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

. (page 20 of 29)
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heresy all doctrine based upon it. Thus they do away v/ith
the whole Gospel, ihese are they who deny the Christian
faith and exterminate it from the world. Paul prophesied
concerning them v^hen he said (]»Tim 4, 1) : "In later times
some shall fall away from the faith." The voice of faith
is now silenced all over the v/orld. Indeed, faith is con-
demned and banished as the worst heresy, and all who teach
and endorse it are condemned with it. The Pope, the bish-
ops, charitable institutions, cloisters, high schools, unani-
mously opposed it for nearly four hundred years, and sim-
ply drove the world violently into hell. Their conduct is
the real persecution by Antichrist, in the last times.

15. Tell them what the prophet says in Psalm 86, 2:
"Preserve my soul; for I am godly"; and Paul's words in
Romans 8, 16; "The Spirit himself beareth witness with
our spirit, that we are children of God;" and they reply:
"Yes, but the prophet and the apostle did not mean by
these statemients to establish a doctrine or leave an example
of what others may claim. They Vv^ere enlightened and
their holiness was revealed to them." Similarly, they con-
strue every passage relating to the subject as not doctrinal
in design, but exhibiting a remarkable miracle, a special
prerogative of certain individuals not to be possessed by
every believer. This explanation is a mere invention of
their own minds. Themselves unbelievers, tasting not the
Spirit, they think no one else should so believe or taste.
By such conduct — their own fruits — they may be clearly
identified as thorns and thistles; not as Christians, but as
enemies and destroyers of Christians, and persecutors of
the Christian faith.



SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS. 231

17. Such, howsver, is the character of their own faith,
they are led to believe they are made godly and holy through
their works, and that therefore God must save them. Note,
in their opinion, to become godly through works is Chris-
tianity ; but to become godly through divine grace is heresy.
Apparently their works are of greater importance and value
than the grace of God. Their faith can rely upon works,
but not upon God's grace. Since the^^ reject the rock and
build upon the sand, they but get their deserts Vv'hen they
fall into the error of their ov/n works and torture themselves
to death, to the devil's advantage. It is all because they
will not rely upon the grace of God and render him rea-«
sonable service.

18. They who possess the Christian faith must in con-
sequence of it be confidently happy in God and his grace.
They will even delight in good works. The prayers the
Cain-like ones offer, and the costume they affect, are not
good works. Only such works as minister to the profit of a
neighbor are good, as we said in the last Gospel lesson.
Yes, Christians will readily suffer everything, for they doubt
not God's presence with them, and his favor. These are
they who honor God and are useful to m.an.

19. But the Cain-like people profit not God, the world
nor themselves. They are mere useless burdens to the
earth, harmful to themselves and everyone else. Lacking
faith, they do not serve nor honor God. Thej/ do no work
that contributes in any way to the benefit of their neigh-
bor's bodly or property, his honor or his soul. Their works
exclusively their own, consisting in certain gestures, apparel
and meats and performed in honor of certain places and
times.

Tell me, how does it benefit me for you to affect a large
bald pate or to wear a gray cowl? Who profits by your
fasting on a certain day and observing a certain other day as
holy? by your abstaining from particular meats, and seclud-
ing yourself in a certain place, to read and mutter so much
every day? So doing, you simply murder yourself to please
the devil, leaving a pernicious example, that others may fol-



232 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

low in the same life and conduct as if it were good, and
consistent with the principles of Christianity. Having not
a Christian belief, you cannot pray in a Christian manner.
Hence your fasting is not, as it should be, a mortification
of the body; it is performed as a good work. Such a life
is nothing else than the idolatry of Baal and of Moloch for-
merly practiced among the Jews, who tortured, burned and
otherwise murdered their children for the devil's honor.
THE USE AND NECESSITY OF THE LAW.

20. Perhaps you ask, "If it is true that we are justified
not by works, but by hearing of Christ and believing in him
as ours personally, what is the need and use of the com-
mandments? Why has God so urgently taught them? I
answer: We come now to this our epistle lesson. It tells
us the object of the commandments. The Galatians first
learned the Christian faith from Paul. Afterward, being
perverted by certain false teachers, they turned back to
their works, imagining they must become righteous through
the deeds of the Law. In our lesson Paul recalls them
from their works unto faith, and with multiplied terms
points out to them the two kinds of works of the Law J
His conclusion is: the works preceding justification — or
faith — are unprofitable and merely constitute us servants;
but faith makes us children of God — his sons — whereupon
really good works must follow.

21. But we must acquaint ourselves v/ith Paul's lan-
guage, his distinction between the servant and the child.
The self-righteous he terms a servant. Concerning that
individual much has been said heretofore. The believer in
Christ he calls a child. The believer is and will be justi-
fied by faith alone — without works. This distinction is
based upon the fact that the self-righteous one does not
serve in the same spirit that actuates the child and heir
conscious of his own inheritance. He renders his service
in the spirit of a day-laborer upon another's property. Al-
though the works of the two may be precisely of the same
character, the spirit that moves them — the conscience, and
faith — makes a difference. The child confidently expects



SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS. 233

to remain heir to the estate. The servant, recognizing his
ultimate dismissal, does not await inheritance. As Christ
declares (Jn 8, 35) : "The bondservant abideth not in the
house for ever: the son abideth for ever."

22. Now, the Cain-like saints have not, as they them-
selves confess, the Christian faith which would assure them
of being the children of God. They protect themselves from
that av^ul heretical presumption by making the sign of
the cross. So they continue to hang in doubt. As they be-
lieve, so is it with them. They are not children of God
and never will become his happy children in the way they
are going, notwithstanding they may perform the require-
ments of the Law, rriay faithfully put it into practice. Ob-
servance of the Law will constitute them servants, and ser-
vants will they continue to be securing no more than a tem-
poral reward — a competence on earth, and rest, honor and
pleasure. We see this in the spiritual orders, where all the
wealth, power, pleasure, honor and favors of the world are
enjoyed. Here is the reward of the self-righteous. They
are servants and not children; therefore in the hour of
death they will all be cast out from the eternal inheritance
which they refused in this life to believe in and to receive
through faith. You see, so far as the works are concerned,
there is scarcely a difference between the child and the
servant. Faith, however — the spirit of service — ^makes the
distinction.

23. The apostle's design is to make plain the fact that,
lacking faith, the Law, with all its works, constitutes us
simply servants. Only faith can make us children. Not
the Law, nor the works of the Law, nor human nature can
create faith within ug; the Gospel alone brings it. It is
present when we give ear to the Gospel, the Word of grace,
which Word is accompanied by the Holy Spirit when
preached and heard in quiet sincerity. Witness the example
of Cornelius and his family (Acts 10, 44), who received the
Holy Spirit simply upon hearing Peter preach.

24. The Law was given merely to reveal to man his
graceless and servile condition and his lack of filial affection ;



234 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

to shov/ him how he serves God without faith and confi-
dence, and a free, spontaneous spirit. The s«?lf-righteous
saints confess to their utter want of confidence ; and, if they
would but make further confession, they must admit that
they prefer to have no Law, and do not subm^it to it from
choice. Destitute of faith as they are, their whole conduct
is regulated by restraints. They must acknowledge the
Law povv/'erless to yield them any higher perfection. Let
them learn from the Law their condition as servants and not
as children, and be led to come out. of their servitude into
the prerogative of the child, regarding their ov/n efforts
ineffectual. Thus through faith and the grace of God they
may attain their rightful place in life.

25. Such is the right way to view the Law; such is the
use we are to make of it. It is calculated simply to convict
and vanquish all v/ho presume to fulfil it without faith.
For these, being servants, undertake its requirements with
no free, spontaneous spirit and with no reliance on grace.
The Law is designed to try men, to teach them by defeat in
the conflict with it how unwilling, how faithless, they are,
and thus lead them to seek help elsewhere and not to pre-
sume by their own strength to meet its demands. A volun-
tary spirit is necessary, and only the child of God can fulfil
the Law. The Law is an enemy to the unwilling and to-
servants.

26. But the self-righteous go so far as to acknowledge
their utter lack of faith, yes, they reject the faith which
would constitute them children; they are sensible of their
unwillingness, and really prefer freedom from the Law;
yet they presume by their own works to render themselves
godly; they desire to remain servants instead of children,
but at the same time to cleave to the inheritance, so pervert-
ing all order. Though, as we said, the purpose of the Law
is to bring them into conflict and teach that they are servants
lacking a voluntary spirit, and to lead them to despair of
their own efforts and cleave to faith, which would afford
grace and constitute them children — notwithstanding all
this, they pervert the Law to the extent of undertaking to



SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS. 235

fulfil its demands by their works. Thus they frustrate the
end of the Law and its true meaning, striving against faith
and grace, to which the Lav/ points, even urges, them. So
they remain forever a blind, perverse, laboring and servile
people. Such is the teaching of Paul where he fearlessly
says (Rom 3, 20), "By the works of the Law shall no flesh
be justified in his sight." Why not? He answers (Rom 7,
7), Because the Law effects only the knowledge or experi-
ence of sin.

27. Beloved, how does the Law do this? Study a Cain-
like individual and you will see. In the first place, only
with great pains and labor does he perform all his works
in obedience to the Law. Yet, as he readily confesses, he
does not believe himself a child of God and holy. Indeed,
as before said, he condemns such faith as the most abomin-
able presumption and heresy. He continues in doubt, ex-
pecting to become a child through his own works.

28. You see plainly, that individual is not good nor
righteous, for he is destitute of faith, in fact is an enemy to
faith. Being an enemy to faith, he is an enemy to righteous-
ness. Consequently his works are not meritorious, no mat-
ter how admirable they may appear judged by the standard
of the Law. So you see Paul is right when he says, "By
the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight."
In God's sight the doer must be good before his works are
good. True, his works may justify him before men, who
judge according to the deeds performed and not according
to the doer's spirit — the state .of his heart. While men
judge individuals by their works, God judges the works by
the individual.

The first commandment of the Law demands that we
have one God and honor him, that is, trust and confide in
him, build upon him. This is true faith, whereby we are
made children of God. Thus the Law clearly reveals the
sin of the Cain-like — their unbelief. In like manner you
experience whether you believe or not. Without such a law
no one could experience or know this. Note, this is what
Paul calls a knowledge of sin by the Law.



236 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

29. You cannot extricate yourself from unbelief, nor can
the Law do it for you. All your works in intended fulfilment
of the Law must remain works of the' Law and powerless
to justify in the sight of God, who regards as just only
believing children. For only these fulfil the first command-
ment and hold him true God. Though you torture yourself
to death with works, yet they will not afford your heart the
faith this commandment requires. Indeed, as before stated,
works neither knov^ nor tolerate faith. They do not recog-
nize that the Law requires faith. Therefore, he who puts
his trust in works must continue the devil's martyr and a
persecutor of faith and the Law through those very works
wherein he trusts, until he comes to himself, knows himself
and, despairing of himself and his works, gives honor to
God; until, perceiving his own worthlessness, he ardently
desires pure grace, driven to it by God, through the Law.
Then faith and grace come to fill the empty heart, to feed
the hungry soul. Then follow really good works. These
works are not of the Law; they are works of the Spirit of
grace, in the Scriptures styled the works of God — works
he produces in us. All not produced in us by God through
grace, all that we perform of ourselves without grace, is
really wrought of the Law and avails nothing to justifica-
tion. Rather it is evil and opposed to God, because of the
unbelief in which it is wrought.

30. In the second place, one like Cain never performs his
duty willingly and voluntarily unless he is hired and is
permitted to exercise his own pleasure, to have his own
desires. He is precisely like the servant who will not do
his duty unless he is driven, or is given his own way. Now,
servants that have to be driven or coaxed or flattered are
very disagreeable. Likewise the Cain-like are displeasing,
and by no means acceptable in the sight of God. For they
perform no work of the Law unless driven by fear of pun-
ishment and of hell; or only after being coaxed and given
their own way; or again, unless they do it to secure from
God a competence to use as they desire.

You see they are not actuated by hearfelt love for the



SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS. 237

Law, but by the expectation of reward or fear of punish-
ment. Being with all their hearts enemies to the Law,
evidently they would prefer that the Law did not exist.
If the doer 'be evil, the work is also evil. It is merely ex-
torted by fear, or secured by conceding the doer his own
pleasure in the matter; just as entreaty and persuasion move
one to action.

31. The Law teaches us to recognize the unwillingness
and perversity of our minds. They are wholly sinful before
God. Where is the holiness in performing with the hands
required duties when our hearts are unkindly disposed to-
ward the Law and the Law-giver? Indeed, ill-will toward
the Law is very sinful.

Note, what Paul calls knowing sin by the Law, is coming
into conflict with it, feeling and experiencing the perversity
of our hearts and in consequence shuddering, despairing
of ourselves, and eagerly striving after grace. Grace re-
moves disinclination and generates a willing, cheerful spirit,
a spirit giving us sincere good-will for the Law and enabling
us to perform our duties voluntarily, v/ithout constraint,
our only motive being pure delight in righteousness and the
Law, while we are uninfluenced by expectation of reward or
by fear of punishment. Thus, of the slave, the child is
made; of the bond-servant, an heir. The faith of Christ
alone can create such a spirit, as sufficiently stated before.
Now let us consider the epistle.

"So long as the heir is a child, he differeth nothing
from a bond-servant, though he is lord of all."

32. Paul introduces a figure from material life. As we
know, a minor, a child, who is heir to an estate left from
parents or bequeathed by will, is reared in restraint like a
servant so far as control of the estate is concerned. He is
powerless to exercise his own pleasure in regard to it. He
is kept under restraint and discipline, being permitted to
derive from the estate? only enough for food and raiment,
notwithstanding the property is really his ov/n. In the mat-
ter of his own possessions, he is but as a stranger and a
servant.



238 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

33. Similarly, in spiritual matters God made a testament
when he gave Abraham the promise (Gen 22, 18) that in his
seed, Christ, should all the nations of the earth be blessed.
This testament was afterward established by the death of
Christ; and after his resurrection it was published through
the Gospel. The Gospel is merely a revelation, a mani-
festation, of this testament wherein it is declared to the
world that in Christ, the seed of Abraham, grace and bless-
ing are willed and given to all men, and may be received
by every one if only he believes it.

34. Before this testament was opened and published,
children of God were under the Law, burdened and con-
strained by its works. Nevertheless, their works did not
justify; rather they were servile and unprofitable. But be-
cause God's children were predestined to a future faith
which should constitute them children, they were unques-
tionably heirs of the grace and blessing conveyed in the
testament; though not then in possession of it and able to
appropriate it, but, like others without faith, servile and oc-
cupied with works. Just so, it is the case now, and always
has been, that many believe, and acknowledge faith, after
having been previously overwhelmed with works and in
ignorance of faith; after having been, with hypocrites, oc-
cupied in works. From the fact of their now apprehending
faith and receiving the inheritance, they certainly must
have been all the time heirs and predestined of God, though
in ignorance of the fact, and though servants, self-righteous
and Cain-like.

35. So some who are now occupied with works and
whose holiness is like Cain's, who are servants as he was,
are nevertheless future heirs and children, because they will
yet believe. Faith will enable them to lay aside their ser-
vility, to surrender their works and to obtain the great bless-
ing, the vast inheritance, of justification. And being justi-
fied, righteousness and salvation are theirs without works^
Then will they voluntarily do all their works to the honor
of God and the benefit of their neighbors, without expec-
tation of reward or intent to secure righteousness or a re-.



SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS. 239

ward. For they are in possession of the inheritance and'
blessing; they have what Christ has bequeathed to them in
his testament and caused to be opened, proclaimed and dis^
tributed through the Gospel, all of pure grace and mercy.

36. Abraham and every other patriarch, you will ob-
serve, recognized God's testament or covenant. It was de-
livered to them just as much as to us, although not at that
time read and proclaimed to the v/orld as after Christ's as-
cension. They obtained the very same thing that we and
all God's children obtain, and through the very same faith.
The grace, the blessing, the testament, the faith — all are the
same; the Father is one and the same God of us all.

37. Note, Paul everywhere teaches justification, not by
works, but solely by faith; and not as a process, but in-
stantaneous. The testament includes in itself everything
• — justification, salvation, the inheritance and great blessing.
Through faith it is instantaneously enjoyed, not in part,
but all. Truly is it plain, then, that faith alone affords such
blessings of God, justification and salvation — immediately
and not in process as must be the case with works — and
constitutes us children and heirs who voluntarily discharge
their duties, not presuming to become godly and worthy by
a servile spirit. No micrit is needed ; faith secures all gratu-
itously — more than anyone can merit. The believer per-
forms his works gratuitously, being already in possession
of all the Cain-like saints vainly seek through works and
never find — justification and divine inheritance, or grace.

"But is under guardians and stewards until the day
appointed of the father."

38. These guardians and stewards are they who bring
up the heir on his father's estate, restraining him from a
wild and vagabond life. Though they withhold from him
control of the inheritance, they are necessary and benefit the
heir in various ways. In the first place, as stated before,
they keep him at home on the estate, to better fit him for
enjoyment of it. Secondly, the fact of his being carefully
and closely restrained will inspire in him stronger desire for
control of the inheritance; when he arrives at the age of



240 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS. .

discretion he will yearn for freedom and be unwilling to
continue under others' control.

39. The same is necessarily true of everyone still occu-
pied with works under the Law, and a servant. The Law
is his guardian, his steward. He is under its control as one
in constraint of another. The Law is designed, in the first
place, to train him and keep him in bounds ; to restrain him
externally, through fear of punishment, from committing
evil works; to save him from becoming wholly dissolute,
from risking everything and altogether shutting himself out
from God and his salvation, as do the profligate.

The Lav/ is intended, in the second place, to teach man to
know himself ; to bring him to reason, where he may recog-
nize his unwilling allegiance to the Law, how he performs
no v/ork willingly as a child, but by constraint as a bond-
servant. The Law gives him experience as to his short-
comings; it shows him his lack of a free, new and ever-
willing spirit — a spirit the Law and its works cannot give.
Indeed, the more he works, the more unwillingly is it done ;
and the harder is it to work, for he is influenced by a grudg-
ing spirit.

40. Being made aware of his unwilling attitude, he sees
that his works are only an external observance of the Law,
while in his heart he is an enemy and opposer of the Law,
so far as cheerful obedience is concerned. Hence he truly
is constantly at heart a sinner against the Law, and exter-
nally a saint according to the Law; in other words, a real
Cain, an egregious hypocrite. Manifestly to himself, his
works are works of the Law, but his heart is a heart of sin.
His heart being not disposed to the Law, it is disposed to
sin, while merely his hands are constrained to observe the
Law's requirements.

41. Very aptly has Paul styled works without faith
"works of the Law." For the Law forces them; they are
simply compulsory works. Now, the Law demands the
heart also. It desires a willing obedience. A willing obe-
dience may be said to be not only "a work of the Law," but
"a heart of the Law"; not only ''hands of the Law," but



SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS. 241

"will, spirit and all the powers of the Law." As Psalm 1,
1-2 declares: "Blessed is the man whose delight is in the
law of Jehovah; and on his law doth he meditate day and
night." Such a spirit the Law demands, but it does not
create it; nor is human nature able of itself to produce it.
Hence the Law oppresses the soul and condemns it to hell
as disobedient to God's commandments. Anguish and dis-
tress of conscience follow, but there is no help.

This is the time appointed of the Father. Now the child
of God will crave grace and help. He will confess his
wretchedness, weakness and guilt. He will let go his claim
to security in works, and despise himself. For he recog-
nizes that between himself and public sinners there is no
difference except as to external conduct. In his heart he
is as much opposed to the Law as any ether sinner ; in fact,
kis heart may be even more embittered toward it. For the
sinner of actual practice may find less desire to sin and may
become somewhat inimical to sin, in consequence of the re-
sulting unpleasantness and injury he must meet. The child
of God, hindered and restrained by its tutor the Law, may
really burn and rage in his desires and lusts for sin, though



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 20 of 29)