Martin Luther.

The precious and sacred writings of Martin Luther ... based on the Kaiser chronological edition, with references to the Erlangen and Walch editions; (Volume 7) online

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LIBRARY OF
WELLESLEY COLLEGE




PURCHASED FROM
LIBRARY FUNDS



LUTHER'S



EPISTLE SERMONS



ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS SEASON



TRANSLATED WITH THE HELP OF OTHERS
BY

PROF. JOHN NICHOI.AS I.ENKBR, D. D.

AUTHOR OF "LUTHERANS IN ALI. LANDS," TRANSLATOR OF

LUTHER'S WORKS INTO ENGLISH, AND PRESIDENT OF

THE NATIONAL LUTHERAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION



vol.. I

(Volume VII of LzUher's Complete Works)
Third Thousand



MINNEAPOLIS, MINN., U. S. A.
l1908






1



To the Memory of "The Luther Read-
ers" in the days of Luther and Spener in
Germany, of Rosenius in Sweden, of
Hauge in Norway, of Grundtvig in Den-
mark, of Calvin in France, of Bunyan and
the Wesleys in England, and of their
spiritual children in all lands, this volume
of Christmas Epistle sermons of the Eng-
lish Luther is gratefully and prayerfully
dedicated.



Copyright, 1908, by PROF. J. N. LENKER, D. D.



jfoceworb.



It is now a year since The Luther Press issued its last volume,
"Luther on Christian Education," containing his best catechetical
writings. We are happy in assuring the growing list of advance
subscribers, however, that the enterprise has received no backset.
On the contrary, it has grown in every respect, especially in the
efficiency of ouf co-laborers and in the favor it has received from
our institutions of learning. The problem of the young people is the
burning question at present; and as Catechetics is about the only
branch of theology teaching future pastors their duties to the
young, the last volume met a long-felt want, both as a text-book
and as a help for side reading on many subjects. For example, the
president of one institution ordered one hundred copies and turned
his v/hole school into a Luther-class for one period every Thurs-
day afternoon to study it. The experiment was a success. It is
better to study the classics Luther wrote than what others have
written about him. "He is, in the best sense, modern, up-to-date,
the prophet of our times." Read him, and judge for yourself.

State schools also support chapel services, a Y. M. C. A. and
occasional Christian sermons and lectures. But church schools are
expected to do more. It is indeed a sad sight to see a foundation
going to ruin because the building is not erected. Supporters of
Christian schools are now beginning to realize that the only
reason for their existence is that they are Christian. No church
lays a better foundation in the hearts of the young for Christian
culture than the Lutheran and no worse advertisement of a Luther-
an school is conceivable than for its students to return home with-
out any growth or development in harmony with their catechism
foundation. It has been overlooked that Luther furnishes the best
material for the building as well as for the foundation. He is the
great evangelist in the evangelization of the Gentiles.

This volume of practical sermons on the epistle texts furnishes
the best material for the building, because it exhorts to practice
the Christian lessons taught by parent and pastor. In teaching
Luther's catechism the aim should be to prepare and interest the
pupil to read also his best sermons and comm.entaries on the
Word of God, for God's Word is the chief glory and hope of all
Protestants. This was the natural, continued development of our
German and Scandinavian parents, whose stable Christian charac-
ters their children admire so much, but fail to learn the simple way
to imitate. Alas, how many never read a book written by Luther
except his Smiall Catechism!

5



6 FOREWORD.

The connection between this volume of "Christmas Sermons"
and the last volume on "Christian Education" is very intimate. It
will, we believe, bring Christmas joy to the widening circle of
"Luther Readers." In its opening paragraph Luther says: "Paul,
in Romans 12, 7-8, devotes the office of the ministry to two things,
doctrine and exhortation. The doctrinal part consists in preaching
truths not generally knov/n; in instructing and enlightening the
people. Exhortation is inciting and urging to duties already well
understood." By example as well as precept Luther did both. He
repeatedly warns against neglecting either. Christian knowledge
and zeal, teaching and exhorting, go together and develop a bal-
anced Christianity. Recently at a large young people's convention
one asked, "What would be the state of things if all Lutherans
lived the simple lessons of the five parts of their catechism?" The
answer came, "They would be in paradise." The "Epistle Postil"
contains sermons of exhortation and admonition, and are timely
both for the individual life and for the work of the Church in
evangelization at home and abroad.

Pastors who preach in two languages generally use English in the
evening and as they preach on the Gospel texts in the morning
these epistle serm^ons will be especially helpful in the evening serv-
ices to all pastors who strive not for new truths, but to put old,
familiar truths in the plainest and strongest English. Luther wrote
these sermons as models for the preachers of his day, models they
are now, and miodels they ought to be until God raises up a greater
preacher. They will aid in making English Lutheran preaching
and teaching easy for pastors overburdened not only by large pas-
torates, but by two languages in their large fields.

It is a cherished hope that these practical spiritual writings,
teaching true faith in God and right love to our neighbor, may,
like "Lutherans In All Lands/' contribute to the literature of inner
missions. Men like Spener, Wichern, Fliedner and Von Bodel-
schwingh, developed inner missions on the foundation laid by
Luther's writings in the hearts of the Germ.an people. The last
branch or division of inner missions is literature. This, like all
Lutheran literature, must be based on the Luther literature.

For the history of the writing of these serm.ons the reader is re-
fered to volumes 10, 11, 12 and 13 of the Gospel sermons of the
English Luther.

The German text will be readily found in the 12th volume of the
Walch and the St. Louis Walch editions, and in the 7th volume of
the Erlangen edition.

Due acknowledgement is hereby made of aid received from the
translation of Pastor Ambrose Henkel and published in 1869 at
New Market, Virginia.

With profound gratitude to the God of all grace for his rich
blessings upon this undertaking since its beginning and with the
prayer that the same may continue and finally crown the work in
every way with success, this volume is now sent forth on its mis-
sion of service for the glory of the triune God and the uplifting of
fallen man. J. N. LENKER.

Lutheran Home for Young Women,

Minneapolis, Minn., November 28, 1908.



Contents.

Page.

-First Sunday in Advent. — An Exhortation to Good
Works. The Day of Grace. Romans 13, 11-14 9

Second Sunday in Advent. — Exhortation to Bear v^ith
the Weak. The Word of Hope. Missions to the
Heathen. Romans 15, 4-13 28

Third Sunday in Advent. — Stewards of God's Mys-
teries. Faithfulness in Stewards. Man's Judgment
and God's. 1 Corinthians 4, 1-5 64

■Fourth Sunday in Advent. — A Christian's Conduct to-
ward God and Man. Prayer. The Peace of God.
Philippians 4, 4-7 93

First Christmas Sermon. — The Appearing of the Grace
of God. Ungodliness. Worldly Lusts. The Chris-
tian Life. Titus 2, 11-15 113

»^Second Christmas Sermon. — God's Grace Received and
Good Wofks to Our Neighbor. Titus 3, 4-8 142

Third Christmas Sermon. — The Divinity of Christ. He-
brews 1, 1-12 166

. St. Stephen's Day. — Stephen an Example of Christian
Faith, Zeal and Love. Building Churches. Author-
ity of Laymen to Preach. Acts 6, 8-14 194

St. John's Day. — Exhortation to Piety and Righteous-
ness. Ecclesiasticus 15, 1-8 212

. Sunday After Christmas. — The People of Law and of
Grace. Galatians 4, 1-7 224

-New Year's Day. — The Law and Its Works. Faith.

Unity in Christ. Galatians 3, 23-29 267

Epiphany. — The Conversion of the Heathen. The True

Light. Isaiah 60, 1-6 311

7



^ftrst Sunba^ in Ebvent

Epistle Text: Romans 13, 11-14.

11 And this, knowing the season, that already it is
time for you to awake out of sleep : for now is salvation
nearer to us than when we first believed. 12 The night
is far spent, and the day is at hand: let us therefore cast
off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor
of light. 13 Let us walk becomingly, as in the day;
not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chambering and
wantonness, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put ye
on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for
the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

AN EXHORTATION TO GOOD WORKS.

1. This epistle lesson treats not of faith, but of its fruits,
or works. It teaches how a Christian should conduct him-
self outwardly in his relations to other men upon earth.
But how we should walk in the spirit before God, comes
under the head of faith. Of faith Paul treats comprehensive-
ly and in apostolic manner in the chapters preceding this
text. A close consideration of our passage shows it to be
not didactic ; rather it is meant to incite, to exhort, urge and
arouse souls already aware of their duty. Paul in Romans
12, 7-8 devotes the office of the ministry to two things, doc-
trine and exhortation. The doctrinal part consists in
preaching truths not generally known; in instructing and
enlightening the people. Exhortation is inciting and urging
to duties already well understood. Necessarily both obliga-
tions claim the attention of the minister, and hence Paul
takes up both.

2. For the sake of effect and emphasis the apostle in his

9



10 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

admonition employs pleasing figures and makes an eloquent
appeal. He introduces certain words^ — "Armor," "work,"
"sleep," "awake," "darkness," "light," "day," "night"—
which are purely figurative, intended to convey other than a
literal and native meaning. Ke has no reference here to the
things they ordinarily stand for. The v^ords are employed
as similes, to help us grasp the spiritual thought. The mean-
ing is : Since for sake of temporal gain men rise from sleep,
put aside the things of darkness and take up the day's work
v/hen night has given place to morning, how miuch greater
the necessity for us to av/ake from our spiritual sleep, to
cast off the things of darkness and enter upon the works of
light, since our night has passed and our day breaks.

3. "Sleep" here stands for the works of wickedness and
unbelief. For sleep is properly incident to the night time;
and then, too, the explanation is given in the added words:
"Let us cast off the works of darkness." Similarly in the
thought of awakening and rising are suggested the works of
faith and piety. Rising from sleep is naturally an event of
the morning. Relative to the same conception are Paul's
words in First Thessalonians 5, 4-10: "But ye, brethren,
are not in darkness ... ye are all sons of light, and
sons of the day : we are not of the night, nor of darkness ;
so then let us not sleep, as do the rest, but let us watch and
be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they
that are drunken are drunken in the night. But let us,
since we are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate
of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation.
For God appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtain-
ing of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died
for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live to-
gether with him."

4. Paul, of course, is here not enjoining against physical
sleep. His contrasting figures of sleep and wakefulness are
used as illustrations of spiritual lethargy and activity — the
godly and the ungodly life. In short, his conception here of
rising out of sleep is the same as that expressed in his dec-
laration (Tit 2, 11-13): "For the grace of God hath ap-



FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT. 1 1

peared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us, to the
intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we
should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present
world; looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the
glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." That
which in the passage just quoted is called ''denying ungod-
liness and worldly lusts," is here in our text described as a
rising from sleep; and the "sober, righteous, godly life" is
the waking and the putting on the armor of light; while
the appearing of grace is the day and the light, as we shall
hear.

5. Now, note the analogy between natural and spiritual
sleep. The sleeper sees nothing about him; he is not sen-
sitive to any of earth's realities. In the midst of them he
lies as one dead, useless ; as without power or purpose.
Though having life in himself he is practically dead to all
outside. Moreover, his mind is occupied, not with realities,
but with dreams, wherein he beholds mere images, vain
forms, of the real; and he is foolish enough to think them
t|-ue. But when he wakes, these illusions or dreams vanish.
Then he begins to occupy himself with realities; phantoms
are discarded.

6. So it is in the spiritual life. The ungodly individual
sleeps. He is in a sense dead in the sight of God. He does
not recognize — is not sensitive to — the real spiritual bless-
ings extended him through the Gospel ; he regards them as
valueless. For these blessings are only to be recognized
by the believing heart ; they are concealed from the natural
man. The ungodly individual is occupied with temporal,
transitory things, such as luxury and honor, which are to
eternal life and joy as dream images are to flesh-and-blood
creatures.

When the unbeliever awakes to faith, the transitory
things of earth will pass from his contemplation, and their
futility will appear. In relation to this subject Psalm 76, 5,
reads : "The stouthearted are made a spoil, they have slept
their sleep ; and none of the men of might have found their
hands." And Psalm 73, 20: "As a dream v/hen one av/ak-



12 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

eth, so, O Lord, when thou av/akest, thou wilt despise their
image." Also Isaiah 29, 8 : "And it shall be as when a hun-
gry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh,
and his soul is empty : or as when a thirsty man dreameth,
and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he
is faint, and his soul hath appetite: so shall the multitude
of all the nations be, that fight against mount Zion.'*

But is it not showing altogether too much contempt for
worldly power, wealth, pleasure and honor to compare them
to dreams — to dream images? Who has courage to declare
kings and princes, wealth, pleasure and power but creations
of a dream, in the face of the mad rage of earth after such
things? The reason for such conduct is failure to rise from
sleep and by faith behold the light.

"For now is salvation nearer to us than when we first
believed."

7. What do these words imply? Did we believe before,
or have v/e now ceased to believe? Right here we must
know that, as Paul in Romans 1, 2-3 says, God through his
prophets promised in the holy Scriptures the Gospel of his
Son Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom all the wxjrld
was to be saved. The word to Abraham reads: "In thy
seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." Gen. 22,
18. The blessing here promised to the patriarch, in his seed,
is simply that grace and salvation in Christ which the Gos-
pel presents to the whole world, as Paul declares in the
fourth chapter of Romans and the fourth of Galatians. For
Christ is the seed of Abraham, his own flesh and blood, and
in Christ all believing inquirers will be blessed.

8. This promise to the patriarch v^^as later more minutely
set forth and more widely circulated by the prophets. All
of them wrote of the advent of Christ, and his grace and
Gospel, as Peter in Acts 3, 18-24 says: The divine promise
was believed by the saints prior to the birth of Christ ; thus,
through the coming Messiah they were preserved and saved
by faith. Christ himself (Lk 16, 22) pictures the promise
under the figure of Abraham's bosom, into which all saintsk
from the time of Abraham to Christ's time, were gathered.



FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT. 13

Thus is explained Paul's declaration, "Now is salvation
nearer to us than when we first believed." He means prac-
tically : "The promise of God to Abraham is not a thing for
future fulfilment; it is already fulfilled. Christ is come.
The Gospel has been revealed and the blessing distributed
throughout the world. All that we waited for in the prom-
ise, believing, is here." The sentence has reference to the
spiritual day Paul later speaks of — the rising light of the
Gospel ; as we shall hear.

D. But faith is not abolished in the fulfilment of the
promise; rather it is established. As they of former time
believed in the future fulfilm.ent, we believe now in the com-
pleted fulfilment. Faith, in the two instances, is essentially
the same, but one belief succeeds the other as fulfilment
succeeds promise. For in both cases faith is based on the
seed of Abraham; that is, on Christ. In one instance it pre-
cedes his advent and in the other follows. He who would
now, like the Jews, believe in a Christ yet to come, as if
the promise were still unfulfilled, would be condemned. For
he would make God a liar in holding that his word is un-
redeemed, contrary to fact. Were the promuse not fulfilled,
our salvation would still be far off ; we would have to wait
its future accomplishment.

10. Having in mind faith under these tv/o conditions,
Paul asserts in Romans 1, 17: "In the Gospel is revealed
a righteousness of God from faith unto faith." What is
meant by the phrase "from faith unto faith"? Simply that
we must now believe not only in the promise but in its past
fulfilment. For though the faith of the fathers is one with
our faith, they trusting in a Christ to com.e and we in a
Christ revealed, yet the Gospel leads from the former faith
to the latter. It is now necessary to believe not only the
promise, but also its fulfilment. Abraham and the ancients
were not called upon to believe in accomplished fulfilment,
though they had the same Christ with us. There is one
faith, one spirit, one Christ, one community of saints; but
they preceded, while we come after, Christ.

11. Thus we — the fathers and ourselves — have had and



14 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

Still have a common faith in the one Christ, but under dif-
ferent conditions. Because of this common faith in the Mes-
siah, we speak of their act of faith as our own, notwith-
standing we were not alive in their day. And similarly,
when they make mention of hearing, seeing and believing
Christ, the reference is to ourselves, in whose day they live
not. David says (Ps 8, 3) : "When I consider thy heavens,
the work of thy fingers," that is, the apostles. Yet David
did not live to see their day. And (Ps 9, 2) : "I will be
glad and exult in thee; I will sing praise to thy name, O
Thou Most High." And there are many similar passages
where one individual speaks in the person of another in
consequence of a common faith whereby believers unite in
Christ as one body,

12. Paul's statement "Nov/ is salvation nearer to us than
when we first believed" cannot be understood to refer to
nearness of possession. For the fathers had the same faith
and the same Christ with us, and Christ was equally near
to them. Hebrews 13, 8 says, "Jesus Christ is the same
yesterday and today, yea and for ever." That is, Christ ex-
ists from the beginning of the world to all time, and through
him and in him all are preserved. To him of strongest faith
Christ is nearest ; and from him who least believes, is salva-
tion farthest, so far as personal possession of it goes.
Paul's reference here is to nearness of the revelation of sal-
vation. When Christ came the promise was fulfilled. The
Gospel was revealed to the world. Through Christ's com-
ing it was publicly preached to all men. In recognition of
these things, the apostle says: "Salvation is nearer to us"
than when unrevealed and unfulfilled in the promise. In
Titus 2, 11, it is said: "For the grace of God hath appeared,
bringing salvation." In other words, God's grace is revealed
and publicly proclaimed ; though the saints who lived prior
to its manifestation nevertheless possessed it.

13. So the Scriptures teach the coming of Christ, not-
withstanding he was already present to the fathers. How-
ever, he was not publicly proclaimed to mankind until after
his resurrection from the dead. It is of this coming in the



FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT. 15

Gospel the Scriptures for the most part teach. Incident to
this revelation he came in human form. The taking upon
himself of humanity v/ould have profited no one had it not
meant the proclamation of the Gospel. The Gospel was to
present him to the whole world, revealing the fact that he
became man for the sake of imparting the blessing to all
who, accepting the Gospel, should believe in him, Paul tells
us (Rom 1, 2) the Gospel was promised of God; from which
we may infer God placed more emphasis upon the Gospel,
the public revelation of Christ through the Word, than upon
his physical birth, his advent in human form. God's pur-
pose was concerning the Gospel and our faith, and he per-
mitted his Son to assume humanity for the sake of m.aking
possible the preaching of the Gospel of Christ ; that through
the revealed Word salvation in Christ might be brought
near — might come — to all the world.

14. Some have presented four different forms of Christ's
advent, adapted to the four Sundays in Advent. But the
most vital form of his coming, that upon which all efficacy
depends, the coming to which Paul here refers, they have
failed to recognize. They knov/ not what constitutes the
Gospel, nor for what purpose it was given. Despite their
much talk about the advent of Christ, they thrust him from
us farther than heaven is from earth. How can Christ profit
us unless he be embraced by faith? But how can he be
embraced by faith where the Gospel is not preached?

THE DAY OF GRACE.
"The night is far spent, and the day is at hand.'*

15. This is equivalent to saying "salvation is near to
us." By the word "day" Paul means the Gospel; the Gos-
pel is like day in that it enlightens the heart or soul. Now,
day having broken, salvation is near to us. In other words,
Christ and his grace, promised to Abraham, are now re-
vealed; they are preached in all the v/orld, enlightening
mankind, awakening us from sleep and making manifest
the true, eternal blessings, that we may occupy ourselves
with the Gospel of Christ and walk honorably in the day.
By the v/ord "night" we are to understand all doctrines



16 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

apart from the GospeL For there is no other saving doc-
trine ; all else is night and darkness.

16. Notice carefully Paul's v^rords. He designates the
most beautiful and vivifying time of the day — the delightful,
joyous dawn, the hour of sunrise. Then the night has
passed and the day broken. In response to the morning
dawn, birds sing, beasts arouse themselves and all humanity
arises. At daybreak, v/hen the sky is red in the east, the
world is apparently new and all things reanimated. In
many places in the Scriptures, the comforting, vivifying
preaching of the Gospel is com.pared to the m.orning dav/n,
to the rising of the sun ; sometimes the figure is implied and
sometimes plainly expressed, as here where Paul styles the
Gospel the breaking day. Again, Psalm 110, 3: "Thy
people offer themselves willingly in the day of thy power, in
holy array: out of the womb of the morning thou hast the
dew of thy youth." Here the Gospel is plainly denominated
the womb of the m.orning, the day of Christ's power, v/nere-
in, as the dew is born of the morning, we are conceived
and born children of Christ; and by no work of man, but
from heaven and through the Holy Spirit's grace.

17. This Gospel day is produced by the glorious Sun
Jesus Christ. Hence Malachi calls him the Sun of Right-
eousness, saying, "But unto you that fear my name shall
the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in its wings."
MaL 4, 2. All believers in Christ receive the light of his
grace, and righteousness, and shall rejoice in the shelter of
his wings. Again in Psalm 118, 24, we read: "This is the
day which Jehovah hath made; v/e will rejoice and be glad
in it." The meaning is : The natural sun makes the natural
day, but the Lord himself is the author of the spiritual day.
Christ is the Sun, the source of the Gospel day. From him
the Gospel brightness shines throughout the world. John



Online LibraryMartin LutherThe precious and sacred writings of Martin Luther ... based on the Kaiser chronological edition, with references to the Erlangen and Walch editions; (Volume 7) → online text (page 1 of 29)