The Church Postil of Dr. Martin Luther: Gaudete (Advent III)
Gospel Sermon (date unknown)
(Note from the Lenker edition: This sermon is found in Erl. 10, 83; W. 11,99; St. L. 11,72.)
Text: Matthew 11:2-10
Now when John heard in the prison the works of the Christ, he sent by his disciples and said unto him, Art thou he that cometh, or look we for another? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and tell John the things which ye hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good tidings preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me.
And as these went their way, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to behold? a reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out to ace? a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they that wear soft raiment are in kings’ houses. But wherefore went ye out? to see a prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet. This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, Who shall prepare thy way before thee.
1. The most I find on this Gospel treats of whether John the Baptist knew that Jesus was the true Christ, although this question is unnecessary and of little import. St. Ambrose thinks John asked this question neither in ignorance nor in doubt; but in a Christian spirit. Jerome and Gregory write that John asked whether he should be Christ’s forerunner also into hell, an opinion that has not the least foundation, for the text plainly says, “Art thou he that cometh or look we for another?” This looking or waiting for Christ, according to the words, relates to his coming on earth and pertains to the Jewish people, otherwise John ought to have asked, or do those in hell look for thee? And since Christ with his works answered that he had come, it is certain that John inquired about Christ’s bodily coming, as Christ himself thus understood it and answered accordingly, although I do not deny that Christ also descended into hell, as we confess in our creed.
2. Hence it is evident John knew very well that Jesus was he that should come, for he had baptized him and testified that Christ was the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world, and he had also seen the Holy Spirit descending upon him as a dove, and heard the voice from heaven’ “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” All is fully related by all four Evangelists. Why then did John ask this question? Answer- It was not done without good reasons In the first place, it is certain that John asked it for the sake of his disciples, as they did not yet hold Christ to be the one he really was. And John did not come in order to make disciples and draw the people to himself, but to prepare the way for Christ, to lead everybody to Christ and to make all the people subject to him.
3. Now the disciples of John had heard from him many excellent testimonies concerning Christ, namely, that he was the Lamb of God and the Son of God, and that Christ must increase while he must decrease. All this his disciples and the people did not yet believe, nor could they understand it, as they themselves and all the people thought more of John than of Christ. For this reason they clung so strongly to John, even to the extent that they for his sake became jealous and dissatisfied with Christ when they saw that he also baptized, made disciples and drew the people to himself. They complained to John about this because they feared that their master would grow less in esteem, as we read in John 8:26, “And they came unto John and said to him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond the Jordan, to whom thou hast borne witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.”
4. To this error they were led by two reasons, first, because Christ was not yet known to the people, but only to John; neither had he as yet performed any miracle, and no one was held in high esteem but John. Hence it appeared so strange to them that he should point them and everybody else away from himself and to some one else, inasmuch as there was no one living beside John who had gained a great name and enjoyed great fame. The other reason was because Christ appeared so very humble and common, being the son of a poor carpenter and of a poor widow. Neither did he belong to the priesthood, nor to the learned; but was only a layman and a common apprentice. He had never studied, was brought up as a carpenter apprentice just like other lay-men; hence it seemed as though the excellent testimony of John concerning Christ and the common layman and apprentice, Jesus of Nazareth, did not at all harmonize with each other. Therefore, though they believed that John told the truth, they still reasoned: Perhaps it will be some one else than this Jesus; and they looked for one who might appear among them in an imposing way, like a highly learned leader among the priests, or a mighty king. From such delusion John could not deliver them with his words. They clung to him, and regarded Christ as being much inferior, meanwhile looking for the glorious appearing of the great person of whom John spoke. And should he really be Jesus, then he had to assume a different attitude; he must saddle a steed, put on bright spurs, and dash forward like a lord and king of Israel, just as the kings aforetime had done. Until he should do this they would cling to John.
5. But when Jesus began to perform miracles and became famous, then John thought he would point his disciples away from himself and lead them to Christ, in order that they might not think of establishing a new sect and becoming Johnites; but that all might cling to Christ and become Christians, John sends them to Christ so that from now on they might learn not only from the witness he bore of Christ, but also from the words and deeds of Christ himself that he was the one of whom John had spoken. It should not be expected that the works and coming of Christ would be attended by drums and bugles and like worldly pomp; but by spiritual power and grace, so that there would be no riding and walking on streets paved and carpeted; but that by virtue of such power and grace the dead would be raised up, the blind receive their sight, the deaf hear, and all kinds of bodily and spiritual evil be removed. That should be the glory and coming of this king, the least of whose works could not be performed by all the kings, all the learned and all the rich in the world. This is the meaning of the text. “Now when John heard in the prison the works of the Christ, he sent by his disciples and said unto him, art thou he that cometh, or look we for another?”
6. As though John would say to his disciples: There you hear of his works, such as I never accomplished, nor anyone else before him. Now go to him and ask him, whether or not he is the one that cometh. Put away the gross worldly deception that he would ride on steeds in armor. He is increasing, but I must now decrease; my work must cease, but his must continue; you must leave me and cling to him.
7. How necessary it was for John to point his disciples away from himself to Christ is very clear. For what benefit would it have been to them if they had depended a thousand times on John’s piety and had not embraced Christ? Without Christ there is no help or remedy, no matter how pious men may be. So at the present day what benefit is it to the monks and nuns to observe the rules of St. Benedict, St. Bernard, St. Francis, St. Dominic and St. Augustine, if they do not embrace Christ and him only, and depart also from their John? All Benedictines, Carthusians, Barefoot-Friars, Ecclesiasts, Augustinians, Carmelites, all monks and nuns are surely lost, as only Christians are saved. Whoever is not a Christian even John the Baptist cannot help, who indeed, according to Christ, was the greatest of all saints.
8. However, John deals kindly with his disciples, has patience with their weak faith till they shall have grown strong. He does not condemn them because they do not firmly believe him. Thus we should deal with the consciences of men ensnared by the examples and regulations of pious men, until they are freed from them.
“And Jesus answered and said unto them, go and tell John the things which you hear and see; the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deal: hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good tidings preached to them. And blessed is he whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me.”
9. Christ answered John also for the sake of his disciples. He answers in a twofold way: First, by his works; secondly, by his words. He did the same thing when the Jews surrounded him in the temple and asked him, “If thou art the Christ, tell us plainly,” John 10:24. But he points them to his works saying, “I told you, and ye believe not, the works that I do in my Father’s name, these bear witness of me,” John 10:25. Again, “Though ye believe not me, believe the works,” John 10:38. Here Christ first points them to the works, and then also to the words saying “And blessed is he, whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me.” With these words he does not only confess that he is the Christ, but also warns them against finding occasion of stumbling in him. If he were not the Christ, then he who finds no occasion of stumbling in him could not be blessed. For one can dispense with all the saints, but Christ is the only one that no man can dispense with. No saint can help us, none but Christ.
10. The answer of his works is more convincing, first, because such works were never before accomplished either by John or by anyone else; and secondly, because these works were predicted by the prophets. Therefore, when they saw that it came to pass just as the prophets had foretold, they could and should have been assured. For thus Isaiah had said of these works: “The Spirit of the Lord Jehovah is upon me, because Jehovah hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the weak; he hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound,” Isaiah 61:1. When Isaiah says, “He hath anointed me,” he thereby means that Jesus is the Christ and that Christ should do all these works, and he who is doing them must be the Christ. For the Greek word Christ is Messiah in Hebrew, Unctus in Latin, and Gesalbter (anointed in German). But the kings and priests were usually anointed for the kingdom and priesthood. But this anointed king and priest, Isaiah says, shall be anointed by God himself, not with real oil, but with the Holy Spirit that should come upon him, saying, “The Spirit of the Lord Jehovah is upon me.” That is my anointment with which the Spirit anointed me. Thus he indeed preaches good tidings to the weak, gives sight to the blind, heals all kinds of sickness and proclaims the acceptable year, the time of grace, etc. Again Isaiah says: “Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; he will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing,” etc. Isaiah 85:4-5. Now, if they would compare the Scriptures with these works, and these works with the Scriptures, they would recognize John’s witness by Christ’s works, that he was the true ;Messiah. Luke says that Christ at that time, when John’s disciples asked him, healed many of their diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and bestowed sight on many that were blind. Luke 7:21.
11. But here we must take to heart the good example of Christ in that he appeals to his works, even as the tree is known by its fruits, thus rebuking all false teachers, the pope, bishops, priests and monks to appear in the future and shield themselves by his name, saying, “We are Christians ;” just as the pope is boasting that he is the vicar of Christ. Here we have it stated that where the works are absent, there is also no Christ. Christ is a living, active and fruit-bearing character who does not rest, but works unceasingly wherever he is. Therefore, those bishops and teachers that are not doing the works of Christ, we should avoid and consider as wolves.
12. But they say, Why it is not necessary for everyone to do these works of Christ. How can all the pious give sight to the blind, make the lame walk and do other miracles like those of Christ? Answer: Christ did also other works, he exercised himself in patience, love, peace, meekness, etc.; this everybody should do. Do these works, and then we also shall know Christ by his works.
13. Here they reply: Christ says, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; all things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe; but do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not. Matthew 23:2-3. Here Christ commanded to judge the doctrine, but not the life. Answer: What do I hear? Have you now become Pharisees and hypocrites, and confess it yourselves? If we would say this about you then you would indeed become angry. Be it so, if you are such hypocrites and apply these words of Christ to yourselves, then you must also apply to yourselves all the other words Christ speaks against the Pharisees. However, as they wish to shield themselves by these words of Christ and put to silence the ignorant, we will further consider the same, inasmuch as the murderers of Christians at the Council of Constance also attacked John Huss with this passage, claiming that it granted them liberty for their tyranny, so that no one dared to oppose their doctrine.
14. It must, therefore, be observed that teaching is also a work, yea, even the chief work of Christ, because here among his works he mentions that to the poor the Gospel is preached. Therefore, just as the tyrants are known by their works, so are they known by their teachings. Where Christ is, there surely the Gospel will be preached; but where the Gospel is not preached, there Christ is not present.
15. Now in order to grant our Pharisees that not the life, but the doctrine should be judged, be it so, let them teach, and we will gladly spare their lives; but then they are a great deal worse than the Pharisees who taught Moses’ doctrine, though they did not practice it. But our blockheads are idols, there is neither letting nor doing, neither life nor doctrine. They sit on Christ’s seat and teach their own lies and silence the Gospel. Hence this passage of Christ will not shield them, they must be wolves and murderers as Christ calls them, John 10:1.
16. Thus Christ here wants them to hear the Pharisees; but only on Moses’ seat; that is, if they taught the law of Moses, the Commandments of God. In the same place Christ forbids to do according to their works he mentions their teachings among their works, saying: “Yea, they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.” Matthew 23:4. Observe here that Christ first of all forbids among their works their teachings grievous to be borne, as being of chief import, so that finally the meaning of the passage is: All that they teach according to Moses, you should keep and do; but whatever they teach and do besides, you should not observe. Even so should we listen to our Pharisees on Christ’s seat only when they preach the Gospel to the poor, and not hear them nor do what they otherwise teach or do.
17. Thus you perceive how skillfully the rude Papists made this passage the foundation of their doctrine, lies and tyranny, though no other passage is more strongly against them and more severely condemns their teachings than this one. Christ’s words stand firm and are clear; do not follow their works. But their doctrine is their own work, and not God’s. They are a people exalted only to lie and to pervert the Scriptures. Morever, if one’s life is bad, it would be strange indeed if he should preach right; he would always have to preach against himself, which he will hardly do without additions and foreign doctrines. In short, he who does not preach the Gospel, identifies himself as one who is sitting neither on Moses’ nor on Christ’s seat. For this reason you should do neither according to his words nor according to his works, but flee from him as Christ’s sheep do, John 10:4-5: “And the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but flee from him.” But if you wish to know what their seat is called, then listen to David: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the wicked, nor standeth in the way of the sinner, nor sitteth in the seat of scoffers, Psalm 1:1. Again: “Shall the throne of wickedness have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by statute? Psalm 94:20.
18. But what does it mean when Christ says: “The poor have good tidings preached to them?” Is it not preached also to the rich and to the whole world? Again, why is the Gospel so great a thing, so great a blessing as Christ teaches, seeing that so many people despise and oppose it? Here we must know what Gospel really is, otherwise we can not understand this passage. We must, therefore, diligently observe that from the beginning God has sent into the world a two-fold word or message, the Law and the Gospel. These two messages must be rightly distinguished one from the other and properly understood, for besides the Scriptures there never has been a book written to this day, not even by a saint, in which these two messages, the Law and the Gospel, have been properly explained and distinguished, and yet so very much depends on such an explanation.
19. The Law is that word by which God teaches what we shall do, as for instance, the Ten Commandments. Now, if human nature is not aided by God’s grace, it is impossible to keep the law, for the reason that man since the fall of Adam in Paradise is depraved and full of sinful desires, so that he cannot from his heart’s desire find pleasure in the law, which fact we all experience in ourselves. For no one lives who does not prefer that there were no law, and everyone feels and knows in himself that it is difficult to lead a pious life and do good, and, on the other hand, that it is easy to lead a wicked life and to do evil. But this difficulty or unwillingness to do the good is the reason we do not keep the Law of God. For whatever is done with aversion and unwillingness is considered by God as not done at all. Thus the Law of God convicts us, even by our own experience, that by nature we are evil, disobedient, lovers of sin. and hostile to God’s laws.
20. From all this either self-confidence or despair must follow. Selfconfidence follows when a man strives to fulfill the law by his own good works, by trying hard to do as the words of the law command, lie serves God, he swears not, he honors father and mother, he kills not, he does not commit adultery, etc. But meanwhile he does not look into his heart, does not realize with what motives he leads a good life, and conceals the old Adam in his heart. For if he would truly examine his heart, he would realize that he is doing all unwillingly and with compulsion, that he fears hell or seeks heaven, if he be not prompted by things of less importance, as honor, goods, health and fear of being humiliated, of being punished or of being visited by a plague. In short, he would have to confess that he would rather lead a wicked life if it were not that he fears the consequences, for the law only restrains him. But because he does not realize his bad motives he lives securely, looks only at his outward works and not into his heart, prides himself on keeping the law of God perfectly, and thus the countenance of Moses remains covered to him, that is, he does not understand the meaning of the law, namely, that it must be kept with a happy, free and willing mind.
21. Just as an immoral person, if you should ask him why he commits adultery, can answer only that he is doing it for the sake of the carnal pleasure he finds in it. For he does not do it for reward or punishment, he expects no gain from it, nor does he hope to escape from the evil of it. Such willingness the law requires in us, so that if you should ask a virtuous man why he leads a chaste life, he would answer: Not for the sake of heaven or hell, honor or disgrace, but for the sole reason that he considers it honorable, and that it pleases him exceedingly, even if it were not commanded. Behold, such a heart delights in God’s law and keeps it with pleasure. Such people love God and righteousness, they hate and fear naught but unrighteousness. However, no one is thus by nature. The unrighteous love reward and profit, fear and hate punishment and pain; therefore they also hate God and righteousness, love themselves and unrighteousness. They are hypocrites, disguisers, deceivers, liars and selfconceited. So are all men without grace, but above all, the saints who rely on their good works. For this reason the Scriptures conclude, “All men are liars,” Psalm 116:11. “Every man at his best estate is altogether vanity,” Psalm 39:5. “There is none that doeth good, no, not one,” Psalm 14:3.
22. Despair follows when man becomes conscious of his evil motives, and realizes that it is impossible for him to love the law of God, finding nothing good in himself; but only hatred of the good and delight in doing evil. Now he realizes that the law can not be kept only by works hence he despairs of his works and does not rely upon them. He should have love; but he finds none, nor can have any through his own efforts or out of his own heart. Now he must be a poor, miserable and humiliated spirit whose conscience is burdened and in anguish because of the law, commanding and demanding payment in full when he does not possess even a farthing with which to pay. Only to such persons is the law beneficial, because it has been given for the purpose of working such knowledge and humiliation; that is its real mission. These persons well know how to judge the works of hypocrites and fraudulent saints, namely, as nothing but lies and deception. David referred to this when he said, “I said in my haste, all men are liars,” Psalm 116:11.
23. For this reason Paul calls the law a law unto death, saying, “And the commandment, which was unto life, this I found to be unto death,” Romans 7:10; and a power of sin. 1 Corinthians 15:56: “And the power of sin is the law,” and in 2 Corinthians 3:6 he says, “For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” All this means, if the law and human nature be brought into a right relation, the one to the other, then will sin and a troubled conscience first become manifest. Man, then, sees how desperately wicked his heart is, how great his sins are, even as to things he formerly considered good works and no sin. He now is compelled to confess that by and of himself he is a child of perdition, a child of God’s wrath and of hell. Then there is only fear and trembling, all self-conceit vanishes, while fear and despair fill his heart. Thus man is crushed and put to naught, and truly humbled. Inasmuch as all this is caused only by the law, St. Paul truly says, that it is a law unto death and a letter that killeth, and that through the commandment sin becomes exceedingly sinful, Romans 7:13, provoking God’s wrath. For the law gives and helps us in no way whatever; it only demands and drives and shows us our misery and depravity.
24. The other word of God is neither law nor commandments, and demands nothing of us. But when that has been done by the first word, namely, the law, and has worked deep despair and wretchedness in our hearts, then God comes and offers us his blessed and life-giving word and promises; he pledges and obligates himself to grant grace and help in order to deliver us from misery, not only to pardon all our sins, but even to blot them out, and in addition to this to create in us love and delight in keeping his law.
25. Behold, this divine promise of grace and forgiveness of sin is rightly called the Gospel. And I say here, again, that by the Gospel you must by no means understand anything else than the divine promise of God’s grace and his forgiveness of sin. For thus it was that Paul’s epistles were never understood, nor can they be understood by the Papists, because they do not know what the Law and the Gospel really mean. They hold Christ to be a lawmaker, and the Gospel a mere doctrine of a new law. That is nothing else than locking up the Gospel and entirely concealing it.
26. Now, the word Gospel is of Greek origin and signifies in German Frohliche Botschaft, that is glad tidings, because it proclaims the blessed doctrine of life eternal by divine promise, and offers grace and forgiveness of sin. Therefore, works do not belong to the Gospel, as it is not a law; only faith belongs to it, as it is altogether a promise and an offer of divine grace. Whosoever now believes the Gospel will receive grace and the Holy Spirit. This will cause the heart to rejoice and find delight in God, and will enable the believer to keep the law cheerfully, without expecting reward, without fear of punishment, without seeking compensation, as the heart is perfectly satisfied with God’s grace, by which the law has been fulfilled.
27. But all these promises from the beginning are founded on Christ, so that God promises no one this grace except through Christ, who is the messenger of the divine promise to the whole world. For this reason he came and through the Gospel brought these promises into all the world, which before this time had been proclaimed by the prophets. It is, therefore, in vain if anyone, like the Jews, expects the fulfillment of the divine promises without Christ. All is centered and decreed in Christ. Whosoever will not hear him shall have no promises of God. For just as God acknowledges no law besides the law of Moses and the writings of the prophets, so he makes no promises, except through Christ alone.
28. But you may reply, is there not also much law in the Gospel and in the Epistles of Paul? And, again, many promises in the writings of Moses and the Prophets? I answer: There is no book in the Bible in which both are not found. God has always placed side by side both law and promise. For he teaches by the law what we are to do, and by the promises whence we shall receive power to do it.
29. But the New Testament especially is called the Gospel above the other books of the Bible. because it was written after the coming of Christ, who fulfilled the divine promises, brought them unto us and publicly proclaimed them by oral preaching, which promises were before concealed in the Old Testament Scriptures. Therefore, hold to this distinction, and no matter what books you have before you, be they of the Old or of the New Testament, read them with a discrimination so as to observe that when promises are made in a book, it is a Gospel-book; when commandments are given, it is a law-book. But because in the New Testament the promises are found so abundantly, and in the Old Testament so many laws, the former is called the Gospel, and the latter the Book of the Law. We now come back to our text. “And the poor have good tidings preached unto them.”
30. From what has just been said it is easily understood that among the works of Christ none is greater than preaching the Gospel to the poor. This means nothing else than that to the poor the divine promise of grace and consolation in and through Christ is preached, offered and presented, so that to him who believes all his sins are forgiven, the law is fulfilled, conscience is appeased and at last life eternal is bestowed upon him. What more joyful tidings could a poor sorrowful heart and a troubled conscience hear than this? How could the heart become more bold and courageous than by such consoling, blissful words of promise? Sin, death, hell, the world and the devil and every evil are scorned, when a poor heart receives and believes this consolation of the divine promise. To give sight to the blind and to raise up the dead are but insignificant deeds, compared with preaching the Gospel to the poor. Therefore Christ mentions it as the greatest and best among these works.
31. But it must be observed that Christ says: “The Gospel is preached to none but to the poor only, thus without doubt intending it to be a message for the poor only. For it has always been preached unto the whole world, as Christ says, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to the whole creation,” Mark 16:15. Surely these poor are not the beggars and the bodily poor, but the spiritually poor, namely, those who do not covet and love earthly goods; yes, rather those poor, broken-hearted ones who in the agony of their conscience seek and desire help and consolation so ardently that they covet neither riches nor honor. Nothing will be of help to them, unless they have a merciful God. Here is true spiritual weakness. They are those for whom such a message is intended, and in their hearts they are delighted with it. They feel that they have been delivered from hell and death.
32. Therefore, though the Gospel is heard by all the world, yet it is not accepted but by the poor only. Moreover, it is to be preached and proclaimed to all the world, that it is a message only for the poor, and that the rich men can not receive it. Whosoever would receive it must first become poor, as Christ says, Matthew 9:13, that he came not to call the righteous but only sinners, although he called all the world. But his calling was such that he desired to be accepted only by sinners, and all he called should become sinners. This they resented. In like manner all should become poor who heard the Gospel, that they might be worthy of the Gospel; but this they also resented. Therefore the Gospel remained only for the poor. Thus God’s grace was also preached before all the world to the humble, in order that all might become humble, but they would not be humble.
33. Hence you see who are the greatest enemies of the Gospel, namely, the work-righteous saints, who are self-conceited, as has been said before. For the Gospel has not the least in common with them. They want to be rich in works, but the Gospel wills that they are to become poor. They will not yield, neither can the Gospel yield, as it is the unchangeable word of God. Thus they and the Gospel clash, one with another, as Christ says, “And he that falleth on this stone shall be broken to pieces; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will scatter him as dust.” Matthew 21:44. Again, they condemn the Gospel as being error and heresy; and we observe it comes to pass daily, as it has from the beginning of the world, that between the Gospel and the work-righteous saints there is no peace, no good will and no reconciliation. But meanwhile Christ must suffer himself to be crucified anew, for he and those that are his must place themselves, as it were, into this vise, namely, between the Gospel and the workrighteous saints, and thus be pressed and crushed like the wheat between the upper and nether millstones. But the lower stone is the quiet, peaceable and immovable Gospel, while the upper stone is the works and their masters, who are ranting and raging.
34. With all this John contradicts strongly the fleshly and worldly opinion his disciples entertained concerning Christ’s coming. They thought that the great king. whom John extolled so highly, namely, that the latchet of whose shoe he was not worthy to unloose (John 1:27), would enter in such splendor that everything would be gold and costly ornaments, and immediately the streets would be spread with pearls and silks. As they lifted up their eyes so high and looked for such splendor, Christ turns their look downward and holds before them the blind, lame, deaf, dumb, poor and everything that conflicts with such splendor, and contrariwise he presents himself in the state of a common servant rather than that of a great king, whose shoe’s latchet John considered himself unworthy to unloose, as though Christ would say to them: “Banish your high expectations, look not to my person and state, but to the works I do. Worldly lords, because they rule by force, must be accompanied by rich, high, healthy, strong, wise and able men. With them they have to associate, and they need them, or their kingdom could not exist; hence they can never at tend to the blind, lame, deaf, dumb, dead, lepers and the poor. But my kingdom, because it seeks not its own advantage, but rather bestows benefits upon others, is sufficient of itself and needs no one’s help; therefore, I can not bear to be surrounded by such as are already sufficient of themselves, such as are healthy, rich, strong, pure, active, pious, and able in every respect. To such I am of no benefit; they obtain nothing from me. Yea, they would be a disgrace to me, because it would seem that I needed them and were benefited by them, as worldly rulers are by their subjects. Therefore, I must do otherwise and keep to those who can become partakers of me, and I must associate with the blind, the lame, the dumb, and all kinds of afflicted ones. This the character and nature of my kingdom demand. For this reason I must appear in a way that such people can feel at home in my company.
35. And now very aptly follow the words, “And blessed is he, whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me.” Why? Because Christ’s humble appearance and John’s excellent testimony of Christ seemed to disagree with each other. Human reason could not make them rhyme. Now all the Scriptures pointed to Christ, and there was danger of misinterpreting them. Reason spoke thus: Can this be the Christ, of whom all the Scriptures speak? Should he be the one, whose shoe’s latchet John thought himself unworthy to unloose, though I scarcely consider him worthy to clean my shoes? Therefore, it is surely true that it is a great blessing not to find occasion of stumbling in Christ, and there is here no other help or remedy than to look at his works and compare them with the Scriptures. Otherwise it is impossible to keep from being offended at Christ.
36. Here you observe that there are two kinds of offenses, one of doctrine, and the other of life. These two offenses must be carefully considered. The offense of doctrine comes when one believes, teaches or thinks of Christ in a different way than he should, as the Jews here thought of and taught Christ to be different than he really was, expecting him to be a temporal king. Of this offense the Scriptures treat mostly. Christ and Paul always dwell upon it, scarcely mentioning any other. Note well, that Christ and Paul speak of this offense.
37. It is not without reason that men are admonished faithfully to remember this. For under the reign of the pope this offense has been hushed entirely, so that neither monk nor priest knows of any other offense than that caused by open sin and wicked living, which the Scripture does not call an offense; yet they thus construe and twist this word. On the contrary, all their doings and all their teachings by which they think to benefit the world, they do not consider to be an offense, but a great help; and yet these are dangerous offenses, the like of which never before existed. For they teach the people to believe that the mass is an offering and a good work, that by works men may become pious, may atone for sin and be saved, all of which is nothing else than rejecting Christ and destroying faith.
38. Thus the world today is filled with offenses up to the very heavens, so that it is terrible to think of it. For no one now seeks Christ among the poor, the blind, the dead, etc.; but all expect to enter heaven in a different way, which expectation must surely fail.
39. The offense of life is, when one sees an openly wicked work done by another and teaches it. But it is impossible to avoid this offense, inasmuch as we have to live among the wicked, nor is it so dangerous, since everybody knows that such offense is sinful, and no one is deceived by it, but intentionally follows the known evil. There is neither disguise nor deception. But the offense of doctrine is that there should be the most beautiful religious ceremonies, the noblest works, the most honorable life and that it is impossible for common reason to censure or discern it; only faith knows through the spirit that it is all wrong. Against this offense Christ warns us, saying, “But whoso shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble, it is profitable for him that a great millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea,” Matthew 18:6.
40. Whosoever does not preach Christ, or who preaches him otherwise than as one caring for the blind, the lame, the dead and the poor, like the Gospel teaches; let us flee from him as from the devil himself, because he teaches us how to become unhappy and to stumble in Christ; as it is now done by the pope, the monks and the teachers in their high schools. All their doings are an offense from head to foot, from the skin to the marrow, so that the snow is scarcely anything but water; nor can these things exist without causing great offense, inasmuch as offense is the nature and essence of their doings. Therefore, to undertake to reform the pope, the convents, and the high schools and still maintain them in their essence and character, would he like squeezing water out of snow and still preserving the snow. But what it means to preach Christ among the poor, we shall see at the end of our text.
“And as these went their way, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out in the wilderness to behold? a reed shaken by the wind? But what went ye out to see? a man clothed in soft raiments? Behold, they that wear soft raiment are in kings’ houses. But wherefore went ye out? to see a prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet.”
41. Inasmuch as Christ thus lauds John the Baptist, because he is not a reed, nor clothed in soft raiment, and because he is more than a prophet, he gives us to understand by these figurative words, that the people were inclined to look upon John as a reed, as clad in soft raiment, and as a prophet. Therefore we must see what he means by them, and why he ;censures and rejects these opinions of theirs. Enough has been said, that John bore witness of Christ, in order that the people might not take offense at Christ’s humble appearance and manner.
42. Now, as it was of great importance for them to believe John’s witness and acknowledge Christ, he praised John first for his steadfastness, thus rebuking their wavering on account of which they would not believe John’s witness. It is as though he would say: You have heard John’s witness concerning me, but now you do not adhere to it, you take offense at me and your hearts are wavering; you are looking for another, but know not who, nor when and where, and thus your hearts are like a reed shaken by the wind to and fro; you are sure of nothing, and would rather hear something else than the truth about me. Now do you think that John should also turn his witness from me and, as is the lease with your thoughts, turn it to the winds and speak of another whom you would be pleased to hear? Not so. John does not waver, nor does his witness fluctuate; he does not follow your swaying delusion; but you must stay your wavering by his witness, and thus adhere to me and expect none other.
43. Again, Christ lauds John because of his coarse raiment, as though to say: Perhaps you might believe him when he says that I am he that should come as to my person; but you expect him to speak differently about me, saying something smooth and agreeable, that would be pleasant to hear. It is indeed hard and severe that I come so poor and despised. You desire me to rush forth with pomp and flourish of trumpets. Had John thus spoken of me, then he would not appear so coarse and severe himself. But do not think thus. Whoever desires to preach about me, must not preach different than John is doing. It’s to no purpose, I will assume no other state and manner. Those who teach different than John, are not in the wilderness, but in kings’ houses. They are rich and honored by the people. They are teachers of man-made doctrines, teaching themselves, and not me.
44. Christ lauds John, thirdly, because of the dignity of his office, namely, that he is not only a prophet, but even more than a prophet, as though to say: In your high-soaring fluctuating opinion you take John for a prophet, who speaks of the coming of Christ, just as the other prophets have done, and thus again your thoughts go beyond me to a different time when you expect Christ to come, according to John’s witness, so that you will in no case accept me. But I say to you, your thoughts are wrong. For just as John warns you not to be like a shaken reed, and not to look for any other than myself, nor to expect me in a different state and manner from that in which you see me, he also forbids you to look for another time, because his witness points to this person of mine, to this state and manner, and to this time, and it opposes your fickle ideas in every way and binds you firmly to my person.
45. Now, if you want to do John justice, then you must simply accept his witness and believe, that this is the person, the state and manner and the time that you should accept, and abandon your presumption and your waiting for another person, state and time. For it is decreed that John should be no shaken reed, not a man of soft raiment, and above all, not a prophet pointing to future times, but a messenger of present events. He will not write as did the prophets, but will point out and orally announce him, who has been predicted by the prophets, saying: “This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare the way before thee.”
46. What else can this mean than that you dare not wait for another, neither for another manner of mine, neither for another time. Here I am present, the one of whom John speaks. For John is not a prophet, but a messenger. And not a messenger that is sent by the master who stays at home, but a messenger that goes before the face of his master and brings the master along with him, so that there is but one time for the messenger and for the master. Now if you do not accept John as such a messenger, but take him for a prophet who only proclaims the coming of the Lord, as the other prophets have done, then you will fail to understand me, the Scriptures, and everything else.
47. Thus we see Christ pleads, mainly for them to take John as a messenger, and not as a prophet. To this end Christ quotes the Scriptures referring to the passage in Malachi 3:1, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me,” which he does not do in reference to the other points, namely, his person and manner. For to this day it is the delusion of the Jews, that they look for another time; and if they then had believed that the time was at hand and had considered John a messenger and not a prophet, then everything could easily have been adjusted as to the person and manner of Christ, inasmuch as they at last had to accept his person and manner, at least after the expired time. For there should be no other time than the days of John, the messenger and preparer of the way for his Master. But as they do not heed the time, and look for another time, it is scarcely possible to convince them by his person and manner. They remain shaken reeds and soft-raiment-seekers as long as they take John for his prophet, and not for his messenger.
48. We must accustom ourselves to the Scriptures, in which angel (angelus) really means a messenger; not a bearer of messages or one who carries letters, but one who is sent to solicit orally for the message. Hence in the Scriptures this name is common to all messengers of God in heaven and on earth, be they holy angels in heaven, or the prophets and apostles on earth. For thus Malachi speaks of the office of the priest. “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the messenger (angel) of Jehovah of hosts.” Malachi 2:7. Again: “Then spake Haggai, Jehovah’s messenger (angel) in Jehovah’s message unto the people,” Haggai 1:13. And again: “And it came to pass, when the days were well nigh come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers (angels) before his face,” Luke 9:51. Thus they are called God’s angels or messengers and solicitors, who proclaim his word. From this is also derived the word gospel, which means good tidings. But the heavenly spirits are called angels chiefly because they are the highest and most exalted messengers of God.
49. Thus John is also an angel or word-messenger, and not only such a messenger, but one who also prepares the way before the face of the Master in a manner that the Master himself follows him immediately, which no prophet ever did. For this reason John is more than a prophet, namely, an angel or messenger, and a forerunner, so that in his day the Lord of all the prophets himself comes with this messenger.
50. The preparing here means to make ready the way, to put out of the way all that interferes with the course of the Lord, just as the servant clears the way before the face of his master by removing wood, stones, people and all that is in the way. But what was it that blocked the way of Christ and John was to remove? Sin, without doubt, especially the good works of the haughty saints; that is, he should make known to everybody that the works and deeds of all men are sin and iniquity and that all need the grace of Christ. He who knows and acknowledges this thoroughly is himself humble and has well prepared the way for Christ Of this we shall speak in the following Gospel. Now is the opportunity for us to receive a blessing from this Gospel lesson.
51. As we have said touching the other Gospels, that we should learn from them the two doctrines of faith and love, or accepting and bestowing good works, so we should do here, extol faith and exercise love. Faith receives the good works of Christ, love bestows good works on our neighbor.
52. In the first place, our faith is strengthened and increased when Christ is held forth to us in his own natural works, namely, that he associates only with the blind, the deaf, the lame, the lepers, the dead and the poor; that is, in pure love and kindness toward all who are in need and in misery, so that finally Christ is nothing else than consolation and a refuge for all the distressed and troubled in conscience. Here is necessary faith that trusts in the Gospel and relies upon it, never doubting that Christ is just as he is presented to us in this Gospel, and does not think of him otherwise, nor let any one persuade us to believe otherwise. Then surely we learn Christ as we believe and as this Gospel speaks of him. For as you believe, so you will have it And blessed is he, who finds here no occasion of stumbling in Christ.
53. Here you must with all diligence beware of taking offense. Who stumble at Christ? All that teach you to do works, instead of teaching you to believe. Those who hold forth Christ to you as a law-maker and a judge, and refuse to let Christ be a helper and a comforter, torment you By putting works before and in the way of God in order to atone for your sins and to merit grace. Such are the teachings of the pope, priests, monks and their high schools, who with their masses and religious ceremonies cause you to open your eyes and mouth in astonishment, leading you to another Christ. and withholding from you the real Christ. For if you desire to believe rightly and to possess Christ truly, then you must reject all works that you intend to place before and in the way of God. They are only stumbling blocks, leading you away from Christ and from God. Before God no works are acceptable but Christ’s own works. Let these plead for you before God, and do no other work before him than to believe that Christ is doing his works for you and is placing them before God in your behalf. In order to keep your faith pure, do nothing else than stand still, enjoy its blessings, accept Christ’s works, and let him bestow his love upon you. You must be blind, lame, deaf, dead, leprous and poor, otherwise you will stumble at Christ. That Gospel which suffers Christ to be seen and to be doing good only among the needy, will not belie you.
54. This means to acknowledge Christ aright and to embrace him. This is true and Christian believing. But those who intend to atone for sins and to become pious by their own works, will miss the present Christ and look for another, or at least they will believe that he should do otherwise, that first of all he should come and accept their works and consider them pious. These are, like the Jews, lost forever. There is no help for them.
55. In the second place, Christ teaches us rightly to apply the works and shows us what good works are. All other work, except faith, we should apply to our neighbor. For God demands of us no other work that we should do for him than to exercise faith in Christ. With that he is satisfied, and with that we give honor to him, as to one who is merciful, longsuffering, wise, kind, truthful and the like. After this think of nothing else than to do to your neighbor as Christ has done to you, and let all your works together with all your life be applied to your neighbor. Look for the poor, sick and all kinds of needy, help them and let your life’s energy here appear, so that they may enjoy your kindness, helping whoever needs you, as much as you possibly can with your life, property and honor. Whoever points you to other good works than these, avoid him as a wolf and as Satan, because he wants to put a stumbling block in your way, as David says, “In the way wherein I walk have they hidden a snare for me,” Psalm 142:3.
56. But this is done by the perverted, misguided people of the Papists, who with their religious ceremonies set aside such Christian works, and teach the people to serve God only and not also mankind. They establish convents, masses, vigils, become religious, do this and that. And these poor, blind people call that serving God, which they have chosen themselves. But know that to serve God is nothing else than to serve your neighbor and do good to him in love, be it a child, wife, servant, enemy, friend; without making any difference, whoever needs your help in body or soul, and wherever you can help in temporal or spiritual matters. This is serving God and doing good works. O, Lord God, how do we fools live in this world, neglecting to do such works, though in all parts of the world we find the needy, on whom we could bestow our good works; but no one looks after them nor cares for them. But look to your own life. If you do not find yourself among the needy and the poor, where the Gospel shows us Christ, then you may know that your faith is not right, and that you have not yet tasted of Christ’s benevolence and work for you.
57. Therefore, behold what an important saying it is, “Blessed is he, whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me.” We stumble in two respects. In faith, because we expect to become pious Christians in a different way than through Christ, and go our way blindly, not acknowledging Christ. In love we stumble, because we are not mindful of the poor and needy, do not look after them, and yet we think we satisfy the demands of faith with other works than these. Thus we come under the judgment of Christ, who says: “For I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat, I was thirsty, and yet ye gave me no drink,” Matthew 25:42. Again: “Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of these least, ye did it not unto me,” Matthew 25:45. Why is this judgment right, if not for the reason, that we do not unto our neighbor as Christ has done to us? He has bestowed on us needy ones his great, rich, eternal blessings, but we will not bestow our meager service on our neighbors, thus showing that we do not truly believe, and that we have neither accepted nor tasted his blessings. Many will say, “Did we not do wonders in thy name, did we not speak and cast out devils?” But he will answer them, “Depart from me, ye that work iniquity,” Matthew 7:23, and why? Because they did not retain their true Christian faith and love.
58. Thus we see in this Gospel how difficult it is to acknowledge Christ. There is a stumbling block in the way, and one takes offense at this, another at that. There is no headway, not even with the disciples of John, though they plainly see Christ’s works and hear his words.
59. This we also do. Though we see, hear, understand and must confess that Christian life is faith in God and love to our needy neighbor, yet there is no progress. This one clings to his religious ceremonies and his own works, that one is scraping all to himself and helps no one. Even those who gladly hear and understand the doctrine of pure faith do not proceed to serve their neighbor, as though they expected to be saved by faith without works: they see not that their faith is not faith, but a shadow of faith, just as the picture in the mirror is not the face itself, but only a reflection of the same, as St. James so beautifully writes, saying, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth away, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was,” James 1:22-25. So also there within themselves many behold a reflection of true faith when they hear and speak of the Word, but as soon as the hearing and speaking are done, they are concerned about other affairs and are not doing according to it, and thus they always forget about the fruit of faith, namely, Christian love, of which Paul also says, “For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power,” 1 Corinthians 4:20.
Epistle Sermon (date unknown)
Text: 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Let a man so account of us, as of ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Here, moreover, it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment; yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Wherefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall each man have his praise from God.
1. This epistle selection illustrates the Gospel lesson for the first Sunday in Advent, wherein we learned the disciples did not themselves ride on the colt, but led it to Christ and set him thereon. That is what the apostle does here. The Corinthians had come to divisions among themselves and to boasting of certain apostles as their leaders. With one party it was Peter, with another Paul, and with yet another Apollos. Each one exalted the apostle by whom he was baptized or was taught, or the one he regarded most eminent. Now comes Paul and interposes, permitting no one to boast of any apostle, and teaching them to laud Christ alone. He tells them it matters not by whom they were baptized and taught, but it is of the utmost importance that they all hold to Christ together and own allegiance to him alone. Paul beautifully teaches how the apostles are to be regarded. The whole passage is a fierce thrust at Popery and the clerical government, as we shall see. “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.”
2. The reference is to all apostles and all heirs to the apostolic chair, whether Peter, Paul or any other. Let us, then, be very careful how we regard the apostles and bishops; we must attach neither too much nor yet too little importance to them. Not without reason did Paul— the Holy Spirit, in fact— make this restriction; and without doubt we are under obligation to follow it. The same limit here made concerning apostles applies to bishops. It designates the character of their office and the extent of their power. So when we see a bishop assuming more than this text gives him warrant for, we may safely regard him, as a wolf, and an apostle of the devil, and avoid him as such. Unquestionably he must be Antichrist who in ecclesiastical government exceeds the authority here prescribed.
3. First, Paul warns us against receiving apostles or bishops as anything but “ministers of Christ;” nor should they desire to be regarded otherwise. But the term “minister of Christ” must not in this connection be understood as one who serves God, in the present acceptation of the phrase— praying, fasting, attendance upon Church services, and all the things styled “divine service” by ecclesiastical rites, institutions and cloisters, and by the whole clerical order. Theirs are merely humanly devised works and words, whereby Paul’s teaching here and elsewhere is wholly obscured, even to the extent of making it impossible to know what he means by the “ministry of Christ.” He has reference to the ministry that is an office. All Christians serve God but all are not in office. In Romans 11:13, also, he terms his office a ministry: “Inasmuch as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I glorify my ministry.” And in the epistle selection preceding this (Romans 15:8) he says: “I say that Christ hath been made a minister of the circumcision.” Again (2 Corinthians 3:6): “Who also made us sufficient as ministers of a new convenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit.”
4. What language is forcible enough to serve me in the attempt to eradicate from the hearts of all Christians that error so deeply impressed of Popery wherein they interpret the ministry of Christ— or the service of God— in no other light than as their own works, performed to Christ without any authority to do them? Mark you, beloved, to serve Christ, or to serve God, is defined by Paul himself as to fulfill a Christ-ordained office, the office of preaching. This office is a service or ministry proceeding from Christ to us, and not from us to Christ. Note this carefully; it is important. Otherwise you cannot understand the design of the Pauline words, “ministry, ministration, to minister.” So he always has it. Seldom does he speak of the service or ministry rendered primarily above them to God; it is usually of the ministry beneath them, to men. Christ, too, in the Gospel bids the apostles to be submissive and servants of others. Luke 22:26. To make himself clearly understood in this matter of service, or ministry, Paul carefully adds to the word “ministers” the explanatory one “stewards,” which can be understood in no other way than as referring to the office of the ministry.
5. He terms his office “service or ministry of Christ” and himself “minister of Christ,” because he was ordained of God to the office of preaching. So all apostles and bishops are ministers of Christ; that is preachers, messengers, officers of Christ, sent to the people with his message. The meaning of the verse, then, is: “Let every individual take heed not to institute another leader, to set up another Lord, to constitute another Christ. Rather be unanimously loyal to the one and only Christ. For we apostles are not your lords, nor your masters; we are not your leaders. We do not preach our own interests, nor teach our own doctrines. We do not seek to have you obey us, or give us allegiance and accept our doctrine. No, indeed. We are messengers and ministers of him who is your Master, your Lord and Leader. We preach his Word, enlist men to follow his commandments, and lead only into obedience. And in this light should you regard us, expecting of us nothing else than to bring the message. Though we are other persons than Christ, yet you do not receive through us another doctrine than his; another word, another government, nor another authority than his. He who so receives and regards us, holds the right attitude toward us, and receives, not us, but Christ, whom alone we preach. But he who does not so regard us, does us injustice, discards Christ, the one true Leader, sets up another in his stead and makes gods of us.”
6. In Judges 8:22-23 we read that the children of Israel said to Gideon: “Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son also,” to which Gideon answered, “I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: Jehovah shall rule over you.” And in 1 Samuel 8:7 we are told that when the children of Israel desired a king of Samuel, God said: “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not be king over them.” Thus we see God cannot permit any authority to usurp his own among his people.
7. But perhaps you ask: “Where was the sin of the people when they desired Gideon to rule over them? Had not God given Gideon leadership in the contest, and did he not later provide many holy kings expressly for them?” I reply it was not a sin for the children of Israel to have sovereigns; it was not contrary to God’s will; for there must be temporal authorities. But the sin consisted in the fact that, not content with God’s government, they chose human government instead. Gideon and the holy kings did not extend their authority as rulers a hair’s breadth farther than God’s command warranted, and they did not regard themselves in any other light than as the servants or ministers of God; that is, they ruled according to God’s direction and not according to their own. Thus was perpetuated God’s government in its purity, and they were servants in it; as were the apostles servants in the word of Christ. Hence David sings of his own kingdom as identical with God’s. He says: “Arise, O Jehovah, in thine anger: lift up thyself against the rage of mine adversaries, and awake for me; thou hast commanded judgment. And let the congregation of the peoples compass thee about; and over them return thou on high. Jehovah ministereth judgment to the peoples.” Psalm 7:6-8.
8. But where more authority is assumed than God’s command gives, and where the magistrate attempts to rule according to human doctrines, or the subjects seek such leadership, idolatry results and the leader assumes a new character. The magistrate is no longer a servant or minister, but rules arbitrarily, without command of God. God says of them as he said to Samuel concerning the children of Israel: “They have not rejected the magistrate, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” I refer here to spiritual matters, to the sovereignty of the soul, which must stand before God. Civil government is a matter that does not pertain to nor concern the soul.
9. Where divine leadership is shared with any other than God or Christ, there must also be doctrine and commandments differing from the doctrine and command of Christ. Service of Christ must immediately fail; Christ must be rejected for the establishment of a new sovereignty. Plainly enough, no one can be servant of Christ and at the same time teacher of his own message. The two conditions cannot exist at the same time. How can one be a servant of Christ if he does not teach Christ’s message? Or how can he teach his own message when he is under obligation to teach only Christ’s? If he advocates his own counsels, he makes himself lord and does not serve Christ. If he advocates Christ’s counsels, he cannot himself be lord.
10. From this you may judge for yourself whence arises Popery and its ecclesiastical authority, with all its priests, monks and high schools. If these can prove they teach nothing but the message of Christ, we must regard them as his ministers or servants. But if we can prove they do not so teach, we must regard them as not his servants. Now it certainly is clear that their teaching is not the doctrine of Christ, but their own doctrine. Hence it is evident they constitute the kingdom of Antichrist and are servants of the devil. For Paul makes a firm stand here and declares: “Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ.”
11. Their claim that in addition to the teachings of Christ, the commandments of the Church may be taught— and they intimate that their teachings are the doctrines of the Church— is of no significance. Paul’s teaching here continues to stand, that the Church belongs neither to Peter nor Paul, but to Christ only, and acknowledges none but the servants or ministers of Christ. You see, then, the blasphemy of the Pope in crying obedience to his doctrines as the road to salvation, and disobedience to them the road to damnation. Paul here makes obedience to these things a work of the devil; as he does also in 1 Timothy 4:1-3: “But the Spirit saith expressly, that in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by them that believe and know the truth.” And Christ says: “My sheep hear my voice, and a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him; for they know not the voice of strangers. I know mine own, and mine own know me.” John 10:5-14.
12. Note the harmony between Paul’s teaching and this statement of Christ’s that any other than the voice of Christ is a strange voice, the doctrine of the devil, and to be avoided. You see here Christ’s own verdict in regard to doctrines, what his Church hears and teaches, and what are and what are not the commandments of the Church. The Church has no other doctrine than that of Christ, and no other obedience than to obey him. All the Papists say, then, concerning obedience to the commandments of the Church is in the same class with what Paul calls speaking lies in hypocrisy, moved by false spirits and doctrines of devils.
13. The same is the meaning of the phrase “stewards of the mysteries of God.” The word “steward” here signifies one who has charge of his lord’s domestics; one whose office is the same as that of stewards in monasteries at the present day, or provosts in nunneries, or governors, managers and overseers of the sort. For “oekonomus” is Greek and signifies in English a steward, or one capable of providing for a house and ruling the domestics. Christ in Matthew 24:45 calls such a one simply a servant: “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath set over his household, to give them their food in due season?” Such a servant was Eliezer, the steward of Abram’s house. Genesis 15.
14. Now, God’s household is the Christian Church, i.e., ourselves. It includes pastors and bishops, overseers and stewards, whose office is to have charge of the household, to provide nourishment for it and to direct its members, but in a spiritual sense. Paul puts a distinction between the stewards of God and temporal stewards. The latter provide material nourishment, and exercise control of the physical person; but the former provide spiritual food and exercise control over souls. Paul calls the spiritual food “mysteries.” The practice of providing it has so long been discontinued we do not now know what a steward is nor what is meant by “mysteries.” Church officials imagine that when they baptize, celebrate mass and administer other sacraments, they exercise the mysteries, and that now there is no proper mystery but the mass. At the same time they know not the meaning of the term in this connection.
15. I cannot just now find a word in German equivalent to “mysterion,” and it will be well to retain the Greek form, as we have with many other words. It is equivalent to “secret,” something hidden from our eyes, invisible to all, and generally pertaining to words. For instance, a saying not easily understood is said to contain a hidden meaning, a secret, a “mysterion”, i.e., something is concealed therein. The concealment itself may properly be termed “mystery”; I call it a secret.
16. What, then, constitutes the mysteries of God? Simply Christ himself; that is, faith and the Gospel concerning Christ. The whole Gospel teaching is far beyond the grasp of our reason and our physical sense; it is hidden to the world. It can be apprehended only by faith; as Christ says in Matthew 11:25: “I thank thee, O father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes.” And as Paul tells us (1 Corinthians 2:7-8): “We speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, which none of the rulers of this world hath known.”
17. Expressed in the clearest manner possible, “mystery” is the reception of the things of faith— that is, that Christ the Son of God was born of a virgin, died and rose again, and all this that our sins might be forgiven. These things eye sees not nor reason comprehends. Indeed, as Paul says (Corinthians 1:23), they are mere foolishness to the wise, and simply an offense to the self-righteous saints. How can the natural man perceive, or reason acknowledge, that the man Christ is our life and salvation, our peace, our righteousness and redemption, our strength and wisdom, Lord of all creatures— that he is even God— and everything else the Scriptures testify of him? None can apprehend these truths except he hears and believes them through the Gospel. They are too far beyond sense and reason to be grasped by the natural man.
18. So, then, the mysteries of God are simply the blessings in Christ as preached through the Gospel and apprehended and retained by faith alone. Paul says relative to the matter, speaking on how men should behave themselves in the house of God: “Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; he who was manifested in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, received up in glory.” 1 Timothy 3:16. This is spoken of Christ, who was manifest in the flesh. He dwelt among men who had flesh and blood like himself, yet he was still a mystery. That he was Christ, the Son of God, the life, the way, the truth and all good, was hidden.
19. Yet he was “justified in the Spirit;” that is, through the Spirit’s influence believers received, acknowledged and retained him as all we have mentioned. “To justify” means simply to pronounce just, or at least to admit as just; as we have in Luke 7:29: “All the people when they heard, and the publicans, justified God.” Again, in Psalm 51:4: “That thou mayest be justified when thou speakest.” This is equivalent to saying: The believer in Christ justifies him, and acknowledges the truth that Christ alone is our life and righteousness and wisdom, and that we are sinners, condemned and perishing. For such Christ is, and such is his claim. He who acknowledges this his claim justifies him in the Spirit; but he who does not justify him relies upon his own works; he does not see himself condemned but contends against and condemns Christ. [This justification of Christ is effected by no one unless he possesses the Holy Spirit, whose work alone it is. Flesh and blood cannot do it, even if it be publicly presented to our eyes and preached into our ears.]
20. The statement in Romans 1:4, “Christ was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness,” has reference to justification. As if to say: “In unbelievers Christ is nothing; not only despised, but utterly condemned. But the saints whose life is in the Spirit who sanctifies them, strongly and boastfully maintain that he is the Son of God. To them it is proved and firmly, settled.”
21. Paul might have said: “We are the the stewards of the wisdom of God, or of the righteousness of God,” and so on. For all this Christ is; as he says (1 Corinthians 1:30): “Who was made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.” But this would have been specifying, and he desired to embrace in one word all the blessings in Christ which the preaching of the Gospel brings; so he styles them “mysteries.” We may understand it as if he said: “We are spiritual stewards whose duty it is to minister the grace of God, the truth of God, but who can enumerate all? Let us briefly sum them up and say, the mysteries of God; mysteries and hidden things because faith alone can attain them.”He adopts the same style in Romans 1:4 when he comprises in one word how Christ was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, preached to the gentiles, and so on. Similarly, in 1 Timothy 3:16 he expresses it briefly in Greek, “oristheis,” determined. In short, Christ was declared and determined, was received and regarded, as the Son of God, by angels, gentiles, the world, heaven and all things; since for this purpose he was manifested, justified, revealed, preached, believed, received, and so on. Hence he indicates it here by the plural word “mysteries,” and in Timothy 3:16 by the singular “mystery.” The words are, however, equivalent in this connection. Christ is all in all, one mystery, and many mysteries, as expressed in the many mysterious blessings we have from him.
22. It is worthy of note that Paul adds to “mysteries” the modifier “of God;” he means the hidden things God grants and which exist in him. For the devil also has his mysteries, as Revelation 17:5 says: “Upon her forehead a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great,” etc. And again, in the seventh verse, “I will tell thee the mystery of the woman;” The things over which the Pope and his priests now preside as stewards are mysteries of the latter class; for they intimate that their doctrine and deeds win heaven, when in reality they but conceal death and hell for all who trust therein. But the mysteries of God enfold life and salvation.
23. Thus we arrive at the apostle’s meaning in the assertion that a minister of Christ is a steward in the mysteries of God. He should regard himself and insist that others regard him as one who administers to the household of God nothing but Christ and the things of Christ. In other words, he should preach the pure Gospel, the true faith, that Christ alone is our life, our way, our wisdom, power, glory, salvation; and that all we can accomplish of ourselves is but death, error, foolishness, weakness, shame and condemnation. Whosoever preaches otherwise should be regarded by none as a servant of Christ or a steward of the divine treasurer; he should be avoided as a messenger of the devil. So it follows:
“Moreover, it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.”
24. Upon this all depends. After faithfulness God inquires. Angels, men and all creatures look for and demand it; not the mere name or honor of steward will answer. The question is not whether one’s bishopric be large or small; nor is it particularly important whether or no he be outwardly pious. The question is, does he faithfully execute the duties of his office, acting as a steward in the blessings of God? Paul here permits us much liberty to judge the doctrines and lives of our bishops, cardinals and all Papists. The same faithfulness is also required by Christ: “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath set over his household, to give them their food in due season?” Matthew 24:45.
25. What is the nature of the faithfulness of the Papists— that is to say, how does it measure up? Tell me, who would be reformed or profited were any one bishop to have prominence and power enough to possess every bishopric, as the Pope tries to do? Who would be benefited if a bishop were so holy that his shadow would raise the dead? Who would be the gainer if he had wisdom equal to all the apostles and prophets? But none of these things are inquired after; the question is, Is he a faithful bishop? does he administer to the household of faith the Word of God? does he preach the Gospel and dispense the mysteries of God? Emphatically the inquiry is made upon these points. Here is where the individual is benefited. Above all things, then, faithfulness is demanded of stewards.
26. Now, measure the Pope and all the ecclesiasts by the requirements of this text. Tell me, what is the Pope seeking? Is not the sole purpose of all his grasping and raging to enable him to rule supremely and arbitrarily? His whole concern is for fame, power, position and wealth, for authority over all men. Through the Pope’s blasphemous lips the devil deceitfully endeavors to emphasize the importance of obedience to popish laws, and the danger to the soul’s salvation from disobedience. The Pope is not concerned about faithfulness to the Christian household. For tell me where in all his innumerable laws and commands— a veritable flood of them— where in the whole extent of his government, did you ever learn of his touching with a single word upon the mysteries of God? or where has he preached the Gospel? All his utterances relate to quarrels, to prebends, or at best to the matter of pates and apparel. Indeed, he openly condemns the Gospel and the mysteries of God. And the bishops and ecclesiasts follow him with their endowments, cloisters and high schools.
27. They have so perverted apostolic faithfulness that with them a faithful bishop, abbot or ecclesiastical prelate is one who loyally manages, guards, improves and increases their temporal possessions— the heritage of St. Peter, the Castle of St. Moretz, the land of the holy cross, the interests of the Virgin and other concerns of the Church, in a word, their own emolument— under the name of God and of the saints; the world, even in its most sordid state, bears no comparison to them. Such are the princes, the bishops and prelates who have the credit of having governed well the Church; it matters not whether or no they have, during their whole lives, read or heard the Gospel, not to mention their disregard for their duty to preach it. The blasphemous tongue of the Pope, in its world-wide unrestraint, calls them good stewards of the blessings of God who are utterly useless, unless it be to fill the place of treasurer, assessor, guardian, bailiff, architect, mayor, plowman, butler or kitchen steward for some temporal lord. Such is their apostolic fidelity; this and nothing more. In the meantime, souls are perishing. Divine interests are going to ruin. The wolf reigns and devours. In spiritual affairs the popish stewards see no danger and afford no security. They sit unconcernedly counting over their profits, attending to the interests of St. Laurence and with extreme faithfulness providing for the property of the Church— a faithfulness in return for which they are certain Christ has prepared for them no inferior seat in heaven. O wretched, lost, blinded multitude, how securely you are going on toward hell!
28. I cannot pass without notice here, for I must relate it as a warning against similar attempts, a trick of the devil which, I heard it said, he exhibited in time past at Merseburg, in our own country. It had to do with the golden cup of Emperor Henry. The Pope’s beloved people zealously relate a certain falsehood, for which they obtain indulgences. They assert that the roasted Laurence, by casting the golden cup into the balance, got so much the better of the devil that he was forced to release the soul of the Emperor, in consequence of which he (the devil) was enraged to the extent of breaking an ear off the cup. Such gross, foolish, idle falsehoods are intended to blind us Christians from perceiving the devil’s trickery. What is the devil’s purpose in this fabrication? The whole thing is a design to establish by the miraculous, the wealth, luxury and delicate faithfulness of the prelates of which we have spoken. Thereby the weak-minded are to be induced to believe they can overcome the devil by presenting gifts to the Church. But Peter says this conquest is only to be effected by the power of faith. These are the signs Christ and Paul predicted would accompany the misleading of the elect from the faith.
29. A fidelity even more beautiful to contemplate exists among unspiritual lords and faithful stewards of the same class actively engaged in directing the spiritual welfare of souls. Certainly these are true stewards and the right sort! So extremely holy are they, St. Peter will have to be on his guard if he holds his place with them. They are our spiritual fathers— priests, monks and nuns— who exercise themselves in obedience to the Pope, the holy Church and every form of human institutions and orders and statutes. Among them are the paragon, the quintessence, the kernel, the marrow, the foundation— and how shall I enumerate all the honorable titles which they assume and hold from custom? Yes, far enough from custom! The beautiful little cat has pretty, smooth fur.
30. Here is where we find our good stewards and our unheard-of fidelity. How tenaciously, how rigorously and earnestly, they adhere to that sort of obedience and maintain those traditions. Yes, indeed, they are the proper saints. Few bishops who rigidly observe the holy, spiritual law can rank with them. But when we investigate their cloisters and review their doctrines and conduct, we find that no people on earth are less acquainted with the mysteries of God and farther from Christ. Indeed, they act as if mad, maliciously storming Christ with their own inventions. They are the Gog and Magog of the Revelation of John, contending against the Lamb of God. For they exalt their own works to the extermination of faith, and are termed the faithful stewards of God, as the wolf among the sheep is the shepherd.
31. Now, he that hath ears, let him hear what Paul says: “It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful”; but he is faithful who is occupied with the mysteries of God. The conclusion, then, is: the Pope, the bishops, monks and nuns, the founders and inmates of universities, and all who with them build upon anything or are occupied with anything but Christ, the Gospel and true faith, though they may have indeed the name of servants and stewards of Christ, are in reality servants and stewards of the devil, their lord, and are engaged with his mysteries or secrets. Christ, in the saying we have quoted from Matthew, tells us further, the servant of the household should be not only faithful, but also wise, able to discern between the mysteries of God and the mysteries of the devil, that he may safely guard and keep himself and those committed to his care. For, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:13-14, false apostles sometimes fashion themselves into true apostles of Christ, even as the devil transforms himself into an angel of light.
32. Where wisdom to discern the mysteries of God is lacking, the greater the faithfulness the greater the danger; as we perceive in the two mentioned cases of false, seductive faithfulness on the part of the unspiritual saints. Paul well knew how the mysteries of the devil would prevail; so, while silent in regard to every other qualification necessary for stewards, he points out faithfulness. Had our bishops remained faithful stewards of God, popery and its peculiar spiritual orders undoubtedly would not have been introduced; the common spiritual order and life of faith would have been maintained. And were they now to return to faithfulness the strange special orders would soon pass, and the true common ones be restored.
“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment.”
33. First, we must understand Paul’s language here, and explain the terms of the original, with which we need to be as familiar as with our mother tongue. He employs the word “judge,” or sentence, in a worthy sense; that is, as carrying the thought of esteem. “Judgment,” as generally understood, conveys the idea of condemnation. But this is true: Every public judgment operates in two ways. One party is condemned, the other liberated; one is punished, the other rewarded; one dishonored, the other honored. The same is true in private judgment. While the Pharisee in the Gospel praised himself, he censured the publican and others; while he honored himself, he dishonored others. And the attitude of everyone toward his neighbor is either praise or censure. Judgment must involve these two things. Hence, Paul here says he is judged, or sentenced, by the Corinthians; that is, their judgment renders honor and praise unto him. By extolling Paul above the other apostles, decision is made between him and the others, to his advantage and with prejudice against them. Some, however, judged in favor of Peter, others of Apollos. That “judgment” is here equivalent to “praise” is evident from the conclusion of the passage: “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, then shall each man have his praise from God.” What is this but saying, Praise not, let God praise? It is God’s prerogative to judge, to praise and to crown man; we are not to perform that office for one another.
34. The expression “man’s judgment” (“menschliche Tag”) implies that judgment of approval whereby man exalts and makes illustrious and renowned those he esteems. The thought is suggestive of the illumination or glory of day, which renders visible things unrevealed in darkness. In the Latin, illustrious people— they who are on everyone’s tongue— are called “praeclari,” “nobiles,” “illustres.” In German, “durchlauchtige” stands for those of high renown, those having name and reputation superior to others. On the other hand, the unrenowned are called “obscuri,” “ignobles,” humiles”— insignificant, unknown, humble. The holy Scriptures term kings and princes “doxas,” “glorias,” “claritates,” indicative of glory, splendor and popularity. Peter (2 Peter 2:10) says of the Pope and his adherents that they tremble not to rail at glories. That means they will curse dignitaries— kings, princes, and all exalted in earthly glory; this when Christ has commanded us to love our enemies, to bless them that curse us, to do good to our persecutors. We see how the Pope defames on Maundy-Thursday in the Bulla Caenae Domini; and, indeed, whenever it pleases him.
35. Man’s judgment, then, is expressed in the clamor and ostentation men make before the world. Jeremiah says (Jeremiah 17:16), “Neither have I desired the woeful day; thou knowest.” In other words, “They accuse me of preaching new doctrines solely to gain a name, and honor and praise before men; to win their esteem. But thou knowest it is not so; I have not sought such honor and praise.” Christ says (John 5:41), “I receive not glory from men.” That is, “I do not desire men to laud and extol me.” And (John 8:50), “I seek not mine own glory.” Again (John 5:35), speaking of John the Baptist, “Ye were willing to rejoice for a season in his light.” The meaning is, “It would have pleased you to have John’s testimony contribute to your honor and praise; you would have liked to enjoy for a short season the esteem of the people. This is what you sought.”
36. Paul regards it a very trivial matter to command the clamorous honor and praise of men, to gain a reputation with them. He aptly calls such popularity “man’s judgment,” or human glory. For it is of human origin and not directed of God; and, with men, it shall pass. Paul would say: “I do not desire your praise, nor the praise of all the world.” Let men seek for that. Servants of Christ and stewards of God look to Christ and to a divine glory for their judgment.
37. But the apostle surely manifests ingratitude in not sending the Corinthians a bagful of bulls or letters; in not blessing them nor distributing indulgences among them in recognition of their great honoring of the apostolic see. The Pope would have conducted himself in a manner much more worthy of an apostle. Yes, indeed; he would have anathematized them had they not illumined him with the glory of their judgment. He would have said, “I am a Papist; the Pope is the highest, the holiest, the mightiest.” Had Paul so desired he might have become pope, might have held supremacy; he had but to utter a single word. He had only to receive them who desired to join themselves to him; the others would have been obliged to yield. But in his stewardship he strove for faithfulness rather than for exaltation. Hence he had to remain a common tent-maker and to travel on foot.
38. From this verse, clearly the Corinthians judged with distinction of persons, preferring that baptism and Gospel which they had themselves received. They intimated that Paul, or Peter, or Apollos, was supreme. This Paul could not admit. He holds the apostles equal, whatever their individualities. He who is baptized and taught by Paul is as much a Christian as one baptized and taught of Peter, or Apollos, or anyone else. In opposition to this teaching, the Pope fiercely rants, admitting no one a Christian unless instructed of himself. At the same time he teaches mere infidelity and the foolish works of men.
39. Now, Paul condemns undue respect of persons, and in the matter of stewardship for God is concerned only about faithfulness. By these very teachings, he removes every reason for divisions; his Church cannot be disunited, but must remain harmonious, allowing equality in all things. How can there be divisions when one minister of Christ is like another, when he is equally a steward of God? So long as there is no difference in privilege, even if one does exceed another in faithfulness, it will not create sects; it will only publish the common Gospel with greater efficiency.
40. Paul’s words have reference not to one apostle only, but to every apostle. He does not say, “Let a man so account of me,” but “Let a man so account of us;” of “us,” mark you. Who is meant by “us”? Himself, Peter, Apollos— that is, they about whom the matter arose. The conclusion necessarily is that Peter and Paul are to be considered equal. Then either Paul’s teaching is wrong when he regards all apostles equal servants of Christ and stewards of God, or the claims and proceedings of the Pope must be false and this text a powerful enemy of popedom. “Yea, I judge not mine own self.”
41. You may inquire how it is that Paul should look upon his own judgment of himself as truer than the judgment of any other; for we see how the majority of men praise or highly approve themselves. Naturally one is pleased with himself, but few receive the glory of “man’s judgment”, i.e., are honored in the sentence of others. We might expect Paul to reverse the statement, saying: “With me it is a very small thing that I should judge myself; I desire neither this human glory of man’s judgment, nor the praise of yourselves or of all the world.” But he speaks, rather, as a Christian and according to the state of his own conscience before God. The Corinthians exalted Paul in the things acceptable to God. They insisted he was higher, greater and better before God than the other apostles; but certain other Christians extolled Peter. Now, there is with God no better evidence of the soul’s condition than what the conscience reveals. God judges not, like men, according to appearance, but according to the heart; as we learn from 1 Samuel 16:7: “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but Jehovah looketh on the heart.” So it is plain the evidence of our consciences is of greater weight before God than the testimony of all the world. And this evidence alone will stand; as said in Romans 2:15: “Their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them; in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men.”
42. Paul would ask: “Why should divisions arise among you concerning us? What if one is preferred of men before another? It is altogether immaterial. For even our own consciences refrain from judging as to who ranks first in God’s sight.” Solomon says, “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.” Proverbs 28:26. There are no grounds for divisions. No one knows who ranks first with God. Christ himself does not claim the right to set one soul on the right hand and the other on the left. Matthew 20:23. Since all the apostles are alike before God, since one is a minister of Christ as well as another, and since we may not know who ranks first in God’s estimation, let no one presume to judge, much less to exalt himself above another because of temporal power, wealth or popularity. The exaltation of the Pope and the claim that his eminence is from God is in violation of this principle; Paul’s words dispute it, teaching that no one is able to know nor judge until the last day.
43. But here the keen tongues of the Papists seek to effect a breach. They assume that Paul does not deny the supremacy of Peter, or of the Pope, but forbids judgment of the person himself as to how good or bad he is in God’s sight. I admit that Paul does forbid such judgment, nevertheless the design of the Corinthians for which he rebukes them was to exalt the office, the baptism and the doctrine, wholly because of the person; otherwise they would not have said, “I am a good follower of Paul,” “I am a good follower of Peter,” and so on. Well they knew that doctrine, baptism and office were the same with all the apostles, but their object was to exalt the office and its efficacy with the standing of the individual. Paul, however, takes the opposite stand; he assumes equality of office upon the very ground of equality of individuals in man’s sight, since none can know another’s standing before God. Had the Corinthians desired to exalt the individual only, and not the office, they would not have created sects and said, “I am of Paul,” etc. Just as we may hold St. Peter holier in person than St. Augustine and yet not cause division thereby. But it is creating sects for one to say, “I am of Peter,” and another, “I am of Augustine,” meaning, “The doctrine taught me is superior to what is taught you.”
44. The hypocritical Papists, being well aware that their false claim for the supremacy of the Pope cannot stand unless backed by his personal holiness, proceed to bolster up that falsehood by a greater one. They endeavor to give him the reputation of personal goodness by saying he cannot err, for the Holy Spirit never forsakes him, and Christ is ever with and in him. Some of them, knowing the absurdity of denying that the Pope does openly sin, are so bold in their blasphemous utterances as to declare it is impossible for him to remain in mortal sins for a quarter of an hour. Thus accurately have they measured with hour-glass and compasses the extent of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the Pope. Why do they tell such blasphemous falsehoods? Doubtless because they are aware of the futility of attempting to maintain supremacy without personal goodness; they would be compelled to admit that exaltation without piety must be of the devil. It cannot be said the Corinthians exalted the person independently of the office; it was because of his office.
45. Do you ask further concerning Paul, who desired to be regarded a minister of Christ and a steward of God, Why did he not judge himself? I reply: As before stated, the ministry and the office are not his but God’s, who enjoined them upon him. As no man can create the Word of God, so no man has authority to send it forth, or constitute an apostle. God has himself accomplished the work; he has constituted the apostles. Hence we should own the work, glory in it, confess it, and give to publish abroad the news of the priceless blessing the one God has bestowed. To illustrate: Though I cannot constitute myself a living soul, I ought to glory in and confess the fact that God has created me a human being. But just as I am incapable of judging how I stand and will stand in the sight of God, so I cannot judge which apostle or steward is greatest before God.
46. But you object: You teach, however, that a Christian should not doubt his acceptance with God, and he that doubts is no Christian; for faith assures that God is our Father and that as we believe so shall it be unto us. I reply: Indeed, I would have you hold fast the assurance of faith in the grace of God; faith is simply a steadfast, indubitable, sure confidence in divine grace. But this is what I say: the Corinthians’ intent was to judge the apostles by their personal goodness and works, that according to one’s holiness, rank and merit might his office be exalted and his followers secure some honor above others. But Paul overthrows all works and merit, leaving them to God’s judgment, and places every apostle in the same rank as to office and faith. They fill one and the same office and are justified by one and the same faith. The question of who ranks first in goodness, position, merit and achievement must be left to God; it is not an occasion for divisions in the community. Hence follows: “For I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified.”
47. This verse also implies that the Corinthians judged the apostles in regard to the worthiness of person and works; Paul admits his conscience does not reproach him, and confesses to the truth of their judgment so far as his person and conscience are concerned. But, he teaches that such judgment does not suffice before God; and that all decisions based on the same principle are false.
48. Much might be said on this verse. It shows us all works are rejected and no one is made godly and happy by any of them. The fact that Paul dared say “I know nothing against myself” proves him certainly to have abounded in good works; nevertheless he says, “I am not hereby justified.” By what is he justified, then? By faith alone. Could one be justified upon the grounds of a clear conscience— that is, knowing nothing against himself— his confidence would rest in himself. He could judge and extol his own character, as do presumptuous saints. Then faith and God’s grace would be unnecessary; we would have in ourselves all essentials and could easily dispense with God. The fact is, however, all depends on our reliance upon the grace of God. Thereby are we justified. The subsequent judgment of our works and character, of our calling and worthiness, must be left to God. We are certain we are vindicated by none of these things, and uncertain how God will estimate them.
49. It is easily evident to all, I presume, that Paul refers to his character after conversion when he says he knows nothing against himself; for, concerning his previous life, he tells us (1 Timothy 1:13) he was an unbeliever, a blasphemer and a persecutor of the first Christians.
50. The question, however, arises, How can it be that he is not justified by his clear conscience when he declares (2 Corinthians 1:12): “For our glorying is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and sincerity of God, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we behaved ourselves in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward”? This quotation contains the answer. The words, “in the grace of God,” give it. We are indeed to rejoice in the grace of God, to boast of and glory in it; since it is founded upon the glorying of our conscience. Even had not these words been included, it must necessarily be understood that reference is to the glorying in grace or else to honor before the world. It is the privilege and the duty of everyone to acknowledge before men his innocence, to rejoice in having injured no one. And he should not call evil what he knows to be good. At the same time such glorying avails nothing before God; he must judge the heart, though men are satisfied with deeds. Before God, then, something more than a good conscience is necessary. Moses says (Exodus 34:7), “Forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty.” We read (Romans 3:27), “Where then is the glorying?” And again (1 Corinthians 1:31), “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord”; that is, in his grace. “But he that judgeth me is the Lord.”
51. The thought here is, “I will wait for God’s judgment and praise.” Paul says also (2 Corinthians 10:18), “For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.” His intent, however, is not to deter them from godly living but rather to incite thereto. Although no man is capable of judging and commending another, yet none shall go unjudged and uncommended. God himself will judge and praise right living. We should be so much the more faithful in doing good because God is to be judge; we are not to be remiss here even though uncertain as to how he judges us. “Wherefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall each man have praise of God.”
52. We may well ask, Are we not to give praise to one another? Paul says (Romans 12:10), “In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to another.” And Christ (Matthew 5:16): “Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” And the apostle also tells us (2 Corinthians 6:8) we must here upon earth walk “by evil report and good report.” But, we reply our faith alone, not our works, is the chief thing to be honored in all cases. Good works are imperative, and we should extol them in others; but no one is to be judged, justified or preferred because of them. The farmer at his plow sometimes may be better in God’s sight than the chaste nun.
53. The five foolish virgins (Matthew 25:2), despite their virginity, are condemned. The widow who threw into the treasury two mites (Mark 12:42) did more than all the others who cast in much greater amounts. The work of the woman who was a sinner (Luke 7:37) is extolled above any work of the Pharisees. It is impossible for us mortals to discern the relative merits of individuals and the value of their works; we ought to praise all, giving equal honors and not preferring one above another. We should humble ourselves before one another, ever esteeming our neighbor above ourselves. Then we are to leave it to God to judge who ranks first. True, he has declared that whoever humbles himself shall be exalted, yet it is not evident who humbles and who exalts himself; for the heart, by which God judges, is not manifest. One may humble himself when secretly in his heart he is haughty, and again the meek-hearted may exalt himself.
54. So Paul says: “The Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts.” Then it will appear who is really worthier, superior and better, and whose works excel.
55. It is most unchristianlike to base our estimation of one upon his outward appearance and visible works; to say, for instance, that the Carthusian leads a life essentially better than the farmer, or than any married man. Indeed, the Carthusian if he does right will esteem his own life inferior to that of the married man. For God judges not according to outward expression, but according to the secrets of darkness and the counsels of the heart, and how can the Carthusian know which is the humbler and holier, his own heart or the farmer’s?
56. Applicable here are two instances, in my opinion the best in all the “Lives of the Fathers.” One is of St. Anthony, to whom it was revealed that a tanner at Alexandria, a humble, honest mechanic, but one in no wise illustrious, was far superior to the saint because of his humility of heart. The other relates to Paphnutio, who, despite all his austerity of life, was not superior to a fifer nor to either of two married women. It was a special manifestation of grace that God revealed these two incidents at a time when monastic life was most intense, and works prodigious. His purpose was to deter us from judging by outward appearances— by works— and to teach us to value all works alike and to prefer others above ourselves.
57. Now you will say: If all stations are alike and all works of the same value, none to have preference, what advantage is it to us to forsake the world and enter the holiest orders, to become monks, nuns and priests, in the effort to serve God? I reply: Did not Christ and Paul foretell that false Christs and prophets should arise and deceive many? Had the doctrine of equal service to God under all conditions and in all works continued to stand, certainly no monasteries and cloisters would have been established— or at least they would not have increased so rapidly— to create the illusion that service to God consists only in meeting their requirements. Who would have become a priest, who a monk, yes, who a pope and bishop, had he realized that in such capacity his position and its works are no more meritorious than those of the poorest nurse maid who rocks children and washes swaddling clothes? It would grievously distress, yes, and shame, the Pope had he to humble himself to a nurse maid, esteeming his works inferior to hers— he whose position and works are so meritorious that kings, and even God’s saints, are scarce worthy to kiss his feet. The holy Papists, then, must institute something superior to Paul’s teaching here. They are compelled to judge themselves, and to proclaim their position and works supreme, else they cannot sell their merits and procure heaven for poor laymen, married persons and individuals in various stations, implying that these do not in their lives serve God.
58. Now, seeing how impossible it is for the present ecclesiastical order to stand unless it disposes of this passage from Paul and exalts its religious life with distinction above that of other Christians, it is certainly clear enough that popery, with its monasteries and cloisters, is based on mere falsehoods and blasphemies. The Papists style themselves “ecclesiastical” or “spiritual” and others “secular,” when God sees none as ecclesiasts or churchmen, but as believers; and believers are found for the most part not among the clergy but among the laity. What greater deception than to call the clerical order spiritual, and to separate it from the class among whom true spiritual life exists? God alone is to judge who is holiest and best. The clerical order assumes the title “spiritual” simply because they have shaved heads and wear long cloaks. What folly— even insanity!
59. You will say: If this be true, it were better for us to leave the cloisters and monasteries. I reply: There are but two things for you. Follow the teaching of this lesson, commending not yourselves. Regard your order and station no better than as if you were not an ecclesiastic, and your chastity not superior to that of an honest, loyal wife and mother; if you are not willing so to humble your ecclesiasticism, then discard caps, bald pates, cloisters and all. Either adopt this course or know that your ecclesiasticism, your spirituality, has its origin, not with a good spirit, but with an evil spirit. You will never overthrow Paul’s doctrine here. It is better to be a mother among the common believers in Christ than to remain a virgin in the devil’s cause. Paul stands firm on the point that we must not judge ourselves.
60. But you will loudly object: Jerome and many others have highly commended virginity; and Paul, too (1 Corinthians 7:38), teaches it is better to be a virgin than to marry. I answer: Let Jerome be here or there, Augustine here or Ambrose there, you have learned what God here says through Paul, that no one shall judge himself or anyone else to be best. God’s command should have more weight than the sayings of many Jeromes, were they as numerous as the sand grains upon the seashore or the leaves of the forest. True, Paul says it is better to be continent than to marry, but he does not say “in God’s sight.” If he did, it would be a contradiction of his words here. He who lives continently, it is true, is freer to publish the Gospel than the married man; and it was with the thought of Gospel furtherance that Paul applauded virginity, or continence. He says: “He that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord.” Corinthians 7:32. Christ also applauds the eunuchs (Matthew 19:12), not for the sake of their condition but for the sake of their profit to the kingdom of heaven; that is, for the sake of their furtherance of the Gospel. Now, although none cares less for the Gospel than do these ecclesiasts, they continue to exalt their position above that of others, and to extol continence for the mere sake of the merit in denial, not for the end it serves. To illustrate the advantage of continence: It is better to learn a trade than to be a servant; and why? Not because it is a condition more acceptable to God, but because it offers less hindrances to his service. It is in this light that Paul applauds virginity and continence; but only in those who have a desire for it through the grace of God.
61. At present no one cares whether continence is a help or a hindrance; everyone plunges into it, thinking only of how exalted, worthy and great it makes them. All is done with such pains and danger, unwillingness and impurity, that an adequate cry and protest cannot be raised against the evil. Still they wish to be better than other people. Thus they have brought such reproach upon the marriage state that it is considered an impure and disgraceful life. As a reward God permits their continence to pollute their garments and beds continually. Really there is no greater or more polluted incontinence than theirs, inordinate, imprisoned, restrained and intolerable as it is. “Bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts.”
62. Paul gives the reason we should refrain from commending ourselves or any other when he declares that the hidden things of darkness and the counsels of the hearts are not yet brought to light. Since God judges according to the secrets of the heart which we cannot know, we should withhold judgment of the. various stations and works of men, and not make distinction. The virgin is not to exalt her state of virginity above the station of the wife. The Pope ought to humble his eminence below the position of the plow-boy. No one should presume to regard his own station, or that of another, as better before God than the occupations of other men.
63. Every person should be free to choose and live in the state that suits him, all being alike until the Lord comes. But, were this principle to be carried out where would the holy fathers and the spiritual lords obtain their daily bread, not being accustomed to labor? They secure their subsistence by making the impression that the common man is in error and by separating from him their states and position. They judge themselves to be the best people, confident of enjoying the common man’s treasures, because his state is nothing. Hence arise so many institutions, and gifts flow to the cloisters, chapels and churches for the especial benefit of these idle, beloved gluttons and gormandizers. All this would fall were Paul’s teachings introduced.
64. By the “hidden things of darkness” and the “counsels of the hearts” Paul refers to the two powers commonly but not very intelligibly termed “will” and “reason.” Man possesses in his inmost being two capacities: he loves, delights, desires, wills; and he understands, perceives, judges, decides. I shall term these capacities “motive” and “thought.”
65. The motives and desires of man are deep and deceitful beyond recognition; no saint, even, can wholly comprehend them. Jeremiah says (Jeremiah 17:9-10): “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it? I, Jehovah, search the mind, I try the heart.” And David (Psalm 32:2): “Blessed is the man in whose spirit there is no guile.” Many pious individuals perform great works from a selfish motive or desire. They seek their own interests, yet never with assurance. They serve God not purely for love of him, but for the sake of personal honor or profit; of gaining heaven and escaping the tortures of hell. One cannot realize the falseness of his motives until God permits him to endure many severe temptations. So Paul calls such motives “hidden things of darkness,” a most appropriate name. Not only are they concealed, but in darkness, in the inmost heart, where they are unperceived by the individual himself and known to God alone.
66. Remembering this deplorable secret motive of the heart, we should be induced to submit ourselves one to another and not to contrast any particular work or station with others. The motive determines the force and judgment of every work, every station, of all conduct, of every life. As Solomon says (Proverbs 16:2): “Jehovah weigheth the spirits”— that is, God is the weigh-master of the spirits. Since there may be something of good concealed in the secret heart of the wife and likewise something of evil in the virgin’s heart, it is absurd and unchristian to exalt a virgin above a wife because of her continence, a purely external virtue. It is just as unreasonable to measure the two by their external life as to compare the weight of eggs by putting the shells into the balance and leaving out the contents.
67. Now, according to our secret motives so are our thoughts— good or evil. Our motives and desires control our aims, decisions and reasonings. These latter Paul terms “counsels of the heart”— that is, the thoughts we arrive at in consequence of our secret motives and desires.
68. Of these two, Mary hints in her song of praise (Luke 1:51): “He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart.” She calls intent or motive of the heart the “hidden things of darkness”, i.e., her desire, while the “counsels” and imaginations are the heart’s expression. Moses, referring to man’s heart, says (Genesis 6:5): “Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” And Christ (Matthew 6:22-23) earnestly warns us against the same false motive: “The lamp of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is the darkness!” The reference in this whole quotation is to the secret workings of darkness, which are not to be overcome in any way but by despair of our own works, and strong faith in the pure grace of God. Nothing is more conducive to this end than sufferings severe and many, and all manner of misfortunes. Under such influences man may learn, to some extent, to know himself; otherwise all is lost.