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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Christ Jesus: 6 that with one accord ye may with one
mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ. 7 Wherefore receive ye one another, even as
Christ also received you, to the glory of God. 8 For I
say that Christ hath been miade a minister of the cir-
cumcision for the truth of God, that he might confirm
the promises given unto the fathers, 9 and that the
Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is

Therefore will I give praise unto thee among the

And sing unto thy nam.e.

10 And again he saith,

Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people.

11 And again.

Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles;
And let all the peoples praise him.

12 And again, Isaiah saith,

There shall be the root of Jesse,

And he that ariseth to rule over the Gentiles ;

On him shall the Gentiles hope.

13 Now the God of hope fill you v/ith all joy and peace
in believing, that ye may abound in hope, in the power
of the Holy Spirit.

1. It is quite probable the individual who arranged this
epistle text knew little about Paul. He includes in the



selection more than pertains to the theme. The beginning —
"Whatsoever things were written," etc. — relates to what
goes before. The text should have begun with the words,
*'Now the God of patience." It is necessary to a clear and
methodical understanding of the passage that we remember
this : the Rom.ans to whom the apostle writes were converts
to Christianity from both Jev^s and gentiles. At that time
there were many Jews living in all countries, and especially
were they found in Rome, as we learn from the seventeenth
and eighteenth chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. Having
properly inculcated the doctrines of faith and of good works
all through the epistle, the apostle in conclusion introduces
several exhortations to the Rom.ans to preserve harmony in
faith and in good works, removing what might be productive
of discord and subversive to unity of the Spirit. There are
two difficulties which today as in all times strongly militate
against the unity of the Spirit, against faith and good works.
They must here be carefully noted and described.

2. The first difficulty was this: Some Jewish converts
feared that deviating from formier customs would be com-
mitting sin. Notwithstanding they had been taught the New
Testament freedom regarding meats, days, clothing, vessels,
persons, conditions, customs; that only faith renders us
righteous in God's sight; and that the restrictions of the
Law concerning the eating of flesh and lish, concerning holi-
days, places, vessels, vvere entirely abolished; yet so com-
pletely fettered by old customs v/ere their weak consciences
and imperfect faith, they could not exercise such liberties.
Again, both Jews and gentiles, in consequence of this sam.e
disordered idea, could not venture to eat of bread and meat«
offered to idols by unbelievers, though sold in the public mar-
ket. They im.agined that to eat thereof was to honor the
idols and deny Christ, when in fact the act had no sig-
nificance. For all kinds of food are clean, and good crea-
tures of God, v/nether in the hands of heathen or Christians,
whether offered to God or to the devil.

3. The second difficulty was this : They of better under-
standing and stronger faith had not sufficient regard for the


weak, but exercised their liberty indiscreetly, offending the
weak by eating and drinking without discrimination what-
ever was set before them. Not that there was any wrong in
the act so far as the food was concerned; the wrong con-
sisted in their indiscretion in causing the weak to err through
the act. For the latter, beholding, could neither agree with
them nor dissent from them. Had they thought to consent,
their weak consciences would have interposed, protesting,
"It is sinful; do it not." Had they thought to dissent, con-
science again would have interposed, objecting, "You are
not Christians for you do not as other Christians do; your
faith must be false." Thus they could neither do one thing
nor the other without opposing conscience. Now, to violate
conscience is equivalent to violating faith, and is a grievous

4. Paul here teaches us to have patience and bear with
the weak, and not to conduct ourselves carelessly before
them; rather to agree vAth them — become weak with them
— until they grow stronger in the faith and recognize their
liberty. We are to guard against creating discord in faith
over the subject of meats and drinks or any other temporal

The apostle, however, discriminates upon this point, for
in general his teaching recognizes two classes of individuals
to be considered in the matter. One consists of those weak
in the faith, of whom we have already spoken. It is to this
class alone Paul here refers. They are good, pious, common
people, willingly doing better w"hen they have the knowl-
edge or power. They are not tenacious of their opinions;
the trouble lies altogether in weakness of conscience and
lack of faith. They are unable to extricate themselves from
prevailing doctrines and customs. The other class are ob-
stinate. Not satisfied to enjoy liberty of conduct for them-
selves, they must enforce it upon others, constraining them
to their own practices. They claim that because certain
liberty is permissible, it must be enjoined. They will not
listen to real truth in the matter of Christian liberty, but
strive against it. They are to blame for the weakness of the


first class. For their doctrine disregards the weak con-
sciences and misleads them into the belief that certain con-
duct is essential. This domineering class delight in bringing
simple consciences into subjection to their demands. Paul
does not here refer to that manner of people ; no, but he else-
where teaches us to faithfully oppose them and alv/ays do
the opposite. Titus 1.

5. The best rule to follow in such matters is the rule of
love. You should hold the same attitude toward these tv/o
classes that you would toward a v/oli and a sheep. Suppose
a wolf v/ere to wound almost fatally a sheep, and you were
to proceed with rage against the sheep, declaring it to be
wrong in being wounded, that it should be sound; and you
were violently to compel it to follow the other sheep to the
pasture and to the fold, giving it no special care ; would not
all men declare you inconsiderate? The sheep might well
say: "Certainly it is wrong for me to be wounded, and
unquestionably I ought to be sound; but direct your anger
toward the inflicter of my wounds, and assist in my re-
covery." So should these Romans have done and have faith-
fully repelled the wolf-like teachers. At the same time, the
consciences weakened and discouraged by false doctrines
should have received consideration. The Church at Rome
ought not to have denounced nor ignored them, but rather to
have carefully healed their spiritual disorder and ultimately
eradicated the wrong doctrines, in patience bearing with
their weak brethren lest they should cause them to err.

6. Now, the circumstance Paul here speaks of has long
since passed, and the law of Moses concerning meats, drinks,
apparel, place, and so on, is no longer pertinent; yet another
has been introduced in its stead, causing even greater
trouble, and Paul's doctrine on this point is more necessary
now than then. There is today established by the Pope and
the clergy a world-wide system of human devices in regard
to meats and drinks, apparel and place, days and seasons,
persons and orders, customs and performances, so elaborate
that one can scarce eat a morsel, drink a drop, or open his
eyes even, but there is a law concerning the act. Thus is


our liberty usurped. Particularly is it true in convents and
cloisters, where it is unanimously contended that we must
be clothed and shorn in a certain way, must conduct our-
selves by certain rules, and m.ust not eat this meat, drink
that drink, and so on, lest we sin by disobedience. There
obedience to human doctrines has been exalted to the point
of highest esteem. The monks and nuns regard it the
foundation, the corner-stone, of their religion, and base upon
it their souls' salvation.

7. No one v/ill open his eyes to the fact that mere hu-
man devices and doctrines are ensnaring souls, weakening
consciences, dissipating Christian liberty and faith, and re-
plenishing helL Wolves! wolves! How abominably, aw-
fully, murderous, how harassing and destructive, are these
things the world over! This matter of obedience to human
doctrine has never been agitated sufficiently to discover
weak consciences. No one has opposed in word or act the
teachings harmful to them. Whosoever has deviated from the
doctrines has been condemned, and denounced as an apos-
tate, a roving monk, an abandoned Christian. Thus forcibly
have the sheep not only been enfeebled, but driven into the
jaws of the wolf. Oh, the v^rath, the indignation, the dis-
pleasure, of the Divine Majesty!

8. If now, by the mercy of God, these papistical doctrines
should be recognized as merely human, as false and as-
sumed, things God has not commanded ; and if some were to
have courage enough to depart from custom in the matter of
masses, prayers, garb, meats, and to maintain their Chris-
tian liberty according to the Gospel, the two classes referred
to would take offense. The first, the Papists, would rant
and rage, making loud outcry: "Our teachings must be
observed ! Ke who disregards them is a heretic, a heathen,
a Jew, and disobedient to the Church." They would con-
tinue to cry "Obedience to the Church!" solely for the sake
of retaining in fetters and spiritual death the consciences
which, as they have been taught to do, regard their obedi-
ence as unto the Church, when in reality it is unto mere
papistical knavery and satanic devices, things whereby many


saints, even, have been misled and deceived; St. Francis,
for instance, and others. ^

The second class — the v/eak — in the face of the others'
outcry and of their ov/n established custom, would err, being
puzzled as to whose doctrine to accept, though sincerely de-
sirous to follow the right. But v/hatever course they might
take, conscience would oppose them. Should they essay to
accept our Christian liberty, their own established custom
and the outcry of the Papists v/ould deter them. Their con-
sciences bound by these two restraints, they would not dare
deviate from the old way lest they oppose God. On the
other hand, should they not accept our Christian liberty,
they would again fear they were opposing the God we pro-
claim. Whither, then, shall flee the poor, weak conscience
over whom Christ and the devil contend?

9. To this situation Paul's teaching appropriately ap-
plies. The doctrine of the devil and his Papists is wholly
destitute of compassion. In violent rage it compels immedi-
ate retraction from our doctrine of liberty. It excommuni-
cates and curses the offender, casting him. down four thou-
sand miles belov/ hell, if he does not recant in the twinkling
of an eye and renounce every letter and tittle of his belief.
From the fact of the rage manifested, as v/ell as from the
fruit of papistical doctrine, we perceive who is its author.
The teaching of Christ, however, does not so. It calls not
for summary rejection of the individual who fails to quickly
retract and readily desist when found to err in faith; not-
withstanding there is more reason it should than in the case
of papal teaching. Recognizing the weak and wounded
condition of the offender, Christ's doctrine comes in a friend-
ly way, teaching the real truth about human laws — that of
Christian liberty. R is patient, bearing with him who does
not immediately abandon his erroneous ways, and giving
him time to learn to forsake them. It allows him to do the
best he can, according to what he has been used to, until
he is made whole and clearly perceives the truth.

10. Therefore, the Christian must on this point discrim-
inate between the two classes mentioned. The weak should


receive his kindly and patient instruction, but the roving,
ranting kind are to meet with his earnest opposition. Let
him teach and perform everything calculated to annoy and
oppose the latter, and quietly omit whatever is pleasing to
them, and let him honor their ban with a great easel-box.
This is the consistent course of Christian love. It is the
treatment every man desires for himself. Were any one
of us m.isled by a weak conscience, he would desire a little
time to retrieve instead of being precipitately cut off from
the Church. He v/ould like to be kindly instructed, to be
borne with for a while and to be delivered from the wolves.
Such is Christ's conduct toward us, and such does he desire
our conduct toward one another to be.

11. The second cause of discord Paul also removes.
There is, and always will be, among Christ's followers a
class who are weak and sickly in good works, just as the
first were defective in faith. We have, then, two kinds of
invalid Christians — those affected inwardly, in faith and
conscience ; and those outwardly unsound, in v/orks and de-
portment. Christ desires none of them to be rejected, but
would have all received. He would give Christian love
abundant opportunity to exercise itself, to heal its neigh-
bors, to do them good and to bear with them, in matters in-
ward and outward — in faith and conduct. The weak in
conduct are they who som.etimes fall into open sin ; or again
they who are called in German "wunderliche Koepfe und
Seltsame," people easily irritated or with other shortcomings
which make it difficult to get along with them. Especially
have we instances among husbands and wives, masters and
servants, rulers and subjects.

12. Now, where Paul's Christian doctrine does not ob-
tain, naturally each individual forgets the beam in his own
eye and perceives only the mote in his neighbor's. One
will not bear with the faults of the other ; each requires per-
fection of his fellow. Hence they reflect upon each other's
conduct. One resorts to this subterfuge, the other to that,
to evade the harassing censure and displeasure of his neigh-
bor. He who can, cuts the other's acquaintance, drops


him, and then justifies himself with the excuse that his mo-
tive was love of righteousness; that he did not want to as-
sociate with wicked persons, but desired the company of
only the good and godly like himself.

13. This evil holds sway chiefly in individuals ranking
more or less high in the estimation of their fellows, who lead
respectable lives and are particularly favored. These puff
themselves up and put on airs. Whoever is not just like
them is held in disgrace, in disparagement and contempt.
Only themselves are worthy of admiration. But he who
measures up to them, whose life is equally respectable — ah !
he is righteous and a good friend ; with him they can associ-
ate with perfect satisfaction to themselves as individuals
who love only righteousness and the righteous, and hate
nothing but wickedness and the wicked. They are not
aware of the secret satanical pride in the inmost recesses
of their hearts, which pride is the very reason they haughtily
and meanly despise their neighbors for their imperfections.

14. Love of virtue and hatred of vice may spring from
two different motives; one heathenish, the other Christian.
Christ, too, is an enemy to sin and a friend to righteousness.
Psalms 45, 7 says of him, "Thou hast loved righteousness,
and hated wickedness.'* And this saying does not conflict
v/ith Moses' declaration concerning Christ, "Dilexit popu-
los," Yea, he loveth the people." Deut 33, 3. But heathen love
of virtue and hatred of vice, like the unreasoning swine, in-
discriminately roots up and tosses together vices and vir-
tues, regardless of the individual; truly a friend to no one
but itself. This truth is evident from the fact that so long
and so far as virtue adorns the individual, so long and so
far heathenism loves him and is interested in him ; but when
virtue is lacking, the individual is rejected.

15. Now, the Christian hatred of sin discriminates be-
tween the vices and the individual. It endeavors to exter-
minate only the former and to preserve the latter. It does
not flee from, evade, reject nor despise anyone; rather it
receives every man, takes a warm interest in him and ac-
cords him treatment calculated to relieve him o-f his vices.


It admonishes, instructs and prays for him. It patiently
bears with him. It does only as the doer would be done by
in circumstances of like infirmities.

16. The Christian's whole purpose in life is to be useful
to mankind; not to cast out the individual, but to extermi-
nate his vices. This we cannot do if we refuse to tolerate the
faulty person. It would be a very inconsistent case of char-
ity in which you should desire to feed the hungry, satisfy
the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick, but at the same
time should not permit the hungering, the thirsting, the
naked and the sick to approach you. But just so your un-
willingness to tolerate a wicked or faulty person is inconsist-
ent with your willingness to help him, or to aid him to godly

17. Let us learn from this that the life of Christian love
does not consist in seeking godly, upright, holy individuals,
but in making them godly, upright and holy. Let this be
the Christian's earthly labor, v/hether it calls for admonition,
prayer, patience or other exercise. For the Christian does
not live to seek after the wealthy and strong in virtue, but
to make such virtuous ones from the poor, weak and infirm.

18. So, then, the text admonishes to two thoughts — to
Christian love and to good and noble Vvorks ; not only to
bearing with our neighbor's spiritual imperfections of faith
and conduct, but also to receiving him into fellowship, to
healing him and to restoring from infirmities. They who
fail so to do, create seditions, sects and divisions ; as in time
past the heretics, Donatists and Novatians, and many
others, separated from the Church because unwilling to tol-
erate sinners and the faulty. There must be heretics and
sects where the doctrine of Christian love is ignored ; it can-
not be otherwise.

19. St. Augustine, commenting on the sixth chapter of
Galatians, says : "In nothing is one's religious character so
v/ell shovv^n as when, in dealing with the sinful individual, he
insists on redemption of the sinner rather than on reproach ;
on his welfare rather than on reproof." Upon this subject
of Christian love, Paul says (Gal 6, 1-2) : "Brethren, even if


a man be overtaken in any trespass, ye who are spiritual, re-
store such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to thy-
self, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's bur-
dens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." In other words:
"Neglect not to take upon yourselves the burdens of your
neighbor — whatever is hard for him to bear. Seek not to
derive advantage from him, but bear his burdens." To use
him for your own advantage is not bearing but being borne.
Advantage belongs to the angels in yonder life. At the
same time we are to make a distinction between the two
classes before mentioned. We are to avoid as heathen those
who obstinately attempt to justify their sins and are unv/ill-
ing to forsake them. For so we are taught in Matthew 18,
17. The doctrine of Christian love -is applicable only to
them who, though perceiving the v/rong, yet stumble
through weakness or imperfection. Let us examine the

"For whatsoever things were v/ritten aforetime were
written for our learning, that through patience and
through comfort of the Scriptures v/e might have hope."
20. In the selection of this epistle passage it should not
have been made to begin with these v/ords. They pertain
to the first part of the chapter. We shall therefore present
the text in its proper order. The apostle with the fifteenth
chapter begins to teach the aforesaid principle of love which
is to have expression in our attitude toward our neighbor
of erring conduct; even as in the fourteenth chapter he
taught us to manifest love toward our neighbor of imperfect
faith. He says, "We that are strong ought to bear the in-
firmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each
one of us please his neighbor for that which is good, unto
edifying. For Christ also pleased not himself ; but, as it is
written. The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell
upon me. For whatsoever things were written aforetime
were written for our learning, that through patience and
through comfort of the scriptures we might have hope." In
these truly forcible words Paul teaches the principle of love


that is to enable us to bear with the imperfect conduct Oi cur

2L First, he tells us we are under obligation to forbear.
Whence arises this obligation? Doubtless from the Law and
from love (Mt 7, 12) : *'A11 things whatsoever ye would
that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them ;
for this is the lav/ and the prophets." Now, there is no one
of us Vv^ho would not have others bear with him in his in-
firmities and help him to do better. In return, we are under
obligation to conduct ourselves in a similar manner toward
our fellows. The strong should bear with the feeble and
help them to better things.

22. Secondly, Paul teaches we are not to take pleasure in
ourselves; that is, not to consider ourselves good because
of abilities superior to those of our neighbors. For that
means but to delight in beholding others in sin and deprav-
ity, from unwillingness to see them our equals or our su-
periors; and to rejoice at the misfortunes which prevent
their gaining ascendancy. Truly this spirit is diametrically
and fundamentally opposed to love. The Pharisee in the
Gospel (Lk 18, 11) thanks God he is not like other men.
So good does he regard himself and so does he delight in
himself, it would be painful indeed to him were there any
other without sin.

23. Now, are not they detestable individuals who be-
grudge grace and salvation to others, and who rejoice to
see them ruined in sin, but at the same time are ambitious
to be regarded pious and holy, strong enemies to sin and
friends to godliness? But v/hat is Paul's teaching? Em-
phatically not this. He says no one should unduly approve
himself — regard himself good. What then? Let him secure
the approbation of others. Let everyone so conduct himself
as to gain the approval of his neighbor. Each should bear
his neighbor's infirmities with patience and gentleness, and
by kindness win his love and confidence. Let him not treat
his neighbor with a rashness and severity that shall warrant
the latter's fear and shall drive him farther away, leading
him to expect no favors ever and to become but more sinful.


24. But you will say, "If I proceed in the way that shall
please my neighbor I must let him have his own way and
allow him to continue as he is. But this is not Paul's
thought, for he adds the modifier "for his good." His mean-
ing is that each should so conduct himself as to please his
neighbor in the things that make for that neighbor's better-
ment, and in those only. And, indeed, our conduct toward
our fellow may be such as to deny him his will without in-
curring his displeasure. But if he be dissolute beyond our
power to benefit him, let him go ; Vv^e have made a reasonable
effort to gratify him in so far as we could contribute to his
improvement. We cannot force his approval of our efforts
to please him. Paul requires no more of us than to please
our neighbor in the v^ay of manistering to his good. The
world does not delight even in the fact that God gave his
ov/n Son to die for its happiness.

25. Therefore, v^^hen Paul tells us everyone should please
his neighbor in that v/hich is good, his intent is not for us
merely to strive to please our fellows; that is not what is
required of us. But he would have us, in obedience to the
rule of love, conduct ourselves in a way we might reason-
ably expect pleasing to them; in a way that if we fail we
are not at fault. Paul says in First Corinthians 10, 33 :
"Even as I also please all men in all things." So would
he have us please everyone in all things. How did Paul

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 3 of 29)