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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Now, if ungodliness and worldly lusts were but something
painted upon the wall, you might escape them by running
out of the house; if they were knit into a red coat, you
might pull off the coat and don a gray one ; did they grow
in your hair, you might have it shaved off and wear a bald
pate; were they baked in the bread, you might eat roots
instead. But since they inhere in your heart and permeate
you through and through, where can you flee that you will
not carry them with you ? What can you wear under which
you vv^ill escape them? What will you eat and drink where-
in they will not be with you? In a word, what can you do
to escape yourself, since you cannot get out of yourself?
Dear man, the great tem.ptations are within you. To run
away from them v/ould necessitate, first, fleeing from your-
self. James says (ch 1, 14), "Each man is tempted, when
he is driven away by his own lust, and enticed."

16. The apostle means, not simply that we must flee
the outward temptations to sin, but, as he says, that we
must "deny" them, must mortify the lusts, or desires, within
ourselves. Our lusts being mortified, no external tempta-
tion can harm. By such subjection do we truly flee. If we
fail to mortify our desires, it will not avail to flee outward
temptations. We must remain amidst temptations and
there learn through grace to deny lusts and ungodliness. It
is written (Ps yo, 2), "Rule thou"— or apply thyself —
"in the midst of thine enemies." Conflict and not flight,
energy and not rest, must be the order in this life if we are

to win the crown.

17. We read of an ancient father who, unable to endure

temptation in a cloister, left it that he might in the wilder-
ness serve God in peace. But in the desert one day his
iittle water-jug overturned. He set it up, but it overturned
a second timiC. Becoming enraged, he dashed the vessel
into pieces. Then, saying within himself, "Since I cannot



122 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

find peace when alone, the defect must be in myself," he
returned to the cloister to suffer temptations, from that
time forward teaching that we must obtain the victory, not
by fleeing worldly lusts, but by denying them.
THE CHRISTIAN LIFE.

18. Paul goes on to show another thing wherein we are
instructed of grace — the Christian's manner of life after
ungodliness and worldly lusts are denied:

"We should live soberly and righteously and godly
in this present world."

What an excellent general rule of life he gives us! one
adapted to all conditions. He offers no occasion for sects.
He introduces no differing opinions of men, as the case is
with human doctrines.

First, he mentions "soberness," wherein is indicated what
should be the nature of man's conduct toward himself in
all respects. It calls for the subjection of the body, the keep-
ing of it well disciplined. In every place of our text where
the term "soberness" is used, Paul has the Greek word
"sophron," which signifies, not only soberness, but temper-
ance in every recognition of the body, in every ministration
to the flesh; in eating, drinking and sleeping, for instance;
in apparel, speech, manner and movement. Such soberness
represents what is known in German as honorable living
and good breeding. The sober m.an knov\^s how, in all phys-
ical relations, to conduct himself temperately, discreetly
and bravely; not leading a wild, shameless, unrestrained,
disorderly life, lax in regard to eating, drinking, sleeping,
and to speech, manner and movem.ent. In the earlier part
of the chapter, Paul devises that aged women teach the
young women to be "sober-minded" and chaste.

19. Excessive eating and drinking truly does greatly im-
pede our efforts to lead an honorable life. On the other
hand, temperance contributes much to accomplish it. The
moment one indulges his appetite to excess, he loses perfect
control of himself; his five senses become unmanageable.
Experience teaches that when the stomach is filled with
meat and drink, the mouth is filled with words, the ears with



FIRST CHRISTMAS SERMON. 123

the lust of hearing, the eyes with the lust of seeing. The
whole system either becomes indolent, drowsy, dull, or else
it grows wild and dissolute, all the members overleaping
the bounds of reason and propriety, until no discipline nor
moderation remains. The word in our text, therefore, is
not inaptly Latinized "sobrius," "soberness." In Greek,
the word "sophron" is the opposite of "asotos," just as in
German "voellerei'* and "msszigkeit," "drunkenness" and
"soberness," are contrasting terms. Examining the Latin
"sobrius," we find it does not signify total abstinence from
food and drink. "Sobrius" and "ebrius" are also contrast-
ing terms, like the German "trunkenheit oder voellerei" and
"nuechterkeit," "drunkenness or ebriety" and "soberness."
We Germans also call that individual "nuechtern," "sober,"
who, though he may have eaten and drunk, is not intoxi-
cated, but has perfect control of himself.

20. You see now the manner of good works advocated
by the apostle. He does not require us to make pilgrim-
ages; he does not forbid certain foods; nor does he pre-
scribe a particular garb, nor certain fast days. His teach-
ing is not that of the class who, in obedience to human
laws, separate themselves from m.en, basing their spiritual-
ity and goodness upon the peculiarity of their garb and
diet, their manner of wearing the hair, their observance of
times; who seek to become righteous by not conforming
to custom in the matter of clothing, diet, occupation, sea-
sons and movements. They are given an appropriate name
in the Gospel — "pharisasi," meaning "excluded" or "separ-
ated." In Psalm 80, 13, the prophet calls them "monios,"
signifying "a solitary one." The name primarily is applied
to a wild hog of solitary habits. We shall hereafter desig-
nate this class as "solitary." As the psalmist complains,
they make terrible havoc of God's vineyard. These phari-
sees, or solitary ones, make great show with their tradi-
tions, their peculiar garb, their meats, days and physical
attitudes. They easily draw away the multitude from the
common customs of life to their ways. As Christ tells us
(Mt 24, 24), even the elect can scarce resist them.



124 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

21. Let us learn here from Paul that no meats, drinks,
apparel, colors, times, attitudes, are forbidden and none are
prescribed. In all these things, everyone is given free-
dom, if only they be used in soberness, or moderation. As
said before, these temporalities are not forbidden. Only
the abuse of them, only excess and disorder therein, is pro-
hibited. V\^here there is distinction and emphasis on such
matters, there you will surely find human laws; not evan-
gelical doctrine, not Christian liberty. Without soberness,
or moderation, the ultimate result must be dissimulation,
and hypocrisy. Therefore, make use of all earthly things
when and where you please, giving thanks to God. This
is Paul's teaching. Only guard against excess, disorder,
misuse and licentiousness relative to temporal things and
you will be in the right way. Do not permit yourself to be
misled by the fact that the holy fathers established orders
and sects, made use of certain meats and certain apparel,
and conducted themselves thus and so. Their object was
not peculiar eminence — therein they would have been un-
holy — but their conduct was of preference, and as a means
for exercising moderation. Likewise do you exercise mod-
eration as you see fit, and maintain your freedom. Con-
fine not yourself to manners and methods, as if godly living
consisted in them. Otherwise you v/ill be solitary and de-
prived of the com^munion of saints. Diligently guard against
such narrowness. We must fast, we must watch and labor,
we must wear inferior clothing, and so on; but only on
occasions when the body seems to need restraint and mor-
tification. Do not set apart a specified time and place, but
exercise your self-denial as necessity requires. Then you
will be fasting rightly. You will fast every day in deny-
ing worldly lusts. So the Gospel teaches, and they who
follow this course are of the New Testament dispensation.

22. Secondly, Paul says we should be "righteous" in
our lives. No work, however, nor particular time, is here
designated as the way to righteousness. In the ways of
God is universal freedom. It is left to the individual to
exercise his liberty; to do right when, where and to whom



FIRST CHRISTMAS SERMON. 125

occasion offers. Herein Paul gives a hint of how we should
conduct ourselves toward our neighbor — righteously. We
owe him that righteousness which consists in doing to him
as we would have him do to us; in granting to him all
we would have him grant us. We are to do our neighbor
no bodily harm, no injury to his wife, children, friends, pos-
sessions, honor or anything of his. Rather we are obli-
gated, wherever we see he needs our assistance, to aid him,
to stand by him, at the risk of our bodies, our property, our
honor and everything that is ours. Righteousness consists
in rendering to each one his due. What a little word to
comprehend so much ! How few walk in this way of right-
eousness, though otherwise living blamelessly! We do
everything else but what saving grace reveals to us as our

duty to do.

23. The word "neighbor" must be construed to mciude

even an enemy. But the way of righteousness is entirely
obliterated. It is much more overgrown in neglect than
the v/ay of moderation, which itself is almost wholly un-
trodden and effaced because of the introduction of certain
meats and apparel, certain movements and display. These
things have been superabundantly, more than profusely, in-
sinuated. We ape after set forms, and make fools of our-
selves with rosaries, with ecclesiastical and feudal institu-
tions, with hearing of masses, with festivals, with self-de-
vised works concerning which is no divine command. ^ O
Lord God, how wide hell has opened her mouth (see Isaiah
5, 14) ; and how narrow has the gate of heaven become in
consequence of the accursed doctrines and devices of these
solitary and pharisaical persons! The prophets unv/ittingly
paint the picture of present-day conditions. They repre-
sent hell by the wide-open mouth of a dragon, and heaven
by a closed door. Oh, the wretchedness of the picture!

24. It is not necessary to inquire what outward works
you can perform. Look to your neighbor. There you will
find enough to do, a thousand kind offices to render. Do
not suffer yourself to be misled into believing you will
reach heaven by praying and attending church, by contribut-



126 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

ing to institutions and monuments, while you pass by your
neighbor. If you pass him in this life, he will lie in your
way in the life to come and cause you to go by the door
of heaven as did the rich man who left Lazarus lying at
his gate. "Wo to us priests, monks, bishops and Pope!
What do we preach? what teach? How we lead the piti-
able multitude from the way ! The blind leading the blind,
both shall fall into the ditch. Such doctrines as Paul de-
clares in the conclusion of this lesson — these are what we
should teach.

25. In the third place, we are taught we must live
"godly" lives. Here we are reminded of how to conduct
ourselves toward God. Now we are fully instructed con-
cerning our duty to ourselves, to our neighbors and to God.
As before said, impiety signifies wickedness, ungodliness,
lack of grace. Piety, on the other hand, means having faith,
godliness, grace. Godly living consists in trusting God, in
relying on his grace alone, regarding no work not wrought
in us by him, through grace. If we are godly, we will rec-
ognize, honor, adore, praise and love God. Briefly in two
words, to live godly is to fear and trust God. As it is writ-
ten (Ps 147, 11), ''Jehovah taketh pleasure in them that
fear him, in those that hope in his lovingkindness." See
also Ps 33, 18. To fear God is to look upon our own devices
as pure ungodliness in the light of his manifest grace.
These being ungodly, v/e are to fear God and forsake them,
and thereafter guard against them. To trust in God is to
have perfect confidence that he will be gracious to us, fill-
ing us with grace and godliness.

26. The individual yields to God when he gives himself
wholly to God, attempting nothing of himself but permit-
ting the Lord to v/ork in and to rule him; when his whole
concern and fear, his continual prayer and desire, are for
God to withhold him from following his own works and
ways, which he now recognizes as ungodly and deserving
of wrath, and to rule over and work in him through grace.
Thus the individual will obtain a clear conscience and will
love and praise God. Observe, they are pious and filled



FIRST CHRISTMAS SERMON. 127

with grace, v/ho do not walk by reason, do not trust in
human nature, but rely only on the grace of God, ever fear-
ful lest they fall from grace into dependence upon their
own reason, their self-conceit, good intentions and self-de-
vised works. The theme of the entire one-hundred-and-
nineteenth psalm is trust in God. In every one of its one
hundred and seventy-six verses, David breathes the same
prayer. Reliance upon God is a subject of such vital im-
portance, and so numerous are the difficulties and dangers
attending human nature and reason and human doctrine, we
cannot be too much on our guard.

27. The way of God does not require us to build
churches and cathedrals, to make pilgrimages, to hear mass,
and so on. God requires a heart moved by his grace, a
life mistrustful of all ways not emanating from grace. Noth-
ing more can one render God than such loyalty. All else
is rather his gift to us. He says (Ps 50, 14-15), in effect:
"Think not, O Israel, I inquire after thy gifts and offerings ;
for everything in heaven and earth is mine. This is the
service I require of thee: to offer unto me thanksgiving
and pay thy vows. Call upon me in the day of trouble and
I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify m.e." In other
words : Thou hast vowed that I should be thy God. Then
keep this vow. Let me work ; perform not thine own works.
Let me help thee in thy need. For everything, look to
me. Let me alone direct thy life. Then wilt thou be able
to know me and my grace; to love and praise me. This
is the true road to salvation. If thou doest otherwise, per-
forming thine own works, thou wilt give thyself praise,
wilt disregard me and refuse to accept me as thy God.
Thou wilt prove treacherous and break thy vow.

28. Note, such obedience to God is real, divine service.
For this service we need no bells nor churches, no vessels
nor ornaments. Lights and candles are not necessary;
neither are organs and singing, images and pictures, tables
and altars. We require not bald pates nor caps, not in-
cense nor sprinkling, not processions nor handling of the
cross; neither are indulgences nor briefs essential. All



128 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

these are human inventions, mere miatters of taste. God
does not regard them, and too often they obscure with their
glitter the true service of God. Only one thing is neces-
sary to right service — the GospeL Let the Gospel be prop-
erly urged; through it let divine service be made known to
the people. The Gospel is the true bell, the true organ,
for divine service.

29. Further, Paul says we are to live as he describes "in
this present world." First: the perfect life cannot be ac-
complished by works ; our whole life, while we remain here,
must be sober, righteous and godly. Christ promises (Mt
10, 22), *'He that endureth to the end, the same shall be
saved.'* Now, there are some who, it must be admitted,
occasionally accomplish good; but occasional accomplish-
ment is not a complete life of goodness, nor does it mean en-
durance to the end. Second: No one can afford to leave
this matter of a godly life until death, or until another
world is reached. Whatever we would have in the life to
come must be secured here.

30. Many depend upon purgatory, living as it pleases
them to the end and expecting to profit by vigils and soul-
masses after death.« Truly, they will fail to receive profit
therein. It were well had purgatory never been conceived
of. Belief in purgatory suppresses much good, establishes
many cloisters and monasteries and employs numerous
priests and monks. It is a serious drawback to these three
features of Christian living: soberness, righteousness and
godliness. Moreover, God has not commanded, nor even
mentioned, purgatory. The doctrine is wholly, or for the
most part, deception ; God pardon me if I am wrong. It is,
to say the least, dangerous to accept, to build upon, any-
thing not designated by God, when it is all we can do to
stand in building upon the institutions of God which can
never waver. The injunction of Paul to live rightly in this
present world is truly a severe thrust at purgatory. He
would not have us jeopardize our faith. Not that I, at this
late day (when we write 1522), deny the existence of pur-
gatory; but it is dangerous to preach it, whatever of truth



FIRST CHRISTMAS SERMON. 129

there may be in the doctrine, because the "Word of God,
the Scriptures, make no mention of a purgatory.

31. Paul's chief reason, however, for making use of
the phrase "in this present world" is to emphasize the
power of God's saving grace. In the extreme wickedness
of the world, the godly person is as one alone, unexampled
as it were, a rose among thorns; therefore he mxUSt endure
every form of misfortune, of censure, shame and wrong.
The apostle's thought is: He who v/ould live soberly,
righteously and godly must expect to meet all manner of
enmity and must take up the cross. He must not allow
him^self to be misled, even though he has to live alone, like
Lot in Sodom and Abraham in Canaan, am.ong none but
the gluttonous, the drunken, the incontinent, unrighteous,
false and ungodly. His environment is world and must re-
main world. He has to resist and overcome the entice-
ments of earth, censuring worldly desires. To live right
in this present world, mark you, is like living soberly in a
saloon, chastely in a brothel, godly in a gaiety hall, up-
rightly in a den of murderers. The character of the world
is such as to render our earthly life difficult and distressing,
until we longingly cry out for death and the day of judg-
ment, and await them with ardent desire ; as the next clause
in the text indicates. Life being subject to so many evils,
its only hope is in being led by grace. Human nature and
reason are at a loss to direct it.

"Looking for the blessed hope."
32. With these words the apostle makes the godly life
clearly distinct from every other life. Here is the text that
enables one to perceive how he measures up to the life of
grace. Let all who presume to think they live godly, step
forward and answer as to whether or no they delight in
this hope, as here pictured; whether they are so prepared
for the day of judgment that they await it wnth pleasure;
whether they regard it as more than endurable, as even
a blessed event to be contemplated with longing and with
cheerful confidence. Is it not true that human nature ever
shrinks from the judgment? Is it not true that if the ad-



130 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

vent of that day rested upon the world's pleasure in the
matter, it would never come? and particularly in the case
of hypocritical saints? Where, then, does human nature
stand? where reason? where the free-will so much extolled
as inclined to and potent for good? Why does free-will
not only flee from good but shrink from that honor to the
God of salvation which the apostle here refers to as a
"blessed hope" and in v/hich hope we shall be blessed?
What is to prevent the conclusion here that they who shrink
from the judgment lead lives impious, blamable and devoid
of grace, the evils and ungodliness of which they might,
but for the approach of that day, conceal? What is more
ungodly than to strive against God's will? But is not that
just what the individual does who would flee from the day
wherein the honor of God shall be revealed, who does
not await the event v^ith a loving and joyful heart? Mark
you, then, he who desires not that day and does not with
delight and with love to God await it, is not living a godly
Itfe, not though he is able even to raise the dead.

33. "Then it must be," you say, "that few lead godly
lives, particularly among those solitary, spiritual ones who
above all men flee death and the judgment." That is just
what I have said. These separated individuals sim.ply lead
themselves and others from the true path, obliterating the
ways marked out of God. Plainly v/e see now how little
reason and nature can accomplish; they but strive against
God. And we see how necessary is saving grace. For
when our own works are abandoned, God comes and alone
works in us, enabling us to rise from ourselves, from our
ungodly conduct, to a supernatural, grace-filled, godly
life. Then we not only do not fear the day of judgment,
but cheerfully, even longingly, await it, contemplating it
with joy and pleasure. This point has been further treated
in the Gospel lesson for the second Sunday in Advent.

34. True godliness, you note, is not taught by human
nature or mortal reason, but by the manifest grace of God.
By grace are we enabled to deny worldly lusts, even to
feel aversion to them, to desire liberation from them, to be



FIRST CHRISTMAS SERMON. 131

dissatisfied with our manner of life in general. More than
that, it creates in us a disposition essential to godliness, a
disposition to entreat God with perfect confidence and to
await with pleasure his coming. So should we be disposed.
35. Now, let us carefully weigh the words "blessed
hope." A contrast is presented to that miserably unhappy
life wherein, when we attempt to walk uprightly, we are
only harassed by misfortune, danger and sin. All in this
life serves but to vex, v/nile we have every reason to be
encouraged in that hope. Such is the experience of them
v/ho earnestly endeavor to live soberly, righteously and
godly. The world cannot long endure this class; it soon
regards them as repulsive. Paul testifies (Rom 5, 3) : "We
also rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that tribulation
worketh stedf astness ; and stedfastness, approvedness ; and
approvedness, hope: and hope putteth not to shame." Thus
our eyes remain closed to the wordly and visible, and open
to the eternal and invisible. * All this transformed condi-
tion is the work of grace, through the cross, which we must
endure if v^^e attem.pt to lead a godly life, the life the world
cannot tolerate.

"And appearing of the glory."
36. Paul's word for "advent" here is "epiphaniam," "ap-
.pearing" or "manifestation." Similarly, he spoke above of
the "appearance" or "manifestation" of grace. The word
"advent" in the Latin, therefore, does not express all. The
apostle would make a distinction between the first appear-
ing and the last. The first appearing was attended by hu-
mility and dishonor, with intent to attract little attention
and occasion no manifestation but that made in faith and
through the Gospel. Christ is at present not manifest in
person, but on the day of judgment he will appear in efful-
gent splendor, in undimmed honor; a splendor and honor
eternally manifest to all creatures. The last day will be an
eternal day. Upon the instant of its appearing every heart
and all things will stand revealed. Such is the meaning of
"the appearing of glory" mentioned, the appearance of
Christ's honor? Then there will be neither preaching nor



132 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

faith. To all men everything will be manifest by experi-
ence, and by sight as in a clear day. Hence Paul adds,

"Of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ,"
Not that another and lesser God exists; but that God
has reserved unto the last day the displaying of his great-
ness and majesty, his glory and effulgence. We behold
him nov/ in the Gospel and in faith — a narrow view of him.
Here he is not great because but slightly comprehended.
But in the last appearing he will permit us to behold him
in his greatness and majesty.

37. The words of this verse afford comfort to all who
live soberly, righteously and godly. For the apostle there-
in declares the coming glory, not of our enemy or judge,
but of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, who will at that time give
us perfect happiness. For the day of that glorious appear-
ing he will make the occasion of our liberation from this
world wherein we must endure so much in the effort to



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 11 of 29)