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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except in and through him. So Paul here says that Christ
Was "born under the law, that he might redeem them that
Were under the law."

73. In the fifth place, we are to believe that Christ's motive
was to benefit us. He desired to make children of us servants.
What is meant by the phrase "that he might redeem them
that were under the law"? Unquestionably, that he might
redeem us from under the Law. But how does Christ effect
that? As said before, not by the threats or the rewards of
the Law, but by bestowing a voluntary spirit; a spirit
prompted neither by compulsion nor restraint ; a spirit that
regards not the terrors nor the rewards of the Law, but pro-
ceeds as if no Law existed and all action were voluntary, as
was the case with Adam and Eve before the fall.

74. But what is the process whereby Christ gives us such
a spirit and redeems us from under the Law? The work is
effected solely by faith. He who believes that Christ came
to redeem us, and that he has accomplished it, is really re-
deemed. As he believes, so is it with him. Faith carries
with it the child-making spirit. The apostle here explains by
saying that Christ has redeemed us from under the Law that
we might receive the adoption of sons. As before stated, all
must be effected through faith. Now we have discussed the
five points of the verse.

HOW CHRIST WAS UNDER THE LAW.

75. The question, however, still arises : How can Christ
be under the Law if to be "under the Law" is to be prompted
to obedience only by its restraints and compulsion, and if no
one under the Law can fulfil it since God requires a volun-
tary conformity to its demands? I answer: The apostle
seems to make a distinction when he says that Christ was
put, or made under the Law ; that is, he voluntarily placed
himself under the Law. Again, with his voluntary consent,
the Father placed him under the Law, though properly he
was not subject. We, however, were made subject against
our desires. We, as Paul says, were naturally and essen-



254 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

tially in forced subjection. While Christ was voluntarily,
not by nature, under the Law, we were by nature, not vol-
untarily, in subjection.

76. There is a marked difference between being placed
under the Law and being of choice under the Law; just
the difference there is between volition and the compulsion
of nature. Acting according to the pleasures of the will
differs materially from obeying the impulses of nature.
What is performed by pleasure of the will may be omitted ;
it is not compulsory. But what is wrought in obedience to
the impulses of nature is of necessity; it is not optional.
One may go to the Rhine or not, as he pleases; but he
m.ust eat, drink, assimilate, sleep, grow and advance in
years regardless of his will. Christ put himself under the
Law voluntarily, v/hen he had power to refrain. But we
were by nature under it; there was no alternative. We
could not voluntarily obey and suffer the Law as if under
no constraint, as before stated. But Christ, independent of
any obligation to obey the Law, observed it voluntarily ; he
acted as if there were no law for him.

77. To illustrate: Peter, the apostle (Acts 12, 6-7), lay
captive in the prison of Herod, bound with chains to two
soldiers, v/hile the keepers stood guard at the door. The
angel of God entered the prison in a brilliant light, awoke
Peter and led him past all the keepers and out the door,
leaving the chains in the prison. This event is an illus-
tration of hov/ Christ liberates us from the Law. Let us an-
alyze it.

Peter was an inmate of the prison not willingly; he was
kept there by force. He knew not how to deliver himself.
The angel also entered the prison, but vs^illingly. He was
not compelled to be there. He was not there for his own
sake, but for the sake of Peter. And he knew how to de-
liver himself. Now, Peter, when he followed the angel
obediently, was liberated.

The prison represents the Law, in which our consciences
are unwillingly held captive. For no one voluntarily effects
the good required by the Law or omits the evil it forbids.



SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS. 255

Man acts through fear of punishment or hope of reward.
The fear or threat and the reward, or rather the expectation
of reward, are the two chains that hold us in prison under
the Law. The keepers are the teachers of the Law, v^^ho
explain it to us. Thus we remain — yes, unwillingly lie — in
the Law. Christ is the angel who voluntarily approaches
us in prison — approaches us under the Law; he does will-
ingly the works v/e unwillingly perform. His motive is to
benefit us; he would attach us to himself and liberate us.
Christ well knows how to liberate, for he is himself inde-
pendent of will. Then, mark you, if we cleave to him and
follow him, we too shall be liberated.

78, But how is this done? We cleave to Christ and fol-
lov/ him when we believe that he effects all for our benefit.
Such faith introduces the Spirit. Having faith, we too shall
perform the requirements of the Law voluntarily, unfettered
and liberated from the prison of the Law. The two chains,
fear of punishment and hope of reward, will no longer re-
strain us. All our acts will be spontaneous, prom.pted by
pure love and a cheerful spirit.

79. To further understand how Christ was put under
the Law: Observe, he placed himself in subjection in a two-
fold manner. In the first place, he put himself under the
works of the Law. He permitted himself to be circumcised
and to be presented and purified in the temple. He was
submissive to his father and mother, and all those things,
v/hen no obligation required. For he was Lord over all
lav/s. He acted voluntarily in this respect, unprompted by
fear of punishment or expectation of reward as far as he was
himself concerned. When we consider the question of mere
external works, we can perceive no difference between his
conduct and that of individuals actuated by compulsion and
restraint. His liberty and free will were concealed from
men, just as the imprisonment and unwillingness of others
were not apparent. Thus Christ acts under the Law, though
properly not under the Law. He conducts himself like
those in bondage to it, but he is himself free. His will
being free, he is not under the Law. In the matter of



256 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS,

works, which he voluntarily performs, he is subject. But
we, both as to our wills and to our works, are under the
Law; for we effect works by constraint of will.

80. In the second place, Christ willingly put himself
under the penalty of the Law. He did more than perform
the works of the Law to which he was not obligated; he
willingly and innocently suffered the penalty threatened and
inflicted of the Law upon all who fail of observance. Now,
the Law adjudges to death, condemnation and eternal pun-
ishment every transgressor of its commands. Paul, quot-
ing from Deuteronomy 27, 26, says: "Cursed is every one
who continueth not in all things that are written in the
book of the law, to do them." Gal 3, 10.

81. We have now made sufficiently plain the fact that no
individual out of Christ is able to keep the Law; all of that
class are under the Law, like servants, and fettered and con-
strained. Consequently, the disregarder of the Law deserves
its judgment and penalties. He who is under the Law
in the first respect — in the matter of works — must also be
subject in the second respect — the matter of punishment.
Now, first, all our works are sinful because not performed
from a willing spirit but rather in opposition to our will.
And second, we are adjudged to death and condemnation.

Christ Redeems Us.
But Christ intervenes before sentence is executed upon
us. He interposes, approaching us as we are under sen-
tence. He suffers the penalty — death, curse and condem-
nation; just as if he had himself violated the entire Law,
and deserved the full penalty resting upon the transgressor.
At the same time he has not broken the Law; he has ful-
filled it, and that without obligation. He is doubly innocent.
First, even had he observed no Law — and such was his priv-
ilege — he was under no obligation to suffer. Second, he
observed the Law from superabundant willingness and was
liable to no penalty. In contrast, our guilt is also of two-
fold character. First, we, under obligation to keep the Law,
failed so to do ; consequently we should justly suffer its ca-



SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS. 257

lamities. Second, even had we observed it, it would be right
that we should suffer whatever God designs.

82. Note, the Son of God is put under the Law in that he
redeemed us who were under it. For us, for our good, he
effected all; not for himself. He purposed to manifest to-
ward us only love, goodness and mercy. As Paul has it
(Gal 3, 13), "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law,
having become a curse for us." In other words: For us,
Christ put himself under the law and complied with its de-
mands, designing every believer of this fact to be redeemed
from under the Law with its curse.

83. Mark you, then, the priceless blessing for the be-
lieving Christian: To him are attributed as his own all the
works and sufferings of Christ. He may rely upon them as
if they wereihis — wrought by himself. For, to repeat, Christ
effected all, not for himself, but for us. Christ needed not
any of the things he wrought. He accumulated the treasure
that on it we might confidently rest. Further, such faith
will be accompanied by the Holy Spirit.

84. What more should God do? How can the heart
avoid being free, joyous and cheerfully obedient in God and
Christ? What work can it encounter or what suffering en-
dure to which it will not respond singing and leaping in
love and praise for God? When such is not the case, there
is certainly some defect in our faith. For the greater our
faith, the greater our freedom and happiness; the less our
faith, the less our joy. Note, this is the Christian redemp-
tion, the Christian freedom from the Law and its curse — •
sin and death. Not that the Law and death shall be re-
moved, but they shall become as if they were not. The
Law shall not lead us to sin, nor death to shame. But faith
shall guide us into righteousness and eternal life.

85. This is an occasion to admonish the poor Cain-like
saints, the ecclesiasts, if that is possible in their condition.
Were they to observe their orders, laws, ceremonies, prayers,
masses, clothing and meats as Christ observed the Law,
these might be retained. For example, if they assigned the
Christian faith its true place and allowed it to control the



258 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

heart; if they confessed that they did not become pious and
were not saved through their orders, stations and works, but
alone through faith in Christ; and if then they considered
their works and laws optional, needed only for the mortifica-
tion of the body and the benefit of the neighbor ; then these
ordinances might be retained. But the impression at present
is that such practices are essential to piety and eternal
salvation. This is nothing but a delusion and very sinful.
It drives people to perdition by severe martyrdom, and it
merits eternal martyrdom; because full, child-like faith is
opposed by servile and compulsory works. Faith cannot
tolerate such stupid works; it alone makes us pious and
forever happy. With the believer all works are optional;
he cheerfully suffers all that God sends and does as his
neighbor's need requires. These are the works of faith,
these and no other. Faith inquires not about masses, ap-
pointed fasts, particular clothing, special meats, rare posi-
tions, persons or works; nay, faith rejects all these as hin-
drances to its liberty.

86. Let this suffice on that verse. We were compelled
to treat the subject at length because so little is known con-
cerning the doctrine of faith, a knowledge of which is nec-
essary to a right understanding of Paul. Now follows :

"And because ye are sons [children], God sent forth
the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba,
Father."

87. Here we see that the Holy Spirit is communicated,
not through works, but through faith; for as it reads, the
Spirit is given to men because they are children and not serv-
ants. Children believe; servants only work. Children
are free from the Law; servants are under it. The forego-
ing explanations make all this plain. It may be necessary,
however, for us to consider in some measure the sense in
which Paul uses the words "child" and "servant," "free"
and "bond." Works performed under compulsion are the
works of servants, and works wrought of free will are the
works of children.

88. Why does Paul tell the Galatians the Holy Spirit



SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS. 259

was given them because they were children, when the fact
is, the Holy Spirit creates children from servants, and must
be essentially present before they can become children? I
reply : He speaks in the same future sense characteristic of
verses three and four, v/here we read that before the time
was fulfilled v/e were under the rudiments. Here the refer-
ence is to children prospectively, in the sight of God. The
Holy Spirit was sent to transform the servants into the chil-
dren they were designed to be.

89. Paul speaks of the Spirit as the Spirit of the Son of
God. Why not the Spirit of God? Because he would em-
phasize the point he is making. Being children of God,
God sends them the Spirit of Christ, himself a child, giving
them the right to cry, v/ith him, **Abba, Father." In other
words, God s£nds,you his Spirit, who dwells 5n his Son, that
you m.ay be brethren and heirs with him, crying as he cries,
"Abba, Father." The unspeakable goodness and grace of
God are extolled in the fact that through faith we share
with Christ the full blessings, having all he has, and all he is
— also his Spirit.

90. These words also establish the doctrine of a third
person — the Holy Spirit — in the Trinity. For not only
does the Spirit dwell in Christ as he does in men, but he
also is Christ's, deriving his divine substance from him just
as he does from the Father. Otherv/ise the language of
Paul — "the Spirit of his Son" — would be false. No creature
can claim the Holy Spirit as his own spirit ; he is the Spirit
of God alone. Creatures are the property of the Holy
Spirit; though one might, it is true, say "my Holy Spirit"
in the sense in which we say "my God," "my Lord." The
Son is God, then, because the Spirit of God is his Spirit.

91. But let everyone be certain that he feels the Holy
Spirit's presence in himself and hears his voice. Paul says :
When the Holy Spirit is in the heart he cries, "Abba,
Father." Again (Rom 8, 15), "Ye received the spirit of
adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." V/e recognize
that voice when the conscience, without doubt or wavering,
is firmly persuaded, fully satisfied, that our sins are for-



260 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

given and that we are children of God; and when, having
such assurance of salvation, we may with joyous and confi-
dent heart approach God and call him our beloved Father.
But we must be as certain as v/e are that we live, and must
prefer death in any form, yes, hell with ail its pangs, to
being deprived of the Spirit or to distrusting him. It would
be unreasonable doubt of the unbounded achievements of
Christ and of his unlimited sufferings were Vv^e not to be-
lieve that he freely wrought all for us, and not to let this fact
incite us to confidence and strength in him equal to tlie
force wherewith sin or temptation terrifies or dissuades us.

92. True, conflict may arise here. The individual may
have a fearful feeling that he is not a child of God. He may
imagine God to be a judge over him, angry and austere.
Such was the case with Job, and many others. In such
conflict, filial confidence must gain the victory, however it
may tremble and quake; otherwise all will be lost.

93. Now, the Cain-like individual, hearing this doctrine,
blesses himself, and crossing his hands and his feet, and
affecting great humility, he exclaims : "Guard me, O God,
against such abominable heresy and presumption ! Shall I,
a poor sinner, be so bold as to say, I am a child of God?
No, no ; I humbly confess myself a poor sinner" ; and so on.
Ignore such a one. Guard against him as the worst enemy
to Christian faith and to your salvation.

We, too, know full well what poor sinners we are. But
it does no good to contemplate what we are and what we
do. Rather we are to consider what Christ is and what he
has accomplished and still accomplishes for us. The point
IS not our nature, but the grace of God, which is as high
above us as the heaven is above the earth, or as far removed
as the east is from the west. Ps 103, 11-12. If you regard
it a wonderful thing to be a child of God, think it not a
small thing that the Son of God came to earth, was born of
a woman and was subject to the Law, for the very purpose
of enabling you to be a child of God.

94. All the works of God are wonderful and of mighty
import. Hence they fill us with joy and courage, giving us



SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS. 261

fearlessness and ability to endure anything that may befall
us. But the principles of the Cain-like are narrow, produc-
tive only of quaking hearts, which are wholly incapable of
endurance arid action, hearts that tremble at the sound of a
driven leaf, as Leviticus 26, 36 has it.

95. Let us, then, heed closely the text. We must per-
ceive the cry of the Spirit in our hearts. It is truly the cry
of our own hearts; why, then, should we not recognize it?
Paul uses the term "crying" when he might as easily have
referred to the Spirit as "whispering," "speaking" or "sing-
ing." But the first word is more forcible. The Spirit calls,
or cries, with power; that is from our full heart, a heart
that always lives and moves in true, child-like confidence.
As said in Romans 8, 26, "The Spirit himself maketh inter-
cession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."
Again (Rom 8, 16), "The Spirit himself beareth witness
with our spirit, that we are children of God." Then why
should not our hearts perceive that crying, intercession and
witness-bearing ?

96. How preciously effective temptations and afflictions
are in this direction! They drive us to cry; they rouse the
Spirit. But we fear and flee at sight of the cross. Con-
sequently we never feel the Spirit, and we continue Cain's
subjects. If we do not recognize the Spirit's cry, we must
reflect, and must not cease to pray until God hears us; for
we are like Cain and our condition is perilous. We are not
to expect, however, that no voice but the Spirit's will cry
within us. The voice of murder will cry, to impel us to
desire the Spirit's voice and to exercise ourselves to hear it.
So has it ever been with men.

Our sins will also cry : they will produce in our conscience
strong tendencies to despair. But the Spirit of Christ must,
and shall, outvoice that crv. He will create in us a con-
fidence stronger than the tendency to despair. John says
(1 Jn 3, 19-22) : "Hereby shall we know that we are of the
truth, and shall assure our heart before him : because ;f our
heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and know-
eth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, we



262 l^UTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

have boldness toward God; and whatsoever we ask we re-
ceive of him, because we keep his commandments and do
the things that are pleasing in his sight."

97. The Spirit calling and crying within us is simply a
powerful assurance, a perfect confidence, from the depths
of the hearts of loving children toward God their beloved
Father.

98. Note how far above mere human nature is the life
of the Christian. Human nature is not capable of such a
cry, of such confidence in God. It only fears and cries mur-
der upon itself. It exclaims, "O v/o, wo, is me ! Thou au-
stere and intolerable judge!" Just as Cain cried to God
(Gen 4, 13-14) : "My punishment is greater than I can bear.
Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of
the ground; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall
be a fugitive and a wanderer in the earth; and it v/ill come
to pass that whosoever findeth me shall slay me," Such
exclamations are necessarily characteristic of Cain-like
saints. "Why? Because they rely upon themselves and
their works, and not upon God's Son, who was sent to
earth, was born of a woman and put under the Law.
They do not believe that salvation through him. v/as de-
signed for them; nor are they concerned about it. They
are occupied merely with their own works, endeavoring by
such means to help themselves and to secure the grace of
God.

99. In persecuting faith and defaming and condemning
it as heresy and presumption, the unbelievers conduct them-
selves as their father Cain did to his brother Abel. Thus in
themselves they slay Christ their brother. His innocent
blood will not cease to cry toward heaven against them, as
the blood of Abel cried against Cain. God v/ill inquire after
Abel; he will demand of each of them., **Where is Christ
your brother?" Then the disordered Cain will go on to
dissemble, saying: "What do I knov/ about him? am I m^y
brother's keeper?" For it is the same thing to say: "Shall
I be presumiptuous enough to regard myself righteous and
holy andsa child of God merely through Christ? No, no; I



SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS. 263

will work until I become righteous myself, without his aid."
Mark you, thus the crying blood of Abel continued to be
upon Cain; and the crying blood of Christ will continue
upon all believers, still demanding vengeance and v/rath.
But as for the believers, the blood will, through the Spirit
of Christ, cry for pure grace and reconciliation.

100. *The apostle places a Hebrew vvord in apposition
with a Greek word; he says Abba, Pater (Father). In the
Hebrew, Abba means "father" ; hence the prelates in certain
cloisters are called "abbots." In former times the holy her-
mits gave their chiefs the name Abba, Father. These terms
were introduced also into the Latin and German. Abba,
Pater is equivalent to "Father, Father." In full German,
Mein Vater, P>^ein Vater; or Lieber Vater, Lieber Vater —
My Father, My Father, or Dear Father, Dear Father.

101. But why does Paul duplicate the word to express
the cry of the Spirit? Permit my opinion. In the first
place, for the sake of emphasizing the cry. The earnest
suppliant frequently makes repetition of his cry. So stren-
uous must be our appeal and so great our confidence that
sin, the cry of Cain, has not power to suppress them,

102. In the second place, it seems to be Scripture usage
to indicate certainty and assurance by duplicating words and
phrases. Joseph tells King Pharaoh (Gen 41, 32) that by
repetition God indicates it is assured and done even as the
words teach. So here the Spirit twice cries "Father" to give
us the assurance that God is and will be our Father ; to make
us not only hopeful of great things, but certainly confident.

103. In the third place, the apostle may have purposed
to show the Spirit's persistence. The first word, Abba,
marks the beginning of the Spirit's cry. But at that point
great conflict will arise. The devil will assail us unceas-
ingly and we must persevere. The addition of the word
Father so teaches. We must not cease to cry; as we have
begun, we are to continue. So doing, we will come to know
what confidence is; the utmost assurance will possess us.
Paul may also have designed by employing the word Abba,
a somewhat unfamiliar Hebrew word, and supplementing



264 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

it with Father, a native and familiar Greek term (he was
addressing the Greeks and wrote in their own language) —
he may also have designed to teach that we hardly know
the meaning of confidence at the first. But confidence
grows with exercise. In time, seemingly it becomes a part
of the believer's nature and he feels at home with God his
Father.

"So that thou art no more a bondservant, but a son;
and if a son, then an heir through Christ."

104. Christ having come and having been recognized,
Pauls says, you are no more a bondservant. As before
stated, there is a remarkable difference between a child
and a servant. Their dispositions are altogether unlike.
The child has freedom and is willing; the servant is con-
strained and is unwilling. The child is ruled by faith; the
servant, by works.

105. Plainly, then, in the sight of God no one by works
can accomplish anything toward his salvation. Salvation
must be obtained and enjoyed before works are begun.



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 22 of 29)