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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God constrained him to his act. No one who possesses the
same degree of love can be silent and calmly permit the»
rejection of God's commandments. He cannot dissemble.
He must censure and rebuke every opposer of God. Such
conduct he cannot permit even if he risks his life to re-
buke it. Love of this kind the Scriptures term "zelum Dei,"
a holy indignation. For rejection of God's commands is a
slight upon his love and intolerably disparages the honor
and obedience due him, honor and obedience which the
zealous individual ardently seeks to promote. We have
an instance of such a one in the prophet Elijah, who was
remarkable for his holy indignation against the false
prophets.

28. We must infer from Stephen's example that he who
silently ignores the transgression of God's commands, or
any sin, has no love for him. Then how is it with the hypo-
crites who applaud transgression? and with calumniators
and those who laugh and eagerly listen to and speak about
the faults of others?

29. That the Pope in his absurd laws enjoins the Papists
against censuring governors, is not sufBcient reason for any
man to refrain from administering proper reproof. Whom
does Stephen censure here? Is it not the governors of



ST. STEPHEN'S DAY. 205

Jerusalem? Yet he was just an ordinary man; not ordained,
not clothed with the priestly office. His example teaches
the right of every Christian to justly censure the Pope and
the governors. Indeed, he is under obligation to do so.
Then let no one be content to think he has not such privi-
lege. Especially should spiritual sins be rebuked. Stephen's
reproof was not directed against gross sins, but against
hypocrisy ; for the Jews in unbelief resisted the Holy Spirit.
Thus they wrought more harm than comes from gross sins.
By their laws and their works they misled themselves and
the multitude.

30. Similarly do the Pope, the bishops and all the Papists
deserve public censure as stiffnecked and uncircumcised
hypocrites, resisting the Holy Spirit and dishonoring all
God's comm^andments, betraying and murdering Christian
souls; thereby being betrayers and murderers of the Christ
who bought them with his own blood.

31. We have just had occasion to state that Stephen
was a layman, an ordinary Christian, not a priest. But
the Papists sing his praises as a Levite, who read the epistle
or the Gospel lesson at the altar. The Papists, however,
pervert the truth entirely. It is necessary for us, therefore,
to know what Luke says in Acts 4 and 5. He tells how the
Christians in the inception of the Church, at Jerusalem,
made all their possessions com.mon property and the apostles
distributed to each member of the congregation as he needed,
But, as it happened, the widows of the Grecian Jews were
not provided for as were the Hebrew widows; hence arose
complaint. The apostles, seeing how the duty of providing
for these things would be so burdensome as to interfere in
a measure with their duties of praying and preaching, as-
sembled the multitude of the disciples and said : "It is not
fit that we should forsake the Vvord of God, and serve
tables. Look ye out therefore, brethren, from among you
seven men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom,
whom we may appoint over this business. But v/e will con-
tinue stedfastly in prayer, and in the ministry of the word."



206 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

Acts 6, 2-4. So Stephen, in connection with six others, was
chosen to distribute the goods. Thence comes the word
"deacon," servant or minister. For these men served the
congregation, ministering to their temporal wants.

32. Plainly, then, Stephen was a steward, or an adminis-
trator and guardian of the temporal goods of the Christians ;
his duty was to administer them to those in need. In course
of time his ofBce was perverted into that of a priest who
reads the epistle and Gospel lessons. The only trace left
of Stephen's office is the slight resemblance found in the
duty of the nuns' provosts, and in that of the administrators
of hospitals and of the guardians of the poor. The readers
of the epistle and Gospel selections should be, not the con-
secrated, the shorn, the bearers of dalmatics and brushers
of flies at the altar, but ordinary godly laymen who keep
a record of the needy and have charge of the common fund
for distribution as necessity requires. Such was the actual
office of Stephen. He never dreamed of reading epistles and
Gospels, or of bald pates and dalmatics. Those are all hu-
man devices.

THE AUTHORITY OF LAYMEN TO PREACH.

33. As to the question that may arise whether an ordi-
nary layman may be allowed to preach: Though Stephen
was not appointed to preach — the apostles, as stated, re-
served that office to themselves — but to perform the duties
of a steward, yet when he went to the market-place and
mingled among the people, he immediately created a stir
by performing signs and wonders, as the epistle says, and
he even censured the rulers. Had the Pope and his follow-
ers been present, they certainly would have inquired as to
his credentials — his Church passport and his ecclesiastical
character ; and had he been lacking a bald pate and a prayer-
book, undoubtedly he would have been committed to the
flames as a heretic since he was not a priest nor a clergy-
man. These titles, which the Scriptures accord all Chris-
tians, the Papists have appropriated to themselves alone,
terming all other men "the laity," and themselves "the



ST. STEPHEN'S DAY. 207

Church," as if the laity were not a part of the Church. At
the same time these people of boasted refinement and nobil-
ity do not in a single instance fill the office or do the work
of a priest, of a clergyman or of the Church. They but dupe
the world with their human devices.

34. The precedent of Stephen holds good. His example
gives all men authority to preach wherever they can find hear-
ers, whether it be in a building or at the market-place. ^ He
does not confine the preaching of God's Word to bald pates
and long gowns. At the same time he does not interfere
with the preaching of the apostles. He attends to the
duties of his own office and is readily silent where it is the
place of the apostles to preach.

True, order must be observed. A.11 cannot speak at once.
Paul writes in the fourteenth chapter of First Corinthians
that one or tv/o are to be permitted to speak, and that if
a revelation be made to a listener the speaker is to keep
silence. That such was the practice of the apostles is evi-
dent from Acts 15, where we read how, after the discourses
of certain Pharisees, Peter preached, and when he ceased
Barnabas and Paul followed, and lastly James. Each spoke
in his turn. To a very slight extent the custom still exists
in the debates of colleges, but at present sermons are only
idle talk about Dietrich of Bern or some dream of the
speaker.

35. A sermon proper should be conducted as a disserta-
tion upon any subject at the social board. Christ, therefore,
instituted the Holy Supper as an occasion where we might
treat of his Word as we sit at table. But now all is per-
verted and divine order is superseded by arrangements
merely human. But let this suffice on this point.

36. In the second place, Stephen's conduct is a beautiful
example of love for fellowmen in that he entertains no ill-
will toward even his murderers. However severely he re-
bukes them in his zeal for the honor of God, such is the
kindly feeling he has for them that in the very agonies of
death, having made provision for himself by commending



208 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

his Spirit to God, he has no further thought about himself
but is all concern for them. Under the influence of that
love he yields up his spirit. Not undesignedly does Luke
place Stephen's prayer for his murderers at the close of the
narrative. Note also, when praying for himself and com-
mending his spirit to God he stood, but he knelt to pray for
his murderers. Further, he cried with a loud voice as he
prayed for them, which he did not do for himself.

37. How much more fervently he prayed for his enemies
than for himself! How his heart must have burned, his
eyes have overßowed and his entire body been agitated and
moved vnth compassion as he beheld the wretchedness of
his enemies! It is the opinion of St. Augustine that Paul
was saved by this prayer. And it is not unreasonable to be-
lieve that God truly heard it and that from eternity he fore-
saw a great result from this dispensation. The person of
Paul is evidence of God's answer to Stephen's prayer. It
could not be denied, though all may not have been saved.

38. Stephen aptly chooses his words, saying, "Lay not
this sin to their charge;" that is, make not their sin unre-
movable, like a pillar or a foundation. By these words Ste-
phen makes confession, repents and renders satisfaction for
sin, in behalf of his murderers. His words imply : "Beloved
Lord, truly they commit a sin, a wrong. This cannot be de-
nied." Just as it is customary in repentance and confession
simply to deplore and confess the guilt. Stephen then prays,
offering himself up that abundant satisfaction* may surely be
made for sin.

39. Note how great an enemy and at the same time how
great a friend true love can be ; how severe its censures and
how sweet its aid. It is like a nut with a hard shell and a
sweet kernel. Bitter to our old Adam nature, it is exceed-
ingly sweet to the new man in us.

EXAMPLE OF COMFORT AND ENCOURAGEMENT.

40. This epistle lesson, by the example given, inculcates
the forcible doctrine of faith and love; and more, it affords
comfort and encouragement. It not only teaches ; it incites



ST. STEPHEN'S DAY. 209

and impels. Death, the terror of the world, it styles a
sleep; Luke says, *'He fell asleep." That is, Stephen's
death was quiet and painless; he departed as one goes to
sleep, unknowing how — unconsciously falls asleep.

41. The theory that the Christian's death is a sleep, a
peaceful passing, has safe foundation in the declaration o£
the Spirit. The Spirit will not deceive us. Christ's grace
and power make death peaceful. Its bitterness is far re-
moved by Christ's death when we believe in him. He
says (Jn 8, 51), "If a man keep my word, he shall never
see death." Why shall he not see it? Because the soul,
embraced in his living Word and filled with that life, cannot
be sensible of death. The Word lives and knows no death;
so the soul which believes in that Word and lives in it,
likewise does not taste death. This is why Christ's words
are called words of life. They are the words of life; he
who hangs upon them, who believes in them, must live.

42. Comfort and encouragemient are further increased by
Stephen's assertion, "I see the heavens opened, and the Son
of man standing on the right hand of God.'^^ Here we see
hov7 faithfully and lovingly Christ watches over us, and
hov/ ready he is to aid us if we but believe in him and will
cheerfully risk our lives for his sake. The vision was not
given solely on Stephen's account; it was not recorded for
his profit. It was for our consolation, to remove all doubt
of our privilege to enjoy the same happy results, provided
we conduct ourselves as Stephen did.

43. The fact that the heavens are open affords us the
greatest comfort and removes all terror of death. What
should not stand open and ready for us when the heavens,
the supreme work of creation, are v/aiting wide for us and
rejoicing at our approach? It may be your desire to see
them visibly ODen to you. But were everyone to behold,
where would faith be? That the vision was once given to
man is enough for the comfort of all Christians, for the
comfort and strengthening of their faith and for the removal
of all death's terrors. For as we believe, so shall we experi-
ence, even though v/e see not physically.



St. 5obn'8 2)a^



Epistle Text: Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 15, 1-8.

1. He that feareth the Lord will do good; and he
that hath the knowledge of the law shall obtain her.

2. And as a mother shall she meet him, and receive
him as a wife married of a virgin,

3. With the bread of understanding shall she feed
him, and give him the water of wisdom to drink.

4. He shall be stayed upon her, and shall not be
moved; and shall rely upon her, and shall not be con-
founded.

5. She shall exalt him above his neighbors, and in
the midst of the congregation shall she open his mouth.

6. He shall find joy and a crown of gladness, and
she shall cause him to inherit an everlasting name.

7. But foolish men shall not attain unto her, and
sinners shall not see her.

8. For she is far from pride, and men that are liars
cannot remem.ber her.

EXHORTATION TO PIETY AND RIGHTEOUSNESS.

1. This lesson, apparently, is not designed to teach.
Rather, its purpose is to present the advantages of right
conduct. It does not enumerate certain works and the man-
ner in which they are to be performed, but holds up the
benefit accruing from right living. Its object is to admonish
us and incite us to perform the duties we already recognize.
Paul (Rom 12, 7-8) classifies all discourse under two heads,
doctrine and exhortation. Doctrine present things we do
not already know or possess.. Exhortation mcites and im-
pels us to obey doctrine, and encourages to patience and

212



ST. JOHN'S DAY. 213

perseverance. While the latter feature of discourse is less
difficult than the former, it is no less necessary and profit-
able.

2. He who would incite one to action, would arouse, en-
courage, admonish him, must present good reason for ac-
tion. This may be accomplished by reference to the need
and the advantages, the pleasures and honors, consequent
upon a certain course, or to the disaster and disgrace fol-
lowing neglect of it. Such is the method employed in this
lesson. It points out numerous advantages and honors com-
ing to them who fear God and love righteousness. Its mes-
sage we will now consider.

3. No definition of righteousness and the fear of God
is given here. We have frequently stated, however, that
to fear God is not to depend upon ourselves, upon any good-
ness within us, nor to rely upon our honor, our power, our
wealth, strength, advantages or skill — no, not even upon
our good works and piety. We must be careful not to sin
in any of these things. We are to fear — yes, we know —
that should God deal truly and justly with us, we should
a thousand times be lost. Therefore, v/e must not in any
way exalt ourselves above the most insignificant individual
on earth. We must be humble and gentle in all our conduct
and purposes. No arrogance may we show toward any-
one; we must be gentle and affable. Humility v/ill render
our works good. Peter says (1 Pet 5, 5), "God resisteth
the proud, but giveth grace to the hum.ble." Whatsoever
is done in that grace, then, is rightly done.

4. As we have heard, righteousness is simply faith. We
experience faith in the following way: In the first place,
being unable to stand before God's judgment, man is filled
with fear in all his nature and actions. Fear impels him
to seek something outside himself whereon he may confi-
dently build and stand. He finds that to be nothing else but
the pure mercy of God, promised in Christ and revealed in
him. Such reliance, such confident faith, renders us just
and righteous before God. As Paul says (Rom 1, 17), "The
righteous shall live by faith."



214 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

5. In proportion as one distrusts himself, his own abili-
ties, and feels he is in all things a sinner before a just God,
will he find consolation outside himself, in the grace of
God, and thus become righteous in all his works. The two
must be kept together; where judgment is, fear must be;
where grace exists, confidence is found. Judgment produces
fear ; grace begets trust and confidence. Through judgm.ent,
fear divests us of self vAth all its powers. But confidence
invests us with God and his every attribute. Not our merits,
then, but the blessings of God have praise. This teaching
is endorsed by Psalm 147, 11: "J-^^o^ah taketh pleasure in
them that fear him, in those that hope in his lovingkindness."

6. I£ man's faith be right, he will conduct himself toward
his neighbor in the way he believes God deals with himself.
He v/ill do all from pure grace, forgiving his neighbor, for-
bearing, endeavoring to alleviate his wretchedness, minister-
ing to him, showing hospitality, denying him nothing, risk-
ing body, life, property and honor for his sake and conduct-
ing himself in all respects as God has done toward him. For,
faith tells him that God has dealt with him purely in grace,
regardless of his demerits, and he is confident God will ver-
ify his faith in him. As God pours blessings upon him in
disregard of his shortcomings, so will the individual pour
all possible favor upon his nei2:hbor, notwithstanding that
neighbor may be an enemy and destitute of all merit. He
is satisfied the favors he bestows will not impoverish him,
for in proportion as he bestows y/ill God pour out upon
him ; the more he does for his neighbor, the more will God
bless him.

7. Such, you perceive, is the true faith, the faith that jus-
tifies before God. It is the Christian's righteousness, which
receives blessinpfs from above and delivers them below. We
find a beautiful illustration of it in the piece of land Caleb,
the holy father, gave to his daughter Achsah T Judges 1, IS-
IS), from which issued beautiful fountains of v/ater. The
land was watered by springs above and sprinj^s below 5
hence it was very fertile and very valuable. As already
stated, we cannot say too much concerning this faith.



ST. JOHN'S DAY. 215

8. The word "Achsah" means ornaments, or jeweled
shoes. The lovely Maggie in scarlet shoes, the little daugh-
ter of God, is the believing soul. The soul that trusts may
be likened to the maiden who trips fearlessly along in her
beautiful scarlet and golden shoes. Paul says (Eph 6, 15),
"Having your feet shod" — with what? "With the prepara-
tion of the gospel of peace." Note that when the heart,
through faith, enters the Gospel and lives in the Word, it
is Achsah, Maggie in her beautiful shoes. Solomon also
speaks concerning the bride (Song Sol 7, 1), "How beautiful
are thy feet in sandals, O prince's daughter !"

MOTIVES TO FEAR GOD AND LOVE
RIGHTEOUSNESS
Now, let us consider what is offered to incite and urge
us to fear God and to love righteousness.
First: "He will do good."

9. All the world talks about doing good, but if you would
know how, listen : Do not as the fools who consider various
works with intent to choose such as are in their own concep-
tions good, and to reject such as they deem bad, thus mak-
ing a distinction of the works themselves. Do not so. Let
works be alike; regard one the same as another. Fear God
and be just — as already advised — and then perform the duty
that presents itself. Then all will be well done, it matters
not if it be the duties of a hostler or a teamster.

10. The text is unalterable: "He that feareth the Lord
will do good" — no matter what he m.ay do. His works are
good, not because of their character, but because of the fear
that inspires them. Here, you see, is great comfort. Im-
mediately you abound in good works, and your whole life
is good, if you fear God. Whether it be eating or drinking,
walking or standing, seeing or hearing, sleeping or wak-
ing — all your works are good. Who would not, by such ad-
vantage, be incited to fear God? Note, they who fear God
are the lambs of God, for whom everything is useful, all their
works are profitable.

11. But they who make distinction of works, the nice



216 LUTHER'S Ex^ISTLE SERMONS.

saints with their choice, selected deeds, really perform no
good works. Why? Because they do not fear God. At-
taching great value to their own efforts, they do not trust
in him. Consequently these same highly-prized works are
evil. It is a fixed truth that his works are good who fears
God, but the unbeliever's works are evil.

"He that hath the knov/ledge of the . law shall ob-
tain her."

12. He who holds to righteousness will obtain her. The
thought here is the same as in the first incentive, but differ-
ently expressed. To have a knowledge of the Law, to ad-
here to righteousness, is to persevere in faith. The individ-
ual of stedfast faith v/ill apprehend righteousness — will make
it his own. Having attained to the heritage of righteous-
ness, being enabled to dwell in it, all his deeds, his whole
life, will be right. Therefore, he v/ho Vv^ould do right and
live in righteousness m.ust believe; he must persevere in
faith, and then perform, without distinction, such works as
present themselves. Endowed with the prerogative faith,
it is unnecessary for him to inquire how his works shall be
good. They are good to begin with. They are' performed
without distinction. Righteousness is already apprehended.
For he perseveres in faith.

13. But, whatever the works of the unbelieving, right-
eousness will flee from them because they neglect faith.
They may catch at righteousness as a dog snaps at flies, still
it will elude them. Paul says of the Jews (Rom 9, 31),
"Israel, following after a law of righteousness, did not ar-
rive at that law." Like the Jews are those unbelieving ones
who pursue their shadows, chasing after righteousness with
their works. It flees from them. They cannot apprehend
it for they did not first permit themselves to be made right-
eous in faith and then adhere to that righteousness. So
doing, they would have been righteous in all works; the
shadow would have followed of itself.

Third: "As a m.other shall she meet him."

14. What is meant here? It is a Hebrew expression.



ST. JOHN'S DAY. 217

The Hebrews are wont to speak of a child of wisdom, child
of wickedness, child of wrath, child of condemnation; so
here the thought, child of righteousness. The child of sin,
of unrighteousness, must have a disgraceful mother, of
whom he must be ashamed and in v/hom he cannot rejoice.
But the child of righteousness has an honorable mother.
Of her he m.ay boast and in her he can rejoice. A human^
mother, if she be a reputable womian, is an honor, a glory and
comfort to her child. On the other hand, if she be disreput-
able, she is a disgrace to the child. One can hardly suiter
a more stinging reproach than to be reminded of a mother's
disgrace or to be accused of illegitimate birth or ill-breeding.

15. Now, the wise mxan intends to say that Righteous-
ness deals affectionately with her ov/n, as a mother mieets
the wants of her child. The mother is always ready to do
for her child to the full extent of her knowledge and power.
Solomon designs thus to illustrate the security, comfort,
peace, joy and glory the heart experiences before God,
through faith. The human mother caresses and kisses her
child; she supports and carries it, always ready to m.eet its
wants and grant its desires. The kindness of a mother to-
ward her child is unsurpassed anywhere. Similarly, Right-
eousness em.braces and supports man, meeting his wants in
every way and purposing to have him rest in peace and se-
curity of heart. Man is entitled to this great privilege of
confidence and may boast of it before God, for he has an
honorable mother.

Fourth: "And receive him as a vAie m^arried of a
virgin."

16. What do these words imiply? The meaning is simi-
lar to that of the preceding phrase. The object is to illus-
trate the anxious care Righteousness manifests for her child.
Solomon represents Righteousness as having affections like
those of a nev/ bride, one never before a wife. He m.eans
to say, "Precisely as a virgin in her new wifehood feels to-
ward her bridegroom, so is the attitude of Righteousness
toward her child." I shall leave the description of the bride's
affections to those who have experienced them. It is v/ell



218 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS,

known, however, that nothing surpasses the desire, love and
concern of a young bride for her bridegroom. The Script-
ures abound with references to the love of brides. Sirach
says "a wife married of a virgin," meaning one just married
and for the first time knowing love for a husband. A widow
becoming again a wife has not such feeling toward her sec-
ond bridegroom.

17. Note how carefully and thoughtfully the wise man
m.akes his admonition. Does he not present a vivid picture,
a burning incentive to faith and godliness? What simile
could he have introduced more expressive of affection than
these of a virtuous mother's love for her child and a new
bride's love for her bridegroom? Woman is naturally more



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 18 of 29)