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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boast of his worthiness, or need despair because of his un-
worthiness. All mankind may be equally comforted in the
unmerited grace God kindly and humanely offers and applies.
Had there ever been a meritorious individual or a work
worthy of consideration, it surely would have been found the doers of "works of righteousness." But Paul
rejects especially these, saying, "not by works of righteous-
ness which we have done." How much less reason have we
to think the kindness and love of God has appeared ii
consequence of man's wisdom, power, nobility, wealth and
the color of his hair! The grace which cancels all our
boasted honor, ascribing glory aione to God who freely be-
stows it upon the unworthy, is pure as v\^ell as great.

9. This epistle instills the two further principles of be-
lieving and loving — receiving favors from God and granting
favors to our neighbors. The entire Scriptures enforce
these two precepts, and the practice of one requires the
practice of the other. He who does not firmly believe in
God's grace assuredly will not extend kindness to his neigh-
bor, but will be tardy and indifferent in aiding him. In pro-
portion to the strength of his faith will be his v/illingness
and industry in helping his neighbor. Thus faith incites
love, and love increases faith.

10. Now we see how utterly we fail to walk in faith
when we presume to arrive at goodness and happiness by
any other good works than those done to our neighbor. So
numerous are the new works and doctrines daily devised,
everything like a correct conception of a truly good life is
wholly destroyed. But the fact is, all Christian doctrines
and works, all Christian living, is briefly, clearly and com-
pletely comprehended in these two principles, faith and
love. They place man as a medium between God and his
neighbor, to receive from above and distribute belov/. Thus
the Christian becomes a vessel, or rather a channel, through
which the fountain of divine blessings continuously flows to
other individuals.


11. Mark you, the truly godlike are they who receive
from God all he offers through Christ, and in return ac-
credit themselves by their beneficence, performing for
others the part God performs for them. Psalm 82, 6 is in
point here: "I said, Ye are gods, and all of you sons of
the Most High." Sons of God are we, through the faith
that constitutes us heirs of all divine blessings. But we
are also "gods" through the love that makes us beneficent
toward our neighbor. The divine nature is simply pure
beneficence, or as Paul here says, kindness and love, daily
pouring out blessings in abundance upon all creatures; as
we everywhere witness.

12. Take heed, then, to embrace the message of these
v/ords presenting the love and kindness of God to all men.
Daily exercise your faith therein, entertaining no doubt of
God's love and kindness toward you, and you shall realize
his blessings. Then you may v/ith perfect confidence ask
what you will, what your heart desires, and whatever is
necessary for the good of yourself and your fellow-men.
But if you do not so believe, it were far better you had
never heard the message. For by unbelief you make false
these precious, comforting, gracious words. You conduct
yourself as if you regarded them untrue, v/hich attitude is
extreme dishonor to God; no more enormous sin could be


13. But if you possess faith, your heart cannot do other-

v/ise than laugh for joy in God, and grow free, confident and
courageous. For how can the heart remain sorrowful and
dejected when it entertains no doubt of God's kindness to
it, and of his attitude as a good friend with whom it may
unreservedly and freely enjoy all things? Such joy and
pleasure must follow faith; if they are not ours, certainly
something is wrong with our faith. This act of faith the
apostle in Galatians terms "receiving the Koly Spirit" in
and through the Gospel. The Gospel is a message concern-
ing the love and mercy of God so gracious as to bring with
it to preacher and hearer the presence of the Holy Spirit;
just as the rays of the sun bear in themselves, and transmit,


14. How could Paul have presented words conveying
more love and graciousness? I venture to assert I have
never read, in the entire Scriptures, words more beautifully-
expressive of the grace of God than these two — "Chrestotes"
and "Philanthropia," friendliness and philanthropy. They
represent grace not only as procuring for us remission of
sins, but as God ever present with us, embracing us in his
friendship, ever ready to help us and offering to do for us
according to all we desire; in short, as a good and willing
friend, to whom we may look for every favor and accom-
modation. Picture to your imagination a sincere friend and
you v/ill have an idea of God's attitude toward you in the
person of Christ, though a very imperfect representation of
his superabundant grace.

15. Now, if you steadfastly believ^;, if you rejoice in God
your Lord, if you are alive and his grace satisfies, if your
wants are all supplied, how will you employ yourself in this
earthly life? Inactive you cannot be. Such a disposition
of love toward God cannot rest. Your zeal will be warm to
do everything you know will be to the praise and glory of
a kind and gracious God. At this point there is no longer
distinction of works. Here all commands terminate. There
is neither restraint nor compulsion, but a joyful willingness
and delight in doing good, whether the intended achieve-
ment be insignificant or difficult, small or great, requiring
short service or long.

16. Your first desire v^ill be that all men may obtain the
same knowledge of divine grace. Hence your love will not
be restrained from serving all to the fullest extent, preach-
ing and proclaiming the divine truth wherever possible, and
rejecting all doctrine and life not in harmony v/ith this teach-
ing. But take note, the devil and the world, unwilling that
their devices be rejected, cannot endure the knowledge of
what you do. They will oppose you with everything great,
learned, wealthy and powerful, and represent you as a her-
etic and insane.

Mark you, you will be brought to the cress for the sake
of the truth, as was Christ your Lord. You will have to


endure the extremity of reproach. You must endanger all
your property, friends and honor, your body and life, until
thrust out of this life into eternity. In the midst of these
trials, however, rejoice, cheerfully enduring alL Regard
your enemies with the utmost charity. Act kindly, ever
remembering you yourself were once as they are in the sight
of God. Faith and love certainly can do it. Note this:
the truly Christian life is that which does for others as God
has done for itself.

17. Such is the apostle's meaning when he tells us the
kindness of God did not appear unto us, or save us, be-»
cause of our righteousness. His thought is: If we, though
unworthy, were received through mercy, to enjoy the favors
of God in spite of our great demerits and the enormity of
our sins, why should we withhold our favors from others,
whose merits have claims upon us? Let us not withhold;
no, let us rather be children of God, doing good even to our
enemies and to evil-doers: for so God has done, and still
does, to us, evil-doers and his enemies. This teaching is
in harmony with Christ's (Mt 5, 44-46) : "Love your ene-
mies . . . that yie may be sons of your Father who is
in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and
the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. For
if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? da
not even the publicans the same?"

18. Paul not only forcibly rejects us for our evil deeds,
but goes so far as to say, "Not by works of righteousness
which we have done." He means the works regarded by
ourselves as good — our righteousness in our own eyes and
in the eyes of others — ^but which only render us more unfit
to receive God's grace because they are in themselves de-
ceitful and because we commit a twofold sin in looking
upon them as good and in relying upon them; an attitude
to provoke God's displeasure.

19. Similarly do our enemies, who while in the wrong
yet maintain, in opposition to us, their faultlessness, for
the most part provoke us to anger. Yet we are not to re-
fuse them kindness. God, solely for his mercy's sake, re-


fused not kindness to us in similar errors, when we foolishly
imagined all we did was right. As he dealt not with us ac-
cording to our imagined righteousness, so should we in re-
turn not deal with our enemies according to their merits
or demerits, but assist them from pure love, looking for
thanks and reward, not from them, but from God. Let this
be sufficient for a summary of this epistle.

20. Now let us consider the words Paul employs to de-
fine and advocate grace. In the first place he exalts it to
the rejection of all our righteousness and good works. We
are not to conclude it is a trivial thing he is rejecting here.
It is man's best earthly achievement — righteousness. Were
all men to concentrate their united efforts to attain wisdom
and virtue by their natural reason, knovAedge and free
will — as we read, for instance, of the illustrious virtues and
wisdom of certain pagan teachers and princes, Socrates,
Trajan, and others, to whom all the world gives written and
oral applause — were all men so to do, yet such wisdom and
virtue are, in the sight of God, nothing but sin, and alto-
gether reprehensible. The reason is, they are not attained
in the grace of God; the achievers know not God and have
not honored him in the effort, for they consider they have
wrought by their own abilities. Righteousness is not taught
otherwise than by grace, in the Gospel.

Paul boasts that he once led a life altogether irreproach-
able, and superior to the lives of his intellectual equals (Gal
1, 14), wherein he presumptuously thought he did right in
persecuting the Christians v/ho rejected that sort of piety.
But after he had learned to know Christ, he declared he
regarded his righteousness but filth and refuse that he might
be found, not in his own righteousness, but in Christ and in
faith, as he further shows in Phil 3, 9 and Gal 1, 14.

21. So he discards all boasted free will, all human virtue,
righteousness and good works. He concludes they all are
nothing and are wholly perverted, however brilliant and
worthy they may appear, and teaches that we must be saved
solely by the grace of God, which is effective for all be-
lievers who desire it from a correct conception of their own
ruin and nothingness.


22. Now, it is essential that we accustom ourselves to
interpret rightly the Scripture teaching o£ two kinds of
righteousness. There is a human righteousness, to which
Paul here and often elsewhere refers, and a divine righteous-
ness — or divine grace — which justifies us through faith.
Paul so expresses it in the conclusion of this epistle : ''That,
being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs accord-
ing to the hope of eternal life." You see, the grace of God,
and righteousness, become ours; we say "righteousness of
God" because he gives it, and "our righteousness" because
we receive it.

In Romans 1, 17 Paul tells us that the Gospel declares the
righteousness of God is obtained through faith; "as it is
written, The righteous shall live by faith." And it is stated
of Abraham in Genesis 15, 6: "And he believed in Jehovah;
and he reckoned it to him for righteousness." So the Script-
ure conclusion is, no one is justified before God except the
believer ; witness the quotation just given and that other by
Paul from Habakkuk 2, 4, "The righteous shall live by his
faith." So faith, grace, mercy and truth are one thing,
wrought in us by God, through the Gospel of Christ; as it
is written: "All the paths of Jehovah are lovingkindness
and truth." Ps 25, 10.

23. We walk in "the paths of Jehovah," and he is in us
when we observe his commandments. To be God's, the way
must proceed in divine mercy and truth; not in our own
ability or strength, for such are, in the eyes of God, ways
of wrath and falsehood. Ke says (Is 55, 9) : "For as the
heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher
than your ways." In other words, "Your ways are earthly
and ineffectual ; you must walk in my heavenly ways if you
are to be saved."

"But according to his mercy he saved us."
^ 24. Kow are these words, reading as if we were already
saved, to pass criticism? Are we not still on earth, in the
midst of afflictions? I answer: The statement is made in
just this way to emphasize the power of divine grace and
the character of faith as opposed to the erring self-righteous,


who essay to obtain salvation through their works, as if it
were not right at hand. But salvation is not so to be at-
tained. Christ has saved us once for all, and in a twofold
manner: First, he has done all that is necessary for our
salvation — conquered and destroyed sin, death and hell,
leaving no more there for anyone to do. Secondly, he has
conveyed all these blessings unto us in baptism. He v/ho
confidently believes Christ has accomplished these things,
immediately, in the twinkling of an eye, possesses salva-
tion. All his sins and the reality of death and hell are re-
moved. Nothing more than such faith is necessary to salva-

25. Take note, God pours out upon us in baptism super-
abundant blessings for the purpose of excluding the works
whereby men foolishly presume to merit heaven and gain
happiness. Yes, dear friend, you must first possess heaven
and salvation before you can do good works. Works never
merit heaven; heaven is conferred purely of grace. Good
works are to be performed without any thought of merit,
sim.ply for the benefit of one's neighbor and for the honor
of God ; until the body, too, shall be released from sin, death
and hell. The true Christian's whole life after baptism is
but a waiting for the manifestation of the salvation already
his. He is certainly in full possession of the eternal life
yet concealed in faith.

When faith is removed by fulfilment, salvation is mani-
fest in the believer. This takes place at physical death. It
is written (1 Jn 3, 2-3) : "Beloved, now are we children of
God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be.
We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like
him ; for v/e shall see him even as he is. And every one that
hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as he is

26. Therefore, let not the work-righteous who disregard
faith mislead you, placing your salvation far ahead of you
and compelling you to obtain it by works. It is within you,
dear friend; it is already obtained. Christ says (Lk 17, 21) :
"The kingdom of God is within you." Hence the life we


live after baptism is but a tarrying, a waiting and longing
for the manifestation of v/hat is within ourselves, an ap-
prehension of that for which we are apprehended. Paul
declares (Phil 3, 12), *1 follow after, if that I may ap-
prehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ
Jesus"; that is, that he may see the blessings given in the
shrine of faith. The apostle is eager to behold the treasure
that baptism has granted and sealed to him in faith.

In this same third chapter of Philippians Paul says:
"Our citizenship is in heaven" — that is, now — "whence also
we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall
fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be
conformed to the body of his glory." In Galatians 4, 9,
when saying, "Nov/ that ye have come to know God," he
recalls the words and adds, "or rather to be knov\^n by God."
While both these things are in point, there is a difference
in their meaning: we are known of God, already appre-
hended ; but we do not yet know and apprehend him. Our
knowledge is hidden and withholden in faith.

Again, the apostle tells us (Rom 8, 24-25) we are saved
in hope; that is, our salvation is not yet manifest. "Hope
that is seen is not hope," he says, "for who hopeth for that
which he seeth? But if we hope for that which we see not,
then do we with patience wait for it." And Christ (Lk 12,
35-36) commands: "Let your loins be girded about, and
your lamps burning; and be ye yourselves like unto men
looking for their lord, when he shall return from the mar-
riage feast; that, when he cometh and knocketh, they may
straightway open unto him." Paul also said in the preced-
ing epistle lesson (Tit 2, 12-13) : "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."

27. These and similar passages prove we are even now
saved and that a Christian should not seek works as a
means of salvation. The delusive doctrine of works blinds
the Christian's eyes, perverts a right understanding of faith
and forces him from the way of truth and salvation. Sal-


vation by grace is implied in the words, "According to his
mercy he saved us," and again in the latter part of the les-
son where it reads, "that we might be made heirs according
to the hope of eternal life." We are heirs — though the fact
is unrevealed in faith — and wait in hope for the manifesta-
tion of our inheritance.

28. The life of waiting we must live after we are bap-
tized is designed to subdue the flesh and to display the
power of grace in the conflict against the flesh, the world
and the devil; and thus ultimately to enable us to serve
our neighbors, by our preaching and example bringing them
also into the faith. Though God might convert men through
angels, he desires to accomplish it by human beings — by us,
so that faith might be established and completed in a more
congenial way through a kindred agency. Were angels con-
stantly to dwell with us, faith would cease here. The in-
strumentality of angels would not be so congenial as that of
our fellow-creatures, whom we are familiar with and under-
stand. If we all were taken to heaven immediately after
baptism, who would convert the others and bring them to
God by means of the Word and a good example?

29. The fact that we expend so much by reason of pur-
gatory and, forgetful of faith, presume to secure ourselves
against purgatory or to liberate us from it by good works,
unquestionably indicates we are under the influence of thr»
devil and of Antichrist. We proceed as if our salvation
were not already secured but we must gain it in some other
way than by faith; and this even though plainly in contra-
diction of the Scriptures and of the principles of Christianity.
He who does not receive salvation purely through grace,
independently of all good works, certainly will never secure
It. And he who makes his good works serve his own ad-
vantage, seeking to profit himself and not his neighbor
thereby, performs no good work. All his doctrine is with-
out faith and is such harmful error and deceit that I wish
purgatory had never been instituted or introduced into
the pulpit, for it is very destructive of Christian truth and
true faith.


So great has been the devil's influence, nearly all institu-
tions, cloister ceremonials, masses and prayers have refer-
ence simply to purgatory, leading us to the pernicious in-
ference that through works we must improve our condition
and secure salvation. So the blessings of baptism and faith
must be obscured, and Christians must ultimately become
pure heathen.

30. O Lord God, 'what abominable wickedness! When
we should, like Christ and Paul, teach Christians to consider
themselves, after baptism or absolution, ready for death at
any hour and waiting for the manifestation of the salvation
already theirs, we by relying on purgatory afford them in-
dolence-fostering security. In such security they consider
only this life, deferring and procrastinating in the matter o£
salvation until they come to their death-beds, there to effect
sorrow and repentance and to presume, by ceremonials,
soul-masses and bequests, to liberate themselves from pur-
gatory. They will surely become conscious of their mis-
take. Now follows :

"Through the washing of regeneration, and renewing
of the Holy Spirit."

31. How beautifully the apostle in these strong words
extols the grace of God bestowed in baptism ! He I'ef ers to
baptism as a washing, whereby not our feet only, not our
hands, but our whole bodies are cleansed. Baptism perfectly
and instantaneously cleanses and saves. For the vital part
of salvation and its inheritance, nothing more is necessary
than this faith in the grace of God. Truly, then, are we
saved by grace alone, without works or other merit. So,
eternally pure love, praise and gratitude for, and honor unto,
divine mercy shall possess us; we will not boast of nor de-
light in our own powers or achievements : as has already fre-
quently and sufficiently been declared.

32. The righteousness of man, however, is a different
sort of cleansing, simply a washing of garments and vessels,
as recorded of hypocrites in Matthew 23, 25. Externally
they appear clean, but internally remain full indeed of filth.
Paul terms baptism not a bodily cleansing, but a "washing


of regeneration.'* It is not a superficial washing of the skin,
a physical cleansing; it converts the whole nature, destroy-
ing the first birth, that of the flesh, with all inherited sin
and condemnation.

This verse clearly indicates that salvation is not to be se-
cured by works, but is an instantaneous gift. In physical
birth we are given, not one member alone — hands or feet —
but the entire body and the life; our life operates, not to
effect birth, but because we are born. Similarly works do
not render us pure and godly or save us: we are first made
clean and godly, and receive salvation; then we freely per-
form good works to the honor of God and the benefit of our

33. This, mark you, is the true knowledge of the pure
grace of God. Thus we learn to know God and ourselves,
to praise him and reject ourselves, to seek consolation from
him and despair of ourselves. This doctrine is an occasion
of much stumbling to them who presume to compel men to
seek salvation by laws, commands and works.

34. For the sake of conveying a clearer understanding of
this washing and this regeneration, Paul adds the v/ord "re-
newing," because the individual is a new man, with a new
nature. He is a new creature, with an altogether different
disposition. He loves in a different way, and speaks, acts
and lives in a manner unlike his former self. The apostle
says (Gal 6, 15) : "For neither is circumcision anything,
nor uncircumcision" — that is, no work of the Law has sig-
nificance — "but a new creature." The thought is : It will
not do to patch up, or mend, the life here and there vv^ith
works. An entirely nev/ disposition is necessary ; the nature
must be changed. Then works will follow spontaneously.

35. Concerning this birth, Christ also declares (Jn 3, 3) :
"Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of
God." Here we are taught that works will not answer ; the
individual must himself die and obtain a different nature.
This takes place in baptism when he believes, for faith is
this renewing. The damned will also be born again in the
last day, but theirs will be a birth without a renewing.


They will remain unclean, as here in the old Adamic life.
So, then, this washing, this regeneration, makes new crea-

36. Much is said at various places in the Scriptures rel-
ative to the nev7 birth. God refers to his Word and Gospel
as the womb ("matricem" and "vulvam") of the new birth :
"Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of
the house of Israel, that have been borne by me from their
birth, that have been carried from the womb" (Is 46, 3), or
under my heart, as women speak of bearing children. Who-
soever believes the Gospel, is conceived and born of God.
But more on this subject at some other time.

37. We see how all these sayings overthrow works and
presumptuous human mandates, and make clear the nature
of faith, how the individual instantaneously and fully re-
ceives grace and is saved, v/orks not aiding him in the mat-
ter but following as a result. vSalvation by grace would be

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 13 of 29)