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 27 of 29)
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are children of God; but the children of the promise are
reckoned for a seed." With this statement accords John



NEW YEAR'S DAY. 309

1, 13: "Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of
the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."

99. Now you understand the apostle's meaning here
when he says, "If ye are Christ's, then are ye Abraham's
seed, heirs according to promise." In other words : "Ye are
not the natural seed of Abraham. That would profit you
nothing; it profits no one. But ye are his promised seed.
Upon that all efficacy depends." Abraham has no seed
other than the promised blessed seed — God grant these —
whether or no of flesh-and-blood origin in him. We must
understand Abraham's seed in a scriptural, not in a natural,
sense. The Scriptures regard not natural origin. They
recognize alike all who are blessed and who believe, whether
natural seed or not. Yet God foresaw there would un-
doubtedly be children of the blessing among the natural
seed; not children in consequence of their nature, but for
the sake of election through grace.

100. You must properly comprehend the phrase "Abra-
ham's seed and heirs" in the light of the preceding epistle,
as opposed to self-righteousness, recognizing that right-
eousness IS not obtained by works, but must precede and
induce them. The heir does not work to obtain the in-
heritance. He does not seek the inheritance as a reward.
He already possesses it, and appropriates it with his works.
Likewise the believer is already righteous and just, and
saved besides, without works — through the grace conferred
by faith. The works performed subsequent to believing are
but the exercise of his inheritance.

101. Further, in believing, you must feel yourself an
heir. You must confidently regard yourself a child of God.
If you doubt on this point, you are not a child; you are not
an heir; you do not rightly believe. You must not doubt
your heirship, whether in life or death. What is the Chris-
tian life but the beginning of eternal life? However, at
your least intimation tHat you are a child of God, your
acknowledgement of your faith, Caiaphas, as if doing God
great service, will rend his garments and exclaim over you
"He blasphemeth God!" And all will say with him: "He



310 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

is worthy of death. We have a law, and according to this
law he shall die. He has made himself a child of God.
Crucify him ! Crucify him ! He is a heretic and a deceiver."
(See Jn 19: 7, 15.) Look for this to be said of you; pre-
pare for it. For so it must be.



Epip.ban^



Epistle Text: Isaiah 60, 1-6.

1. Arise, shine ; for thy light is come, and the glory of
Jehovah is risen upon thee. 2 For, behold, darkness
shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples;
but Jehovah v/ill arise upon thee, and his glory shall
be seen upon* thee. 3 And nations shall come to thy
light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.

4. Lift up thine eyes round about, and see; they all
gather themselves together, they come to thee; thy
sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be
carried in the arms. 5 Then thou shalt see and be radi-
ant, and thy heart shall thrill and be enlarged; because
the abundance of the sea shall be turned unto thee, the
wealth of the nations shall come unto thee. 6 The mul-
titude of camels* shall cover thee, the dromedaries of
Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come;
they shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall pro-
claim the praises of Jehovah.

THE CONVERSION OF THE HEATHEN.

1. This epistle lesson is an exhortation to faith. It also
proclaims the future world-wide preaching of the Gospel
and the gathering of Christians from all nations. The
prophecy is clearly intelligible and requires but little ex-
planation.

2. The reference to the Gospel as a light, a brightness,
a glory of the risen Jehovah, implies a distinction between
the light of the Gospel and that of the Law. This distinc-
tion should be carefully marked, to avoid confounding the
Gospel and the Law and terming "Gospel" what is Law
and "Law" what is Gospel. In the Advent and the pre-

311



312 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

ceding epistle lessons we found the Gospel to be a proc-
lamation of life, a doctrine of grace, a joy-giving light,
promising and presenting Christ with all his blessings. But
the Law is a proclamation of death, a doctrine of wrath,
a sorrow-yielding light, for it reveals our sins, demand-
ing a righteousness we cannot produce. The conscience, rec-
ognizing that it deserves death and eternal wrath, is filled
with sorrow and unrest. But this prophecy of Isaiah touches
the wretched conscience in a cheering way. It reanimates
it, fills it with joy and liberates it from the Law and from
sin.

3. So we may designate the two lights as the light of the
Lord and the light of the servant. 2 Cor 3, 13. The light of
the Lord arose in Christ, and the light of the servant in
Moses. Aaron and the children of Israel could not endure
the light — the brightness — of Moses' face. He was obliged
to cover it with a veiL But on Mount Tabor the face of
the transfigured Christ was not intolerable. Rather, so de-
lightful and pleasing was it that Peter in a transport of joy
exclaimed : "Lord, it is good for us to be here : if thou wilt,
I will make here three tabernacles ; one for thee, and one for
Moses, and one for Elijah." Mt 17, 4. There the light of
Moses' face was not intolerable, but pleasing. The Gospel
renders agreeable the Law, the tutor, which before was re-
pugnant and intolerable to human nature. This we have
already heard. So Isaiah says :

"Arise, shine ; for thy light is come."

4. Plainly the injunction is addressed to one not risen,
one who lies sleeping or is dead. I think Paul refers to
this passage when he says (Eph 5, 14): "Wherefore he
saith, Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead,
and Christ shall shine upon thee." Undoubtedly, Christ
is the light of which Isaiah here speaks, and which, through
the Gospel, shines in all the world, enlightening those who
rise — who desire him. That Jerusalem is mentioned here
and not by Paul is of no significance : In the text of Isaiah
"Jerusalem" is not found. Some one added it in the epistle.



EPIPHANY. 313

because Jerusalem, or the people of Israel were addressed
by the prophets.

5. Now, who are the sleepers and the dead? Unques-
tionably, all who are under the Law. They are dead because
of sin. Particularly are they dead who disregard the Law
and live independently of restraint. The self-righteous, who
recognize not their wants and defects, are the sleepers.
Both classes have little regard for the Gospel. They re-
main sleeping and continually die. The Spirit must awake
them to recognition and acknowledge the light. But the
third class, they who feel the power of the Law and the
torments of the conscience, thirst after grace and sigh for
the Gospel. They rest not until it comes and is»given them.
Then they proclaim it. Isaiah is one of these. In such
manner do the sleepers and the dead awake and receive the
Gospel light.

6. So Isaiah says, in effect: "Permit yourself to be en-
lightened; or. Let there be light. Allow the light to fall
upon you. Thou dead one, crawl not into the grave of thy
filthy life — that is, cease to love and to follow thine evil
course of conduct — that the light of the Gospel may fall
upon thee and abide in thee. And thou sleeper, awake!
Seek not the bed of careless and lethargic security, and of
presumptuous reliance upon thine own self-righteousness.
Let the true light have some claim upon thee." It is neces-
sary frequently to admonish both classes. The great hin-
drance of the class represented by the dead is an un-
restrained life ; and a secure self-righteousness will scarcely
allow the sleeping class to recognize and accept the bliss-
ful light of the Gospel.

7. "Thy light is come."* Why does Isaiah say "thy light"
when God's light is meant, as will later appear? I answer,
it is at the same time God's light and Jerusalem's light and
the light of us all. It is God's in that he gives it ; ours in
that we are enlightened by it and enjoy its rays. Similarly,
Christ speaks of the sun as the Father's (Mt 5, 45), "He
maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good." Again,
he says (Jn 11, 9), "If a man walk in the day, he stumbleth



314 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

not, because he seeth the light of this world.** That is,
God's sun enlightens the world. Again, referring to himself,
he declares (Jn 8, 12), "I am the light of the world." Fur-
ther, the light Isaiah refers to is particularly the light of
Jerusalem and the children of Israel, because of the promise.
He was promised only to Abraham and his seed. So Mary
sings in her Song of Praise (Lk 1, 55), "As he spake to our
fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever." In this
sense, it is not the light of the heathen, unto whom no
promise was made. Yet it is said they are to receive it. So
the words of the promise imply, and so Isaiah here teaches.

8. Undoubtedly the prophecies of Isaiah, and of the
other prophets, concerning Christ almost universally have
origin in the promise God made to Abraham (Gen 22, 18),
"In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed/*
These words clearly indicate that Christ, the seed of Abra-
ham, is to be made known in all the world. For Christ to
accomplish this in person was impossible; it must be done
through the instrumentality of preaching. Not only was it
necessary to proclaim the Gospel, but also to explain the
character of the preaching — to show it a proclamation of
blessings and of grace, intended for the blessing of the whole
world.

There is evident, too, the conclusion that the seed of
Abraham is true man as well as God ; that he must be born
of a virgin ; that his kingdom cannot be temporal or of this
world ; and that he must die and shortly rise from the dead
to Lordship over all creatures.

Ail this apparently is briefly but explicitly concluded in
this divine promise. Did time admit, it were easy to trace,
in a v/ay comprehensible to any man, the source of the
prophecies to this fountain-head promise. Hence, Abraham
laughed in his heart when the promise was made to him
(Gen 17, 17), for he understood it. Christ indicates as
much where he says concerning the patriarch's feeling (Jn
8, 56,) "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and
he sav7 it, and was glad."

"And the glory of Jehovah is risen upon thee."



EPIPHANY. 315

9. We have frequently spoken of the little word "glory."
It means honor, brightness, splendor. The Gospel is simply
a grand report, a neble cry, having origin in a glorious real-
ity; it is not a mere empty proclamation. A glorious being
is to be compared to a sun or a light. The sun is a fountain
of light, so to speak, and its luster is the glory, the diffu-
sion, the distinction of that light. The luster may be called
the natural expression of the sun, the sole medium whereby
the sun is recognized in the world — through which it is
diffused. Similarly, the glory of an individual is the foun-
tain, the sun, the foundation, of his glorious reputation. His
reputation is the luster of his glory. It is the medium where-
by he is proclaimed, extolled, recognized as glorious. This
much, you will perceive, is implied in the word "glory" —
honor, renown, brilliancy.

10. Thus the Gospel is God's glory and our light. It
is our light in that it reveals to us God, ourselves and all
else. It is God's glory in that it is the medium v\rhereby his
work — all his glorious doings — are proclaimed, extolled, rec-
ognized and honored in the v/hole world.

11. But, carrying the analogy to a finer point, it might
be necessary to say that the Gospel is not the actual bright-
ness of the light, nor is it the light itself. It is the rising
of the brightness, the approach of the light. It is simply
a manifestation of the light and brightness which existed
from eternity. As said in John 1, 4, "In him was life; and
the life was the light of men." The light did not arise, nor
was it openly manifested, except through the Gospel. There-
fore, the Gospel is an expression, a cry, of divine bright-
ness and glory. The Scriptures, in Psalm 29, 3, in 68, 33
and often elsewhere, call it the voice of God.

It is called "Gospel" — good message — because it reveals
and proclaims divine blessings, divine glory and divine
honor or brightness. "The heavens declare the glory of God ;
and the firmament showeth his handiwork." Ps 19, 1. And
what do we understand by proclaiming and revealing, except
the proclaiming of the Gospel through the heavens — the
preaching of it by the apostles? What is the brightness.



316 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

the work, of God but the great and glorious riches of his
goodness and grace poured out upon us?

Paul says (Tit 2, 11), "The grace of God hath appeared,
bringing salvation to all men." How has it appeared?
Through the preaching of the GospeL Such seems to be
the import of the words of Isaiah, "Thy light is come, and
the glory of Jehovah is risen upon thee." That is, the light
and glory of God are revealed — are preached — to you. Christ
is the light and the glory, according to the words, "And the
glory of Jehovah is risen upon thee," or is revealed. Again,
verse 20 of this chapter, "Jehovah will be thine everlasting
light."

12. Now, the light and the glory are God himself. For
Christ says (Jn 8, 12), "I am the light." We heard before,
in the epistle for Christmas, that Christ is the effulgence of
divine glory. Plainly, then, Isaiah is not here speaking of
the rising of Christ in the sense of his coming birth. He
refers to the rising of the Gospel after Christ's ascension.
Through the Gospel Christ is spiritually risen and glorified
in the hearts of all believers, bringing them salvation. The
Scriptures make more frequent reference to his rising in
this sense than they do to the birth of Christ. The Gospel
is the important feature. On account of it was Christ born.
Upon it Paul bases his teaching. He says that God before-
time promised the Gospel concerning his Son, through his
prophets, in the holy Scriptures.

13. We learn from our text here what the Gospel is and
what is its message. It is the coming of light, the rising
of divine glory. It speaks only of divine glory, divine honor
and fame. It exalts only the work of God — his goodness
and grace toward us. It teaches the necessity of our re-
ceiving God's work for us, his grace and goodness, even
God himself, if we would secure salvation.

The Gospel produces in us a twofold effect. First, it
rejects our natural reason, our human light. It conclusively
shows them to be mere darkness. Had we within ourselves
light instead of darkness, it would not be necessary for
God to send the light to rise upongus. Light enlightens, not



< EPIPHANY. 317

light, but darkness. This epistle lesson forcibly expels and
severely condemns all natural wisdom, all human reason,
heathen arts and the doctrines and laws of man. Conclu-
sively, these are absolute darkness, since it is necessary for
the light to come. So we should guard against all human
doctrines and the conceits of reason as darkness rejected and
condemned by God, and should wake and arise to behold
only this light, to follow it alone.

14. Second, the Gospel casts down all the glory of and
pride in our own works, our efforts, our free will. We can-
not draw comfort nor derive honor from these. On the
contrary, they but contribute to our shame in the sight of
God. If there were in ourselves anj'-thing worthy of honor
and glory, vainly would the divine honor and glory rise
upon us. Since the latter are called for, clearly there is in
us nothing but what is productive of our shame. Paul says
on this point (Rom 3, 23), "All have sinned, and fall short
of the glory of God." In other words, "Men may, it is true,
have their own nature and their self-righteousness, and from
these derive temporal honor, praise and glory before their
fellov/s, as if not sinners. But before God they are sinful,
destitute of divine glory and un?.ble to boast possession of
him and his blessings."

15. Now, no one can be saved unless he have within
himself the glory of God and be able to comfort himself
solely with God and his blessings, and to glory in these. "He
that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." Jer 9, 24, and 2
Cor 10, 17. Such is the rising of divine glory. So the Gos-
pel condemns all our efforts and exalts only the goodness
and the grace of God — in other words, God himself. It
permits us to console ourselves only with him and to glory
in no other. As Psalm 144, 15 has it, "Happy is the people
whose God is Jehovah." No one else is called happy. Ac-
cordingly it follows here in Isaiah :

"For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and
gross darkness the peoples ; but Jehovah will arise upon
thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee."

16. Here the prophet clearly implies that wherever Christ



318 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS..

is not, there darkness exists, whatever the "appearance of
brilliance. Nor does he allow the medium devised by the
high schools, which say that between darkness and Christ
exists the light of nature and of human reason. They ascribe
darkness only to the grossly wicked and the weak-minded.
They highly value this mediatory light, claiming it is a
sufBcient preparation for the light of Christ, and that al-
though it is darkness in comparison to the light of Christ,
yet it is in itself light. They do not perceive how far they
err in imagining themselves enlightened. Usually the most
erroneous of the schools are the most rational. *'The sons
of this world are for their own generation wiser than the
sons of the light," as Christ says in Luke 16, 8. Yet they
of the schools are not nearer the true light than are others.
Rather they are farther from it. This could not be if the
light of reason v/ere helpful in obtaining the true light.
Devils are wiser, more artful and crafty, than men ; yet they
are not therefore better. No, that kind of light is always
at enmity with the true light. As Paul tells us (Rom 8, 7) ;
"The mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not
subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be."

17. Therefore, God knew of no better way to deal with
the pernicious light of reason than utterly to condemn and
obscure it. Paul says ( 1 Cor 1, 19-20) : "For it is written,
I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and vAll bring to
nothing the understanding of the prudent . . . Hath
not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?"

In this same chapter of Isaiah, verse 19, we have: "The
sun shall be no m_ore thy light by day ; neither for brightness
shall the moon give light unto thee: but Jehovah will be
unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory."
•What is this but a rejection of all terpporal wisdom? Away
with babbling about natural light. Give close heed to the
words of Isaiah and to other Scriptures which teach us to
flee from the light of reason as from darkness and from an
enemy of the true light. Human reason is the light which
teaches the Jews, and all tyrants, to persecute and torture
Christ and his saints, and which cannot, even to this day, en-



EPIPHANY. 319

dure the true light. Human reason always claims to be in
the right and to be light, when really it is darkness and
condemned by the true light. Being condemned, in its rage
it instigates all forms of evil.

18. But the weak-minded may ask : "How can it be that
all natural reason teaches is darkness? Plainly, three and
two are five, are they not? Again, if a man make a coat,
is he not wise to make it of cloth, or foolish to make it of
paper? Is he not wise who marries a godly woman, and
he foolish who marries a godless one? And are there not
similar instances innumerable in human affairs? Never can
you persuade m.e that all natural reason is darkness. Even
Christ implies that it is light, when he says (Mt 7, 24 and
26) : 'Every one therefore that heareth these words of mine,
and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man, who built
his house upon the rock . . . And every one that hear-
eth these words of mine, and doeth them not, shall be lik-
ened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the
sand.' Now, if the builder upon the rock is in darkness,
who builds wisely? Again, Christ says of the unjust stew-
ard who had wasted his lord's goods that he acted wisely
in taking the course he did in regard to his master's debtors.
Lk 16, 8. And Paul reminds the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:
5, 14-15) that nature teaches us a woman should not, in the
church, pray with uncovered head.'*

19. I answer: This is all true, but it is necessary to
make a distinction between God and men, between spiritual
and temporal things. In earthly, human affairs m.an's judg-
ment suffices. For these things, he needs no light but that
of reason. Hence God does not in the Scriptures teach us
how to build houses, to make clothing, to marry, to wage
war, to sail the seas, and so on. For these, our natural light
is sufficient. But in divine things, the things concerning
God, and in which we must conduct ourselves acceptably
with him and must secure happiness for ourselves, human
nature is absolutely blind, staring stone-blind, unable to
recognize in the slightest degree what these things are. Nat-
ural reason presumptuously plunges into them like a blind



320 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

horse. But all its conclusions are, as certainly as God lives,
false and erroneous. In this capacity it proceeds like a man
who builds on sand, or one who would use cobwebs for gar-
ments. Is 59, 6. It employs sand for meal in making bread.
It sows wind and reaps the whirlwind, as Hosea 8, 7 has it.
It measures the atmosphere with a spoon, carries light into
the cellar upon a tray, weighs flames in a balance, perform-
ing all manner of perverted nonsense ever known or possible
to be devised. For all its efforts are designed as service to
God and they must utterly fail.

20. Ask nature what is necessary to please God and to
be saved, and it replies: "Truly, you must build churches,
cast bells, institute masses, observe vigils, make chalices,
pyxes, images and ornaments; must burn candles, pray so
long a time, fast in honor of St. Catharine, become a priest
or a monk, go to Rome and to St. Jacob, wear hair-shirts,
torture yourself, and so on. Such are good works and true
ways to salvation." But if you ask for proof that these
things are acceptable with God, reason is unable to give any
other reply than that it thinks them acceptable. This doc-
trine is sheer imagination ; more, it is gloom, it is darkness.
It is what Isaiah refers to as "darkness" and "gross dark-
ness." Into it must fall all who do not accept the divine
light. It is impossible for them to do anything that shall be
right in the sight of God.

21. Nothing is more offensive to God than the presump-
tion that gross darkness is light, and the protest that it is
darkness. It persecutes or puts to death all who defend the
truth at this vital point. It cannot tolerate the true light.
From that error arises all idolatry. The Jews had their
Baal, their Moloch, Ashtaroth, Camon Peor and numberless
idols of the sort. Jeremiah tells them (ch 2, 28), "According
to the number of thy cities are thy gods"; and Hosea says
(ch 10, 1), "According to the abundance of his fruit he hath
multiplied his altars"; and again Isaiah (ch 2, 8), "Their
land also is full of idols."

22. All this the Jews meant only for divine service. They
presumed thereby to serve the true God. Consequently the



EPIPHANY. 321

prophets who denounced their conduct were slain by them
as destroyers of the divine service and blasphemers against
God. But their services of God were instituted according to
the dictates of human nature and not according to God's
commands. In the tirue service of God, he himself will be
the light and accepts only the worship he has instituted and
commanded. We read (Lev 10, 2) how Nabad and Abihu,
sons of Aaron, were consumed by fire at the altar even
though they were God-ordained priests and had transgressed
no farther than to put strange, or unconsecrated, fire into
their censers ; a thing, however, not in accordance with the
commandment of God. And just as little will God tolerate
us when we style as divine service what he has not so ap-
pointed, and when we recognize it as such. What else does
he who presumes so to do, but make of God an idol? He
imagines him to be of his opinion, and forms in his mind



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 27 of 29)