded them. Not only in word are we to remember them, but in deed, extending hospitality as their necessities demand. “Hospitality” stands for every form of physical aid when occasion calls for it — feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked. In the early days of the Gospel, the apostles and disciples did not sit in palaces, cloisters, institutions, and torture the people with edicts and commands as do the idolatrous bishops today. Pilgrim-like, they went about the country, having no house nor home, no kitchen nor cellar, no particular abiding-place. It was necessary that everywhere hospitality be extended the saints, and service rendered them, that the Gospel might be preached. This was as essential as giving assistance in their distresses and sufferings. “Bless them that persecute you.”
50. Incidental to the subject of the saints’ necessities, the apostle reminds us we are to conduct ourselves in a Christian manner toward our persecutors, who, to great extent, are to blame for the distresses of the saints. It is well to observe here that we are not merely advised, but commanded, to love our enemies, to do them good and to speak well of them; such conduct is the fruit of the Spirit. We must not believe what we have heretofore been taught — that the admonition comes only to the perfect, and that they are merely counseled to bless their persecutors. Christ teaches (Matthew 5:44) that all Christians are commanded so to do. And to “bless” our persecutors means to desire for them only good in body and soul. For instance, if an enemy detracts from our honor, we should respond, “God honor you and keep you from disgrace.” Or if one infringe upon our rights, we ought to say, “May God bless and prosper you.” On this wise should we do. “Bless, and curse not.”
51. This is to be our attitude toward mankind generally, whether persecutors or otherwise. The meaning is: “Not only bless your persecutors, but live without curses for any, with blessings for all; wishing no one evil, but everyone only good.” For we are children of blessing; as Peter says: “Hereunto were ye called, that ye should inherit a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:9. In our blessing, all the world is blessed — through Christ. “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Genesis 22:18. It is inconsistent for a Christian to curse even his most bitter enemy and an evil-doer; for he is commanded to bear upon his lips the Gospel. The dove did not bring to Noah in the ark a poisonous branch or a thistle sprig; she brought an olive-leaf in her mouth. Genesis 8:11. The Gospel likewise is simply a gracious, blessed, glad and healing word. It brings only blessing and grace to the whole world. No curse, but pure blessing, goes with the Gospel. The Christian’s lips, then, must be lips of blessing, not of cursing. If they curse, they are not the lips of a Christian.
52. It is necessary, however, to distinguish between cursing and censuring or reproving. Reproof and punishment greatly differ from cursing and malediction. To curse means to invoke evil, while censuring carries the thought of displeasure at existing evil, and an effort to remove it. In fact, cursing and censuring are opposed. Cursing invokes evil and misfortune; censure aims to remove them. Christ himself censured, or reproved. He called the Jews a generation of vipers, children of the devil, hypocrites, blind dolts, liars, and so on. He did not curse them to perpetuate their evils; rather he desired the evils removed. Paul does similarly. He says of the sorcerer that he is a child of the devil and full of subtilty. Acts 13:10. Again, the Spirit reproves the world of sin. John 16:8.
53. But the strong argument is here urged that the saints of the Scriptures not only censured, but cursed. Jacob, the patriarch, cursed his sons Reuben, Simeon and Levi. Genesis 49:7. A great part of the Law of Moses is made up of curses, especially Deuteronomy 28:15. Open cursing is commanded to be pronounced by the people, on Mount Ebal. Deuteronomy 27:13. How much cursing we find in the Psalms, particularly Psalm 109. Again, how David cursed Joab, captain of his host! 2 Samuel 3:29. How bitterly Peter curses Simon (Acts 8:20): “Thy silver perish with thee.” Paul curses the seducers of the Galatians (Galatians 5:12), “I would they were even cut off.” And he says (Corinthians 16:22), “If any man loveth not the Lord, let him be anathema.” Christ cursed the innocent fig-tree. Matthew 21:19. And Elisha cursed the children of Bethel. 2 Kings 2:24. What shall we say to these things?
54. I answer: We must distinguish between love and faith. Love must not curse; it must always bless. But faith has power to curse. Faith makes us children of God, and is to us in God’s place. Love makes us servants of men, and occupies the place of a servant. Without the Spirit’s direction, no one can rightly understand and imitate such examples of cursing. Cursing stands opposed to cursing — the curses of God to the curses of the devil. When the devil, through his followers, resists, destroys, obstructs, the Word of God — the channel of the blessing — the blessing is impeded, and in God’s sight a curse rests upon the blessing. Then it is the office of faith to come out with a curse, desiring the removal of the obstruction that God’s blessing may be unhindered.
55. Were one, with imprecation, to invoke God to root out and destroy popery — the order of priests, monks and nuns, together with the cloisters and other institutions, the whole world might well say, Amen. For these the devil’s devices curse, condemn and impede everywhere God’s Word and his blessing. These things are evils so pernicious, so diabolical, they do not merit our love. The more we serve the ecclesiasts and the more we yield to them, the more obdurate they become. They rant and rage against the Word of God and the Spirit, against faith and love. Such conduct Christ calls blasphemy — sin — against the Holy Spirit — un-pardonable sin. Matthew. 12:31. And John says (1 John 5:16), “There is a sin unto death; not concerning this do I say that he should make request.” With the ecclesiasts all is lost. They will not accept any love or assistance which does not leave them in their wickedness, does not strengthen and help — even honor and exalt — them in it. Any effort you may make otherwise will but cause them to rage against the Holy Spirit, to blaspheme and curse your teaching, declaring: “It proceeds not from love and fidelity to God, but from the hate, the malice, of the devil. It is not the Word of God, but falsehood. It is the devil’s heresy and error.”
56. In fact, cursing which contributes only to the service of God is a work of the Holy Spirit. It is enjoined in the first commandment, and is independent of and superior to love. Until God commands us to do a certain good work or obligation so to do. His will transcends all the good works to manifest our love toward our neighbor, we are under no we can do, all the love we can show our neighbor. Even if I could save the entire world in a single day and it were not God’s will I should, I would have no right to do it. Therefore, I should not bless, should not perform a good work, should not manifest my love to any, unless it be consistent with the will and command of God. The measure of our love to our neighbors is the Word of God. Likewise, by the first commandment all other commandments are to be measured. We might, in direct violation of the commandments of the second table, were it consistent with God’s will and promotive of his honor, obey the first commandment in killing, robbing, taking captive women and children and disobeying father and mother, as did the children of Israel in the case of their heathen enemies. Likewise the Holy Spirit is able to, and does at times, perform works seemingly opposed to all the commandments of God. While apparently there is violation in some respects, it is in reality only of the commandments of the second table, concerning our neighbor. The Spirit’s works are in conformity with the first three commandments of the first table, relating to God. Therefore, if you first become a Peter, a Paul, a Jacob, a David, an Elisha, you too may curse in God’s name, and with exalted merit in his sight. “Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep.”
57. There may be a direct connection between these two commands and the injunction about “communicating to the necessities of the saints” upon which Paul has been expatiating, teaching how we are to treat our persecutors, who are largely to blame for the “necessities” of Christians. Yet I am inclined to think he speaks here in an unrelated way, of our duty to make ourselves agreeable to all men, to adapt ourselves to their circumstances, whether good or ill, whether or no they are in want. As common servants, we should minister to mankind in their every condition, that we may persuade them to accept the Gospel. Paul speaks further on this point.
58. Now, if a fellow-man have reason to rejoice, it is not for us to put on a stern countenance, as do the hypocrites, who assume to be somewhat peculiar. Their unnatural seriousness is meant to be indicative of their unrivaled wisdom and holiness, and of the fact that men who rejoice instead of wearing, as they do, a stern look, are fools and sinners. But no, we are to participate in the joy of our fellow-man when that joy is not inconsistent with the will of God. For instance, we should rejoice with the father who joys in the piety and sweetness of his wife, in her health and fruitfulness, and in the obedience and intelligence of his children; and when he is as well off as we are so far as soul, body and character, family and property, are concerned. These are gifts of God. According to Paul (Acts 14:17), they are given that God may fill our hearts “with food and gladness.” Though many such gifts and pleasures are improperly used, they are nevertheless the gifts of God and not to be rejected with a gloomy face as if we dare not, or should not, enjoy them. On the other hand, we ought to weep with our fellow-man when he is in sad circumstances, as we would weep over our own unhappy condition. We read (2 Samuel 1:17; Samuel 3:33) that David lamented for Saul, Jonathan and Abner, and (Philippians 2:27) that Paul was filled with sorrow over the illness of Epaphroditus and grieved as if the affliction were his own. “Be of the same mind one toward another.”
59. The apostle has previously (verse 10) spoken concerning unity of mind in relation to God-ordained spiritual gifts, counseling that everyone should be content as to the offices and gifts of his fellows. Now Paul speaks of the temporal affairs of men, teaching likewise mutual appreciation of one another’s calling and character, offices and works, and that none is to esteem himself better than another because of these. The shoemaker’s apprentice has the same Christ with the prince or the king; the woman, the same Christ the man has. While there are various occupations and external distinctions among men, there is but one faith and one Spirit.
60. But this doctrine of Paul has long been dishonored. Princes, lords, nobles, the rich and the powerful, reflect themselves in themselves, thinking they are the only men on earth. Even among their own ranks, one aspires to be more exalted, more noble and upright, than another. Their notions and opinions are almost as diverse as the clouds of heaven. They are not of the same mind concerning external distinctions. One does not esteem another’s condition and occupation as significant and as honorable as his own. The individual sentiment apparently is: “My station is the best; all others are revolting.” The clumsy, booted peasant enters the strife. The baker aspires to be better than the barber; the shoemaker, than the bath-keeper. Should one happen to be illegitimately born, he is not eligible to a trade, though he even be holy. Certificates of legitimate birth must be produced, and such is the complex state of society, there are as many beliefs as masters and servants. How can there be unity of mind concerning spiritual offices and blessings with people so at variance upon trivial, contemptible worldly matters? True, there must be the various earthly stations, characters and employments; but it is heathenish, unchristian and worldly for one to entertain the absurd idea that God regards a certain individual a better Christian than another upon the contemptible grounds of his temporal station, and not to preceive that in God’s sight these conditions make no inner difference.
61. Indeed, it is not only unchristian, but effeminate and childish, to hold such a view. A woman will win distinction for herself by handling the spindle or the needle more deftly than another, or by adjusting her bonnet more becomingly than her neighbor can; in fact, she may secure prominence by things even more insignificant. To say the least, no woman thinks herself less a woman than any other. The same is true of children; each is best satisfied with its own bread and butter, and thinks its own toy the prettiest; if it And so it is with the world: one has more power, another does not, it will cry until it gets its prettiest. is a better Christian, another is more illustrious; one has more learning, another is more respectable; one is of this lineage, another that. These distinctions are the source of hatred, murder and every form of evil, so tenaciously does each individual adhere to his own notions. Yet, despite their separate and dissimilar opinions, men call themselves Christians. “Set not your mind on high things.”
62. Here Paul makes clear the preceding injunction. He would restrain men from their unholy conceits. As before stated, every man is best pleased with his own ideas. Hence foolishness pervades the land. One, seeing another honored above himself, is restlessly ambitious to emulate that other. But he acts contrary to both teachings of Paul: Comparing himself to his inferiors or to his equals, he thinks he is far above them, and his own station most honorable. Comparing himself with his superiors, he sees his pretended rank fail; hence he strives to rival them, devoting all his energies to attain the enviable position. Clinging to external distinctions, his changing notions and unstable heart impel him to such ambition and render him dissatisfied with the Christ whom all men possess alike. But what does Paul teach? Not so. He says, “Set not your mind on what the world values.” His meaning is: “Distinctions truly must there be in this life — one thing high, another low. Everything cannot be gold, nor can all things be straw. Nevertheless, among men there should be unity of mind in this relation.” God treats men alike. He gives his Word and his Spirit to the lowly as well as to the high. Paul does not use the little word “mind” undesignedly. “High things” have their place and they are not pernicious. But to “mind” them, to be absorbed in them with the whole heart, to be puffed up with conceit because of our relation to them, enjoying them to the disadvantage of the less favored — this is heathenish. “But condescend to things that are lowly.”
63. In other words: Despise not lowly stations and characters. Say not, they must either be exalted or removed. God uses them; indeed, the world cannot dispense with them. Where would the wealthy and powerful be if there were no poor and humble? As the feet support the body, so the low support the high. The higher class, then, should conduct themselves toward the lowly as the body holds itself with relation to the feet; not “minding,” or regarding, their lofty station, but conforming to and recognizing with favor the station of the lowly. Legal equality is here made a figure of spiritual things — concerning the aspirations of the heart. Christ conducted himself with humility. He did not deny his own exaltation, but neither was he haughty toward us by reason of it. He did not despise us, but stooped to our wretched condition and raised us by means of his own exalted position.