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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avails nothing.

''By divers portions (at sundry times) and in divers
manners."

4. To me the particular and unlike meaning of these two
phrases is this: "By divers portions" implies the succes-
sion of many prophets, and that all prophecies were not
made through one man nor at one time; "in divers man-
ners" signifies that through each individual prophet, to say
nothing of the many, God spoke in different ways at differ-
ent times. For instance, at times he expressed himself in
plain, definite terms; and at other times figuratively or
through visions. Ezekiel portrayed the four evangelists by
the four beasts. Isaiah sometimes clearly states that Christ
shall be a king ; at other times he alludes to him as a rod and
a branch from the stem of Jesse; again, as excellent fruit
of the earth.

5. Thus the prophets speak of Christ in "divers man«,
ners." This latter phrase, moreover, may also be under-
stood as implying that God spoke in various ways when he
gave the people of Israel temporal aid. His leading them
out of Egypt by Moses was one way of speaking, and his
bringing them through the Red Sea another. In his direc-



THIRD CHRISTMAS SERMON. 169

tions to David concerning warfare and other matters he
spoke in a still different way. Not one declaration, but
divers declarations, were made. The objects accomplished
differed. But faith was always the same — at all times and
with every method.

6. How beautifully and gently the apostle invites and
persuades the Jews when he reminds them of the fathers and
the prophets, and of God himself! They had unbounded
confidence in the record of these as they were in time past.
But now they will not believe in God. They will not take
to heart the fact of his speaking to the fathers, not once
only, but often ; not in one way, but in different ways. Yet
they know well, and must confess that such was the case.
They will not believe him now when he speaks at another
time and in another way — a way he never before employed
nor will again. The manner of speaking they ardently de-
sire, Vill never be granted. God has never yet, not even in
former time, spoken in a manner designated by them. That
would be but to obstruct faith and frustrate God's design.
We must leave to him the time, person and manner of
speaking, and be concerned only about faith.

7. The phrase "at the end of these days" is significant.
From now to the end no other manner of preaching is to
be adopted. This is the last time he purposes to speak,
and the last method he will employ. He has commanded —
left on record — that this Word, and only this, is to be
preached until the end. Paul says (1 Cor 11, 26): "For
as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim
the Lord's death till he come." He also arrests their expec-
tation when he says "in these days;" they are not to look
for other days to come. The days when he speaks for
the last time and in the last manner are already at hand.

"In his Son."

8. Here Paul begins to extol Christ, the last teacher,
speaker and apostle : with forcible and well-grounded Scrip-
tural evidence he shows Christ as the real Son of God and
Lord over all. We must first learn to truly understand the



170 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

character o£ Christ, that he exists in a twofold nature —
divine and human. This is a point where many err. Some-
times it is to manufacture fables from his words. Men ap-
ply to the divine nature the sayings really uttered with
reference to his humanity ; thus are they deluded by certain
passages of Scripture. It is of the utmost importance first
to determine which of the statements concerning Christ
pertain to his divine nature and which to his human side.
This settled, all else will be easily plain.

9. But first we must answer the inquiry liable to be
made, "If the voice of God today is the last message, why
is it said that Elijah and Enoch shall come, opposing Anti-
christ?" I answer: Concerning the advent of Elijah, I
hold that he will not come in a physical manner. [As to
the coming of Elijah I am suspended between heaven and
earth, but I am inclined to believe it will not take place
bodily. However, I will not contend hard against the other
view. Each may believe or not believe it, as he likes. Edi-
tions, A, C, D, E.] I well know St. Augustine has somewhere
said, "The advent of Elijah and of Antichrist is firmly fixed
in the belief of all Christians." But I also know there is
no statement of Scripture to substantiate his assertion.
Malachi's prophecy concerning the coming of Elijah (ch 4,
5) the angel Gabriel makes refer to John the Baptist (Lk 1,
17), and Christ does the same even more explicitly where
he says (Mk 9, 13) : "But I say unto you, that Elijah is
come, and they have also done unto him whatsoever they
would, even as it is written of him." Now, if John is the
Elijah of the prophecy, as the Lord here says he was, the
prediction of Malachi is already fulfilled. And there is
nothing more prophesied concerning the coming of Elijah.
The statement the Lord made just previously to the one
quoted, "Elijah indeed cometh first, and restoreth all
things," may be fairly interpreted to mean that Christ, re-
ferring to the office of John, practically says: "Yes, I well
know Elijah must first come and restore all things, but he
has already come and accomplished it."



THIRD CHRISTMAS SERMON. 171

10. This view is demanded by the fact that immediately
after his reference to the coming and office of Elijah, Christ
speaks of his own sufferings: "It is written of the Son of
man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at naught."
If this prophecy concerning Christ was to be fulfilled after
the coming of Elijah, then certainly Elijah must have al-
ready come. I know of nothing more to expect concerning
the coming of Elijah unless it might be that his spirit will
be manifest again in the power of the Word of God, as now
seems probable. For I have no longer any doubt that the
Pope, with the Turks, is Antichrist, whatever you may be-
lieve.

11. To return to Christ : We assert it is essential firmly
to believe Christ true God and true man; and that the
Scriptures — including Christ's own words — sometimes have
reference to the divine nature of Christ and at other times
to his human nature. For instance, the declaration (Jn 8,
58), "Before Abraham was born, I am," relates to his divin-
ity; but the statement (Mt 20, 23), "To sit on my right
hand, and on my left hand, is not mine to give," recognizes
his humanity, which could not help itself even on the cross.
Yet some expounders have desired here to show their great
skill by abstruse interpretations made to oppose the here-
tics. It is his human nature that says: "The Father is
greater than I." Jn 14, 28. Also: "Hov/ often would I
have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gath-
ereth her chickens under her wings." Mt 23, 37. Again,
the passage (Mk 13, 32) reading, "Of that day or that hour
knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither
the Son, but the Father," has reference to the man Christ.

12. The explanation which some have made, "The Son
knew not ; that is, he did not choose to reveal," is superflu-
ous. What is the advantage of that addition? The hu-
manity of Christ, like that of any other holy mortal man,
did not, at every moment, consider and utter, did not desire
and note, how some made him a man with almighty power ;
they improperly combine the two natures and their opera-



.172 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

tion. As he did not always see, hear and feel all things,
so likewise he did not at every moment contemplate in his
heart every matter; he recognized things as God moved
him to do, as he brought them before him. Being filled with
grace and wisdom, he was able to judge and to teach as
occasion demanded; the Godhead, who alone sees and
knows all things, was personally present in him. Finally:
All reference in the Scriptures to the humiliation and exalta-
tion of Christ must be understood of the man ; for the divine
nature can neither be humiliated nor exalted.

*'Whom he appointed heir of all things."

13. These words refer to Christ's human nature. We
must believe in his supremacy in that respect as well as
in his divinity. All creatures are subservient to the man
Christ. As God, he creates alL As man, he creates nothing,
yet all creation is subject to him. David says (Ps 8, 6),
"Thou hast put all things under his feet."

14 Christ is our Lord and our God. As God, he creates
us ; as Lord, w^e serve him and he rules over us. The apos-
tle refers to him in this epistle as true God, and also Lord
over alL Though having two different natures, he is one
person. What Christ does and suffers, essentially God
does and suffers. In this case only one nature is involved.

To illustrate: I speak of a "wounded man" when but a
single limb is injured. The soul is not wounded, nor is the
body as a whole; only a part of the body. But I speak as
I do because body and soul constitute one person. Now, as
I must recognize a difference between body and soul when
I speak, so must I recognize the two natures of Christ.
Again: It is not a misstatement if in the night I say I
have no knowledge of the sun, when at the same time I
have a thorough mental knowledge of it; for I have no
physical vision. Similarly, Christ knows nothing concern-
ing the last day, and at the same time has full knowledge
of it.

"Through whom also he made the worlds."

15. Observe, by this same Son who in his human nature



THIRD CHRISTMAS SERMON. 173

is "appointed heir of all things" — by him as God, the worlds
were made. He is but one person, yet with two natures of
unlike operation. There is one Christ, of two natures. The
terms Paul here employs are in recognition of Christ's
highest nature.

Now, the apostle plainly speaks of the Son who is ap-
pointed heir when he says that by him the world is made.
If everything is made by him, he could not himself have
been created. Consequently, it is plain that he is true God.
For anything not created and yet existing must be God.
Again, whatsoever is made must be a creature and cannot
be God; for it does not exist of itself but derives its exist-
ence from its Creator, Now, all things are made by Christ,
and he is not created. Hence he must have his existence
from himself ; not from any creature nor any creator.

16. Furthermore, if he is a Son he is not alone, his
existence necessitates a Father. Through the Son God made
the world, but God cannot himself be that Son. Conse-
quently there must be two distinct persons, the Father and
the Son, yet (because) the divine nature is only one; for
there cannot be more than one God. Conclusively, then,
Christ with the Father is true God. In one divine substance
with him, he is Creator and Maker of the world. The only
difference is, one is the Son and the other the Father. And
Christ is not created by the Father, as the world was
created; essentially he was begotten in eternity. Nor is
he inferior to the Father. He is the same in every respect
except that he is begotten of the Father, and the Father not
begotten of him.

17. if these things are beyond the grasp of our reason,
reason must surrender as a captive to these and like Scrip-
ture words, and believe. Could we comprehend this mys-
tery by human reason, there would be no faith. Clearly
enough, the words, "Through whom also he made the
worlds," make mentions of two Beings. And it Is not less
clear that the uncreated one through whom all things were
made, also must be God. Just bow this can be, the Scrip-
tures do not teach. It must be received by faith.



174 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

The Scriptures speak after this fashion: "The world is
created through Christ, by the Father, in the Holy Spirit";
and though the meaning is not wholly clear, and easy of
comprehension, there is good reason for the language. It
is employed more by way of intimation than explanation — ■
to imply that the Father derives not his substance from the
Son, but the Son from the Father; and that the latter is
the first original person in the Godhead. In the statement
that the Father made the world through Christ, not Christ
through the Father, the intent is to teach the Father's title
to the first person; he from whom, through Christ, all
things have existence. John speaks in the same way (Jn 1,
3), "All things were made through him." And Paul again
(Col 1, 16), "All things have been created through him,
and unto him;" and (Rom 11, 36), "For of him, and through
him, and unto him, are all things.

18. Note the aptness of the language where Christ is
termed an "heir," in reference to his humanity. For who
should be more entitled to inherit the estate of God than his
Son? He with the Father created it — created all creatures.
But Christ is man and Son, and because of his Sonship he
inherits; in both natures is he Son. But as to the origin of
the apostle's particular language, we shall learn that in the
Gospel.

"Who being the effulgence [brightness] of his glory
and the very image of his substance [person]."

19. Paul uses these figures to express with all possible
clearness the fact that Christ is a person distinct from the
Father, yet one, real, true God. But the German and Latin
words are not just equivalent to the Greek terms employed
by the apostle. The apostle speaks of Christ as the efful-
gence proceeding from the glory of the Father. Just as
the illumination of the morning sun, the sun's vital sub-
stance, is not a part of the effulgence, but the whole efful-
gence of the whole sun, proceeding from the sun and yet in-
herent in it. By the figure, "the effulgence of his glory,"
is conveyed as in a word the birth of the Son, the unity o£



THIRD CHRISTMAS SERMON. 175

his nature and the Father's, and the distinction of the per-
sons. Christ, without limit of time, is eternally begotten of
the Father, and ever proceeds, with that unweariedness
represented by the sun in the morning rather than at mid-
day or evening. But Christ is not the person of the Father,
as the effulgence is not the sun. He is with and in the
Father; not existing before nor after, but co-eternal with
him and a part of him, as the effulgence is with and a part
of the sun.

20. The apostle terms the Father's effulgence "Doxa,"
(glory) properly implying honor or glory. Therefore the
divine nature is unqualified glory and honor, having all
in itself and deriving nothing from another. It has the
right to boast of and glory in itself. Now, Paul says Christ
is complete light, the full effulgence of God's honor. That
is, he too has in himself the unlimited Godhead and has
equal right with the Father to boast and glory. The only
exception is, he derives his authority from the Father and
not the Father from him. He is the effulgence proceeding
from the paternal honor, he is God begotten and not God
begetting, yet God complete and perfect as the Father is.

21. The Scriptures, you will observe, do not so speak of
the saints, though they are also an honor to God; that is,
they were created for his honor. But Paul says Christ is
the brightness of the paternal honor; the words force the
conclusion that the brightness constitutes the Father's
honor, else it would not be the effulgence of his honor. But
what shall I say by way of explanation? These words are
more easily understood by the heart than explained by
tongue or pen. They are in them.selves clearer than any
commentary renders them, and in proportion as they are ex-
plained are they obscured. The substance of the clause is
this: the whole Godhead is in Christ, and to him as to
God all honor is due ; yet he does not derive his Godhood
from himself, but from the Father. The apostle implies two
persons but one God ; for the Holy Spirit is not mentioned
here. When we have advanced far enough to comprehend



176 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

two persons existent in one God, we will readily believe in
the third person.

22. In the other figure the apostle styles Christ an image
or sign of the substance of God. Despite its clearness I
still claim the privilege of speaking plainly and clearly. An
image created after the likeness of a person is not an image
of the substance or nature of that person. It is not a be-
ing; it is mere stone or v/ood. It is an image formed from
stone or wood substance in the likeness of man. But if I
could handle the substance of the person as the potter
handles clay and make therewith an image of the individual
which should also perfectly contain his substance or nature,
that would, as you perceive, be an -essential image, or a
likeness of the human substance. But such would be a
creature. An image necessarily is constructed from a dif-
ferent substance than the thing imaged, and differs in na-
ture.

Here the Son is such an image of the Father s substance,
that the Father's substance is the image itself. If we may
so express it, the image is made from the Father's substance.
The image is not only like the Father resembling him, but
fully contains his whole substance and nature; as it may
be said of "the effulgence of his glory," that the effulgence
is constituted of the glory, and not only like it but embody-
ing it perfectly, making the effulgence and the glory iden-
tical.

23. Now notice, as I say an image of man is formed of
wood or stone, so I say Christ is a divine image: as truly
as the former is but a material image, so truly is the latter
God. Paul calls Christ the image of the living and invisible
God.

In the wooden image, this perfection is lacking. Though
a wooden image, it is not an image of the wood but of an
individual; it does not represent the wood, but the indi-
vidual. Though the individual be faithfully reproduced in the
wood, yet he himself is not wood ; his substance is something
different from the substance imaging him. in all cases the



THIRD CHRISTMAS SERMON. 177

image differs in substance from the person imaged. It is
impossible to furnish an image actually the substance of the
individual. But in this verse v^e have an image and one
imaged who are identical in substance, except that the
Father is not an image. The Father is not fashioned from
nor like the Son; but the Son from the Father, and is like
the Father, in one simple, truly divine substance with him.

24. Such perfection is also wanting in the sun and its
effulgence. The sun has its own splendor, and the same
is true of its effulgence, but the effulgence derives its
splendor from the sun. But in the figure before us, efful-
gence is splendor; of the splendor, if we may so speak, the
effulgence is constituted. The splendor is essentially and
perfectly the effulgence itself, with this difference that the
effulgence has not its origin in itself but in the paternal
splendor.

25. You v^ill notice the verse is even now clearer than
the explanation. *'The image of his substance," "the efful-
gence of his glory" — these Paul's sayings are clear enough.
The tongue should be silent here to allow the heart to re-
flect. The Hebrew mode of speaking is thus: "Pauperes
sanctorum, i. pauperes sancti ; Virtus Dei, i. virtus Deus ; Sic,
character substantias, i. character substantia, subsistens et
impsemet Deus ; Sic, splendor glorias, i. splendor gloria ipsa."
Latin scholars may easily comprehend this, but for the
Germans and the common people it suffices to call the like-
ness made from gold an image of gold. Similarly, they are
to call Christ an image of God the Father because he is
wholly of God in character, and there is no God beside him,
though at the same time his Godhead and imag^ have origin
from the Father as the first person; but the two are one
God. This is not true of creatures. The golden image
represents not a golden nature, but the wholly dift'erent na-
ture of the individual. Though it is a golden image, it does
not image the nature of gold. Another image is necessary
to represent the nature of gold; as, for instance, a golden
color, or something else not truly gold.



178 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

But in our text the image is also the substance of the
imaged, and no other image is requisite than "its own sub-
stance. It is faith that is called for here and not keen spec-
ulation. The words are clear enough ; they are positive and
forcible. He vv-ho will not in them recognize the divinity
of Christ, will not recognize it in any way. Christ is not
here termed a common image in the ordinary sense of the
word; the word used is "Character" — an image more char-
acteristic than a portrait or any other likeness. Again, he
is called "Apaugasma" — an actual brightness resembling
nothing but the glory from which it proceeds.

"And upholding all things by the word of his power."

26. For a third time Christ is represented as God. First,
it is stated that the worlds were made by him; second, he
is called the brightness and the image of God; and here he
upholds all things. If he upholds all, he is not himself up-
held. He is supreme, hence he m.ust be God. To uphold
all things is to support and maintain them. Not only are all
things made by him, as stated in the preceding verse, but
they are perpetuated and preserved by him. As Paul says
in Colossians 1, 17: "In him all things consist." The word
"upholding" is well chosen. Christ neither coerces nor re-
strains nor disturbs the peace ; he gently sustains, permitting
all creatures to enjoy his tender goodness. As it is writ-
ten in the Wisdom of Solomon 8, 1 : "Wisdom reacheth
from one end to another mightily; and sweetly doth she
order all things."

27. I am not fully decided as to the intent of the phrase
"by the word of his power." Were these the words of un-
inspired man, I would think the writer in error ; for Christ is
himself the Word, as the Gospel teaches, and acts in obedi-
ence to no word. Did they refer to the person of the Father,
it would be perfect harmony with the Scripture teaching;
for the Father made all things through his Word and up-
holds them in that Word. As said in Psalm 33, 6, "By
the word of Jehovah were the heavens made."

28. I withhold my view to give place to another and bet-



THIRD CHRISTiMAS SERMON. 179

ter one. I merely venture the opinion that the apostle's
purpose in this manner of speaking may be to emphasize
the unity of the persons in one Godhead. Since they are
one God, we may understand here reference to the Father;
God's action is the action of each of the three persons.
God upholds all things by his Word; Christ, or the Word
here mentioned, is really God.

29. There are other places in the Scriptures where we
have a sudden change of person. For instance, Psalm 2,
6-7 : "Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
I will tell of the decree: Jehovah said unto me, Thou art
my Son." There the first verse represents the Father
speaking concerning the Son: and the second verse, the
Son concerning the Father. The reason for the sudden
change of persons in this brief passage is, the two persons
are one God. It may be that when our text declares that
one is the image of God, the reference is to Christ ; and that
v/hen it states one upholds all things by his word, reference
is to the Father, no designation being made because the two
are one God without distinction.

30. If this is not a satisfactory conclusion, we might
regard the expression in this light: we might understand
the term "word" as having somewhat the significance of an
event or act. For instance, in the Gospel (Lk 2, 15) we
read of the shepherds saying: "Let us now go even unto
Bethlehem, and see this thing [word — event] that is come
to pass" — let us see the event which has taken place there.
So, in this phrase declaring Christ upholds all things by
the word of his power, we might understand "by the act
of his power." By the operation of his power are all things
preserved; and all existence and power are derived not
from the things themselves but from the active power of
God. Further, power and the Word are not to be divorced ;
they are identical. We may say of an efficient word that
its nature and substance are the operating power. Now,
each may adopt the view to him most plausible.

"When he had by himself made purification of our
sins."



180 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

31. Here the apostle touches upon the Gospel proper.
Whatever we may be taught concerning Christ is without
significance to ourselves until we learn we are the beneficia-
ries of the doctrine. What would be the advantage to us
of preaching were it designed alone for Christ's benefit?
The fact is, these words concern only us; they have to do



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 15 of 29)