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 6 of 29)
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 6 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

over all things.

"Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace

in believing, that ye may abound in hope, in the power

of the Holy Spirit."

84. Paul concludes this passage with a noble prayer,
desiring the Romans to be filled with joy and peace. He
calls upon the "God of hope," referring to the hope God
alone gives through Christ and in Christ.

85. The way we possess peace and joy we have before
spoken of; the secret is in perceiving the will of God, how
he gave Christ to bear our sins, which we are under obliga-
tion to believe. The more clearly we perceive his v/ill, the
stronger will be our faith, our hope and love. Hence v\7e
must continual^ preach the Gospel — receive it and medi-
tate upon it. For faith comes through no other medium
than the Gospel.

The apostle says, in effect: "May God, who through the
Gospel effects hope, grant you grace, enabling you to appro-
priate the Gospel and believe. Through believing, you first
perceive Christ. Thereupon follow perfect peace and an as-
sured conscience. These are blessings common to all, and
you will have harmony among yourselves." The Christian's
peace and joy is something received, not as the gift of the
world is received, through mortal sense, but through faith.
He v/ho is the source of your good, and from whom you
derive your peace and joy, is not recognized by sight or
touch. However, in the world you will have disquietude and
grief. But learn that Christ is the common blessing of all
and you will enjoy blessed peace. For all being alike rich,
no one can begrudge another anything. This is w^hat it
means to have peace and joy through faith or in faith.


86. "That ye may abound in hope," continues the prayer.
In other words, "that your hope may ever increase." Now,
suffering and persecution contribute to the increase of hope.
We are not given increased hope to decrease adversity; no,
adversity is increased that hope may not rely on human
power, but be established through the power of the Holy
Spirit. For the Holy Spirit aids us, fortifying our hope and
enabling us not to fear nor to flee from the disasters of the
world ; but to stand firm even unto death, and to overcome all
evil; so that evil must flee from us and cease its attacks.
Remember, it is hope in the power of the Holy Spirit, not in
human weakness, that must do all this through the medium
of the Gospel. As before said, "Through patience and
through comfort of the Scriptures we have hope." Where
the Gospel is not, there is neither hope, comfort, peace, joy,
faith, love, Christ, God, nor anything good. Evidence of this
fact is before us in the wretched, spiritless, carnal clerical
orders, notwithstanding their much praying and holding of
masses. From these things, O thou God of hope, of patience
and of comfort, graciously preserve us. Amen.

Epistle Text; First Corinthians 4, 1-5.

1 Let a man so account of us, as of ministers of
Christ, and stev/ards of the mysteries of God. 2 Here,
moreover, it is required in stev/ards, that a man be found
faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that
I shpuld be judged of you, or of man's judgment; yea,
I judge not mine own self. 4 For I know nothing
against myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he
that judgeth me is the Lord. 5 Wherefore judge
nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will
both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and
make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then
shall each man have his praise from God.

1. This epistle selection illustrates the Gospel lesson for
the first Sunday in Advent, wherein v/e learned the disciples
did not themselves ride on the colt, but led it to Christ and
set him thereon. That is what the apostle docs here. The
Corinthians had come to divisions among themselves and to
boasting of certain apostles as their leaders. With one
party it was Peter, with another Paul, and with yet another
Apollos. Each one exalted the apostle by whom he was
baptized or was taught, or the one he regarded most emi-
nent. Now comes Paul and interposes, permitting no one to
boast of any apostle, and teaching them to laud Christ alone.
He tells them it m^atters not by whom they were baptized
and taught, but it is of the utmost importance that they all
hold to Christ together and own allegiance to him alone.
Paul beautifully teaches how the apostles are to be regarded.



The v/hole passage is a fierce thrust at Popery and the cleri-
cal government, as we shall see.

"Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of
Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God."

2. The reference is to all apostles and all heirs to the
apostolic chair, whether Peter, Paul or any other. Let us,
then, be very careful how v/e regard the apostles and
bishops ; we must attach neither too much nor yet too little
importance to them. Not without reason did Paul — the
Holy Spirit, in fact — make this restriction; and without
doubt we are under obligation to follow it. The same limit
here made concerning apostles applies to bishops. It desig-
nates the character of their office and the extent of their
power. So v^hen we see a bishop assuming more than
this text gives him warrant for, we may safely regard him,
as a wolf, and an apostle of the devil, and avoid him asr
such. Unquestionably he must be Antichrist who in ecclesi-
astical government exceeds the authority here prescribed.

3. First, Paul warns us against receiving apostles or
bishops as anything but "ministers of Christ;" nor should
they desire to be regarded otherwise. But the term "minis-
ter of Christ" must not in this connection be understood as
one who serves God, in tlie present acceptation of the phrase
— praying, fasting, attendance upon Church services, and
all the things styled "divine service" by ecclesiastical rites,
institutions and cloisters, and by the whole clerical order.
Theirs are merely humanly devised works and words,
whereby Paul's teaching here and elsewhere is wholly ob-
scured, even to the extent of making it impossible to know
what he means by the "ministry of Christ." He has refer-
ence to the ministry that is an office. All Christians serve
God but all are not in office. In Romans 11, 13, also, he
terms his office a ministry: "Inasmuch as I am an apostle
of Gentiles, I glorify my ministry." And in the epistle se-
lection preceding this (Rom 15, 8) he says: "I say that
Christ hath been made a minister of the circumcision."
Again (2 Cor 3, 6) : "Who also made us sufficient as minis-
ters of a new convenant ; not of the letter, but of the spirit."


4. What language is forcible enough to serve me in the
attempt to eradicate from the hearts of all Christians that
error so deeply impressed of Popery wherein they interpret
the ministry of Christ — or the service of God — in no other
light than as their own works, performed to Christ without
any authority to do them? Mark you, beloved, to serve
Christ, or to serve God, is defined by Paul himself as to ful-
fil a Christ-ordained office, the office of preaching. This
office is a service or ministry proceeding from Christ to us,
and not from us to Christ. Note this carefully ; it is impor-
tant. Otherwise you cannot understand the design of the
Pauline words, "ministry, ministration, to minister." So
he always has it. Seldom does he speak of the service or
ministry rendered primarily above them to God ; it is usually
of the ministry beneath them, to men. Christ, too, in the
Gospel bids the apostles to be submissive and servants o£
others. Lk 22, 26.

To make himxself clearly understood in this matter of
service, or ministry, Paul carefully adds to the word "minis-
ters" the explanatory one "stewards," which can be under-
stood in no other way than as referring to the office of the

5. He terms his office "service or ministry of Christ" and
himself "minister of Christ," because he was ordained of
God to the office of preaching. So all apostles and bishops
are ministers of Christ; that is preachers, messengers, offi-
cers of Christ, sent to the people with his message. The
meaning of the verse, then, is : "Let every individual take
heed not to institute another leader, to set up another Lord,
to constitute another Christ. Rather be unanimously loyal
to the one and only Christ. For we apostles are not your
lords, nor your masters; we are not your leaders. We do
not preach our own interests, nor teach our own doctrines.
We do not seek to have you obey us, or give us allegiance
and accept our doctrine. No, indeed. We are messengers
and ministers of him who is your Master, your Lord and
Leader. We preach his Word, enlist men to follovv^ his com-
mandments, and lead only into obedience. And in this light


should you regard us, expecting of us nothing else than to
bring the message. Though we are other persons than
Christ, yet you do not receive through us another doctrine
than his; another word, another government, nor another
authority than his. He who so receives and regards us,
holds the right attitude toward us, and receives, not us, but
Christ, whom alone we preach. But he who does not so
regard us, does us injustice, discards Christ, the one true
Leader, sets up another in his stead and makes gods of us."

6. In Judges 8, 22-23 we read that the children of Israel
said to Gideon: "Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy
son, and thy son's son also," to which Gideon answered, "I
will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you:
Jehovah shall rule over you." And in First Samuel 8, 7 we
are told that when the children of Israel desired a king of
Samuel, God said: "They have not rejected thee, but they
have rejected me, that I should not be king over them."
Thus we see God cannot permit any authority to usurp his
own among his people.

7. But perhaps you ask: "Where was the sin of the peo-
ple when they desired Gideon to rule over them? Had not
God given Gideon leadership in the contest, and did he not
later provide many holy kings expressly for them?" I reply
it was not a sin for the children of Israel to have sovereigns ;
it was not contrary to God's will ; for there must be temporal
authorities. But the sin consisted in the fact that, not con-
tent with God's government, they chose human govern-
ment instead. Gideon and the holy kings did not extend
their authority as rulers a hair's breadth farther than God's
command warranted, and they did not regard themselves
in any other light than as the servants or ministers of God ;
that is, they ruled according to God's direction and not ac-
cording to their own. Thus was perpetuated God's govern-
ment in its purity, and they were servants in it ; as were the
apostles servants in the word of Christ. Hence David sings
of his own kingdom as identical with God's. He says:
"Arise, O Jehovah, in thine anger: lift up thyself against
the rage of mine adversaries, and awake for me; thou hast


commanded judgment. And let the congregation o£ the
peoples compass thee about; and over them return thou on
high. Jehovah ministereth judgment to the peoples."
Ps 7, 6-8.

8. But where more authority is assumed than God's
command gives, and where the magistrate attempts to rule
according to human doctrines, or the subjects seek such
leadership, idolatry results and the leader assumes a new
character. The magistrate is no longer a servant or minis-
ter, but rules arbitrarily, without command of God. God
says of them as he said to Samuel concerning the children
of Israel: "They have not rejected the magistrate, but they
have rejected me, that I should not reign over them." I
refer here to spiritual matters, to the sovereignty of the
soul, which must stand before God. Civil government is a
matter that does not pertain to nor concern the soul.

9. Where divine leadership is shared v^^ith any other
than God or Christ, there must also be doctrine and com-
mandments differing from the doctrine and command of
Christ. Service of Christ must immediately fail; Christ
must be rejected for the establishment of a new sovereignty.
Plainly enough, no one can be servant of Christ and at tlia
same time teacher of his own message. The two conditions
cannot exist at the same time. How can one be a servant
of Christ if he does not teach Christ's message? Or how
can he teach his own message when he is under obligation
to teach only Christ's? If he advocates his own counsels,
he makes himself lord and does not serve Christ. If he ad-
vocates Christ's counsels, he cannot himself be lord.

10. From this you may judge for yourself whence arises
Popery and its ecclesiastical authority, with all its priests,
monks and high schools. If these can prove they teach
nothing but the message of Christ, we must regard them as
his ministers or servants. But if we can prove they do not
so teach, we must regard them as not his servants. Now it
certainly is clear that their teaching is not the doctrine of
Christ, but their own doctrine. Hence it Is evident they
constitute the kingdom of Antichrist and are servants of the


devil. For Paul makes a firm stand here and declares : "Let
a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ."

11. Their claim that in addition to the teachings of
Christ, the comm.andments of the Church may be taught —
and they intimate that their teachings are the doctrines of
the Church — is of no significance. Paul's teaching here con-
tinues to stand, that the Church belongs neither to Peter
nor Paul, but to Christ only, and acknowledges none but the
servants or ministers of Christ. You see, then, the blas-
phemy of the Pope in crying obedience to his doctrines as
the road to salvation, and disobedience to them» the road to
damnation. Paul here makes obedience to these things a
work of the devil; as he does also in First Timothy 4, 1-3:
"But the Spirit saith expressly, that in later times some shall
fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits
and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men that
speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot
iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from
meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving
by them that believe and know the truth." And Christ
says: "My sheep hear my voice, and a stranger will they
not follow, but will flee from him; for they know not the
voice of strangers. I know mine own, and mine own know
me." Jn 10, 5-14.

12. Note the harmony between Paul's teaching and this
statement of Christ's that any other than the voice of Christ
is a strange voice, the doctrine of the devil, and to be
avoided. You see here Christ's own verdict in regard to
doctrines, what his Church hears and teaches, and what are
and what are not the commandments of the Church. The
Church has no other doctrine than that of Christ, and no
other obedience than to obey him. All the Papists say,
then, concerning obedience to the commandments of the
Church is in the same class with what Paul calls speaking
lies in hypocrisy, moved by false spirits and doctrines of

13. The same is the meaning of the phrase "stewards of
the mysteries of God." The word "steward" here sip"nifies


one who has charge of his lord's domestics ; one whose office
is the same as that of stewards in monasteries at the present
day, or provosts in nunneries, or governors, managers and
overseers of the sort. For "oekonomus" is Greek and signi-
fies in English a steward, or one capable of providing for
a house and ruling the domestics. Christ in Matthew 24, 45
calls such a one simply a servant : "Who then is the faithful
and wise servant, whom his lord hath set over his house-
hold, to give them their food in due season?'* Such a ser-
vant was Eliezer, the stevv^ard of Abram's house. Gen 15.

14. Now, God's household is the Christian Church — our-
selves. It includes pastors and bishops, overseers and stew-
ards, whose office is to have charge of the household, to
provide nourishment for it and to direct its members, but
in a spiritual sense. Paul puts a distinction between the
stewards of God and temporal stewards. The latter provide
material nourishment, and exercise control of the physical
person; but the former provide spiritual food and exercise
control over souls. Paul calls the spiritual food "mysteries."
The practice of providing it has so long been discontinued we
do not now know what a steward is nor what is meant by
"mysteries." Church officials im.agine that when they bap-
tize, celebrate mass and administer other sacraments, they
exercise the mysteries, and that now there is no proper mys-
tery but the m.ass. At the same time' they know not the
meaning of the term in this connection.

15. I cannot just now find a word in German equivalent
to "mysterion," and it will be v/ell to retain the Greek form,
as we have with many other words. It is equivalent to
"secret," something hidden from our eyes, invisible to all,
and generally pertaining to v/ords. For instance, a saying
not easily understood is said to contain a hidden meaning,
a secret, a "mysterion'* — something is concealed therein.
The concealment itself may properly be termed "mystery" ;
I call it a secret.

16. What, then, constitutes the mysteries of God? Sim-
ply Christ himself; that is, faith and the Gospel concerning
Christ. The whole Gospel teaching is far beyond the grasp


of our reason and our physical sense; it is hidden to the
world. It can be apprehended only by faith ; as Christ says
in Matthew 11, 25: *'I thank thee, O father, Lord of heaven
and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise
and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes." And
as Paul tells us (1 Cor 2, 7-8) : "We speak God's wisdom in
a mystery, which none of the rulers of this world hath

17. Expressed in the clearest manner possible, "mystery"
is the reception of the things of faith — that Christ the Son
of God was born of a virgin, died and rose again, and all
this that our sins might be forgiven. These things eye
sees not nor reason comprehends. Indeed, as Paul says
(1 Cor 1, 23), they are mere foolishness to the wise, and
simply an offense to the self-righteous saints.

How can the natural man perceive, or reason acknowl-
edge, that the man Christ is our life and salvation, our peace,
our righteousness and redemption, our strength and wis-
dom. Lord of all creatures — that he is even God — and every-
thing else the Scriptures testify of him? None can appre-
hend these truths except he hears and believes them through
the Gospel. They are too far beyond sense and reason to
be grasped by the natural man.

18. So, then, the mysteries of God are simply the bless-
ings in Christ as preached through the Gospel and appre-
hended and retained by faith alone. Paul says relative to
the matter, speaking on how men should behave themselves
in the house of God: ""Without controversy great is the
mystery of godliness; he who was manifested in the flesh,
justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached among the
nations, believed on in the world, received up in glory."
1 Tim 3, 16. This is spoken of Christ, who was manifest in
the flesh. He dwelt among men who had flesh and blood like
himself, yet he was still a mystery. That he v^as Christ,
the Son o£ God, the life, the way, the truth and all good, v/as

19. Yet he was "justified in the Spirit ;" that is, through
the Spirit's influence believers received, acknowledged and


retained him as all we have mentioned. "To justify" means
simply to pronounce just, or at least to admit as just; as
we have in Luke 7, 29 : "All the people when they heard,
and the publicans, justified God." Again, in Psalm 51, 4:
"That thou mayest be justified when thou speakest." This
is equivalent to saying: The believer in Christ justifies him,
and acknowledges the truth that Christ alone is our life
and righteousness and v^isdom, and that we are sinners, con-
demned and perishing. For such Christ is, and such is his
claim. He who acknowledges this his claim justifies him
in the Spirit; but he who does not justify him relies upon
his own works; he does not see himself condemned but
contends against and condemns Christ. [This justification
of Christ is effected by no one unless he possesses the Holy
Spirit, whose work alone it is. Flesh and blood cannot do
it, even if it be publicly presented to our eyes and preached
into our ears.]

20. The statement in Romans 1, 4, "Christ was declared
to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit
of holiness," has reference to justification. As if to say:
"In unbelievers Christ is nothing; not only despised, but
utterlj/ condemned. But the saints whose life is in the Spirit
who sanctifies them, strongly and boastfully maintain that
he is the Son of God. To them, it is proved and firmly

21. Paul might have said: "We are the the stewards
of the wisdom of God, or of the righteousness of God," and
so on. For all this Christ is; as he says (1 Cor 1, 30):
"Who v^as made unto us wisdom from God, and righteous-
ness and sanctification, and redemption." But this would
have been specifying, and he desired to embrace in one word
all the blessings in Christ which the preaching of the Gos-
pel brings ; so he styles them "mysteries." We may under-
stand it as if he said: "We are spiritual stewards v/hose
duty it is to minister the grace of God, the truth of God —
but who can enumerate all? Let us briefly sum. them up
and say, the mysteries of God ; mysteries and hidden things
because faith alone can attain them."


He adopts the same style in Romans 1, 4 when he com-
prises in one word hov7 Christ was manifest in the flesh, jus-
tified in the Spirit, preached to the gentiles, and so on. Sim-
ilarly, in First Timothy 3, 16 he expresses it briefly in Greek,
"oristheis," determined. In short, Christ was declared and
determined, was received and regarded, as the Son of God,
by angels, gentiles, the world, heaven and all things; since
for this purpose he was manifested, justified, revealed,,
preached, believed, received, and so on. Hence he indicates
it here by the plural word "mysteries," and in First Timothy
3, 16 by the singular "mystery." The words are, however,
equivalent in this connection. Christ is all in all, one mys-
tery, and many mysteries, as expressed in the many myste-
rious blessings we have from him.

22. It is worthy of note that Paul adds to "mysteries"
the modifier "of God;" he means the hidden things God
grants and which exist in him. For the devil also has his
mysteries, as Revelation 17, 5 says: "Upon her forehead
a name written. Mystery, Babylon the Great," etc. And
again, in the seventh verse, "I will tell thee the mystery of
the woman." The things over which the Pope and his
priests now preside as stewards are mysteries of the lat-
ter class; for they intimate that their doctrine and deeds
win heaven, when in reality they but conceal death and hell
for all who trust therein. But the mysteries of God enfold
life and salvation.

23. Thus we arrive at the apostle's meaning in the asser-
tion that a minister of Christ is a steward in the mysteries
of God. He should regard himself and insist that others re-
gard him as one who administers to the household of God
nothing but Christ and the things of Christ. In other vv^ords,
he should preach the pure Gospel, the true faith, that Christ
alone is our life, our way, our wisdom, power, glory, salva-
tion; and that all we can accomplish of ourselves is but
death, error, foolishness, weakness, shame and condemna-
tion. Whosoever preaches otherwise should be regarded
by none as a servant of Christ or a stev/ard of the divine
treasurer; he should be avoided as a messenger of the devil.
So it follows:


"Moreover, it is required in stewards, that a man be
found faithfuL"

24. Upon this all depends. After faithfulness God in-
quires. Angels, men and all creatures look for and demand
it; not the mere name or honor of steward will answer.
The question is not whether one's bishopric be large or
small; nor is it particularly important whether or no he be
outwardly pious. The question is, does he faithfully exe-
cute the duties of his office, acting as a steward in the bless-
ings of God? Paul here permits us much liberty to judge

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 6 of 29)