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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commodating oneself to another; of endorsing that other;
of making all equal; of presenting a like attitude toward
all men ; not setting oneself up as a model and pattern ; not
desiring mankind to do homage to one, to conform to one's
position. Justice may be classified as severe and mild. Too
severe justice is often mitigated, and that is the equity, the
moderation and clemency of the law. The Latin translator
has rendered our word "miodestiam," "moderation." This
v/ord would properly convey the thought were it not gener-
ally understood in its relation to eating, drinking and dress-
ing. Here the intent is to indicate that moderation of life
which adjusts and adapts self to the abilities and circum-
stances of others, yielding, commending, following, mitigat-
ing, doing, allowing, forbearing, according as one recognizes
what the capacity and condition of a neighbor demands,
even to the disparagement^ of one's own honor and life, and
the detriment of his possessions.

11. For the sake of a better understanding, let us illus-
trate: Paul says (1 Cor 9, 19-22) : "For though I v/as free
from all men, I brought m.yself under bondage to all, that
I might gain the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew,
that I might gain Jews ; to them that are under the law, as
under the law, not being myself under the law, that I might
gain them that are under the law ; to them that are without
law, as without law, not being without law to God, but
under law to Christ, that I might gain them that are without
lav/ ... I am become all things to all men, that I may
by all means save some." That is, Paul ate and drank with
the Jews according to the law, and generally conducted him-



98 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

self in harmony with its requirements; though he was not
obliged so to do. He also ate and drank with the gentiles
regardless of the law, and conducted himself without re-
spect to its requirements and as the custom of the gentiles.
For only faith and love are requisite. All else man is free
to omit or to observe. Therefore, for the sake of one, all
laws may be observed; for another, omitted. Observance
must be adapted to the individual case.

Now, suppose some blind, capricious individual intrudes,
demanding as necessary the omission of this thing and the
observance of that, as did certain Jews, and insisting that
all men follow him and he none — this would be to destroy
equality ; indeed, even to exterminate Christian liberty and
faith. Like Paul, in the effort to maintain liberty and truth,
everyone should refuse to yield to any such demand.

12. To illustrate further: Christ suffered his disciples
to break the Sabbath — and himself frequently broke it —
where necessary (Mt 12 and Mark 2) ; but where necessity
did not require otherwise, he observed the day. He assigned
as reason for his conduct, "The Son of man is lord even
of the sabbath." Mk 2, 28. That is, the law of the Sabbath
permits freedom ; for the sake of extending love and service
to one, it may be broken; and to another, it may be ob-
served.

13. Because of the Jews, Luke says, Paul circumcised
Timothy. But he would not permit Titus to be circumcised
for the very reason that false brethren insisted upon it and
were unv/illing to concede it a matter of choice. Paul
claimed authority both to observe circumcision and not to
observe it, according as would best contribute to the benefit
of others. He deemed neither one course nor the other
necessary. He did not believe in circumcision for the sake
of the work itself — as a thing which must be performed.

14. But to make the application to ourselves: When
the Pope commands us to confess, to receive the sacrament,
to fast, to eat fish, or to perform any bidding of his, and
insists that we must do these things because the Church
requires it of us, we should calmly trample upon his in-



FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT. 99

junctions, doing what is directly opposed, simply to defy him
and maintain liberty. But when he does not insist upon
these things, we should honor his desire by observing with
observers and omitting with those who omit, presenting
Christ's testimony, "The Son of man is lord even of the
sabbath," and declaring him much more Lord of human
laws. To exercise our liberty in the observance of these
commands, works no harm to faith nor to the Gospel; but
to observe them by a forced act of obedience, destroys faith
and the Gospel.

15. The same rule applies to all external institutions and
ordinances, as monastic vows and rules. They are in them-
selves but a matter of choice and are not opposed to faith
or love. We should maintain the privilege of observing
them in love and liberty, for the sake of our associates —
to preserve harmony with them. But when it is insisted
that certain ordinances must be honored, that their observ-
ance is an act of obedience essential to salvation, we should
forsake cloisters, tonsures, caps, vows and rules, and even
take the opposite course, by way of testifying that only faith
and love are the Christian essentials and it is our privilege
to observe or omit ail other things, being controlled by
love and our associations. To conform to laws in a spirit
of love and liberty works no harm, but to conform through
necessity and forced obedience is to be condemned. Let
this rule apply to ceremonials, hymns, prayers and all other
Cathedral ordinances, so long as they are observed as a mat-
ter of love and liberty alone. Only for the service and for
the enjoyment of the assembled company are they to be
observed, and that when they are works not in themselves
evil. When urged as inherently essential, we are to refrain ;
we must oppose them in order to maintain the liberty of
faith.

16. Herein you see the diabolical character of the papal
institutions, cloisters, in fact all popedom. For they simply
make a matter of liberty and love one of necessity and forced
obedience, whereby the Gospel, faith included, is extermi-
nated, not to mention the consequent wretchedness of the



100 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

common people who submit to obey for the sake of their,
appetites. For how many now attend the choral cere-
monies and pray specified hours for God's sake? A general
destruction of cloisters and other institutions would be the
best reformation in this respect. They are of no benefit to
Christianity and might easily be dispensed with. Before
liberty could be established in one such institution, a hun-
dred thousand souls migiit be lost in the others. When
a thing is not beneficial and serves no purpose, but does un-
speakable injury, and is beyond remedy, it is much better to
utterly exterminate it.

17. But again, when civil government enjoins laws and
demands tribute, we should freely serve, even though we
are constrained. In this case our liberty and faith are not
endangered. For civil government does not claim that ob-
servance of its laws is essential to salvation, but essential
to civil dominion and protection. In submitting to it, then,
conscience maintains its liberty, and faith is not impaired.
To whatever does not do violence to our faith, and benefits
others, we should fully conform. But when it is insisted
that observation of any material laws is essential to salva-
tion, our course of action should be the same as that already
suggested relative to the laws of the Pope and the cloisters.

18. Now, the illustrations given serve as examples to fol-
low in every instance. As Paul here teaches, let one put
himself on an equality with all men, being not content to
consider simply his own claims and rights, but the v/ishes
and well-being of others. Paul has here in a single word
set aside all rights. If your neighbor's condition really de-
mands that you yield a certain personal right or privilege,
and you insist upon that privilej?e, you act at variance with
the principle of love and equality and are indeed blame-
worthy. For in yielding you sustain no injury to your faith,
and your neighbor is profited. You v/ould desire him to do
thus unto you — a principle of natural law

Indeed, we further add, in the event of one working you
harm or injury, you are to put the best construction upon
his act, excusing it in the spirit of that holy martyr who.



FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT. 101

when all his possessions were taken from him, said, "Truly,
they can never take Christ from me." Say you likewise:
"His act injures not my faith; why not excuse him? why
not submit, and accommodate myself to him?"

19. I cannot better illustrate than by citing the conduct
of two good friends, whose manner toward each other may
serve as an example for us in our conduct toward all men.
How did they act? Each did what pleased his fellow. Each
yielded, submitted, suffered, wrought and accepted, just in
accordance with his conception of what might profit or
please the other, and all voluntarily, without constraint.
Each adapted and accom_modated himself to his friend,
never from any selfish m.otive offering restraint. If one in-
fringed upon the other's property rights, he was kindly ex-
cused. In short, in their case was neither law, demand, re-
straint, nor fear ; naught but perfect freedom and good will.
Yet all things moved in a harmony the hundredth part of
which could not be secured by any lav/s or restraints.

20. The headstrong and the unyielding, they who excuse
none but are determined to control all things by their own
wisdom, lead the whole world into error. They are the cause
of all the wars and calamities known on earth. Yet they
claim justice as their sole motive. Well has it been said by
a certain heathen: "Summum jus, summa injustitia" — the
most extreme justice is the greatest injustice. Ecclesiastes
7, 16 also warns: "Be not righteous overmuch; neither
make thyself overwise." As the most extreme justice is the
greatest injustice, so the most extreme wisdom is the great-
est folly. The old adage is, "When the wise act the fool,
they are grossly foolish." Were God always to execute ex-
treme justice, we could not live a moment. Paul commends
gentleness in Christ (2 Cor 10, 1), saying, "I . . . en-
treat you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ." So
we are to moderate our attitude, our demands, our wisdom
and wit, adaptin'" ourselves to the circumstances of others
in all respects.

21. Observe the beautiful aptness of the words, "Let
your forbearance be known unto all men." You may ask:



102 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

"How can one become known to all men? And must v/e
boast o£ our forbearance, proclaiming it to everyone?" God
forbid the latter. Paul does not say, boast of and proclaim
your forbearance. He says, let it be expepm.entally known
by all men. That is, exercise forbearance in your deeds
before men; not think or speak of it, but show it in your
conduct. Thus men generally must see and grasp it — must
have experience of it. Then no one can do otherv/ise than
admit you are forbearing. Actual experience will defeat
every desire to speak of you in any other way. The mouth
of the fault-finder will be stopped by the fact that all m.en
know your forbearance. Christ says (Mt 5, 16) : "Even so
let your light so shine before men ; that they may see your
good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."
And Peter (1 Pet 2, 12): "Having your behavior seemly
among the Gentiles; that, wherein they speak against you
as evil-doers, they may by your good works, which they be-
hold, glorify God in the day of visitation." It lies not in
our power to make our moderation acceptable to all men,
but it is enough for us to give everyone opportunity to per-
ceive it in our lives.

22. By the phrase "all men" we are not to understand
all individuals on earth, but every sort of person — friends
and foes, great and humble, lords and servants, rich and
poor, native and alien, relatives and strangers. Some there
are whose manner toward strangers is most cordial and ac-
quiescent, but toward their ov/n household, their domestics,
with v/hom they are familiar, they manifest only rigor and
austerity. How many there are who exctsse the harshness
of the great and the rich, who wrest to the most favorable
construction what they do and say, but with servants, with
the poor and the inferior, are severe and unfeeling, placing
the most unfavorable construction upon their every word
and act. Asfain, men are affectionate toward children, par-
ents, friends and relatives, always judging them with the
utmost lenience. Indeed, how often friend flatters friend,
until the practice becomes a public vice as one imitates and
regards admirable all acts of the other. But with foes and



FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT. 103

adversaries men adopt the opposite course. In them they
can find no good, no reason for toleration or favorable con-
struction; rather, they censure according to appearances.

23. In denunciation of such unequal and partial forbear-
ance, Paul here speaks. He would have a Christian's for-
bearance perfect and complete, manifested toward one as
toward another, whether friend or foe. He would that the
Christian bear with and excuse everyone, regardless of per-
son or merit. Forbearance is essentially good, inherently
kind; just as gold remains gold whether possessed by a
godly or an ungodly individual. The silver did not become
ashes when Judas the traitor received it. Similarly, all gifts
of God are real and remain the same in everyone's pos-
session. That forbearance which is a fruit of the Spirit re-
tains its characteristic kindness whether directed toward
friend or enemy, toward rich or poor.

24. But frail, deceptive hum.an nature assumes that gold,
though remaining gold in St. Peter's hand, becomes ashes
in the hand of Judas. The forbearance of human nature,
of natural reason, is kind, not to all men, but to the rich
and the great, to strangers and friends. Hence it is false,
empty, deceptive; mere dissimulation and treachery before
God. Note hov/ impossible it is for human nature to exer-
cise complete spiritual forbearance, and how few individuals
are conscious of the imperfections of that supposedly beau-
tiful, transcendent forbearance they m.anifest toward some
persons v/hile they show the reverse to other individuals,
presuming they thus act rightly. But such is the teaching
of our mean, filthy human nature with that same beautiful
reason, which ever decides and proceeds contrary to the
Spirit and the things of the Spirit. As Paul says in Romans
8, 5, "They that are after the flesh mind the things of the
flesh."

25. In these few words Paul comprehends the Christian's
entire conduct toward his neighbor. The forbearing indi-
vidual treats everyone rightly, in word and act; treats him
as he ought, physically and spiritually, bearing with his evils
and imperfections. Such conduct may be defined as simply



104 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

love, peace, patience, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness,
meekness, in fact, everything included in the fruits of the
Spirit. Gal 5, 22.

OBJECTIONS ANSWERED.
25. But you will say: "Yes, but in that case who would
be left in the enjoyment of a morsel of bread because of the
wicked people ready to abuse equality and take our all, not
permitting us to live on the earth even?" Note Paul's beau-
tiful answer to your question, in the conclusion of this
epistle lesson. He says, first,
"The Lord is at hand."

27. Were there no God, you might well thus fear the
wicked. But not only is there a God ; he "is at hand." He
will neither forget nor forsake you. Only be forbearing to
all men, and let him care for you; leave it to him how he
is to support and protect you. Has he given you Christ
the eternal treasure? how then shall he not give you the
necessities of this life? W^ith him is much more than any-
one can take from you. Then, too, you possess in Christ
more than is represented in all this world's goods. On this
subject the psalmist says (Ps 55, 22) : "Cast thy burden
upon Jehovah, and he will sustain thee"; and Peter (1 Pet
5, 7), "Casting all your anxiety upon him, because he careth
for you." And Christ in the sixth chapter of Matthew
points us to the lilies of the field and the fowls of the air.
The thought of these passages is the same as that of "The
Lord is at hand." Now follows,

"In nothing be anxious."

28. Take no thought for yourselves. Let God care for
you. He whom you now acknowledge is able to provide for
you. It is the heathen, unknowing he has a God, who takes
thought for himself. Christ says (Mt 6, 31-32) : "Be not
therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or. What
shall we drink? or. Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For
after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heav-
enly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things."
Then, let the whole world grasp, and deal unrighteously,
you shall have enough. You shall not die of hunger or



FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT. 105

cold unless someone shall have deprived you of the God
who cares for you. But who shall take him from you?
How can you lose him except you yourself let him go? We
have no reason to take thought for ourselves when we have
a Father and Protector who holds in his hand all things,
even them who, with all their possessions, would rob or in-
jure us. Our duty is to rejoice ever in God and be forbear-
ing toward all men, as becomes those assured of ample pro-
vision for body and soul; especially in that we have a gra-
cious God. They v^ithout him may well be concerned about
themselves. It should be our anxiety not to be anxious, to
rejoice in God alone and to be kind to men. On this topic
the psalmist says (Ps 37, 25): "I have been young, and
now am old ; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor
his seed begging bread." And again (Ps 40, 17), "The
Lord thinketh upon me."

PRAYER.
"But in everything by prayer and supplication with
thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto
God."
29. Here Paul teaches us to cast our care upon God.
The m.eaning is : Take no thought for yourselves. Should
anything transpire to give you care or anxiety — and such
will be the case, for many trials will befall you on earth —
make no effort to escape it, be it v/hat it may. Have no
care or anxiety. Turn to, God with prayer, with supplica-
tion, entreating him to accomplish for you all you would
seek to effect by care. And do so in thankfulness that you
have a God solicitous for you and to whom you may freely
come with all your anxieties. Who does not so when mis-
fortune befalls, but endeavors to measure it by his reason
and to overrule it by his counsel, and falls into anxiety —
this man plunges himself into deep wretchedness, loses his
joy and peace in God, and all to accomplish nothing. He
but digs in the sand, sinking himself ever deeper, and effects
no good. Of this fact v^e daily have testimony in our own
experience and in that of others.

30. It may be necessary to add this, however: Let no



106 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

one conclude he will be utterly careless and rest upon God,
making no effort, no exertion, not even resorting to prayer.
Whoso adopts this course must soon fail and fall into anx-
iety. "We must ever strive. Many care-engendering things
befall us for the very purpose of driving us to prayer. Not
undesignedly does the apostle contrast the two injunctions,
"In nothing be anxious," and. In all things flee to God.
"Nothing" and "all" are contrasting terms. Paul thus
makes plain that many things transpire which tend to cre-
ate in us anxiety, but we must not let them make us over-
anxious ; we must commit ourselves to God and implore his
aid for our needs.

31. Now, let us examine Paul's words and learn how to
frame our prayers and what attitude to assume. He makes
a fourfold division of prayer: prayer, supplication, thanks-
giving and petition. By "prayer" we understand simply
formal v/ords or expressions — as, for instance, the Lord's
Prayer and the psalms — which sometimes express more than
our request. In "supplication" we strengthen prayer and
make it effective by a certain form of persuasion; for in-
stance, we may entreat one to grant a request for the sake
of a father, or of something dearly loved or highly prized.
We entreat God by his Son, his saints, his promises, his
name. Thus Solomon says (Ps 132, 1), "Jehovah, remem-
ber for David all his affliction." And Paul urges (Rom 12,
1), "I beseech you therefore, bj;ethren, by the mercies of
God"; and again (2 Cor 10, 1), "I . . . entreat you by
the meekness and gentleness of Christ." "Petitioning" is
stating what we have at heart, naming the desire we express
in prayer and supplication. In the Lord's Prayer are seven
petitions, beside prayer proper. Christ says (Mt 7, 7-8):
"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find;
knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that
asketh receiveth ; and he that seeketh findeth ; and to him
that knocketh it shall be opened." In "thanksgiving" we
recount blessings received and thus strengthen our con-
fidence and enable ourselves to wait trustingly for what we
pray.



FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT. 107

32. Prayer is made vigorous by petitioning; urgent by
supplication; by thanksgiving, pleasing and acceptable.
Strength and acceptability combine to prevail and secure the
petition. This, we see, is the manner of prayer practiced by
the Church; and the holy fathers in the Old Testament al-
ways offered supplication and thanks in their prayers. The
Lord's Prayer opens with praise and thanksgiving and the
acknowledgment of God as a Father; it earnestly presses
toward him through filial love and a recognition of fatherly
tenderness. For supplication, this prayer is unequaled.
Hence it is the sublimest and the noblest prayer ever uttered.

33. These words of Paul beautifully spiritualize and ex-
plain the mystery of the golden censer whereof Moses has
written much in the Old Testament, detailing how the
priests should burn incense in the temple. We are all
priests, and our prayers are the censer. The first is the
golden vessel, which signifies the precious words of prayer;
such as the language of the Lord's Prayer, the psalms, and
like written prayers. Always in the Scriptures the words
are represented by the vessel; for words are a medium for
containing and conveying thought, just as the vessel serves
to contain wine, water, coals or anything else. Similarly,
the golden cup of Babylon mentioned in Revelation 17, 4
typifies human doctrine; and the sacramental cup, contain-
ing Christ's blood, is the Gospel.

34. The live coals in the censer stand for thanksgiving,
for enumerated benefits in prayer. That coals signify bene-
fits Paul implies where, quoting Solomon's injunction in
Proverbs 25, 21-22, which the apostle cites (Rom 12, 20) :
"If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to
drink ; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his
head." Burning coals of fire, the benefits are, and powerful
to take captive and enkindle the heart. The Law forbad to
take coals from any place but the altar; accordingly, we
must not in prayer urge our own works and merits, as did
the Pharisee in the Gospel (Lk 18, 11-12), but acknowledge
the benefits in Christ. He is the altar upon whom we are
offered. By this benefit we render thanks and pray. Paul



108 LUTHER'S EPISTLE SERMONS.

says (Col 3, 17), "Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him." God can-
not permit us to regard anything but our altar Christ. Thus
he teaches, where it is recorded (Lev 10) that Nadab and
Abihu, sons of Aaron, v^ere devoured by fire before the altar
because they took coals for the censer from elsewhere than
that place of sacred offering.

35. The petition whereby prayer is made complete is
typified by the smoke ascending at the laying of the thyme
— the incense — upon the coals. Paul's exhortation, "Let
your requests be made known unto God," recognizes and
explains the symbol of the smoke rising from the censer.
His meaning is: "If you would offer a sweet savor of in-
cense to God, express your petition in supplication and
thanksgiving. This is the precious, sv/eet incense rec-
ognized by God, ascending as straight before him as a taper
and a rod." Such prayer penetrates heaven. Grateful rec-
ognition of God's benefits induces us to pray voluntarily
and fervently, naturally and with delight; just as the coals
of fire make strong the volume of smoke. If there be not
first the coals to generate heat, if there be not gratitude for
benefits to enkindle fervor, prayer will be sluggish; it will
be cold and dull.



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 9 of 29)