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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he dare not commit the deed. Thus, in expression he may
be more righteous than the public sinner, but in heart more
wicked.

42. Now, it is easily apparent to everyone that to give
our hands to the Law and our whole hearts to sin, is a very
unequal division of service ; for the whole heart means vastly
more than the works of the hands. What is such a pro-
ceeding but giving the chaff to the Law and the grain to
sin, or the shell to God and the kernel to the devil? This
explains how, as taught in the Gospel, the sin of the public
transgressor is but a mote, while that of the secret offender
is a great beam.

43. Now, where circumstances are such that Cain does not
see this beam and does not learn to know himself in this
sense of the Law, but continues obdurate and blind in his
works, disregarding his inner wickedness — where such is
the case, he proceeds very inconsistently to judge with



242 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

malice the world in general, despising sinners as did the
Pharisee in the Gospel — presuming to regard himself godly
in contrast with others. If any attem.pt to rebuke him, and
justly to condem.n his conduct, he rages and raves, kills
Abel and persecutes all men, claiming that he does it for the
sake of good works and righteousness, to the praise of God.
He expects to merit much as a persecutor of blasphemers,
heretics, offenders and wicked ones who would lead him
astray and lure him from good works. Right here all Script-
ure denunciations of these venomous spirits come in.
Christ calls them serpents and a generation of vipers. Mt
23, 33. They are like Cain, and will continue like him. Serv-
ants are they, and will remiain servants.

44. But the prospective Abels and future children learn
to recognize themselves by the Law, to discover how little
heartfelt delight they have for that Law. Ceasing to rely
upon their own presumption, they let go their hold and
with this knowledge are completely helpless in their own
eyes. Just here the Gospel comes in. Here is Vv^here God
gives grace to the humble. These children of God lay hold
of the testament and believe. With and in this faith they
receive the Holy Spirit. He gives to them a nev/ heart, a
heart delighting in the Law and hating sin, and doing right
voluntarily and cheerfully. Works of the Law are now
superseded by hearts of the Law. This is the time ap-
pointed of the father for the heir to come into his own — no
longer to be a servant nor under a guardian. Now we un-
derstand what Paul means by the words :

*'So we also, when we were children, were held in
bondage under the rudiments [elements] of the world.'*

45. The apostle uses a word familiar to us — "rudi-
ments." But we are not to understand here the four rudi-
ments or elements of nature — fire, water, air and earth.
That is not its Scriptural meaning. That use of the term
originated in heathen philosophy, and in such sense it would
be entirely inadmissible in the Scriptures. The apostle
means by "rudiments" the literal characters — the letters — •



SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS. 243

of the Law. In both the Latin and the Greek languages, let-
ters are terms the "rudiments" of the language.

Similarly, Paul says (Heb 5, 12), "When by reason of the
time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that some
one teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the
oracles of God." And (Col 2, 8) : "Take heed lest there
shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his phil-
osophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the
rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." Again (Gal
4, 9-10), "How turn ye back again to the weak and beg-
garly rudiments, whereunto ye desire to be in bondage over
again? Ye observe days, and months, and seasons, and
years."

46. It is in a rather contemptuous sense that Paul terms
the Law "rudiments," or letters ; it is "weak and beggarly"
because it can afford no relief. It renders us likewise weak
and beggarly, for it demands service of the heart and mind ;
and the heart and mind are not present. Hence the con-
science grows weak and beggarly, confessing it has not and
can not have what it should have. As the apostle expresses
it (2 Cor. 3, 6), "The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth
life."

47. Some understand by "rudiments" not the letter of
the law, but the ceremonials and outward forms of worship
incident to the religious life, and which we early teach chil-
dren. In that connection, "rudiments" implies the first
crude, childish forms of worship.

48. Paul qualifies "rudiments" by the phrase "of the
world," because the self-righteous, while boasting obedi-
ence to the Law, observe it only in external and worldly
things, such as days, meats, apparel, places, persons, ves-
sels and the like. These are all creatures of this world, and
such, practically, is the extent of the works of the Law.
[Therefore we rendered the meaning in German by "Aeus-
zerliche Satzung," outward or worldly laws. Editions of
1540 and 1543.]

49. But faith, independent of the world, hangs upon God,
his Word and his mercy; and justifies us, not by works or



244 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

any other wordly thing, but by the eternal, invisible grace
of God. To the Christian, one day is like another; and
meats, places, apparel and all worldly things are alike.
They neither help nor hinder his salvation and justification,
as they do in the case of Cain and the self-righteous. There-
fore, the Christian gives no heed to the rudiments of this
w^orld, but regards the fullness of the eternal blessings.

So, though the Christian has to do with external, temporal
affairs, yet he is indifferent to worldly things. He is free to
disregard them. All are alike to him — persons, places, days,
meats, apparel, etc. He makes no particular choice. Doing
the duty that presents, he is unconcerned about what does
not. His external conduct does not represent something
select and peculiar.

50. The Cain-like take a different course. They must
make some distinction — must be recognized by some pe-
culiarity. They eat no meat, wear nothing black, pray not
in houses, observe days. One is bound to one custom, an-
other to another. Yet these are all temporal and transitory
things. The observers are servants of the rudiments of this
world. Nevertheless, their practices are styled holy orders,
good morals and real ways to salvation.

Upon this point Paul says (Col 2, 20-23) : "If ye died
with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though
living in the world, do ye subject yourselves to ordinances.
Handle not, nor taste, nor touch (all which things are to
perish with the using), after the precepts and doctrines of
men? Which things have indeed a s]ißw of wisdom in will-
worship, and humility.'*

51. From this quotation and from our foregoing argu-
ments, clearly all orders, institutions and cloisters, now
styled ecclesiastical positions, are directly opposed to the
Gospel and to the freedom of Christian life; and they who
are bound by them are in greater danger than are actual
worldlings. The things they devise are mere rudiments of
this world. They pertain only to apparel, persons, condi-
tions, times, forms, meats and vessels — solely worldly and
temporal things. Adhering to these as having power to



SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS. 245

make them pious and spiritual, faith is excluded and they
are not Christians. Their whole life is but sin and corrup-
tion.

52. These ecclesiasts have more need than anyone else
to guard against such dazzling devices. They have espe-
cial need to adhere stedfastly to faith, the righteousness of
which is beyond the world and worldly things. The glit-
ter and show of works tear away from faith with greater
violence than do gross, open sins, and place the doers in
the condition to which Paul here refers when he says, "So
we also, when we were children, were held in bondage under
the rudiments of the world." When we were ignorant
of faith and occupied with the works of the Law, we per-
formed — yet unwillingly and as servants — works relating to
temporal things, presuming thereby to become righteous
and saved. It was a false idea, and made of us children and
servants. The mere works would have been harmless had
it not been for the idea that excluded faith and the doctrine
of godliness only through grace, and had all temporal things
been left optional.

"But when the fulness of the time came, God sent
forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,
that he might redeem them that were under the law,
that we might receive the adoption of sons."

53. Now, since the lav/ cannot effect justification nor
faith, and human nature with all its works cannot merit
them, Paul introduces him who merited faith in our stead,
and who is master of justification — and justification was not
secured without price; it cost much, even the Son of God
himself. Him Paul introduces, saying: "When the fulness
of the time was come"; that is, at the expiration of the
time when we were children and servants. The apostle fol-
lows a usage of the Scriptures in speaking of the expiration
of the time as its "fulfilment." For instance, Acts 2, 1:
"When the day of Pentecost was [fulfilled] fully come";
that is, when it was completed. And Exodus 23,26, "The
number of thy days I will fulfil," meaning, "I will not
shorten them; I will give their full measure." Also Luke 1,



246 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

57: Now Elizabeth's time was fulfilled that she should be
delivered; and she brought forth a son."

54. Hence the learned doctors erred in interpreting this
passage by Paul to mean that the time of fulfilment was the
time of grace following Christ's birth. This is directly con-
trary to the apostle, who does not say, "the time of the ful-
filment," but "the fulfilment of the time," meaning the previ-
ous time appointed of the Father for the heir, — the period
of his guardianship.

55. Like as the time of the bondservant was fulfilled for
the Jews by the bodily advent of Christ, so is it still daily
fulfilled for the individual when he is enlightened by faith,
and his period of servitude in legal works terminates. Christ's
bodily advent would have been to no purpose had it not
effected a spiritual advent, the advent of faith. The purpose
of the former appearance was the establishment of the lat-
ter one. Christ came spiritually to all who, whether previ-
ously or subsequently, believed in his bodily advent. Hence,
because of their faith, he was always present with the an-
cient fathers ; but he has not yet come to the Jews of today
because of their unbelief.

Everything, from the beginning of the world to the end,
depends on that bodily advent. Faith therein terminates the
state of servitude whenever, wherever and in whomsoever
it exists. Therefore, the time is fulfilled for each individual
when he begins to believe in Christ as the promised one
now come.

WHAT WE ARE TO BELIEVE CONCERNING

CHRIST.

56. So rich in meaning is this verse, I am not sure I shall
be able to do it justice in my explanation. It is not enough
merely to believe that Christ is come; we must believe also
what Paul here states : that he is sent of God and is the Son
of God ; that he is true man ; that his mother was a virgin ;
that he alone has fulfilled the Law, and not for his own sake
but for our good — to secure grace for us. These points we
will examine in order.

On the first point John's entire Gospel insists, as we said



SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS. 247

on the selection for Christmas. John continually proves
Christ the Son of God and sent of the Father. He who does
not believe that Christ is true God is lost; witness John
8 :24 : "Except ye believe that I am he, ye shall die in your
sins." And (Jn 1, 4) : "In him was Hfe; and the life was
the light of men." And again (Jn 14, 6) : "I am the way,
and the truth, and the life." And the reason that we must
believe if we would be saved, is this :

57. The soul cannot, and should not, be content with
anything but the Highest Good — its Creator and the fountain
of its life and salvation. Now, God chose to be himself that
one on whom the soul should rely and believe. No one but
God deserves the creature's confidence. Therefore, he him-
self came to earth as man, gave himself for man, and draws
man unto himself, inviting him to believe in him. No ne-'
cessity on God's part demanded that he come to earth as
man; the necessity was ours — it was for our benefit. Now,
if we were not to cleave by faith unto Christ as true God,
God would be robbed of the honor due him, and we of life
and salvation. It is our duty to believe in God only, v/ho is
the Truth ; without him we cannot live or be saved.

58. The apostle says, "God sent his son." The fact o£
sending necessitates previous existence of the Son, Christ
must have existed before he manifested himself on earth in
human form. Again, if he is a Son, he must be greater than
an angel. Being more than man and more than angels, the
highest creatures, he must be true God. To be the Son of
God is to be superior to an angel, as said in the Epistle for
Christmas day. Further, Christ being sent by God, and
being God's Son, he must be a distinct person from him who
sends. Thus Paul teaches here the existence of one God in
two persons. Father and Son. We shall speak later of the
Holy Spirit.

59. For the second point: We are also to believe Christ
to be true, natural man, and the Son of man. Paul says he
was born of a woman, or made of a woman. Now, he who is
born of a woman must be truly a natural man. A woman



248 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

can bear only according to her nature — bear true n?an. In
John 6, 53, Christ says : "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son
of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves."
Eating and drinking here means simply believing that
Christ, the Son of God, had a true flesh-and-blood nature,
like other men.

This is also the testament or covenant of God to Abraham
(Gen 22, 18), **In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth
be blessed." To be the seed of Abraham, Christ must surely
have Abraham's flesh and blood — must be his natural child,

60. No one, then, must presume by his own devotion, his
own efforts, to institute a way of approach to God. It is
futile to call on God in the manner of the Jews and the
Turks. We must approach him through the seed of Abra-

^ham, and be blessed through that seed, according to God's
covenant. God will not make a special way for you. He
will not, because of your service, annul his covenant. You
must abandon your own efforts and cleave to the seed he
mentions, to that flesh and blood ; otherwise you will be lost
with all the spiritual skill and wisdom you may have gained
from God. Christ says (Jn 14, 6), "No one cometh unto the
Father, but by me."

61. Because of the exalted and incomprehensible character
of the divine nature, God has for our good manifested him-
self in the most familiar form — in our own nature. In this
character he awaits us. Here, and nowhere else, he may be
found. Whosoever calls upon him in this relation will be
heard at once. Here is the throne of grace, where no one
who comes is excluded. But they who permit Christ to dwell
here in vain, and presume in some other way than through
his humanity to serve and call upon God, the Creator of
heaven and earth, may see their sentence already pronounced
in Psalm 18, 41, where it is said of such: "They cried, but
there was none to save ; even unto Jehovah, but he answered
them not."

62. In the third place, we must believe that Christ's
mother was a virgin. The apostle makes this plain when he
declares the Son of God was made of a wom.an — not of man



SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS. 249

like other children. He alone among men is born of woman
only. The apostle is not disposed to^say "born of a virgin,"
because "virgin" is not naturally consistent here. But
"woman" represents a state in nature — the natural instru-
mentality for bearing fruit, for bringing forth children. The
mother of Christ is truly woman by nature, who brought
forth the divine fruit; yet from herself alone, not by man.
Therefore she is a virgin woman — not simply a virgin.

63. Paul attaches more importance to the birth of Christ
than to Mary's virginity. He passes over in silence her
virginity, merely a peculiar personal grace that benefited
none but herself, and points out her womanhood, advanta-
geous not only to herself but to her fruit. Her virginity
ministers not so much to Christ as does her womanhood.
She was selected in her virginity not for her own sake, but
for Christ's sake. He chose to be born of a virgin that he
might be born without sin. A sinless birth was impossible
except through the instrumentality of a virgin woman who
was able to conceive and bring forth without the aid of man.

64. Such seems to be included in God's covenant, declar-
ing that all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in the
seed of Abraham. From the fact of a blessing being prom-
ised, it is evident that men must be under a curse because of
their physical birth in sin resulting from'Adam. Should this
seed of Abraham be a blessing to all, it could not itself be
under a curse; therefore, the Saviour could not come of
Adam's birth, which is altogether under the curse.

65. Further, to verify the testament or covenant of God
who cannot lie, Christ must be the natural child of Abraham
—his flesh and blood. But to what is such reasoning lead-
ing; us? Christ is to be a natural child, born of flesh and
blood, and yet not to be a child of carnal birth. The incon-
sistency of the reasoning is removed by the fact that a
woman alone, independent of man, was chosen to effect the
birth. Thus it was possible for a real, natural child, one
truly the seed of Abraham, to be born sinless, of a woman,
and productive of abundant blessings. In him, then, man-
kind, under the curse in consequence of its own sinful birth.



250 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

may be blessed. Thus the requirements of God's covenant
are fully met ; the carnal birth of Adam with its inordinate
desire is avoided, and a physical birth in spiritual manner
really effected.

66. If to Mary, the holy virgin, is due great honor for her
virginity, infinitely greater honor is due her for her woman-
hood. For her procreative powers were instrumental in the
fulfilment of God's covenant, and in making the blessed seed
of Abraham the blessed fruit of her womanhood. Her mere
virginity v/ould have been insufficient to accomplish it; in
fact, entirely futile.

67. In the fourth place, we must believe that none but
Christ has fulfilled the law. He says (Mt 5, 17), "Think not
that I came to destroy the law . . . but to fulfil." Such,
too, is the meaning of the covenant that says the whole
world is condemned, and shall be blessed in Abraham's seed.
Gen 22, 18. Now, if all men are condemned and unblessed,
the individual cannot be good ; he is only Cain-like. Conse-
quently his works cannot be good, as said before. God does
not regard the works, but the persons — Abel and Cain. And
the works of the law render no one righteous,

68. The fact that Christ rejects all works of the Lav/ and
demands that the person first be good and blessed, may seem
to teach that he rejects good works and designs to destroy
the Law altogether. But in reality Christ teaches us to per-
form good works. For the very purpose of correcting error
on this point, he says (Mt 5, 17) : "Think not that I came
to destroy the Law" because I reject the works of the Law.
Rather I design its fulfilment through men's faith in me,
which first renders the individual good and then enables him
to do really good works.

Similarly Paul says, rejecting all works of the Law and
exalting faith alone: "Do we then make the law of none
effect through faith ? God forbid : nay, we establish the law."
Rom 3, 31.

Of us at the present day also it is said that we forbid good
works when we condemn the practices of the cathedrals and
cloisters in the matter of works. Nevertheless, our actual



SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS. 251

desire for the people is that they first embrace true faith
whereby they may become personally good, and be blessed
in Christ the seed of Abraham, and thus be enabled to do
good works contributing to the mortification of the body and
to the good of m.ankind. To this end the things wrought in
cathedrals and cloisters contribute nothing, as already fully

stated.

69. Observe, no one is able to fulfil the Law until he first
is liberated from it. We mmst become accustomed to Paul's
peculiar phraseology in his reference to some being "under
the Law" if we would know who is really under it and who
is free. A.11 v^^ho perform good works simply because com-
manded, and from fear of punishment or expectation of re-
ward, are under the Law. Their piety and good deeds result
from constraint, and not from a willing spirit. The Law is
their master, their driver, and they its bondservants and cap-
tives. Such is the attitude of all men without Christ the
blessed seed of Abraham. Our own experience and the
voice of everyone's conscience teach this. Were it not for
the restraint of Law — the fear of punishment or the expecta-
tion of reward — v/ere each individual left to his own in-
clinations and there were no punishment or reward, he
would do evil and neglect good, particularly under the in-
fluence of tem.ptation and allurements. But when the Law
with its threats and its promises interposes, man abstains
from evil and endeavors to do good ; not from love of good
and hatred of evil, but through fear of punishment or hope of
reward. Thus the Cain-like saints are under the Law, con-
trolled by it, like servants.

70. But they v/ho are liberated from the Law do good
and avoid evil, regardless of the threats and promises of the
Law — not from fear of punishment or expectation of reward.
They act voluntarily, from love for the good and hatred of
the evil, because they delight in the Law of God. Even were
there no Law, they would not have it otherwise, and be
prompted by the same spirit to do good and abstain from
evil. Such are really children. Hum.an nature cannot create
that spirit; it has origin with the seed of Abraham. The



252 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

blessing of Christ gives the willing disposition. ' Willingness
is the result of his grace and of the influence of the Holy
Spirit.

Therefore, "not under the Law" does not mean liberty to
do evil and to neglect good as we feel inclined. It means do-
ing good and avoiding evil, not in consequence of fear, not
from the restraints and requirements of the Law, but from
pure love and a willing spirit. Freedom from the Law in-
volves a spirit which would voluntarily do only good, as if
the Law did not exist and our nature were prone to do good.
It is a freedom paralleled by that of the body, which willingly
eats, drinks, assimilates, sleeps, moves and performs all nat-
ural functions. No law, no compulsion, is necessary. It acts
voluntarily and seasonably, v^ithout fear of punishment or
expectation of reward. It may truly be said that the body is
under no law, still it performs its functions ; it acts spontane-
ously.

71. Mark you, we must have within ourselves a ready,
natural willingness that will incline to good and recoil from
eviL This is spiritual liberation, or redemption from thQ
Law. Thus is explained Paul's words (1 Tim 1, 9) : "Law is
not made for a righteous man." From his own impulse the
righteous man inclines to good and abstains from evil; it is
with no fear of penalty or hope of recompense. Again, we
read (Rom 6, 15), "We are not under lav/, but under grace."
That is, we are children, not bondservants; we incline to
good readily, without constraint. Again (Rom 8, 15), "Ye
received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear; but ye
received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba,
Father." The Law produces a spirit of fear ; a servile, Cain-
like spirit. But grace produces a free, filial, Abel-like dis-
position, through Christ the seed of Abraham. To that
spirit, Psalm 51, 10, has reference: "Create in me a clean
heart, O God ; and renew a right spirit within me." Again,
in Psalm 110, 3, it is said concerning the people of Christ:
"Thy people offer themselves willingly ... in holy
array."

72. Thus Christ fulfilled the Law and did all, of his own



SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS. 253

free will ; not because of the compelling or restraining power
of the Law. No other has ever fulfilled it, nor will any fulfil it,



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 21 of 29)