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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grace of God, to boast of and glory in it ; since it is founded
upon the glorying of our conscience. Even had not these
words been included, it must necessarily be understood that
reference is to the glorying in grace or else to honor before
the world.

It is the privilege and the duty of everyone to acknowl-
edge before men his innocence, to rejoice in having injured
no one. And he should not call evil what he knows to be
good. At the same time such glorying avails nothing
before God ; he must judge the heart, though men are satis-
fied with deeds. Before God, then, something more than
a good conscience is necessary. Moses says (Ex 34, 7),
"Forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that
will by no means clear the guilty." We read (Rom 3, 27),
"WHere then is the glorying?" And again (1 Cor 1, 31),



86 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

"He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord"; that is, in
his grace.

"But he that judgeth me is the Lord."

51. The thought here is, "I will v/ait for God's judg-
ment and praise." Paul says also (2 Cor. 10, 18), "For
not he that commendetli himself is approved, but whom, the
Lord commendeth." His intent, hov/ever, is not to deter
them from godly living but rather to incite thereto. Al-
though no man is capable of judging and commending an-
other, yet none shall go unjudged and uncommended.
God himself will judge and praise right living. We should
be so much the more faithful in doing good because God
is to be judge; we are not to be remiss here even though
uncertain as to how he judges us.

"Wherefore judge nothing before the tim.e, until the
Lord come, v^^ho will both bring to light the hidden
things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of
the hearts; and then shall each man have praise of
God."

52. We may v/ell ask. Are we not to give praise to one
another? Paul says (Rom 12, 10), "In love of the brethren
be tenderly affectioned one to another." And Christ (Mt
5, 16) : "Even so let your light shine before men; that they
may see your good works, and glorify your Father who
is in heaven." And the apostle also tells us (2 Cor 6, 8)
we must here upon earth v/alk "by evil report and good
report." But, we reply our faith alone, not our works,
is the chief thing to be honored in all cases. Good works
are imperative, and we should extol them in others ; but no
one is to be judged, justified or preferred because of them.
The farmer at his plow sometimes may be better in God's
sight than the chaste nun.

53. The five fcoUsh virgins (Mt 25, 2), despite their
virginity, are condemned. The v/idow who threw into the
treasury two mites (Mk 12, 42) did more than all the others
who cast in much greater amounts. The work of the woman
who was a sinner (Lk 7, 37) is extolled above any work
of the Pharisees. It is impossible for us mortals to discern



THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT. 87

the relative merits of individuals and the value o£ their
works; we ought to praise all, giving equal honors and
not preferring one above another. We should humble our-
selves before one another, ever esteeming our neighbor
above ourselves. Then we are to leave it to God to judge
who ranks first. True, he has declared that whoever hum-
bles himself shall be exalted, yet it is not evident who
humbles and who exalts himself; for the heart, by which
God judges, is not manifest. One may humble himself when
secretly in his heart he is haughty, and again the meek-
hearted may exalt himself.

54. So Paul says: "The Lord comes, who will both
bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make
manifest the counsels of the hearts." Then it will appear
who is really worthier, superior and better, and whose works
excel.

55. It is most unchristianlike to base our estimation of
one upon his outward appearance and visible works ; to say,
for instance, that the Carthusian leads a life essentially bet-
ter than the farmer, or than any married man. Indeed, the
Carthusian if he does right will esteem his own life inferior
to that of the married man. For God judges not according
to outward expression, but according to the secrets of dark-
ness and the counsels of the heart, and how can the Car-
thusian know which is the humbler and holier, his own
heart or the farmer's?

56. Applicable here are two instances, in my opinion the
best in all the "Lives of the Fathers." One is of St. An-
thony, to whom it was revealed that a tanner at Alexandria,
a humble, honest mechanic, but one in no wise illustrious,
was far superior to the saint because of his humility of
heart. The other relates to Paphnutio, who, despite all his
austerity of life, v^as not superior to a fifer nor to either of
two married women. It was a special manifestation of
grace that God revealed these two incidents at a time when
monastic life was most intense, and works prodigious. His
purpose was to deter us from judging by outward appear-



88 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

ances — by works — and to teach us to value all works alike
and to prefer others above ourselves.

57. Now you will say: If all stations are alike and all
works of the same value, none to have preference, what ad-
vantage is it to us to forsake the v/orld and enter the holiest
orders, to become monks, nuns and priests, in the effort to
serve God? I reply: Did not Christ and Paul foretell that
false Christs and prophets should arise and deceive many?
Had the doctrine of equal service to God under all condi-
tions and in all works continued to stand, certainly no
monasteries and cloisters would have loQen established —
or at least they would not have increased so rapidly — to
create the illusion that service to God consists only in meet-
ing their requirements. Who would have become a priest,
who a monk, yes, who a pope and bishop, had he realized
that in such capacity his position and its works are no more
meritorious than those of the poorest nurse maid v>7ho rocks
children and v/ashes swaddling clothes?

It would grievously distress, yes, and shame, the Pope had
he to humble himself to a nurse maid, esteeming his works
inferior to hers — he whose position and v/orks are so meri-
torious that kings, and even God's saints, are scarce worthy
to kiss his feet. The holy Papists, then, must institute
somiething superior to Paul's teaching here. They are com-
pelled to judge themselves, and to proclaim their position
and works supreme, else they cannot sell their merits and
procure heaven for poor laymen, married persons and indi-
viduals in various stations, implying that these do not in
their lives serve God.

58. Now, seeing hov/ im/possible it is for the present ec-
clesiastical order to stand unless it disposes of this passage
from Paul and exalts its religious life with distinction above
that of other Christians, it is certainly clear enough that
popery, v/ith its monasteries and cloisters, is based on mere
falsehoods and blasphemies. The Papists style themselves
"ecclesiastical" or "spiritual" and others "secular," when
God sees none as ecclesiasts or churchmen, but as believers ;
and believers are found for the most part not amxong the



THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT. 89

clergy but among the laity. What greater deception than
to call the clerical order spiritual, and to separate it from
the class among whom true spiritual life exists? God alone
is to judge who is holiest and best. The clerical order as-
sumes the title "spiritual" simply because they have shaved
heads and wear long cloaks. What folly — even insanity !

59. You will say: If this be true, it were better for us
to leave the cloisters and monasteries. I reply: There are
but two things for you. Follow the teaching of this lesson,
comm.ending not yourselves. Regard your order and sta-
tion no better than as if you were not an ecclesiastic, and
your chastity not superior to that of an honest, loyal wife
and mother ; if you are not willing so to humble your eccle-
siasticism, then discard caps, bald pates, cloisters and all.
Either adopt this course or knov/ that your ecclesiasticism,
your spirituality, has its origin, not with a good spirit, but
with an evil spirit. You will never overthrow Paul's doc-
trine here. It is better to be a mother among the common
believers in Christ than to remain a virgin in the devil's
cause. Paul standi firm on the point that we must not
judge ourselves.

60. But you will loudly object; Jerome and many others
have highly commended virginity; and Paul, too (1 Cor 7,
38), teaches it is better to be a virgin than to marry. I
answer: Let Jerome be here or there, Augustine here or
Ambrose there, you have learned what God here says
through Paul, that no one shall judge himself or anyone
else to be best. God's command should have more weight
than the sayings of many Jerom^es, were they as numerous
as the sand grains upon the seashore or the leaves of the
forest. True, Paul says it is better to be continent than to
marry, but he does not say "in God's sight." If he did, it
would be a contradiction of his words here. He who lives
continently, it is true, is freer to publish the Gospel than
the married man; and it was with the thought of Gospel
furtherance that Paul applauded virginity, or continence.
He says: "He that is unmarried is careful for the things
of the Lord." 1 Cor. 7, 32.



90 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

Christ also applauds the eunuchs (Mt 19, 12), not for the
sake of their condition but for the sake of their profit to the
kingdom of heaven ; that is, for the sake of their furtherance
of the Gospel. Now, although none cares less for the Gos-
pel than do these ecclesiasts, they continue to exalt their
position above that of others, and to extol continence for
the mere sake of the merit in denial, not for the end it
serves. To illustrate the advantage of continence: It is
better to learn a trade than to be a servant; and why? Not
because it is a condition more acceptable to God, but be-
cause it offers less hindrances to his service. It is in this
light that Paul applauds virginity and continence ; but only
in those who have a desire for it through the grace of God.

61. At present no one cares v/hether continence is a
help or a hindrance ; everyone plunges into it, thinking only
of how exalted, worthy and great it makes them. All is
done with such pains and danger, unwillingness and impur-
ity, that an adequate cry and protest cannot be raised
against the evil. Still they vnsh to be better than other
people. Thus they have brought such reproach upon the
marriage state that it is considered an impure and disgrace-
ful life. As a reward God permits their continence to pol-
lute their garments and beds continually. Really there
is no greater or more polluted incontinence than theirs, in-
ordinate, imprisoned, restrained and intolerable as it is.

"Bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and
make manifest the counsels of the hearts."

62. Paul gives the reason we should refrain from com-
mending ourselves or any other when he declares that the
hidden things of darkness and the counsels of the hearts
are not yet brought to light. Since God judges according to
the secrets of the heart v/hich we cannot know, we should
withhold judgment of the various stations and works of
men, and not make distinction. The virgin is not to exalt
her state of virginity above the station of the wife. The
Pope ought to humble his eminence below the position of
the plow-boy. No one should presum.e to regard his own
station, or that of another, as better before God than the oc-
cupations of other men.



THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT. 91

63. Every person should be free to choose and live in
the state that suits him, all being alike until the Lord comes.
But, were this principle to be carried out v/nere v/ould the
holy fathers and the spiritual lords obtain their daily
bread, not being accustomed to labor? They secure their
subsistence by making the impression that the common
man is in error and by separating from him their states and
position. They judge themselves to be the best people, con-
fident of enjoying the common man's treasures, because his
state is nothing. Hence arise so many institutions, and
gifts flov/ to the cloisters, chapels and churches for the
especial benefit of these idle, beloved gluttons and gormand-
izers. All this would fall were Paul's teachings introduced.

64. By the "hidden things of darkness" and the "coun-
sels of the hearts" Paul refers to the two pov/ers com-
monly but not very intelligibly termed "will" and "reason."
Man possesses in his inmost being two capacities : he loves,
delights, desires, wills; and he understands, perceives,
judges, decides. I shall term these capacities "motive" and
"thought."

65. The motives and desires of man are deep and deceit-
ful beyond recognition; no saint, even, can wholly com-
prehend them. Jeremiah says (ch. 17, 9-10) : "The heart
is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt:
who can know it? I, Jehovah, search the mind, I try the
heart." And David (Ps 32, 2) : "Blessed is the man in
whose spirit there is no guile."

Many pious individuals perform great works from a
selfish motive or desire. They seek their own interests, yet
never with assurance. They serve God not purely for love
of him, but for the sake of personal honor or profit; of,
gaining heaven and escaping the tortures of hell. One can-
not realize the falseness of his motives until God permits
him to endure many severe temptations. So Paul calls such
motives "hidden things of darkness," a m.ost appropriate
name. Not only are they concealed, but in darkness, in
the inmost heart, where they are unperceived by the indi-
vidual himself and known to God alone.



92 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

66. Remembering this deplorable secret motive o£ the
heart, we should be induced -to submit ourselves one to an-
other and not to contrast any particular v/ork or station
with others. The motive determines the force and judg-
ment of every v/ork, every station, of all conduct, of every
life. As Solomon says (Prov 16, 2) : "J^^o^-'^^ v/eigheth
the spirits" — God is the weigh-master of the spirits. Since
there may be something of good concealed in the secret
heart of the wife and likewise something of evil in the vir-
gin's heart, it is absurd and unchristian to exalt a virgin
above a wife because of her continence, a purely external
virtue. It is just as unreasonable to measure the two by
their external life as to compare the weight of eggs by put-
ting the shells into the balance and leaving out the contents.

67. Now, according to our secret motives so are our
thoughts — good or evil. Our motives and desires control
our aims, decisions and reasonings. These latter Paul terms
"counsels of the heart" — the thoughts we arrive at in conse-
quence of our secret motives and desires.

68. Of these two, Mary hints in her song of praise (Lk
1, 51) : *'He hath scattered the proud in the imagination
of their heart." She calls intent or motive of the heart the
*'hidden things of darkness" — ^her desire, while the "coun-
sels" and imaginations are the heart's expression. Moses,
referring to man's heart, says (Gen 6, 5) : "Every imagina-
tion of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."
And Christ (Mt 6, 22-23) earnestly warns us against the
same false motive: "The lamp of the body is the eye: if
therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full
of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full
of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be dark-
ness, how great is the darkness!" The reference in this
whole quotation is to the secret workings of darkness, which
are not to be overcome in any way but by despair of our
own works, and strong faith in the pure grace of God.
Nothing is more conducive to this end than sufferings severe
and many, and all manner of misfortunes. Under such in-
fluences man may learn, to some extent, to know himself;
otherwise all is lost.



J^ourtb Sunba^ in Bbvcnt

Epistle Text: Philippians 4, 4-7.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Re-
joice. 5 Let your forbearance be known unto all men.
The Lord is at hand. 6 In nothing be anxious; but in
everything by prayer aiid supplication with thanksgiv-
ing let your requests be made knov/n unto God . 7 And
the peace o£ God, which passeth all understanding, shall
guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.

1. The text, though short, is a suggestive and impor-
tant lesson in Christian faith. It teaches how we should
conduct ourselves toward God and our neighbor. It says :

"Rejoice in the Lord always."
OUR CONDUCT TOWARD GOD— REJOICE IN HIM.

2. Joy is the natural fruit of faith. The apostle says
elsev/here (Gal 5, 22-23) : "The fruit of the Spirit is love,
joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
meekness, self-control.'* Until the heart believes in God, it
is impossible for it to rejoice in him. When faith is lacking,
man is filled with fear and gloom and is disposed to flee at
the very mention, the mere thought, of God. Indeed, the un-
believing heart is filled with enmity and hatred against God.
Conscious of its own guilt, it has no confidence in his gracious
mercy; it Icnows God is an enemy to sin and will terribly
punish the same.

3. Since there exist in the heart these two things — a con-
sciousness of sin and a perception of God's chastisement—
the heart must ever be depressed, faint, even terrified. It
mast be continually apprehensive that God stands behind

93



94 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

ready to chastise. Solomon says (Prov 28, 1), "The wicked
flee when no man pursueth." And Deuteronomy 28, 65-66
reads, "Jehovah Vv-ill give thee there a trembling heart . .
. . and thy life shall hang in doubt." One may as v/ell
try to persuade water to burn as to talk to such a heart of
joy in God. All words will be without effect, for the sinner
feels upon his conscience the pressure of God's hand. The
prophet's injunction (Ps 32, 11) likewise is: "Be glad in
Jehovah, and rejoice, ye righteous; and shout for joy, all
ye that are upright in heart.'' It must be the just and the
righteous who are to rejoice in the Lord. This text, there-
fore, is written, not for the sinner, but for the saint. First
we must tell sinners how they can be liberated from their
sins and perceive a merciful God. When they have been
released from the power of an evil conscience, joy will re-
sult naturally.

4. But hov/ shall we be liberated from an accusing con-
science and receive the assurance of God's mercy? The
question has been sufficiently answered in the preceding
postiis, and will be again frequently satisfied later on. He
who would have a quiet conscience, and would be sensitive
of God's mercy, must not, like the apostates, depend on
works, still further doing violence to the heart and increas-
ing its hatred of God. He must place no hope whatever in
works; must apprehend God in Christ, comprehend the
Gospel and believe its promises.

5. But what does the Gospel promise other than that
Christ is given for us ; that he bears our sins ; that he is our
Bishop, Mediator, and Advocate before God, and that thus
only through him and his work is God reconciled, are our
sins forgiven and our consciences set free and made glad?
V/hen this sort of faith in the Gospel really exists in the
heart, God is recognized as favorable and pleasing. The
heart confidently feels his favor and grace, and only these.
It fears not God's chastisement. It is secure and in good
spirit because God has conferred upon it, through Christ,
superabundant goodness and grace. Essentially, the fruits
of such a faith are love, peace, joy, and songs of thanksgiv-



FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT. 95

ing and praise. It will enjoy unalloyed and sincere pleas-
ure in God as its supremely beloved and gracious Father,
a Father whose attitude toward itself has been wholly pa-
ternal, and who, without any merit on its part, has richly
poured out upon that heart his goodness.

6. Such is the rejoicing, mark you, of which Paul here
speaks — a rejoicing v/here is no sin, no fear of death or
hell, but rather a glad and all-powerful confidence in God
and his kindness. Hence the expression, "Rejoice in the
Lord" ; not rejoice in silver or gold, not in eating or drink-
ing, not in pleasure or mechanical chanting, not in strength
or health, not in skill or wisdom, not in pov/er or honor,
not in friendship or favor, nay, not in good works or holi-
ness even. For these are deceptive joys, false joys, v



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 8 of 29)