Bach Cantata/Luther Sermons: Trinity 7

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“The Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes,” Giovanni Lanfranco, 1620-1625. National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.

Sermons of Dr. Martin Luther for Trinity 7

Gospel Sermon

(Note from the Lenker edition: This sermon appeared in pamphlet form in seven separate editions during the year 1523; also in the collections of “Ten Useful Sermons” of 1523 and of twenty-seven sermons of 1523.)

Text: Mark 8:1-9

In those days, when there was again a great multitude, and they had nothing to eat, he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and ,if I send them away fasting to their home, they will faint on the way; and some of them are come from far. And his disciples answered him, Whence shall one be able to fill these men with bread here in a desert place? And he asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven. And he commandeth the multitude to sit down on the ground: and he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he brake, and gave to his disciples, to set before them; and they set them before the multitude. And they had a few small fishes: and having blessed them, he commanded to set these also before them. And they ate, and were filled: and they took up, of broken pieces that remained over, seven baskets. And they were about four thousand: and he sent them away.

1. Beloved friends, I hope you thoroughly understand this Gospel; for you are now sufficiently established in the truth to know what we should expect in the Gospel and what is presented to us there, namely, the true nature and life of faith. Because of this Christ is pictured and represented so lovingly in all the Gospel lessons. Although his history and works are ever changing, yet the plain, simple faith remains ever the same. To-day’s Gospel paints to us the Lord in a way that we may fully know how we should esteem him, namely, that he is merciful, meek and loving; that he gladly helps everybody and freely associates and deals with all people. And such a picture as this faith really craves.

2. Therefore the Scriptures present to us a double picture; one is that of fear or the overpowering picture of the severe wrath of God, before which no one can stand; but must despair unless he has faith. In contrast with this the picture of grace is presented to us in order that faith may behold it and obtain for itself an agreeable and comforting refuge in God, with the hope that man cannot expect so much from God, that there is not still much more to be had from him.

3. You have often heard that there are also two kinds of possessions, spiritual and temporal. To-day’s Gospel treats of the temporal and bodily blessings, teaches us the faith of the child, and it is a picture for the weak, in that they should look to God for everything good, and that they might thus later learn to trust God and depend upon him for spiritual blessings. For if we are instructed in the Gospel, how Christ feeds our stomachs, we can then conclude that he will also feed and clothe our souls. For if I cannot trust him to sustain my body, much less can I trust him to sustain my soul forever. For example, if I cannot trust a person that he will give me one dollar, how can I trust him that he will give me ten? If I cannot expect from a person that he will give me a piece of bread; much less could I have any hope, that he would give me a house and yard, and the whole earth.

4. Now, he who cannot, like the babe on its mother’s breast, have a child faith, will hardly hope that God will forgive him his sins and save his soul forever; for the soul is inexpressibly more than the stomach, for which also Christ has compassion as the Gospel to-day proves. Therefore St. Peter said correctly in 1 Peter 2:1-3: “Beloved brethren: Putting away therefore all wickedness, and all guile, anal hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, long for the spiritual milk which is without guile, that ye may grow thereby unto Salvation; if ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” For it is not enough that a babe should imbibe milk, but it must also grow large and strong, that it may learn later to eat bread and hard food.

5. But “to feed on milk” means, to taste the favor and the kind grace of God. “To taste the goodness of God” means, to experience it in one’s life. For should I preach a hundred years of God, how kind, sweet and good he is, that he condescends to help man, and I have not yet myself tasted it through experience; thus all is still in vain and no one is in this way taught to trust God rightly. From this you can conclude what a rare person a true Christian is. For there are many who say they trust in God for their daily bread; but that floats only upon the tongue and hangs in the ears; it never enters the heart where it belongs.

6. Now let us observe in this example, what the life and nature of faith are. The apostle in the Epistle to the Hebrews 2:1, writes thus: “Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.” That is as much as to say, faith is the means by which one trusts in possessions he does not see, namely, that I should expect temporal things which I can neither see nor hear, but I must only hope for them; as is the case in today’s Gospel. There were many people together, about four thousand, who with their wives and children had had nothing to eat for the space of three days (I judge that can be called fasting), but were extremely hungry, far from home, without any provisions on which the body lives. Now the apostle says, faith is that through which I hope for things I cannot see. Such a faith the great multitude of people here has; they see no food and yet they hope that God will nourish them.

7. Now, what does Christ do in this case? What attitude does he take to this transaction? He must not have had much tact, for he goes to the disciples and asks, how shall one feed all these? They reply, Oh, who will be able to feed such a great multitude of people with bread in the wilderness? But here you see how little human thoughts and faith harmonize; here you see, the wiser reason is, the less it accomplishes in the works of God. Therefore Christ asked his disciples that everyone might learn to know by experience what reason is, and acknowledge how reason and faith in no way agree. Here we learn to blindfold reason, when we begin to believe, and then give reason a permanent furlough.

8. Take an example: If I were a man who had a wife and children, and had nothing for them and no one gave me anything; then I should believe and hope that God would sustain me. But if I see that it amounts to nothing and I am not helped with food and clothing, what takes place? Then, as an unbelieving fool, I begin to doubt, and go and take whatever is at hand, steal, deceive, cheat the people and make my way the best I can and may. See this is what shameless unbelief does. But if I am a believer then I close my eyes and say: O God, I am thy creature and thy handiwork and thou hast from the beginning created me. I will depend entirely upon you who cares more for me, how I shall be sustained, than I do myself; thou wilt indeed nourish me, feed, clothe and help me, where and when you know best.

9. Thus faith is a sure foundation, through which I expect that which I see not. Therefore faith must always have sufficient, for before it should fail the angels would have to come from heaven and dig bread out of the earth in order that believing persons should be fed. Yes, the heavens and the earth would have to pass away before God would let his believers lack clothing and the other necessaries of life. The comforting and powerful Word of the divine promise requires and demands this. David boasts of this in Psalm 37:25: “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” And in the verses just preceding in Psalm 37:18-19 he says: “Jehovah knoweth the days of the perfect; and their inheritance shall be forever. They shall not be put to shame in the time of evil; and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.”

10. But when one inquires of reason for counsel it soon says: It is not possible. Yes, you must wait a long time until roasted ducks fly into your mouth, for reason sees nothing, grasps nothing, and nothing is present. Just so the apostles do also here who thought: Yes, who will provide food for so many, no one is able to do that; but had they seen a great pile of money and in addition tables laden with bread and meat, they would soon have discovered good counsel and been able to give good consolation; that would. have gone according to their thinking very reasonably. However, since they saw nothing they could find no counsel, but held it to be impossible that one should thus feed so many people, and especially since no provisions were at hand.

11. We have said enough concerning faith through which we entrust the stomach to God for his care, and believe that he will not allow us to come to distress because of the lack of temporal things. Now concerning spiritual blessings, when we are about to die, I wish also to say: then we will find and see before our eyes very death, and yet we would gladly wish to live; then we will see before us very hell, and yet we would gladly wish to possess heaven; then we will see God’s judgment, and yet we would gladly see his grace. In brief, we will not see a single one of the things we would like to have. No created thing can help us in the presence of death, hell and the judgment of God; and if I believe, I will say: Yes, faith is the fundamental principle by which I secure what I do not see; hence, if I believe, nothing can harm me. Although I see nothing now but death, hell and the judgment of God before my eyes, yet I must not look at them; but fully trust that God, by virtue of the power of his promise, not because of my worthiness, will give me life, salvation and grace. That is cleaving to God by faith in the right way.

12. This is here beautifully painted in the visible picture of the four thousand men who hang on God alone through the faith that says: yes, God will indeed feed us. Had they judged according to reason, they would have said’ Oh, we are so many, we are here in the desert, we have empty and hungry stomachs; nothing can help our condition. There was nothing of which they could speak; but they had a good refuge without any human disputing with God, they commended themselves to him and freely laid all their need upon him. Then Christ comes, before they have any care and before they ask him to come, and takes all more to heart than they do themselves, and says to his disciples: “I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days and have nothing to eat; and if I send them away fasting to their homes, they will faint on the way.”

13. Behold, what a sympathetic Christ we have, who even provides food for our poor stomachs. Here new hope is awakened and man is comforted through the words of Christ; as he says: They lie there and wait for me until the third day. I must give them also what they need. Here you see that all who thus faithfully cling to the Word of God will be fed by God himself; for that is the nature and the power of faith, which flows alone out of the Word of God.

14. Therefore, beloved friends, let us once make a beginning to believe; for unbelief is the cause of all sin and vice, which now have taken the upper hand in all stations of life. How does it come to pass that everywhere there are so many foolish women and rogues, so many rank imposters, thieves, robbers, usurers, murderers and sellers of indulgences? It all comes from unbelief. For such men judge alone according to human reason, and the reason judges only according to that which it sees; but what it does not see, it does not wish to lay hold of. Therefore, if it does not place its confidence in God through faith, then it must despair in itself and develop rogues and rascals. Observe, thus it comes to pass wherever men permit their reason to govern them, and are not ruled by faith.

15. Now just as you have learned faith, so should we learn love; for Christ wishes to set before us a twofold picture, namely, a picture of faith, that we should not be over-anxious; also a picture of love, that, as he does to us, is anxious about our welfare, feeds us and gives us to drink and clothes us, only out of free love, not for the sake of his own advantage or because of our worthiness; so should we also do good unto our neighbor, freely and gratuitously, out of pure love, by which, as he is a Christ to you, you should thus also be a Christ to your neighbor.

16. Therefore you see that all the works of the priests, monks and nuns are vain and cursed; for they are not directed to the end to serve their neighbors; but only that they may merit much before God through their works. For true Christian works must be directed entirely and freely to the end that they be done for the good of our neighbor, only freely given and scattered broadcast among the masses; as Christ also did who cast his good deeds away freely for the people to scramble after, and gave his doctrine, word and life for the Church. Blessed are they who accept this giving with thanksgiving.

17. I say this only for the reason that you may see how all parts of the Gospel lessons tend in the direction and will have nothing more, and God also requires nothing more from us, than that we surrender ourselves to the service of our neighbor, and accordingly sustain him in the name of God and in the place of God, do him good and show him a service; for God does not need our good works, as Psalm 50:7-13 says: “Bear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify unto thee: I am God, even thy God. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices; and thy burntofferings are continually before me. I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he-goats out of thy folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains; and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee; for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?”

18. Just so he says to us also; behold, Israel, that is thou believing one, I am thy God and thou art not my God; I will give to you and not you to me. Hear, Israel, I will not be angry with thee that thou dost not offer me any sacrifices; for what thou hast in thy barn, house and yard, that was all mine before it was thine; for I have stored it away there, Here he spoke very pointedly to the Jews who prided themselves highly on their sacrifices. Now, since he rejects our offering, what will he then have? The Psalmist in the verses immediately following says: “Offer unto God the sacrifice of thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the Most High; and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” That means, I wish to have thy heart, rest thou in me and believe me to be a kind and gracious God, that I am thy God: then you will have enough. Therefore he says also in the following Psalm 51:14-19: “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation; and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall show forth thy praise. For thou delightest not in sacrifice; else would I give it: thou hast no pleasure in burnt-offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”

19. In this confidence and hope let thy faith run its course, to acknowledge God as thy friend, to cleave to him and in the greatest need to flee to him, and to one else. Believe it and expect it, then he will help thee, this thou shouldst not doubt; therefore in harmony with this, thou shouldst serve thy neighbor freely and gratuitously. These two thoughts are presented to us in this Gospel.

Epistle Sermon (July 11, 1535)

Text: Romans 6:19-23

I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye presented your members as servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity, even so now present your members as servants to righteousness unto sanctification. For when ye were servants of sin, ye were free in regard of righteousness. What fruit then had ye at that time in the things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end eternal life. For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1. The text properly should include several verses preceding. Paul has not yet concluded the subject of the epistle for last Sunday. There he urges that since we are baptized into Christ and believe, we should henceforth walk in a new life; that we are now dead to sin because we are in Christ, who by his death and resurrection has conquered and destroyed sin. He illustrates the power of Christ’s death and resurrection by saying: “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace.” That is, being in Christ and possessed of the power of his resurrection — in other words, having God’s grace and the forgiveness of sins — you can now readily resist sin. Although you may not perfectly fulfill the letter of the Law in its demands, yet it cannot condemn you as a sinner nor subject you to God’s wrath.

2. Then Paul presents again the question raised by the obstinate world when it encounters this doctrine. “What then?” he asks, “shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace ?” It is the perversity of the world that, when we preach about forgiveness of sins by pure grace and without merit of man, it should either say we forbid good works, or else try to draw the conclusion that man may continue to live in sin and follow his own pleasure; when the fact is, we should particularly strive to live a life the very reverse of sinful, that our doctrine may draw people to good works, unto the praise and honor and glory of God. Our doctrine, rightly apprehended, does not influence to pride and vice, but to humility and obedience.

3. In affairs of temporal government, whether domestic or civil, judge or ruler, it is understood that he who asks for pardon confesses himself guilty, acknowledges his error and promises to reform — to transgress no more. For instance, when the judge extends mercy and pardon to the thief deserving of the gallows, the law is canceled by grace. Suppose now the thief continues in wrong-doing and boasts, “Now that I am under grace I may do as I please, I have no law to fear”; who would tolerate him? For though the law is indeed canceled for him and he receives not merited punishment, though grace delivers him from the rope and the sword, life is not granted him that he may continue to steal, to murder; rather he is supposed to become honest and virtuous. If he does not, the law will again overtake him and punish him as he deserves. In short, where grace fulfills the law, no one is for that reason given license to continue in wrong-doing; on the contrary, he is under increased obligation to avoid occasions of falling under condemnation of the law.

4. Everyone can readily comprehend this principle in temporal things; no one is stupid enough to tolerate the idea of grace being granted to extend opportunity to do wrong. It is only the Gospel doctrine concerning God’s grace and the forgiveness of sin that must suffer the slanderous misrepresentation that makes it abolish good works or give occasion for sin. We are told how God, in his unfathomable grace, has canceled the sentence of eternal death and hell fire which, according to the Law and divine judgment, we deserved, and has given us instead the freedom of life eternal; thus our life is purely of grace. Yet certainly we are not pardoned that we may live as before when, under condemnation and wrath, we incurred death. Rather, forgiveness is bestowed that we in appreciation of the sublimity and sanctity of God’s unspeakably great blessing which delivers us from death unto life, should henceforth take heed that we lose it not; that we fall not from grace to pass again under judgment and the sentence of eternal death. We are to conduct ourselves as men made alive and saved.

5. So Paul says in verse 16, “Know ye not, that to whom ye present yourselves as servants unto obedience, his servants ye are whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” Meaning, Since you now have, under grace, obtained forgiveness of sin and are become righteous, you owe it to God to live in obedience to his will. Necessarily your life must be obedient to some master. Either you obey sin, to continue in the service of which brings death and God’s wrath, or you obey God, in grace, unto a new manner of life. So, then, you are no more to obey sin, having been freed from its dominion and power. Paul continues the topic in this Sunday’s epistle text, saying: GOOD AND EVIL “AFTER THE MANNER OF MEN.” “I speak after the manner of men, because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye presented your members as members to uncleanness,” etc.

6. Heretofore he had been speaking, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in language unusual and unintelligible to the world. To the gentiles it was a strange and incomprehensible thing he said about dying with Christ unto sin, being buried and planted into his death, and so on. But now, since his former words are obscure to the natural understanding, he will, he says, speak according to human reason — “after the manner of men.”

7. Even reason and the laws of all the gentiles, he goes on to say, teach we are not to do evil; rather to avoid it and do good. All sovereigns establish laws to restrain evil and preserve order. How could we introduce through the Gospel a doctrine countenancing evil? Though the wisdom of the Gospel is a higher gift than human reason, it does not alter or nullify the God-implanted intelligence of the latter. Hence it is a perversion of our doctrine to say it does not teach us to love good works and practice them. “Now, if you cannot understand this truth from my explanation,” Paul would say — “that through faith you have, by baptism, died to the sinful life, even been buried — then learn it through your accustomed exercise of reason. You know for yourselves that pardon for former transgression and release from lawful punishment gives no one license to do evil — to commit theft or murder.”

8. It is a commonly recognized fact among men that pardon does not mean license. God’s Word confirms the same. Yet the disadvantage is that although reason teaches, through the Law, good works and forbids evil, it is unable to comprehend why its teachings are not fulfilled. It perceives from the results which follow dishonoring of the Law, that to honor is best, that it is right and praiseworthy not to steal and commit crime. But it fails to understand why, given the teachings at first, they are not naturally fulfilled. Nor, again, does it know how existing conditions may be removed or bettered. It resorts to this expedient and that to restrain evil, but it cannot attain the art of uprooting and destroying it. With the sword, rack and gallows the judge may restrain public crime, but he cannot punish more than what is known and witnessed to before the court. Whatever is done secretly and never comes before him, he cannot punish or restrain. The Word of God, however, takes hold of the difficulty in a different manner. It teaches how to crush the head of the serpent and to slay the evil. Then the judge and the executioner are no longer necessary. But where we may not control the cause of the wrong, we should, nevertheless, restrain so far as possible its manifest workings. Now, the utmost reason can teach is that we are not to do evil even in thought or desire, and the extent of its punishment relates only to outward works; it cannot punish the thought and inclination to do evil.

9. “But we preach another doctrine,” Paul means to say, “a doctrine having power to control the heart and restrain the will. We say you believers in Christ, who are baptized into his death and buried with him, are not only to be reckoned dead, but are truly dead unto sin.” A Christian has certain knowledge that through the grace of Christ his sins are forgiven — blotted out and deprived of condemning power. Because he has obtained and believes in such grace, he receives a heart abhorrent of sin. Although feeling within himself, perhaps, the presence of evil thoughts and lusts, yet his faith and the Holy Spirit are with him to remind him of his baptism. “Notwithstanding time and opportunity permit me to do evil,” he says to himself, “and though I run no risk of being detected and punished, yet I will not do it. I will obey God and honor Christ my Lord, for I am baptized into Christ and as a Christian am dead unto sin, nor will I come again under its power.” So acted godly Joseph, who, when tempted by his master’s wife, “left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out” (Genesis 39:12); whereas another might have been glad of the invitation. He was but flesh and blood and naturally not insensible to her inducement, to the time and opportunity, the friendship of the woman and the offered enjoyment; but he restrained himself, not yielding even in thought to the temptation. Such obedience to God destroys indeed the source of evil — sin. Reason and human wisdom know nothing of it. It is not to be effected by laws, by punishment, by prison and sword. It can be attained only by faith and a knowledge of Christ’s grace, through which we die to sin and the world, and restrain the will from evil even when detection and punishment are impossible.

10. Now, such doctrine is not to be learned from human reason; it is spiritual and taught of the Scriptures. It reveals the source of evil and how to restrain it. Since, then, we teach restraint of evil and show withal a way higher and more effectual than reason can find, the accusation that we prohibit good works and license sin is sufficiently answered and disproved. But Paul would say to the Romans, “If you cannot comprehend our superior doctrine as to the questions raised, then answer them according to the teachings of your own reason, for even that will tell you — and no man will dispute it — we are to do no wrong. The Word of God confirms this doctrine.”

11. The apostle says he will speak of the point they raise, after the manner of men. That does not mean according to corrupt flesh and blood, which are not capable of speaking anything good, but according to natural reason as God created it, where some good still remains, for there are to be found many upright individuals who make just laws. I speak thus “because of the infirmity of your flesh,” Paul declares. As if he would say, “I have not yet said as much as reason, the teachers of the Law and the jurists would demand, but I will go no further because you are yet too weak spiritually, and too unaccustomed to my manner of speech, for all of you to understand it. I must come down to your apprehension and speak according to your capacity. Now, I want to say, ask your own statutes, your own laws, whether they authorize the prohibition of good works; if they license evil, though they may not be able to prevent it. Thus I convince you that such a pretense regarding our doctrine is not to be tolerated. “Even reason teaches that your lives must conform to your business; each is in duty bound to obey him whom he serves. As Christians you are obliged to render another service than that you gave when under the dominion of sin, and obedient to it; when you were unable to escape its power and to do any work good before God. You have now come out of bondage and are relieved from obedience to sin, through grace, having devoted yourselves to the service of God, to obeying him. Therefore, assuredly you must change your manner of life.”

12. Truly, Paul here argues reasonably and within the scope of man’s natural understanding. We preach the same truths, but, presenting them in the form of Christian doctrine, we necessarily employ different language and a loftier tone, lest it be offensive to the world. We may say that theft, murder, envy, hate and other crimes and vices are transgressions, yet we cannot remedy the evils by the mere prohibitions of the law. The remedy must be effected through God’s grace, and is accomplished in the believer, not by our power, but by the Holy Spirit. But when we so explain, the stupid world immediately blurts out, “Oh, if it be true that our works do not remedy evils, let us enjoy ourselves and not bother about good works!”

13. That their implication is false and a wanton perversion of the true doctrine is manifest from the fact that we exalt and endorse the command of God, and also the doctrine of reason, that teach us to do good and avoid evil. Indeed, we assist reason, which is powerless to remedy evil. If reason were itself sufficient, men would not permit themselves to be deceived by their own visionary ideas and false doctrines about worthless and vain works, as are followers of the papacy and of all false worship. No doubt such error has its rise in the principle that we are to do good and avoid evil. The principle fundamentally is true, and accepted by all men; but when it comes to the theories we build upon it, the speculations as to how it is to be put into practice, there is disagreement. Only the Word of God can show how to accomplish it. Reason is easily blinded on this point and deceived by false appearances, being led by anything merely called good. Even when it has performed all it believes to be right, it is still uncertain of acceptance. Indeed, it perceives no fruits, no benefit, to result from its teaching; for at best its achievements extend no farther than outward works — the object being to make the doer appear righteous and respectable before men while inward sinfulness is unrestrained and the soul remains captive to its former life, obedient to the lusts of sin. And the motive of such a one is not sincere; he would conduct himself quite otherwise were he not restrained by fear of shame and punishment.

14. We present a higher doctrine — the Gospel. The Gospel teaches first how sin in ourselves is, through Christ, slain and buried. Thus we obtain a good conscience, a conscience hating and opposing sin, and become obedient to another power. Being delivered from sin we would serve God and exert ourselves to do his pleasure, even though no fear, punishment, judge or executioner existed. With this point accepted — with the settlement of this minor subject of controversy as to how we are delivered from sin and attain to truly good works, we unite once more on the fundamental principle that good is to be done and evil avoided. Therefore, we immediately conclude: Since we are free from sin and converted to God, we must in obedience to him do good and live no more in sin.

15. Thus does Paul make use of the Law, and of human reason so far as it is able to interpret the Law, to resist them who speak falsely and pervert the right doctrine. Evidently, then, the doctrine of the Gospel does not oppose the doctrine of good works, but transcends it. For it reveals the source and inspiration of good works — not human reason, not human ability, but the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. Now Paul deduces the point: “For as ye presented [yielded] your members as servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity, even so now present [yield] your members as servants to righteousness unto sanctification [holiness].”

16. Even reason teaches that, being no more subject to sin and unrighteousness, you are no longer to serve them with your body and members — your whole physical life. And further, having yielded yourselves to obey God and righteousness, you are in duty bound to serve them with body and life. To put it concisely and clearly, Let him who formerly was evil and lived contrary to his own conscience and to God’s will, now become godly and serve the Lord with a good conscience. Or, as Paul says, “Let him that stole steal no more” (Ephesians 4:28).

17. Formerly, he tells them, their members — eyes, ears, mouth, hands, feet — even the whole body, served uncleanness. For “vice” he uses this term “uncleanness,” readily intelligible to reason and inclusive of all forms of sin. “You permitted your members to serve unrighteousness,” he would say, “and devoted them to every sort of unholy life, every wicked work, committing one iniquity after another and exercising all manner of villainy that can be named, Now reverse the order. Reasoning according to your own logic: while before you willingly witnessed, heard and uttered things shameful and unchaste, and sought lewdness, lending your bodies to it, let impurity now be distressing to your sight and hearing; let the body flee from it; be pure in words and works. All the members of the body, all its functions, are to be devoted to righteousness. Thus your members, your whole bodies, are to become holy — to be God’s own — and given over solely to his service. The longer and the more ardently they serve, the more cheerfully will they honor and obey God, being devoted to all that is divine, praiseworthy, honorable and virtuous. The instructions God has written upon your own heart would teach you this principle, even were there no Word of God. It is useless for you to protest: “Yes, but you have taught that good works do not save,” for that doctrine is not inconsistent, but beyond your understanding. Indeed, it is the true light whereby you may fulfill the teachings of reason. “For when ye were servants of sin, ye were free in regard of [free from] righteousness.”

18. All these expressions Paul uses “after the manner of men,” adapting them from the laws and customs of the times concerning slavery, service and freedom. Then servants were bondmen, purchased by their masters, with whom they must abide until set at liberty by those owners, or otherwise freed. His allusion to a former service of unrighteousness and a present service of righteousness implies two conditions of servitude and consequently two conditions of freedom. He who serves sin, the apostle teaches, is free from righteousness; that is, he is captive under sin, unable to attain to righteousness and to do righteous works. Even reason can comprehend the principle that he is free who does not serve — who is not servant. Again, servants of righteousness means service and obedience to righteousness, and freedom from sin. Paul now puts the matter a little differently, contrasting the experience of the Romans in the two forms of service. He leaves it with them to determine which has been productive of benefit and which of injury, and to choose accordingly as to future service and obedience. “What fruit then had ye at that time in the things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto sanctification [holiness], and the end eternal life.”

19. Rather recall your manner of life when you were free from righteousness and obeyed only the urgings and enticements of sin. What pleasure or gain had you in it? None, except that for which you are now ashamed. Further, had you remained in it you would at last have found death. Only these two grand results — shame and death. Nothing better have you earned in its service. Munificent reward indeed for him who, choosing freedom from righteousness, lives to his own pleasure. He is deceived into thinking he has chosen a highly desirable life, for it gratifies the fleshly desires, and he thinks to go unpunished. But gratification is succeeded by two severe punishments: First, shame — confession of disgrace before God and the world. Thus Adam and Eve in Paradise, when they chose to violate God’s command and, enticed by the devil, followed their desire for a forbidden thing, were made to feel the disgrace of their sin; they were in their hearts ashamed to appear in the presence of God. The other and added punishment is eternal death and the fires of hell, into which also fell our first parents.

20. Is it not better, then, to be free from the service of sin and to serve righteousness? So doing, you would never suffer shame nor injury but would receive a double blessing: First, a clear conscience before God and all creatures, proof in itself that you live a holy life and belong to God; second and chief, the rich and incorruptible reward of eternal life.

21. In all these observations Paul is still speaking after the manner of men; in a way comprehended and accepted by reason, even without knowledge of Christ. It is universally true in the world that evil-doers — thieves, murderers and the like — -are punished in addition to the public disgrace they feel. Similarly, they who do good receive, in addition to the honor of men, all manner of happy reward. “For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

22. It seems a strange saying, that evil-doers are to receive wages, seemingly implying right and deserving action on their part. Ordinarily the term “wages” signifies a good reward, given to those who acquit themselves righteously and bravely. Paul uses the word to discomfit them who pervert his teaching. For they say, “Ah, Paul preaches of grace alone, yet he promises wages to sin.” “Yes,” Paul would respond, “boast as you will, you will receive a reward — -death and hell-fire. You must confidently expect it if you interpret the Gospel to teach that God shall reward you who serve sin.” With the convincing words of the text, Paul would undeceive those who advocate, or suffer themselves to believe, that man can serve God in sin and can receive a happy reward. He chooses words familiar to them. “Yes, if, as you maintain, wages must be the reward of every service, you will of course receive yours — death and hell. These any may have who desire them and regard them precious.”

23. Paul says further, “The free gift of God is eternal life.” Observe his choice of words. He does not here use the term “wages,” because he has previously taught that eternal life is not the reward of our works, but is given of pure grace, through faith and for Christ’s sake. So he speaks of it as a “free gift of God, through Christ Jesus our Lord.” The soul possessing eternal life is furnished with power to crush the serpent’s head, and none can deprive him of his priceless blessing. He has also power to avoid sin and to constantly crucify his flesh. These are things not to be effected by any law, any human ability; faith is requisite. Through faith we are incorporated into Christ and planted with him in the death of sin, unto eternal life and truly good works.