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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perfectly illustrated were God to produce from a dry log a
live, green tree, the tree then to bring forth natural fruit.
God's grace is powerful and effective. It does not, as vis-
ionary preachers presume to teach, lie dormant in the soul ;.
nor is it an accessory to works, as the paint is an accessory
to the wood. No, not so ; it carries, it leads, drives, draws,
changes. It effects all in man, making itself felt. Though
concealed, its works are manifest. Words and vv-orks show
where it is present, as the leaves and the fruit indicate the
nature of the tree.

38. To make faith no more than an aid or ornament to
works, as the sophists Thomas and Scotus, and the people,
erroneously and perversely do, is a doctrine wherein faith
falls far short of its real signincance. For it not only aids in
the accomplishment of works, but effects them unaided. In-
deed, more than that, it changes and renews the whole
being. Its object is to alter the character of the individual
rather than to accomplish works by him. It claims to be a
washing, a regeneration, a renewing, not only of works, but
of the whole man.

39. Note, Paul here freely and fully preaches the grace


of God. He does not say God has saved us by works. He
loudly proclaims that God has saved us by a regeneration
and a renewing. To patch up with works is unavailing;
conversion of our whole nature is necessary. Therefore, be-
lievers must suffer and die before grace can m.anifest itself
and reveal its nature. Observe, David says in this connec-
tion: "The works of Jehovah are great, sought out of all
them that have pleasure therein," Ps 111, 2. Who are these,
his works? We are, sought out through grace in baptism.
We are great v/orks, new works, new born. It is indeed
great that man is instantly saved, forever liberated from.
sin, death and hell. Hence, David says, "They are sought
out of ail them that have pleasure therein" or desire what
God designs to accomplish through them, and God does all
that man desires. But what can man desire more than to
be saved, to be delivered from sin, death and hell?

40. Finally : the apostle terms this washing a "regenera-
tion," a "renewing of the Holy Spirit," to fully express the
pov/er and efficacy of grace. This washing is a thing so
vitally important it must be effected, not by a creature, but
by the Holy Spirit. How completely, O holy Paul, thou
dost reject the free will, the good works and the great
merits of presumptuous saints ! How high thou exaltest our
salvation, at the same time bringing it so near to us! yes,
even within ourselves. How plainly and purely thou dost
preach grace. Let works, then, be here or there, to renew
the man, to change the life, is impossible except by the
washing of regeneration of the Holy Spirit.

41. That fact is plainly evident in the self-righteous.
None are more intolerant, presumptuous, proud and faith-
less than they. In their old Adamic nature, which they
clothe and adorn with good works, they remain intractable,
unrenewed and obdurate, hardened and immovable; their
evil nature is unchanged. They possess only outward
works. Oh, they are a people of pernicious influence, and
in the sight of God wholly destitute of grace, though they
imagine themselves his nearest friends.

42. Paul's teaching here accords with that of Christ in


John 3, 5, where he says, referring to the washing of regen-
eration: "Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he
cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Note here, the water
answers to the washing; to be born again, to regeneration
and renewing; and the Spirit, to him whom Paul mentions
as the Holy Spirit.

43. Note here also the apostle's apparent ignorance of
the sacrament of confirmation. He teaches, as does Christ,
the giving of the Holy Spirit in baptism ; in baptism we are
indeed born of the Holy Spirit. True, we read (Acts 8, 17)
how the apostles laid their hands upon those who had been
baptized, that they might receive the Holy Spirit. This in-
cident has been construed to sanction confirmation, but its
real purpose was to invoke the Holy Spirit as external evi-
dence, and the gift of divers tongues for the preaching of the
Gospel. But in course of time the ceremony was aban-
doned. It no longer exists except in ordination or con-
secration to the ministerial or preaching office. Even th^ere
it is deplorably abused. But more of this at some other

"Which he poured out upon us richly, through Jesus
Christ our Saviour."

44. Observe, the Holy Spirit is not merely given, but
"poured out"; not only that, but "abundant^ poured out."
The apostle seems unable to sufficiently magnify grace and
its works, while we, alas, estimate it so lovx^ in comparison
to our works. It would be absurd for God to pour out upon
us the Holy Spirit in such measure and j^'et to expect from
us, and in us, something whereby we might be justified and
saved ; as if the superabundant divine works were insunicient.

45. Were such the case, Paul here must have spoken in-
considerately and might justly be accused of falsehood. But
so bountifully does he represent to us the measure of grace,
clearly no one can rely too much upon the washing of re-
generation ; it is of unlimited importance. No one can place
too much confidence in it ; there is always occasion for more.
For God has embraced, in the Word and in faith, blessings
too great for mortal life to comprehend or to receive were


they to manifest themselves. As revelation begins, the in-
dividual dies; he passes out of this life, swallowed up in
the blessings he now by faith apprehends in very limited
measure. Thus more than abundantly are we justified and
saved without works if we only believe.

Peter says : "Through Christ he hath granted unto us his
precious and exceeding great promises; that through these
ye may become partakers of the divine nature." 2 Pet 1, 4.
He does not say "will be granted" but "hath granted." And
Christ says: "For God so loved the v/orld, that he gave
his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him
should not perish, but have eternal life." Jn 3, 16. Notice,
all who believe have eternal life. That being true, believers
certainly are just and holy without works. Works contrib-
ute nothing to justification. It is effected by pure grace
richly poured out upon us.

46. "But," you say, "how is it, then, the Scriptures so
frequently speak of salvation for them v/ho do good? For
instance, Christ says (Jn 5, 29) : 'And shall come forth ;
they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life ; and
they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.'
And Paul declares (Rom 2, 7-8) that honor and glory are
the reward of them who do good ; indignation and wrath, of
evil-doers. And he makes many similar declarations." I
answer: How are these passages to be interpreted? Not
otherwise than as they read — without additions: He who
does good shall be saved ; he who does evil shall be damned.
The difficulty lies in our error in judging according to ex-
ternal appearances in the matter of good works. The Script-
ures teach not that way, but that no one can do good until
he is himself good. He does not become good through
works, but his works are good because he is good. He be-
comes good through the washing of regeneration and in no
other way. This is the meaning of Christ's words (Mt 7,
17): "Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but the
corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit." And (Mt 12, 33) :
"Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the
tree corrupt, and its fruit corrupt."


47. True, the self-righteous perform works similar to
those of the regenerated ; indeed, their works are frequently
the more brilliant. They pray, fast, contribute money, erect
institutions, make pilgrimages and conduct themselves with
great ostentation. But Christ calls their works "sheep's
clothing" (Mt 7, 15) wherein move ravening wolves. None
of the self-righteous are really humble, mild, moderate and
good in their hearts. This fact is revealed when one crosses
them and rejects their works. Then they bring forth their
natural and identifying fruits: temerity, impatience, arbi-
trariness, obstinacy, slander and many other evil propensi-

48. Therefore it is true that he who does good shall be
saved — ^his salvation shall be revealed; but he could do
nothing good were he not already saved in the new birth.
The Scriptures sometimes have reference to the external
conduct of the good, and at others to their inner nature that
prompts the outward works, teaching present salvation be-
cause of the inner nature, and a future salvation if good is
done; that is, if the individual remains steadfast, his salva-
tion shall be revealed in the future.

49. The works we performed in our old, unregenerate
state, our Adamic nature, the apostle in this lesson rejects
when he says "not by works done in righteousness, which
we did ourselves." These may be good works, but not
before God, who looks first for personal goodness and after-
v/ard for the works. In Genesis 4, 4-5, he had respect first
unto Abel, and then unto his offering; and first rejected
Cain, and then his offering. Cain's offering, however, was
in external appearance good like that of Abel.

50. Paul significantly adds "through Jesus Christ our
Savour." The intent is to shelter us all under Christ, as
young chickens are gathered under the wings of the hen.
Christ himself says (Mt 23, 37): "O Jerusalem . . .
hov/ often would I have gathered thy children together,
even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and
ye would not!"

51. In the phrase above is taught the nature of true, liv-


ing faith. Such is the character of faith that it is not suffi-
cient to salvation for you to believe in God after the manner
of the Jews and many others, upon whom, however, he con-
ferred many blessings and temporal advantages; but it is
through Jesus Christ you must believe in God. In the first
place, you must not doubt that he is your gracious God and
Father, that he has forgiven all your sins and has saved you
in baptism. In the second place, you must know, too, that
all tliis has not been effected without cause — without satis-
faction having been rendered to his righteousness. There
is no reason for mercy and grace to operate upon and in us,
to aid us to obtain eternal blessings and salvation. Justice
must first be satisfied to the fullest extent. Christ says (Mt
5, 18: *'One jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away
from the law till all things be accomplished."

Whatever is promised of the grace and goodness of God
must be understood as only for those who perfectly fulfil
his commands. He says (Mic 2, 7) in reply to the Jews,
when they presumed they were great in the sight of God
and continually cried "Peace, peace!" and "Why should
God be so angry? Why should his benign Spirit have de-
parted from us?" — he replies, "Do not my words do good to
him that walketh uprightly?" No one, therefore, can attain
God's abundant grace unless he shall have rendered full
satisfaction to God's commands.

52. Now, enough has been said to show our works of
no value in God's sight, and ourselves unable to fulfil the
least of his commands, to perform a single work. How
much more impossible is it, then, for us to render full satis-
faction to his justice and become worthy of his grace ! Even
though we were able to keep all his commandments and to
make full satisfaction to his justice, yet we would not for
that reason be worthy of his grace and of salvation. He
would not be under any obligation to confer them upon us.
He might require it all as obligatory upon his creatures, who
must serve him. Whatever he grants is of pure grace and

This Christ clearly taught in the parable in Luke 17, 7-10:


"But v^ho is there of you, having a servant plowing or keep-
ing sheep, that will say unto him, when he is come in from
the field, come straightway and sit down to meat; and will
not rather say unto him. Make ready wherewith I may sup,
and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken ;
and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank the
servant because he did the things that were commanded?
Even so ye also, when ye shall have done all the things that
are commanded you, say. We are unprofitable servant!; we
have done that which it was our duty to do."

53. Nov/, if through grace and not of necessity heaven is
given to those who do ail they are under obligation to do;
if to such — provided, such there be — heaven is given not by
merit but through divine and gracious promises like that of
Matthew 19, 17, "If thou wouldest enter into life, keep the
commandments" : shall we then presume upon our wretched
good works? Why extol them as if their nature and not
the pure promise, the gracious Word of God, makes them
worthy of the kingdom of heaven ?

54. In the first place, God has given a Being to fully
satisfy divine justice for us alL In the second place, he has,
through this same Being, poured out his grace and his rich
blessings. So, then, notwithstanding grace is received by us
v/ithout price and without merit on our part — indeed, in
spite of great demerit and unworthiness — yet it is not be-
stowed without cause and deserved merit somewhere. As
Paul teaches (Rom 5, 18), v^e fell into sin not of our own
act or deserving, it being born in us from Adam in our
natural birth; and on the other hand, in the new birth we
enter into grace and salvation through Christ, without our
merit or works.

55. Hence the apostle is careful in every place where he
mentions grace and faith to add "through Jesus Christ," that
no one may be able to say, "I believe in God and am satis-

♦ fied with that." No, beloved friend, your belief must in-
clude a knowledge of how and through whom you believe.
You must know that God requires you to fulfil all his com-
mandments, to satisfy his justice, before he accepts your


faith unto salvation; and that though you were able to
render full satisfaction you would still have to await salva-
tion through grace alone, and not receive it on account of any
duties you perform, but rather your pride and presumption
must fall to the ground before God.

56. Observe the advantages you have in Christ. Through
him grace and salvation are conferred upon you, he having
rendered full obedience to all the commandments of God,
and satisfied God's justice, in your stead and for you. Grace
and salvation are conferred upon you because he is worthy.
This is true Christian faith.

No faith is sufficient but the Christian faith, the faith
that believes in Christ and accepts solely through him the
two principles — satisfaction of divine justice, and the gra-
cious bestov/al of eternal salvation. Paul, speaking of
Christ (Rom 4, 25), says, "Who was delivered up for our
trespasses, and was raised for our justification." Not only
was he given to put away sin and to fulfil the com.mand-
ments of God, but also to render us worthy, through him,
of possessing righteousness and of being children of grace.

Again, Paul says of Christ (Rom 3, 25), "Whom God set
forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood." It
is not just "faith" but "faith in his blood." With his blood,
and in our nature, he has rendered full satisfaction and be-
come for us a throne of grace. We receive absolution and
grace at no cost or labor on our part, but not without cost
and labor on the part of Christ.

57. We must, then, shelter ourselves under his wings
(Mt 23, 37) and not fly afar in the security of our own
faith, else we will soon be devoured by the hawk. Our
salvation must exist, not in our righteousness, but, as I
have often said, in Christ's righteousness, which is an out-
spread wing, or a tabernacle, to shelter us.

58. Our faith and all we may have received from God is
insufficient to salvation, wholly inadequate, unless faith
rests beneath the wings of Christ and firmly trusts that
not we but he can render, and has rendered, full satisfaction
to the justice of God for us ; and that grace and salvation


are not conferred upon us because of our faith but because
of the will of Christ. The pure grace of God, promised,
procured and bestowed upon us in Christ and through
Christ, must be perfectly recognized.

This is the teaching implied in John 14, 6, "No one
cometh unto the Father but by me." Christ's sole effort in
the whole Gospel is to draw us out of ourselves into him-
self ; he spreads out his wings and calls us together beneath
their shelter. To emphasize the grace of Christ is also
Paul's design in the conclusion of this lesson, where he

"That, being justified by his grace, we might be

made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This

is a faithful saying.'*

59. He does not say "justified by our faith" but "justi-
fied by the grace of Christ." Christ alone has favor with
God. No one but he has done the will of God and merited
eternal life. In view of the fact that he did it not for his
own sake but for ours, all believers should be so perfectly
one with Christ that all he has done for them will, through
him and his grace, be regarded as if the believer himself
had accomplished it. See w^hat an inexpressibly beneficent
thing Christian faith is — what inconceivably great blessings
it brings to all believers!

60. Let us learn from this epistle how precious is the
Gospel that proclaims these benefits, and what injury and
destruction of souls they effect who silently ignore the Gos-
pel and preach the works of the Law, yes, their own hu-
man doctrines. Guard, then, against false preachers and
also against false faith. Rely not upon yourself, nor upon
your faith. Flee to Christ; keep under his wings; remain
under his shelter. Let his righteousness and grace, not
yours, be your refuge. You are to be made an heir of eternal
life, not bv the grace you have yourself received, but, as
Paul says here, by Christ's grace.

Again, it is said in Psalm 91, 4, "He will cover thee with
his pinions, and under his wings shalt thou take refuge."
And in the Song of Solomon 2, 14, "O my dove, that art


in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the steep place."
That is, in the wounds of Christ the soul is preserved. Ob-
serve, true Christian faith does not take refuge in itself, as
the sophists dream, but flees to Christ and is preserved
under him and in him.

61. It has been sufficiently stated that we are heirs of
eternal life in hope, and that grace, regardless of works,
instantaneously confers salvation, inheritance and all; yet,
as said, *'in hope." They are not revealed until death. Then
we shall see what, in faith, we have received and possess.


62. This epistle lesson forcibly and in express terms con-
tends against all humanly-devised righteousness, as well as
against ail human powers and free will. These are plain
words, "Not by works done in righteousness, which we
did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us." In
fact, the words of the whole lesson oppose the righteousness
of man. Paul attributes all efficacy to the washing of re-
generation, to the renewing of the Holy Spirit, to Jesus
Christ and his grace. In the face of such thunderbolts,
how can there remain in us the least trace of presumption?

63. It matters not hov/ brilliant may be secular and
ecclesiastical laws; how attractive the station of priests,
monks and nuns; how dazzling the titles of gentlemen of
honor and ladies of uprightness, even if the wearers of
them could raise the dead: without faith in Christ all is
vain. Such hypocrisy as that just mentioned blinds and mis-
leads the whole world, and obscures for us the holy Gospel
and the Christian faith.

These brilliant works and attractive stations of men as-
sist as little in procuring our salvation as do the works of
beasts or the common trades of mankind. Indeed, they
perniciously obstruct salvation. Therefore, you should
guard against wolves in sheep's clothing, and learn to cleave
to Christ in true and firm faith.

tTbirb Cbriötmas Sermon

Christmas Morning Service.

Epistle Text: Hebrews 1, 1-12.

1 God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in
the prophets by divers portions (at sundry times) and in
divers manners, 2 hath at the end of these days spoken
unto us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things,
through whom also he made the worlds ; 3 who being the
effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his sub-
stance, and upholding all things by the word of his power»
when he had made purification of sins, sat down on
the right hand of the Majesty on high; 4 having be-
come by so much better than the angels, as he hath in-
herited a more excellent name than they. 5 For unto
which of the angels said he at any time,

Thou art my Son,

This day have I begotten thee? and again,

I will be to him a Father,

And he shall be to me a Son?
6 And when he again bringeth in the firstborn into the
world he saith, And let all the angels of God worship
him. 7 And of the angels he saith,

Who maketh his angels v/inds,

And his ministers a flame of fire :

8 but of the Son he saith,

Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever ;
And the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of
thy kingdom.

9 Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity ;
Therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee
With the oil of gladness above thy fellows.

10 And,



Thou, Lord, in the beginning didst lay the founda-
tion of the earth,
And the heavens are the works of thy hands :

11 They shall perish ; but thou continuest :

And they all shall wax old as doth a garment ;

12 And as a mantle shalt thou roll them up,
As a garment, and they shall be changed:
But thou art the sam^e,

And thy years shall not fail.


1. This is a strong, forcible, noble epistle, preeminently
and emphatically teaching the great article of faith con-
cerning the Godhead, or the divinity of Christ. The pre-
sumption that it was not written by Paul is somewhat plaus-
ible, because the style is unusually ornamental for him.
Some are of the opinion it was written by Luke; others by
Apollos, whom Luke represents as "mighty in the Script-
ures," opposing the Jews. Acts 18, 24 and 28. Certain it
is, no epistle enforces the Scriptures with greater power
than does this. Hence it is evident the author was an emi-
nent apostolic individual, v/hoever he was. Now, the object
of the epistle is to establish and promote faith in the divinity
of Christ, and, as already stated, scarce any portion of the
Bible more strongly enforces this article of our creed. We
must, therefore, confine ourselves to its words and treat it in
regular order, item by item.

2. In the first place, it was the apostle's design to bring
the Jews to the Christian faith. As we shall learn, he
presses them so closely they cannot deny that Christ is
true God. Now, if he is God and the Son of God, and if
he himself has spoken unto us and suffered for us, justice
necessarily demands our faith. We have much more reason
to believe in him than had the fathers who in time past be-
lieved when God spoke simply through the prophets.

3. Paul contrasts the ancient preachers and disciples
with those of later times. The prophets and Christ are the
preachers, the fathers and ourselves the disciples. The
Son, the Lord himself, speaks unto us; his servants the


prophets spoke unto the fathers. If the fathers believed the
servants, how much more readily would they have believed
the Lord himself! And if we believe not the Lord, how
much more reluctant would we have been to believe the
servants! Thus he makes one condition argue for the
other: our unbelief contrasted with the faith of the fathers
is an awful disgrace; again, the faith of the fathers in con-
trast with our unbelief is deserving of very great honor.

Our disgrace is yet greater when we recall the fact that
God spoke to the fathers, not only once, but at different
times, and not only in one way, but in different ways ; and
yet they always believed ; while we are not induced by their
example to believe, even in one instance, the message of the
Lord himself. Observe, Paul proceeds with a powerful dis-
course in the effort to convert the Jews, yet the attempt

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 14 of 29)