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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not in evidence with them. With all this explanation, Paul
should, I think, be easily understood in this lesson. Let us
now consider it.

"But before faith came, we v/ere kept in ward under
the law, shut up unto the faith which should after-
wards be revealed.'*

20. Paul does not say, Before faith came we were right-
eous and kept the Law. On the contrary, he says that the
Law kept us. Under it we v/ere locked up — preserved—



NEW YEAR'S DAY. 275

that we might not boldly and independently rush into
wickedness. At the same time, the restraint did not render
us really and inwardly righteous. Nor was it designed to
be perm.anent. It led to the faith to be revealed in the
future, a faith which was to set us free; not free to do the
evil from which the Law shut us up, but free to do the good
to which the Law impelled us. The "shutting up," the
confinement, of the Law should teach us to desire faith
and to recognize the evil tendencies of our nature ; for faith
is a spiritual freedom, liberating only the heart.

21. To illustrate: Suppose you were confined in a
prison, where you were very reluctant to remain. Your
captor might release you in either of two ways: First, he
might give you physical freedom by destroying the prison
and letting you go where you desire. Secondly, he might
make you mentally free by bestowing many blessings upon
you in this prison — illuminating and enlarging it, making it
pleasant in the extreme, adorning it richly and to an extent
rendering it more desirable than any royal palace, more to
be desired even than a kingdom; and by so reconciling you
to your surroundings, so altering your mind, that you would
not, for all earthly possessions, be removed from that prison,
but would pray for its preservation that you might con-
tinue therein, it being to you no longer a prison, having
become a paradise. Tell me, which form of freedom would
be the better? Would not the latter be preferable? The
formxr liberation would leave you but a beggar, as before.
But in the latter case, your mind being free, you would
possess all you might desire.

22. Thus, mark you, has Christ given us spiritual free-
dom from the Law. He did not abrogate, did not destroy,
the Law. But he changed the heart which before was un-
willingly under the Law. He so benefited it and made the
Law so desirable that the heart has no greater delight and
joy than in the Law. The heart would not willingly • have
the Law fail in one tittle. Again, as the prisoner makes his
prison narrow and oppressive for himself by his unwilling-
ness, so, too, are we enemies to the Law and make it dis-



276 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

agreeable to ourselves because unwillingly we are shut up
from evil and impelled to good.

23. Thus, in this verse the apostle beautifully presents
both the fruit and the office of the Law. To the inquiry.
Wherein is the Law good? he answers: Though it truly
does not make us righteous, but rather increases our sin-
fulness and provokes our human nature by its commands
and prohibitions, yet it has a twofold office. First, it locks
us up, secures us, against breaking out violently into an
openly shameless life, as do the class who will not permit
themselves to be thus restrained. For this reason it is
much better that the Law should exist. Without it, who
could withstand the encroachments of his fellows? Accord-
ing to Paul (Rom 13, 4), the secular sword is borne for a
terror, not to the righteous, but to the evil-doers.

24. Second, constraint of the Law leads to a future faith
by revealing to man his wickedness and his dislike for what
is good; by teaching him to know himself, to humbly con-
fess his evil nature, to acknowledge its guilt and to desire
the grace of God — grace that does not abrogate the Law,
which he now recognizes as right, good and holy, but pro-
duces another heart in him, a heart to love that right, good
and holy Law. Note, this is the true meaning and best
office of the Law. It is truly necessary that the Law should
exist, to bring man thus to know himself and to implore
the grace of God.

25. Over this office of the Law, however, a contention
arises between the true and the false saints. False saints
will receive the Lav^7 only so far as its first office goes. They
presume that in submitting to its restraint and preservation
they are become righteous. They will not learn from it to
perceive their wicked nature, but deem human nature in-
herently good and truly capable of loving the Lav/. The
true. saints deny this doctrine; and indeed it is false. The
Word of God and the universal experience of men declare
otherwise. And he who does not falsify nor dissemble will
confess himself naturally without delight in the Law of



NEW YEAR'S DAY. 277

God ; much more without delight in the punishment of sins,
in death and hell, which the Law presents.

The intensely abominable filth of their hearts, great and
deep, the self-justifiers palliate by covering it with the fig-
leaves of their own works in the Law, as Adam and Eve
covered their shame. But the sin in the heart of Adam
and Eve vv^as not made less by the covering; so, too, by
works of the Law, by self-justification, no one is made bet-
ter, but rather is made worse. It was because of this very
filth that Christ rejected and dispersed the congregations
of the synagogues.

26. It is now plain to whom Paul addresses the words
of this verse — the v/ork-righteous, v/ho would become godly '
through the Law and its work, who consider the first
office of the Lav/ sufficiently effective to make them right-
eous. This doctrine gives rise to a class who might be
styled "Absalom.ites." For as Absalom rem.ained hanging
by his head, in an oak tree, suspended between heaven and
earth (2 Sam 18, 9), so this class hang between heaven and
earth. Shut up by the Law, they do not touch the earth;
they are restrained from the things their evil nature ar-
dently desires. On the other hand, since the Law, powerless
to improve their nature, only irritates and provokes it, mak-
ing them enemies to the Law, they are not godly and so do
not reach heaven.

27. Zechariah (ch 5, 9) saw two women, between heaven
and earth, carrying an ephah to Babylon, v/hile in the vessel
sat a woman called "Impietas" — unbelief, or ungodliness.
This vessel, the ephah, represents the self-justifiers, vacil-
lating between open vice and true piety. Unbelief sits with-
in. The two women bearing it are Fear and Reward ; from
fear of punishment or in quest of reward are all their v/orks
performed. These two carry and maintain the unbelievers
in their self-righteousness; such is the significance of the
wings like a stork, or vulture, which the prophet mentions.
Wings, in the Scriptures, signify oral preaching, because
speech is swift. The false saints preach only of fear and
reward. They v/ould make men righteous merely by terror



278 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

and allurements, but they only increase men's sin. Men
become greater enemies to the Law because of its terrors,
and for the sake of its allurements are only the m.ore desir-
ous to accomplish their ov/n designs. Therefore, these false
saints are simply wings for the stork, the vulture, that de-
vours the chickens — that murders souls.

28. But the true saints do not remain midway between
heaven and earth. They, too, hear of the terrors and the
persuasions of the Law ; but they recognize their own prone-
ness to regard the threats and enticements rather than the
purpose of the Law, and so are made aware that truly they
are not pure nor righteous. They fall down in confession,
crying, "Grace, grace, O Lord God!" To them Christ
comes, bringing true liberty through his Spirit. Thus they
become altogether of heaven.

29. This, mark you, is what is meant by being "kept in
ward under the Law and shut up unto the faith, which
should afterwards be revealed." Not only were the Jews
thus shut up before the revelation of faith, but they are still
shut up, as are all who attempt to become righteous through
the works of the Law and because of fear of its threats or
hope of its rewards, and like reasons. If they be not directed
to the faith, if they fail of faith, it being not made known
to them, the works of the Law must but render them more
wicked, and they will ultimately fail into despair or obdu-
rate presumption, and so pass beyond the reach of help. So
perilous is it to fail of making a right use of the Law and of
thus arriving at faith.

"So that the Law is become our tutor [schoolmaster]
to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by
faith."

30. Observe the import of these words: no one is justi-
fied by the Law and its works. If we could be justified by
the Law, faith would be unnecessary, and Paul's state-
ment here — v/e are justified by faith — would be false. In
this matter of justification, faith and works utterly exclude
each other. If justification be ascribed to faith, it must not
be attributed to works, to the Law, to human nature. If it



MEW YEAR'S DAY. 279

be ascribed to works, it must not be attributed to faith. If
one theory be true, the other must be false. They cannot
both be true. The power and virtue of the Law cannot
consist in anything but the making of sinners or the permit-
ting m.en to remain sinners. Whatever does not justify,
certainly makes sinners or permits them so to rem.ain. But
since the purpose of the Law is to deal with sins and sin-
ners, it must do something more than permit sinners to
remain as they are. "What kind of an agency would that
be which has no effect upon the object of its operation?

31. What, then, can the Lav/ accomplish if it does not
justify us, and neither makes us better nor leaves us as
we are? Wonderful indeed must be its province to help,
when it neither justifies nor leaves the sinner as it finds
him. Necessarily it must increase sin. Paul says (Rom 5,
20), "The lav/ came in besides, that the trespass might
abound." As before said, this result is in consequence of
the Law's shutting up the sinner, restraining his hands
from com^mitting open wickedness and av/akening in his
heart only increased hatred for and opposition to the Law;
just as a pupil's indignation arises in proportion as he is
chastised, or his will is crossed, by his tutor. His hatred or
unwillingness is simply an increased development of his
restrained evil will, and it never v/ould have been called
forth had not that v/ill been opposed.

32. Before the introduction of the Law, man sins volun-
tarily, of his own evil nature, with no thought of the Law.
But the advent of the Law with its threats and constraint
irritates his human nature and excites his aversion; he be-
gins not only to love sin but to hate righteousness. Note,
this IS the province of the Law concerning the sinner and
his sins. Paul says the Law increases sin; so far is it from
justif3nng any man. Blessed is he who recognizes this
truth. The self-righteous do not at all perceive it. They
assign to human nature no such wickedness and no enmity
toward the Law; they find much to commend in human
nature. Kence they understand not a syllable of the v/ords
of Paul, who never speaks of the Law otherwise than as



280 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

arousing sin; and, if we would but confess it, such is the
testimony of our ovv^n hearts.

33. The apostle says "unto Christ." That is, until Christ,
the Law is our tutor. No leave is given to embrace any
other faith than the faith in Chrfst. The Law directs us
only to Abraham's seed, Christ, on whom all saints from
the beginning have believed, as stated in the preceding epis-
tle lesson.

34. Therefore, it is of no benefit to the Jews and the
Turks to believe in God the Creator of heaven and earth;
he who does not believe in Christ, neither believes in God.
Even were Christ truly not God — a thing impossible — still
they who should fail of belief in him would not be believers
in God ; for God has promised his grace in Abraham's seed.
Abraham's seed being Christ, as the Jews, the Turks and
all the v/orld acknowledge, he who disbelieves in Christ,
also disbelieves the promises of God. Hence he is not a
believer in the God who created heaven and earth, for no
other God is the author of the promise to Abraham, and in
the name of no seed of Abraham except Christ has the bless-
ing gone forth, and the faith been preached, in all the world.

35. Outside of Christ, then, no Law, no belief, can secure
blessing and justification. God will keep his promise made
to Abraham, the promise to bless all the world in his seed,
and in no other. God will not establish a new and peculiar
faith for each person and neglect or recall his promise. So
then, faith in Christ justifies, as Paul says (Rom 10, 4) :
"For Christ is the end of the Law unto righteousness to
every one that believeth." What is implied? Simply that
all believers in Christ are justified and receive his Spirit
and his grace, through faith. Here the Law ends for them
because they are no longer under it. This is the final mean-
ing of the Law ; for it follows :

"But now that faith is come, we are no longer under
a tutor."

36. The preceding verses make «plain enough what is
meant by being under the Law, or under a tutor; yet, the
doctrine of faith and the expression "under a tutor or under



NEW YEAR'S DAY. 231

the Law" having become obsolete, enough cannot be said
in explanation. To be under a tutor, to be subject to the
Law, is, briefly, to be a dissembler ; to do many good works
and yet not be pious ; to lead a good life without ever being
righteous; always to teach without learning, and to preach
without understanding. The reason for such deficiency is,
the character of those under the Law does not permit them
to do good voluntarily and through love, without fear of
punishment or hope of reward. Therefore are they serv-
ants, driven by the Law. And since it ever continues to
rule and to drive, they remain always its debtors and sub-
jects.

The Law demands a joyous, free and ready will. This its
subjects have not, nor can they have it of themselves.
Faith in Christ alone produces it. Where such a spirit
exists, the Law ceases its demands. It is satisfied — fulfilled.
The pupil then being able to accomplish the requiremients
of his tutor, the tutor dismisses him, demanding no more.
He is no longer his tutor, but his good friend and com-
panion.

Faith Liberates From the Law.

37. Similarly, faith liberates us from the Law. Not a
physical liberation, effected by separating us from the Law,
by remioving us forever from its jurisdiction: but freedom
in the sense that we satisfy the demands of the Law; we
satisfy it by knowing and possessing the Holy Spirit, who
brings us to love the Law. The Law did not desire works.
"Works could not appease it. It desired love. Only our
love could satisfy it. Without love it would not release us
— would not be remunerated. Destitute of love, we must,
even with all our works, remain its debtors and our con-
sciences know no peace. The Law continually chastises
us as sinners and transgressors, and threatens us with
death and hell, until Christ comes and bestows his Spirit
and his love, through the faith preached in the Gospel.
Then we are freed from the Law. No longer it demands,
no longer chastises, but lets the conscience rest. No more
It terrifies with death and hell. It has become our kind
friend and companion.



282 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

38. The tutor's release of the pupil does not mean the
death or departure of the tutor, but spiritually, that the
child has been changed, and can do what the father wished
the tutor to teach hirn. Likewise the Law releases us, not
by its passing, not by being abrogated, but spiritually ; and
because a change has been effected in us and we have the
experience God designed us to have through the Law.

39. Kence I have called the iigure of the pupil and tutor
a beautiful and striking illustration whereby we may rightly
understand the Law, and the work of grace in ourselves.
The first office of the Law, that of shutting us up and pro-
ducing outward piety, is so well established, so emphasized
by all teachers and books, and besides so closely approaches
human nature, that it is difficult for us to recognize its sec-
ond office, of magnifying invv^ard sin. I m.ay well liken
the two offices to a pair of scales, one empty and the other
full.

So the Law, v/hen producing external piety, increases in-
ward sin. It imposes as much sin inv/ardly, by arousing
hatred and rebellion, as it corrects externally by works ; and
much more. According to Paul (Rom 7, 13), through the
Law sin becomes exceeding sinful, sinful beyond measure.
And the experience of every m.an must lead him so to con-
fess.

"For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ
Jesus.'*

40. He who is under the Law, and works unwillingly, is
a servant, as the preceding sermon declares. But whoso-
ever has faith and cheerfully works, is a child ; for he has
received the Spirit of God, through Christ. Now, the
aDostle names Christ, referrinfy to the faith that believes and
abides in Jesus Christ. No other faith is effective, no other
faith is the right faith, let one believe in God as he wiU.

41. Some there are, particularly among our modern high
school men, who say : "Forgiveness of sins and justification
depend altogether on the divine imputation of grace ; God's
imputation is sufficient. Ke to whom God dees not reckon
sin, is justified ; to whom God reckons sin, is not justified."



NEW YEAR'S DAY. 283

They imagine their position is verified in the testimony o£
Psalm 32, 2, quoted in Romans 4, 8, "Blessed is the man to
whom the Lord will not reckon sin."

Were their theory true, the entire New Testament would
be of no significance. Christ would have labored foolishly
and to no purpose in suffering for sin. God would have
unnecessarily wrought mere m.ockery and deception ; for he
might easily, v/itliout Christ's sufferings, have forgiven sins
— have not imputed them. Then, too, a faith other than
faith in Christ might have justified and saved — a faith rely-
ing on God's gracious mercy not to impute sin.

42. In contrast to this deplorable theory, this abomin-
able error, it is the holy apostle's practice to speak always
of fetich in Jesus Christ, and he makes mention of Jesus
Christ vAih a frequency surprising to one unacquainted with
the important doctrine of faith in him. In fact, it is said
that every second vv^ord in Paul's epistles is "Jesus Christ."
But these pagan doctors of divinity have m.aliciously rooted
it out, have silenced it for us, by their abominable and
hellish dreams of such perversion.

43. Hence our learned university doctors no longer know-
Christ. They do not recognize the need of him and his
benefits, nor understand the character of the Gospel and
the New Testament. They imagine Christ to be a m.ere
Moses — a teacher who institutes laws and commandments
shov/ing how men may be righteous and lead a faultless
life. Then they proceed with free will and the workings
of human nature, designing therewith to fit themselves for
grace, thus basely storming heaven.

44. Nov^7, if God confers his grace because of their works,
their careful preparation, Christ must be without signifi-
cance. What need have they of Christ if they can obtain
grace in their own name and by their works? And this
doctrine they teach openly ; indeed, they defend it with their
utmost pov/er and with the Pope's bulls, condemning a con-
trary teaching as the very worst heresy. Therefore I have
warned, and still warn, all men that the Pope and the uni-
versities have cast Christ and the New Testament farther



284 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

out of the world than ever did the Jews or Turks. Hence
the Pope is the true Antichrist, and his high schools are the
devil's own taverns and brothels. What does Christ signify
if by effort of my own human nature I can obtain God's
grace? Or, having grace, what more will I desire?

45. Let us, therefore, guard against the hellish poison of
this false doctrine and not lose Christ, the consoling Saviour.
He must be retained above all things. True, Psalm 32, 2
end Romans 4, 8 do say, "Blessed is the man to whom the
Lord will not reckon sin." But Paul introduces the state-
ment as testimony to the fact that it is only believers to
whom Christ does not reckon sin; free will and the works
of human nature are not considered. He cites Abraham,
whose faith in the divine promise concerning his seed was
counted to him for righteousness. Although it is of pure
grace that God reckons not to us our sins, yet he would not
so forgive were no± his Law and his standard of righteous-
ness already completely satisfied. The gracious reckoning
had first to be bought for us from the divine righteousness.

It being impossible for us to purchase forgiveness, God
ordained in our stead one who took upon himself all our
deserved punishment and fulfilled the Law for us, thus
averting from us God's judgment and appeasing his wrath.
So it is true that grace is given us gratuitously — without cost
to ourselves — and yet the gift to us cost another much,
and was obtained with a priceless, an infinite, treasure — the
Son of God himself. It is supremely essential, therefore, to
possess him who has accomplished the purchase for us. Nor
is it possible to obtain grace otherwise than through him.

46. Note, from the time of Adam to Abraham's day, no-
one was saved except through faith in the woman's seed,
who should bruise the serpent's head. And after Abraham
no one was saved* except through faith in his seed. And
now no one can be saved otherwise than through faith in
the seed of Abraham now come. Oh, you are not sufficient
of yourself to come to God ; you may not attempt to come
without this Mediator — through yourself and of your own
energy, as the Jews, the Turks and the Papists teach you



NEW YEAR'S DAY. 285

may. Who will reconcile you with God in the first place?
Christ says (Jn 14, 6), "No one cometh unto the Father,
but by me."

In the time of the famine the Egyptians desired to make
their complaints to Pharaoh, the king himself, but he re-
ferred them to Joseph, saying (Gen 41, 55) : "Go unto
Joseph; what he saith to you, do." Similarly, God hears,
and aids to salvation, no one of us; v/e must all come to
Christ, who is made Lord over ail things, and vAth whom is
the throne of grace. He has obtained salvation for us.
Consequently it is in vain to seek it elsewhere. Yes, if we
were devoid of sin, as was Adam before the fall, we v/ould
have no need of Christ; we might come before God in our
own merits. But in the time of famine — since the fall —
we must have a Joseph, one who is without sin and v/ho
yet will receive us needy sinners v/hen v/e come to him
in earnest.

Error of the Papists.

47. Consequently the Papists do not believe and teach
otherwise of human nature than that it is still undefiled as
it was before the fall of Adam. They do not believe it is
wholly corrupted in sin, and the enemy of God. God is an
enemy to sin; so is sin an enemy to God, as Paul teaches
in the fifth and eighth chapters of Romans. The Papists,
then, certainly do not believe v/hat Moses v/rites concerning
the fall of Adam (Gen 3), or else they regard the fall merely
a passing disgrace, not affecting our nature, not making it
sinful nor subjecting it to God's wrath. Because they do
not believe Moses and have no need of Christ, and in thus
rejecting the Old Testament and the New condemn the
entire living Scriptures, God has justly permitted them to
become disciples of Aristotle, that dead and condemned
heathen; permitted them to be a retreat for the devil.
Through the laws of the Pope and the doctrines of men,
the devil fills them with his pollution to constant overflow-
ing, wherewith they contaminate the whole world. But
they ever remain in darkness, attempting, while lacking
faith in Christ, to force acceptance with God by their prayers
and fasts, their masses, study and preaching.



286 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

48. Even if they do,name and confess Christ, they simply
mean that God has superfluously made him Lord, _ a Lord
who requires us to obey God in that we regard himself as
Lord ; that, independent of Christ's dominion, free will may,
by its natural powers, obtain the grace of God ; that for them
Christ's kingdom is not an essential, but is the mere VN^an-
tonness of God in desiring Christ to be Lord after the fash-
ion of earthly kingdoms; and that they confess him, not



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 24 of 29)