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 28 of 29)
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his own God, presuming that God must be delighted with
anything he devises.

Such a proceeding is but changing God's will and pervert-
ing his design to accord with our will and our design. It is
mocking God and regarding him as man of straw, a spectre
or wooden image, to be changed and fashioned at our pleas-
ure. This is a thing God will by no means allow. He will
not permit us to make of him an image — an idol; the first
commandment makes that plain. Nor will he allow us to
misuse his name, as the second commandment clearly shows.
And both comandments are just and right. Hence it is im-
possible for us to please God thus, according to the dictates
of nature. Indeed, such conduct is in the highest degree
presumptuous, and of all things the most offensive to God.

The True Light.

23. Recognizing this distinction concerning the things of
God and man, there can be no difficulty in discerning be-
tween the true light and the false. Whatever is not com-
manded of God is to be most carefully avoided, though or-
dained of angels or saints. For the most part, the laws
of the Pope and the orders of the ecclesiasts must be false.
For in the main they are but human devices relating to out-



322 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

ward works not commanded of God. Idolatry is more prev-
alent in the world today than it was in the Jews' time.
Men presume to serve God in this humanly-appointed way,
notwithstanding it is wholly wrong.

24. Divine light teaches us to trust in God, to believe in
him, to leave all to him, to submit readily to his workings,
to accept whatever in his providence may present, bearing
all and performing every duty, and to serve our neighbor
throughout life. With such faith there is no difference in
works; all works are alike. Having faith, well may we
serve God in erecting buildings, in planting and threshing,
in performing any sort of external works. These things are
the proper expression of faith, of divine light. God regards
them as service to him, as devotional conduct.

So little, however, does human nature, man's reason,
know of the truth, that it proceeds to condemn this faith as
error and heresy. It accepts the works it beholds in the be-
loved saints and the orders, but is unable and unwilling to
recognize those works as wrought under the influence of the
divine light — the faith — they condemn. Thus they make of
the examples of the saints idols for themselves, and ir-
revocably persist in their blindness and idolatry. Hence
Solomon gives the wholesome instruction (Prov 3, 5), "Lean
not upon thine own understanding"; again (Prov 3, 7), "Be
not wise in thine own eyes," which thought Paul expresses
(Rom 12, 16) as, "Be not wise in your own conceits."

25. The introduction to the Pope's laws teaches this
principle of relying not upon one's own understanding. But
his object is, by these Scripture warnings to intimidate the
world from rejecting his foolish laws, the right and essen-
tial thing to do, however. His object is to lead captive the
minds of men, and to have them regard him alone as wise
and to follow him in disregard of the wisdom of God. His
laws are mere human devices and directly opposed to the
doctrine of Solomon and of Paul. He forbids everyone to
think for himself, and yet abominably enforces his own opin-
ions in all the world. Solomon means that we are to be
taught neither of ourselves nor of any human reasoning



EPIPHANY. 323

or device, but only of God our Lord. Whatsoever is not
taught of God we are to avoid as darkness. He cannot tol-
erate an assistant in teaching and doing divine things. He
intends to be himself the teacher, the light, that our faith
may be pure, our understanding of divine matters clear.

26. In temporal affairs, however, one may do differently.
You may learn from the carpenter, or teach yourself, how
to construct a building; from a painter you may learn to
paint; from a shoemaker, to make shoes; from a scribe, to
write. But how to serve God, how all works become good —
this you must learn, not from man, but from God. God
teaches you to believe in him and to love your neighbor, in
all your works. Men teach you to work without faith and
to love only yourself, forgetting God and your neighbor.

27. Such, you perceive, is the m.eaning of Isaiah where
he says, "Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross
darkness the peoples." He cannot be understood as speak-
ing of literal darkness; the sun has continued to give its
light. He has reference to a darkness opposed to that light
v/hereof he says, "Thy light is come," and, "Jehovah will
arise upon thee." Now, they upon whom Jehovah has not
risen, upon whom he has not shone, are in darkness. The
r?.rkness here meant is simply unbelief, the darkness of
numan reason; just as the light represents Christ, or faith
v' Christ whereby Christ dwells in the heart, as Paul says.
Eph 3, 17. Similarly, the reference here to the earth does
n^t mean the material earth; the material earth was not
darkened through Christ. The meaning is, earthly or world-
ly men; men who do not believe, do not accept Christ
through the Gospel ; men who remain in their earthly concep-
tions, in the natural light of reason, as Isaiah himself ex-
plains when he says :

"Gross darkness shall cover the peoples.'*

28. But what is implied? Were not men in darkness
previous to the advent of Christ? If he, through the Gos-
pel, brought the light, how is it that darkness made its first
appearance at that time? We must rem.ember that Isaiah is
speaking only of the Jewish people. He divides them into



324 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

two classes. One class enjoys the light and the other is
overwhelmed in darkness. This was really the case. So
he speaks of "the earth" and "the peoples." David, too,
says concerning them (Ps 2, 1-2), "Why do the nations med-
itate a vain thing against Jehovah and against his anoint-
ed?" The entire people of Israel awaited Christ. In the
shadows of the Law, through Christ, they enjoyed light. But
with his coming their condition apparently was reversed.
The majority of them fell, entering but deeper darkness.

Previous to Christ's advent was the light of the Law, in
which Christ was promised to the Jews. But when he came
m fulfilment thereof, they continued to cling to that Law,
to still look for his coming. In this way they seem to have
lost what they once recognized, the meaning of the Law.
And so it befell them as befalls one who leaves far behind
him the light properly going before, or the light that once
preceded him, and now goes deeper into darkness, with-
out that light. He who has his eyes fixed on a light before
him, however far away, may see where he is going. But
he who leaves the light behind, who turns his back upon
it, walks toward the darkness, not seeing his objective
point.

29. Such is the conduct of the Jews, who have behind
them the Law shining upon Christ now come. They reject
its Christ-revealing light, expecting it to shine for them upon
another Christ yet to come. Thus they are without light.
Their expectation will come to naught. The Law points to
no other Christ.

So Isaiah declares the earth covered with "darkness" and
even with "gross darkness." He indicates that the wretched
Jews are not only blind, but covered with gross darkness;
the light rises not upon them. The Gospel is not preached
to the Jews ; they are unwilling to hear it. Christ the light
does not, through the Gospel, rise upon them. They remain
covered in their unbelief — without preaching and instruc-
tion. God says on this point (Is 5,6), "I will also command
the clouds that they rain no rain upon it." In other words,
no preacher shall speak to them concerning Christ. This



EPIPHANY. 325

condition, you see, is not merely experiencing the darkness
of unbelief; it is being covered with that darkness, hearing
no preaching whereby the light might rise. O terrible
prophecy, awful example, for all rejecters of the Gospel!

30. Yet Isaiah says, "Jehovah will arise upon thee." Not
the entire nation was blinded. From it is derived the bet-
ter and greater portion of the Christian Church — the apos-
tles, the evangelists and numerous saints. These are not
in darkness, nor covered with darkness. To them Jehovah
was preached, and with the result that his glory is manifest
in them. Isaiah does not say m.erely. The glory of Jehovah
is risen upon thee, but. It "shall be seen upon thee." Not
only was the glory of Jehovah revealed to the Church — a
revelation embracing even the unbelieving Jews — but it ap-
peared to them, and they knew him and his glory. They
held these fast. Therefore the rising of the light — the Gos-
pel — was not taken from them.

31. Apparently we are to understand Isaiah as referring
in the latter part of the text to the fruits of the preached
Gospel, and in the first part to the preaching of the Gospel.
The Gospel arose, admonishing men to arise. After its ad-
vent some became so hardened, so overwhelmed in dark-
ness, that the light did not again arise upon them; it was
no more preached to them. But others were enlightened
and continued in that illumination. Such has ever been the
case unto this day with reference to the preaching of Christ
and the Gospel. Some accept it and are enlightened. Oth-
ers — the majority of them — condemn it as error and turn
from it. Consequently they are overwhelmed in their unbe-
lief. The Gospel is no longer proclaimed to them and they
are not disposed to hear it. Truly, then, they must be con-
cealed from the rising illumination of this light.

32. Let no one regard this as new or strange. The
Scripture is unchangeable — "Darkness shall cover the earth,
and gross darkness the peoples." If this was true of the
chosen people, the Jews, the natural seed of Abraham, to
how much greater degree may it be true of us heathen, de-
scendants from one of different blood and nature ! We see



326 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

today that the people will permit no one to preach to them
what the Pope and his followers have condemned ; they will
not tolerate it. Therefore they remain covered in their dark-
ness. They have their own preaching wherewith they fos-
ter and conceal their blindness. And it befalls them as they
desire, as it befell the Jews.

"And nations shall come to thy light, and kings to
the brightness of thy rising."

33. When the majority of the Jews refused to cultivate
the fruits of the Gospel — and fruit essentially accompanies
the Gospel — and continued in their blindness, the Gospel ex-
panded into all the world, gathering the gentiles in place
of the blinded and fallen Jews. So says Isaiah in this verse,
the accomplished fulfilment of which renders it clear. The
heathen nations embraced Christianity and by genuine faith
walked in Christ the true light. Such was the increase of
the Gospel fruit that even kings, the most exalted of earth,
humbled themselves under the faith. The revelation of these
future conditions was made that preachers might not be
unduly elated over their conversion of kings, or any other,
as if they had accomplished it of themselves. God foresaw
it all and caused it to be revealed. Besides, he promised
the Gospel.

34. This prophecy of Isaiah had strong fulfilment in
former times. Many of the nobility and of high standing
among the gentiles embraced Christianity. Today, how-
ever, so perverted are these nations by the Turks and the
Pope, the prophecy seems to have little bearing. And it is a
remarkable fact that even other heathen nations have been
led astray by the converted gentiles. But it is revealed that
Antichrist shall mislead the entire Christ-restored world.

35. What is the import of the phrase, "to the brightness
of thy rising"? The prophet styles Christ the glory, or
brightness, of the rising; that is, of the Gospel. For the
Gospel will be continually advanced and preached; it will
ever rise to oppose human doctrines, doctrines formerly in
the highest degree dangerous to kings and holders of lofty
positions. Upon these individuals first the evil spirit seizes



EPIPHANY. 327

with his perversions and human doctrines. Having them in
his power, he can easily drag along with them the common,
illiterate people. Thus the Pope first grasped kings and
princes and then the masses. He could not have accom-
plished it had the Gospel continued to rise. No such thing
was wrought when the Gospel first arose. But now it has
set, and human doctrines have come up. None today walk
in God's light.

"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."

36. Now, the prophet is about to enumerate the countries
where gentiles are converted to the faith. From the fact o£
his calling upon Jerusalem to lift up her eyes round about
and see, it is easily evident he refers to spiritual sons and
daughters, m.en and v/omen who believe in Christ. Likewise
the assem.biing of these must be understood in a spiritual
sense. They did not bodily come to Jerusalem, but they be-
lieved with heart and spirit in the light risen upon her and
round about her. No man can come to the light upon his
material feet. Otherwise all the inhabitants of Jerusalem
would have been enlightened; but the fact is, as before
stated, they for the most part remained in blindness and
darkness.

The light being spiritual, we are forced to conclude that
the children, the gathering and the future, must also be
understood in a spiritual sense. Were we not to regard the
light spiritual, we would have to accept the reference to the
gathering of the children in a physical rather than a spirit-
ual sense, as the words im.ply. But with the light spirit-
ualized, the gathering and the coming are spiritualized, and
so, too, must the children be regarded. The seed of Abra-
ham, his natural children, did not come to the light from the
mere fact of their flesh-and-blood descent; they came be-
cause they were his spiritual children, as stated in our last
sermon.

37. The clause "Thy sons shall come from far" implies



328 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS,

spiritual children from among the heathen. The apostles
Peter and Paul allude to the heathen as far away, and to the
Jews as near. "Ye that once were far off are made nigh in
the blood of Christ." Eph 2, 13. Again (verse 17), "He
came and preached peace to you that were far off, and
peace to them that v/ere nigh." The reason for this distinc-
tion seems to be that the Jews had the Law and the prom-
ises of God concerning Christ, and the heathen had not.
Nov/, it being im.possible for the heathen to be the natural
children of Abraham, or of Jerusalem, Isaiah's allusion to
them here must certainly be in a spiritual sense.

38. Similarly, when he admonishes Jerusalem to lift up
her eyes round about and see, he does not address the ma-
terial city of Jerusalem. The city of Jerusalem is not the
mother of these spiritual children. She is a murderess of
mother, father and children. Isaiah refers to the spiritual
mother — the assem.bly of the apostles and of all holy Chris-
tian Jews. This assembly is the Christian Church. It is
spoken of as "Jerusalem" because it originated in that city,
assembling there first and thence extending throughout the
world. A definite place of origin was necessary to Christian-
ity and the spread of the Gospel. The Gospel began in
Jerusalem, in the midst of its worst enemies.

39. Isaiah's meaning seems to be: "Look round about
thee, unto the four quarters of the world. I will expand
thee into all the earth, and thy children shall dwell every-
where." The words of the text were designed to comfort
the first Christians at Jerusalem in view of the fact that
they were few in number, despised and in the midst of those
who, when they should have been their best friends, were
their enemies, as appears later on this same chapter. It
was seemingly absurd for so small a band to attempt an
undertaking so vast and unusual and to defy the over-
whelming masses.

40. The Jews thought soon to check the efforts of the
Christians, even to exterminate them. They began every-
v/here the work of persecution, expulsion and slaughter, pre-
suming it easy to root out these poor and powerless people.



EPIPHANY. 329

Foolishly, they failed to see how they but fanned the fire al-
ready kindled, and scattered it world-wide. Their violence
only helped to fulfil this God-directed prophecy of Isaiah
against themselves. Their persecution drove Christians
into all the world and extended the Gospel until everywhere
the sons and daughters of Jerusalem were gathered to the
light.

41. To accomplish an object with eminent success
through the instrumentality of an enemy is characteristic of
the divine hand. By the very fact of their furious attempts
to exterminate the Word and the people of God, men but
destroy themselves and only further God's Word and his
people. Therefore, it is good and profitable, to have enemies
and persecutors for the sake of the faith and the Word of
God. Incalculable comfort and benefit result. Psalm 2, 1
IS in point here : "Why do the nations rage, and the peoples
meditate a vain thing" against Christ? The thought is,
they violently strive to exterminate Christ, and fail to see
that in so doing they but strengthen him.

42. Isaiah's message here to his beloved Jerusalem is,
practically: "Fear not, grieve not. Cast not down your
eyes, but joyfully raise them and look about. Be not misled
by the fact that your nearest relatives are your worst ene-
mies, seeking to exterminate you and regarding you too
mean to dwell among them. Let them go on in their rage.
Where they kill one among you, a thousand shall rise in
his place. Where they drive one away, he shall return with
many thousands. If they extinguish the Gospel at one
point, it will spring up in ten others. At length, without
their consent and with no thanks to them, you shall every-
where have sons and daughters to fill the places of those
others nov>7 become enemies. Thus ultimately you shall be
strengthened and multiplied, and your enemies shall be di-
minished even to extermination. Their evil designs for you
shall fall upon themselves and you shall enjoy what they
begrudge you. We see plainly the complete fulfilment of
this prophecy.

"Then thou shalt see and be radiant, and thy heart



330 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

shall thrill and be enlarged; because the abundance of
the sea shall be turned unto thee, the v/ealth of the na-
tions shall come unto thee.'*

43. By "the abundance of the sea," we must understand,
not the water of the sea itself, but the inhabitants of the
country bordering on the sea. As, for instance, we might
say that the whole Rhine is risen up, when we mean the
people of the country adjacent to the Rhine. Scripture us-
age, notwithstanding there are many seas in the world,
terms the Mediterranean Sea simply "the sea," while it
designates the Red Sea by its particular and full name.

Geographers give the Mediterranean that name because
of its position. It lies midway between the continents, west
of Asia. On the left, or the north, are Spain, France, Italy,
Greece and Asia Minor, as far as Cilicia. On the right, or
theesouth, are Africa and Egypt, as far as Palestine. The
sea is touched on both sides by great countries, powerful
kingdoms. It has numerous islands — Candia, Rhodes, Cyp-
rus, now for the most part in control of the Turks. The
Mediterranean is, as we said, in the Scriptures called "the
sea." It is west of the Jewish country; for Palestine is at
the end of the sea in the east.

44. The people of the territory bordering this sea, par-
ticularly those on the north, are scripturally given the gen-
eral term "gentiles." To those on the south and to the
east the Scriptures give particular names. To the gentiles
we belong, as do all on the north, or left side, of the sea.
Paul, in Second Timothy 1, 11 and elsewhere, calls himself
a preacher and apostle to the gentiles. To this section of
the country on the north side of the sea, he preached. To
it he addressed all his epistles. He did not go south of the
sea.

Isaiah refers to these gentiles or nations when he says,
"The abundance of the sea shall be turned unto thee, the
v/ealth of the nations shall comie unto thee." "The abun-
dance of the sea" is synonym.ous with "the wealth of the
nations." Thus he shows we are not to understand by the
former expression "water" but "peoples."



EPIPHANY. 331

45. Again, "wealth of the nations" does not signify their
strength, or power. Of what advantage would that be to
the Church? The reference is to great multitudes. We are
wont to call a large quantity of coin "a power of money";
that is, a great pile of money. Likewise here "wealth" of
the nations means a great mass or multitude of them.
Again, we speak of the lord of a great country, one who
rules over vast territory and many peoples, as a "m^ighty"
lord.

This prophecy of Isaiah was largely fulfilled through the
instrum.entality of Paul our apostle. Through his preach-
ing "the abundance of the sea" was converted and "the
wealth of the nations" came into the faith. The latter part
of this verse is designed to explain who are the sons and
daughters that come from afar; namely, the abundance of
the gentiles on the great Mediterranean, Vv^hom Paul con-
verted.

Thus we have further evidence that the coming to Jerusa-
lem is not to be literally understood. How could such a
multitude, such an "abundance," such a "wealth," gather
within the limits of that single city, to say nothing of dwell-
ing there permanently? Isaiah says the abundance of the
s^a shall be "converted," or turned about. The thought is
of a facing about. The v/ord itself is opposed to the idea
of a literal gathering of the gentiles at Jerusalem. The
"turning about" is the assembling. Before, they were turned
to the world ; now they are changed, turned to the Church.

46. Again, Isaiah uses the Hebrew term "Hamon" when
he speaks of the abundance of the sea. The v/ord implies
mass, or abundance. Undoubtedly there is a connection
here with the promise God made to Abraham that he
should be the father of many nations, or gentiles. For God
said (Gen 17, 5) : "Neither shall thy name any more be
called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for the
father of a multitude of nations have I made thee." God
adds the first letter of the word "Hamon" to "Abram," mak-
ing it "Abraham," and gives us a reason for the chane^e
that Abraham should be the father "Hamon"; that is, the



332 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

father of a multitude of nations. He says with Isaiah, in
effect: He shall be the father, "Hamon," of the sea — a
father of a multitude of nations. Accordingly, Paul in his
epistles urges the statement that through faith the gentiles
are the children, the seed of Abraham, according to the
promise of God. Isaiah has reference to this promise and
describes its fulfilment. At first the patriarch was called
*'Abram," a father of the high, or exalted father. After-
ward he was named "Abraham," a father of the abundance,
or multitude, of the gentiles. In the gentiles was completed
his exaltation,

47. But why does the prophet here multiply words:
*'Then thou shalt see and be radiant, and thy heart shall
thrill and be enlarged"? What is implied by "see," "being
radiant," and "the heart thrilling and being enlarged"?
These are terms of comforting promise. Hebrew usage
makes the word "see" expressive of satisfaction of mind
over accomplished desire. For instance (Ps 54, 7), "And
mine eye hath seen my desire upon mine enemies." That
is, "I see what I have long desired for my enemies, namely,
their suppression and the perpetuation of the truth." Again
(Ps 37, 34) : "When the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see
It" — "then thou shalt see what thou didst desire." And
again (Ps 35, 21) : "Yea, they opened their mouth wide
against me; they said. Aha, aha, our eye hath seen it." In
other v/ords, "Indeed, what pleasure ! We have long desired
to see it." So here we interpret "Then thou shalt see," etc.,
to mean: "You are now a poor, weak little band. Your
enemies see what they desire for you. You desire to see
yourselves great and numerous, but you may not yet. You
must behold for a little time what you do not desire to be-
hold. Afterward you shall see and they shall not. When
the multitude of the sea shall be turned to you, then you
will see what you have long desired to behold, and your
enemies shall not witness what they have so ardently desired



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 28 of 29)