Luke 16

[[Luther published two sermons for Luke 16:1-9. One can be found in the electronic version in verses 1-4; the other in verses 5-9.]]

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity; Luke 16:1-9

1 This is truly a Gospel for priests and monks, and will bring them money, unless we prevent it. Before entering upon the consideration of it, we must accustom ourselves to the language used, especially the word mammon. The Jews were acquainted with this word from the Hebrew, and it has come down to us, just like other Hebrew words, as Halleluja, Amen, Kyrie eleison. In German mammon means riches, not simply riches, but a superfluity of riches, whatever is beyond our needs. However, that which is called mammon and that which is not called mammon are distinguished in a twofold way. First, if the estimate be according to that of our Lord God and of the truth, there are many who possess mammon. But if the estimate be that of the world and of man's mind, there are few who possess it. For our leaders in thought have taught in the high schools and even from the pulpit, that everyone should see to his station in life, what be needs, and adjust his possessions accordingly. If he be a man with wife and children, he needs more, for where many persons are there much will be needed. And when we reckon thus, no one has anything to spare, but everyone would rather have more. If one has two thousand guilders he says, this I need for my family, to support myself, my wife and children.

2 In the second place they have taught that one is not bound to help, except in cases of the greatest need. Such teaching entirely overthrows the Gospel, so that no one has been helpful to another; but they have in the meantime built churches; and yet in doing so they did not even wait for the greatest need, until the arches were rent asunder and churches became roofless, but they gave to great excess, spreading their gold upon the walls. To sum up the whole matter, mammon properly means, that a man has more than he needs for his support, so that he can help others without injuring himself.

3 Hence the Lord calls it V.9. “The mammon of unrighteousness,” because it is daily made use of by the wicked; as it is said: riches develop courage, and the heathen have also called it irritamenta malorum, riches tempt to evil. Again St. Paul says, I Tim. 6:10: “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,” whence cometh strife, pride, war and bloodshed. Therefore it is also called here the unrighteous mammon, because it is applied to such evil uses, and is a great cause of evil to men.

4 Nevertheless it is God's creature like wine and corn, and the creatures of God are good. Why then does he call them evil? Because they tempt us to so much evil, as Paul says to the Ephesians, 5:16: “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Not that the time or days in themselves are evil, but because great evil is done in them. He also says to the Romans, 2:5: “The day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” Although the day is good, but because God's wrath will be revealed on that day, the day must take its name from it. And thus, since mammon runs into the service of evil, Christ calls it mammon of unrighteousness, namely, that which we have above our needs and we will not use in helping our neighbor; for this we possess unrighteously, and before God it is stolen goods, for in the presence of God one is bound to give and lend, and suffer himself to be deprived of it. Therefore as the saying runs, the greatest owners of property are the greatest thieves; because they possess far more than they need, and give the least possible to others. So much on the meaning of the word; we now return to the Gospel.

5 We take this parable in a common sense way, without seeking any subtleties in it, as Jerome has done, for it is not necessary to seek a subtle meaning, the pure milk is sufficient. The parable in itself teaches how the steward deprived his master of his property, and artfully, but deceitfully and falsely, appropriated it to himself. For it is riot right, that he, who previously cheated his master out of his property, should also act most deceitfully to secure for himself easy days all his life; let us abide by this explanation. For the Lord concludes that the unjust steward did wisely. He does not praise the thing in itself as good, but blames him for previously squandering his master's goods, and afterwards shrewdly appropriating his property. This however the Lord commends, namely, that he did not forget himself, praising nought but his cunning and shrewdness. Just as when a flirt draws the whole world after her, and I say: she is a clever flirt, she knows her business. The Lord further concludes, that just as the steward is wise and shrewd in his transactions, so should we also be in obtaining eternal life.

6 And that you may understand this, take the passage of St. Paul to the Romans, 5:14, Adam a type of Christ. How can the Apostle compare Adam to Christ, since Adam brought upon us sin and death, and Christ brought righteousness and life? He compares Christ to Adam in regard to origin and source, but not in regard to the fruit and work. For as Adam is the source and chief of all sinners, so Christ is the source and head of all the saints. For we have inherited from Adam nothing but sin, condemnation and the eternal curse; but from Christ we have obtained righteousness and salvation. Now these two are not alike, for sin is punishable, and righteousness is praiseworthy. But he compares them in regard to their origin; just as by Adam sin and death came upon all men, so by Christ righteousness and life come upon us.

7 Thus he compares here the unjust to the just. As the unjust man acts shrewdly, though wrongly and like a rogue, so we also should act shrewdly but righteously in godliness. This is the proper understanding of this parable. For the Lord says: V.8. “The children of this world are wiser than the children of light.” So that the children of light should learn wisdom from the children of darkness or the world. Just as they are wise in their transactions, so should also the children of light be wise in their transactions. Therefore he adds, “in their generation.” Here are truly three great questions, in which our adversaries quote this Gospel against us, when the Lord says:

V.9. “Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness, that, when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles.”

8 From this they try to conclude, that we must first of all do works to become good. For they say, here we read: “Make to yourselves friends,” and this surely means to do works. Secondly, they say, that God here even desires to praise works, and not only that, but also to reward them. For here we read of work and its reward, and nothing is said of faith. In the, third place they claim that Christ here wishes to establish the comfort and help of the saints, when he says: “Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness, that, when it shall fail, may receive you into the eternal tabernacles.” Thus Gospel is made to directly oppose us, for it says: “Make to yourselves friends.” That is, do good works, that they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles. This appears to mean that we should previously merit our reception by them into the eternal tabernacles. These three points the Pope and his priests have claimed strongly for their side, and he has even called his indulgences the mammon of iniquity, mammon iniquitatis, unrighteous mammon.

9 If they thus attack us we must answer. Above all things it must be remembered that there is indeed no doubt whatever, that faith and love are the only source, as you have ever learned, that through faith we become inwardly pious, and we outwardly prove our faith by our works of love. For I have often said, that the Scriptures speak of man in a twofold manner. At one time of the inner man, and then again of the outer man. For the Scriptures properly make distinctions, just as when I speak of a foot, I do not mean a nose. So the Scriptures at one time speak of us as of the Spirit, spiritual, how we must stand before God by faith, for this purpose he sends forth his Word to which we hold, and afterwards he follows or endows with his Spirit. Thus the tree must be good beforehand, as you have recently heard.

10 This godliness cannot be attained by anyone without grace in his heart. If I am to make for myself friends by means of mammon, I must first be godly. For compare these two statements: A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit, and again, a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit. From which judge for yourself: if I am to do good and give away mammon, I must indeed be first good at heart, for God looketh upon the heart, and as he finds the heart, so he estimates our works. This I say, that men should not cram works into the heart, but let the heart first be good through faith, that the works may flow forth, otherwise you do no one any good; for if you have before given a person anything, it did not come from the heart. Hence the conclusion is, that I must first be good before I can do good. You cannot build from without inward, you do not commence at the roof, but at the foundation. Therefore faith must first be present.

11 Hence the Scriptures speak of us as the outer man, as we in our flesh and blood live among men. Now, that I am good, you do not know, nor do I. Hence I must establish my faith to the satisfaction of myself and of the people, and I must do good to my neighbor in order to prove my faith; thus the outward works are then merely signs of the inner faith. Works do not make me good, but show that I am good, and bear witness that the faith in me is genuine. In this manner must you understand the Scriptures here also, when they say: Give of your mammon and thus make to yourselves friends; that is, do good, that your faith may become approved. So we must also distinguish what pertains to the Spirit and what is the fruit of the Spirit.

12 Luke has described the fruit of faith thus: Give to the poor and make to yourself friends. As though he would say: I will not now speak of faith, but how you should prove your faith. Wherefore do good to your neighbor, and if you can give from the heart you may be assured that you believe. Thus the Scriptures speak at one time of fruits, at another time of faith. Again, they also speak of fruits, when they teach, Mat. 25:42, how the Lord will speak to the lost on the last day: “I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat; I was athirst, and ye gave me no drink,” and the like. This means, you have not believed, as I will prove to you by your own works.

13 The Scriptures in some passages speak of the outward conduct, and in others of the inner. Now if you will apply that which is said of the outward to the heart and confuse matters, you pervert it and do wrong. Hence you must let the distinction remain, and observe it. These expressions: I have been hungry, thirsty, shelterless, naked, sick and in prison, and you have shown me no work of mercy, refer to the external conduct, and signify as much as: you have never exhibited any outward conduct by which you have shown your faith; and to prove this, I appeal to the poor as witnesses. Therefore, faith alone must be present first to make us good, after that good works must follow to prove our piety. This now is one point, namely, concerning works.

14 The second point is far more difficult, when the Lord says: V.9. “Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles.” You say, our adversaries cry: you say a person shall not do good works to obtain eternal life; behold, here it reads differently. Now, what shall we answer? There are many passages here and there, showing how we wish to have merit on our part. By quoting these passages they intend to disprove to us God's mercy, and to lead us to satisfy God's righteousness by our good works. By all means beware of this, and insist that it is nothing but pure grace and mercy alone, and say: I am a poor sinner, O God, forgive me my sins, gladly will I say nothing about my merit, only say thou nothing of thy judgment! Thus David said: “Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight no man living is righteous,” Ps. 143:2. And just for this reason Christ is given to us as our Mediator. If we wish to enter into judgment before God with our good works, we cast Christ aside as our Mediator, and cannot stand before God. Therefore let him remain our Mediator and abide thou under the shadow of his wings, as Psalm 91:4 reads: “He will cover thee with his pinions, and under his wings shalt thou take refuge.” Therefore speak thus, O God, I would not merit anything before thee by my own works, but will employ them only to serve my neighbor, and I will depend only upon thy mercy.

15 You must hence remember that eternal life consists of two things, faith and what follows faith. If you go and believe and do good to your neighbor, everlasting life must follow, although you never think about it. Just as when you take a good drink, the taste will follow as soon as you drink, even though you do not seek it. So it is also with hell, the damned do not seek it, but it follows unsought and undesired, and he must inherit it whether he will or no. This St. Paul also says, I Thes. 2:15-16, of the persecuters of the Gospel: They “drove out us, and pleased not God, and are contrary to all men; forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved; to fill up their sins always, but the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.” As though he would say: They only persecute us to fill the measure of their sins and fairly to deserve hell, and ever urge their sins more and more until they become entirely hardened, and finally have no regard for either God or man.

16 Thus the Scriptures declare here, that we should do good, so that we may be saved; and this is not meant to say, that we must first earn salvation by our works, but that we must believe, and it will follow of itself. Therefore mark well, that you do not take what follows for what goes before, and keep yourself free from the merit of works. Should God give us heaven for our works? No, no, he has already given us heaven freely, out of mere mercy. Therefore give unto the poor, in order that the eternal tabernacles may follow, and not that you may merit them by your works.

17 Observe then that these passages are explained in two different ways. First, that a man should seek salvation by works, which is false. Second, as a consequence of faith, which is right. Therefore, you are not to seek heaven with any kind of works, but only to do the works freely, then the result, eternal life, will follow of itself without your seeking. For if I should see heaven standing open and could merit it by picking up a straw, I would not do it, lest I might say: Behold, I have earned it! No, no, not to my deservings, but to God be the glory, who has given me his Son to abolish sin and hell for me.

18 In the third place, you should faithfully hold fast to the following words: V.9. “That they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles.” Behold, they say, here it stands written that they receive us into heaven, how then can you say that we dare not place the saints as mediators before God, and that they cannot help us to heaven? Here observe, that we have but one Redeemer before God, and he is Christ. For thus St. Paul speaks, 1 Tim. 2:5: “For there is one God, one Mediator also between God and man, himself man, Christ Jesus.” Again, Christ himself in John 14:6 says: “I am the way, no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” Therefore we must not seek our consolation in any of the saints, but in Christ alone, through whose merits alone we and all Saints are saved. Therefore I will not give a penny for St. Peter's merits, that he should help me. He cannot help himself, but whatever he has he has from God by faith in Christ. Now then, if he cannot help himself, how then can he do anything for me? Consequently I must have another, who is Christ, God and man in one.

19 But how can he say: “Make to yourselves friends, that they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles?” This passage we understand from Mat. 25:37-40, where Christ tells us how the King will answer them who will say on the last day: “Lord, when saw we thee hungry, athirst, homeless, naked, sick and in prison? Verily I say unto you,” he will say, “inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, ye did it unto me.” Here the Lord shows who those friends are, namely, the poor and needy. As though to say: when you make them your friends, then you have me as your friend also, for they are my members.

20 Now one thought remains: How will they receive us into the eternal tabernacles, as the text here says? Will they lead us in by the hand? No, but when we come before the judgment seat of God, poor persons whom we have assisted here, will stand in heaven and say: he has washed my feet, he gave me drink, food, clothing and the like. He will certainly be my friend and a witness of my faith, whatever words he may use to declare it. Then a beggar will be more useful to me than St. Peter or St. Paul, for there none of these can help. But when a beggar comes and says: 'My God, this he has done unto me as thy child! that will help me, for God will say: Whatsoever you have done unto these, you have done unto me. Therefore these poor people will not be our helpers but our witnesses so that God shall receive us. By this I would not object to your honoring St. Peter and other saints, for he is a member of Christ and of God. But you do better by giving your neighbor a penny, than by building a church of gold for St. Peter. For to help your neighbor is commanded, but it is not commanded to build a church to St. Peter. Now everything is twisted the wrong way, one goes to a certain passage in St. James, another to Aix-la-Chapelle, another to Rome, to seek help from the departed saints. But the poor people, who are the real sainthood, are left behind lying in the streets. Let this be sufficient on this Gospel.

[[Luther published two sermons for Luke 16:1-9. One can be found in the electronic version in verses 1-4; the other in verses 5-9.]]

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity; Luke 16:1-9 (2nd Sermon)


1 Although in my Postils hitherto, and in my little book, Christian Liberty and Good Works, I have taught very extensively, how faith alone without works justifies, and good works are done first after we believe, that it seems I should henceforth politely keep quiet, and give every mind and heart an opportunity to understand and explain all the gospel lessons for themselves; yet I perceive that the Gospel abides and prospers only among the few; the people are constantly dispirited and terrified by the passages that treat of good works; so that I see plainly how necessary it is, either to write Postils on each gospel lesson, or to appoint sensible ministers in all places who can orally explain and teach these things.

2 If this Gospel be considered without the Spirit by mere reason, it truly favors the priests and monks, and could be made to serve covetousness and to establish one’s own works. For when Christ says: V.9. “Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles;” they force from it three points against our doctrine of faith, namely: first, against that we teach faith alone justifies and saves from sin; second, that all good works ought to be gratuitously done to our neighbors out of free love; third, that we should not put any value in the merits of saints o,’ of others.

3 Against our first proposition they claim the Lord says here: “Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness,” just as though works should make us friends, who previously were enemies. Against the second is what he says: “That they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles;” just as though we should do the work for our own sakes and benefit. And against the third they quote: “The friends may receive us into the eternal tabernacles;” just as though we should serve the saints and trust in them to get to heaven.

For the sake of the weak we reply to these:


4 The foundation must be maintained without wavering, that faith without any works, without any merit, reconciles man to God and makes him good, as Paul says to the Romans 3:21-22: “But now apart from the law a righteousness of God hath been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that believe.” Paul at another place, Romans 4:9, says: “To Abraham, his faith was reckoned for righteousness;” so also with us. Again, 5:1 “Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Again, 10:10: “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” These, and many more similar passages, we must firmly hold and trust in them immovably, so that to faith alone without any assistance of works, is attributed the forgiveness of sins and our justification.

5 Take for an illustration the parable of Christ in Matthew 7:17: “Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but the corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” Here you see that the fruit does not make the tree good, but without any fruit and before any fruit the tree must be first good, or made good, before it can bear good fruit. As he also says, Matthew 12:33-34: “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree corrupt, and its fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by its fruit. Ye offspring of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things?”

Thus it is the naked truth, that a man must be good without good works, and before he does any good works. And it is clear how impossible it is that a man should become good by works, when he is not good before he does the good works. For Christ stands firm when he says: “How can ye, being evil, speak good things?” And hence follows: How can ye, being evil, do good things?

6 Therefore the powerful conclusion follows, there must be something far greater and more precious than all good works, by which a man becomes pious and good, before he does good; just as he must first be in bodily health before he can labor and do hard work. This great and precious something is the noble Word of God, which offers us in the Gospel the grace of God in Christ. He who hears and believes this, thereby becomes good and righteous. Wherefore it is called the Word of life, a Word of grace, a Word of forgiveness. But he who neither hears nor believes it, can in no way become good. For St. Peter says in the Acts 15:9: “And he made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.” For as the Word is, so will the heart be, which believes and cleaves firmly to it. The Word is a living, righteous, truthful, pure and good Word, so also the heart which cleaves to it, must be living, just, truthful, pure and good.

7 What now shall we say of those passages which so strongly insist on good works, as when the Lord says: “Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness?” And in Matthew 25:42: “For I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat.” And many other similar passages, which sound altogether as though we had to become good by works. We answer thus:

8 There are some who hear and read the Gospel and what is said by faith, and immediately conclude they have formed a correct notion of what faith is. They do not think that faith is anything else than something which is altogether in their own power to have or not to have, as any other natural human work. Hence, when in their hearts they begin to think and say: “Verily, the doctrine is right, and I believe it is true,” then they immediately think faith is present. But as soon as they see and feel in themselves and others that no change has taken place, and that the works do not follow and they remain as before in their old ways, then they conclude that faith is not sufficient, that they must have something more and greater than faith.

Behold, how they then seize the opportunity, and cry and say: Oh, faith alone does not do it. Why? Oh, because there are so many who believe, and are no better than before, and have not changed their minds at all. Such people are those whom Jude in his Epistle calls dreamers, 5:8, who deceive themselves with their own dreams. For what are such thoughts of theirs which they call faith, but a dream, a dark shadow of faith, which they themselves have created in their own thoughts, by their own strength without the grace of God? They become worse than they were before. For it happens with them as the Lord says in Matthew 9:17 “Neither do men put new wine into old wine-skins; else the skins burst, and the wine is spilled.” That is, they hear God’s Word and do not lay hold of it, therefore they burst and become worse.

9 But true faith, of which we speak, cannot be manufactured by our own thoughts, for it is solely a work of God in us, without any assistance on our part. As Paul says to the Romans 5:15, it is God’s gift and grace, obtained by one man, Christ. Therefore, faith is something very powerful, active, restless, effective, which at once renews a person and again regenerates him, and leads him altogether into a new manner and character of life, so that it is impossible not to do good without ceasing.

For just as natural as it is for the tree to produce fruit, so natural is it for faith to produce good works. And just as it is quite unnecessary to command the tree to bear fruit, so there is no command given to the believer, as Paul says, nor is urging necessary for him to do good, for he does it of himself, freely and unconstrained; just as he of himself without command sleeps, eats, drinks, puts on his clothes, hears, speaks, goes and comes.

Whoever has not this faith talks but vainly about faith and works, and does not himself know what he says or whither it tends. For he has not received it; he juggles with lies and applies the Scriptures where they speak of faith and works to his own dreams and false thoughts, which is purely a human work. Whereas the Scriptures attribute both faith and good works not to ourselves, but to God alone.

10 Is not this a perverted and blind people? They teach we cannot do a good deed of ourselves, and then in their presumption go to work and arrogate to themselves the highest of all the works of God, namely faith, to manufacture it themselves out of their own perverted thoughts. Wherefore I have said that we should despair of ourselves and pray to God for faith as the Apostle did. Luke 17:5. When we have faith we need nothing more, for it brings with it the Holy Spirit, who then teaches us not only all things, but also establishes us firmly in it, and leads us through death and hell to heaven.

11 Now observe, we have given these answers, that the Scriptures have such passages concerning works, on account of such dreamers and selfinvented faith; not that man should become good by works, but that man should thereby prove and see the difference between false and true faith. For wherever faith is right it does good. If it does no good, it is then certainly a dream and a false idea of faith. So, just as the fruit on the tree does not make the tree good, but nevertheless outwardly proves and testifies that the tree is good, as Christ says, Matthew 7:16: “By their fruits ye shall know them”--thus we should also learn to know faith by its fruits.

12 From this you see, there is a great difference between being good, and to be known as good; or to become good and to prove and show that you are good. Faith makes good, but works prove the faith and goodness to be right. Thus the Scriptures speak in the plain way, which prevails among the common people, as when a father says unto his son: “Go and be merciful, good and friendly to this or to that poor person.” By which he does not command him to be merciful, good and friendly, but because he is already good and merciful, he requires that he should also show and prove it outwardly toward the poor by his act, in order that the goodness which he has in himself may also be known to others and be helpful to them.

13 So you should explain all passages of Scripture referring to works, that God thereby desires to let the goodness received in faith express and prove itself, and become a benefit to others, so that false faith may become known and rooted out of the heart. For God gives no one his grace that it may remain inactive and accomplish nothing good, but in order that it may bear interest, and by being publicly known and proved externally draw every one to God; as Christ says, Matthew 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.” Otherwise it would be but a buried treasure and a hidden light. But what profit is there in either? Yea, goodness does not only thereby. become known to others, but we ourselves also become certain that we are honest, as St. Peter in 2 Peter 1:10 says: “Wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure.” For where works do not follow a man cannot know whether his faith is right; yea, he may be certain that his faith is a dream, and not right as it should be. Thus Abraham became certain of his faith and that he feared God, when he offered up his son. As God by the angel said to Abraham, Genesis 22:12: “Now I know, that is, it is manifest, that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.”

14 Then abide by the truth, that man is internally, in spirit before God, justified by faith alone without works, but externally and publicly before men and himself, he is justified by works, that he is at heart an honest believer and pious. The one you may call a public or outward justification, the other an inner justification, yet in the sense that the public or external justification is only the fruit, the result and proof of the justification in the heart, that a man does not become just thereby before God, but must previously be just before him. So you may call the fruit of the tree the public or outward good of the tree, which is only the result and proof of its inner and natural goodness.

This is what St. James means when he says in his Epistle, James 2:26: “Faith without works is dead.” That is, as the works do not follow, it is a sure sign that there is no faith there; but only an empty thought and dream, which they falsely call faith. Now we understand the word of Christ: “Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness.” That is, prove your faith publicly by your outward gifts, by which you win friends, that the poor may be witnesses of your public work, that your faith is genuine. For mere external giving in itself can never make friends, unless it proceed from faith, as Christ rejects the alms of the Pharisees in Matthew 6:2, that they thereby make no friends because their heart is false. Thus no heart can ever be right without faith, so that even nature forces the confession that no work makes one good, but that the heart must first be good and upright.


15 Christ means this when, in Matthew 10:8, he says: “Freely ye receive, freely give.” For just as Christ with all his works did not merit heaven for himself, because it was his before; but he served us thereby, not regarding or seeking his own, but these two things, namely, our benefit and the glory of God his Father; so also should we never seek our own in our good works, either temporal or eternal, but glorify God by freely and gratuitously doing good to our neighbor. This St. Paul teaches the Philippians 2:5: “Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.” That is, for himself he had enough, since in him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and yet he served us and became our servant.

16 And this is the cause; for since faith justifies and destroys sin before God, so it gives life and salvation. And now it would be a lasting shame and disgrace, and injurious to faith, if any one by his life and works would desire to obtain what faith already possesses and brings with it. Just as Christ would have only disgraced himself had he done good in order to become the Son of God and Lord over all things, which he already was before. So faith makes us God’s children as John 1:12 says: “But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become the children of God, even to them thai: believe on his name.” But if they are children, then they are heirs, as St. Paul says, Romans 8:17, and Galatians 4:7. How then can we do anything to obtain the inheritance, which we already have by faith?

17 But what shall we say of passages that insist on a good life for the sake of an external reward as this one does: “Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness?” And in Matthew 19:17: “But if thou wouldst enter into life, keep the commandments.” And Matthew 6:20: “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” We will say this: that those who do not know faith, only speak and think of the reward, as of works. For they think that the same rule obtains here as in human affairs, that they must earn the Kingdom of heaven by their works. These, too, are dreams and false views, of which Malachi 1:10, speaks: “Oh, that there were one among you that would shut the doors, that ye might not kindle fire on mine altar in vain!” They are slaves and greedy self-enjoying hirelings and day laborers, who receive their reward here on earth, like the Pharisees with their praying and fasting, as Christ says, Matthew 6:2.

However, in regard to the eternal reward it is thus: inasmuch as works naturally follow faith, as I said, it is not necessary to command them, for it is impossible for faith not to do them without being commanded, in order that we may learn to distinguish the false from the true faith. Hence the eternal reward also follows true faith, naturally, without any seeking, so that it is impossible that it should not, although it may never be desired or sought, yet it is appropriated and promised in order that true and false believers may be known, and that every one may understand that a good life follows naturally of itself.

18 As an illustration of this take a rude comparison: behold, hell and death are also threatened to the sinner, and naturally follow sin without any seeking; for no one does wickedly because he wants to be damned, but would much rather escape it. Yet, the result is there, and it is not necessary to declare it, for it will come of itself. Yet, it is declared that man might know what follows a wicked life. So here, a wicked life has its own reward without seeking it. Hence a good life will find its reward without any seeking it. When you drink good or poor wine, although you do not drink it for the taste, yet the taste naturally follows of itself.

19 Now when Christ says: make to yourselves friends, lay up for yourselves treasures, and the like, you see that he means: do good, and it will follow of itself without your seeking, that you will have friends, find treasures in heaven, and receive a reward. But your eyes must simply be directed to a good life, and care nothing about the reward, but be satisfied to know and be assured that it will follow, and let God see to that. For those who look for a reward, become lazy and unwilling laborers, and love the reward; more than the work, yea, they become enemies of work. In this way God’s will also becomes hateful, who has commanded us to work, and hence God’s command and will must finally become burdensome to such a heart.


20 This is so clear that it needs no proof. For how can the saints receive us into heaven, as every one himself must depend on God alone to receive him into heaven, and every saint scarcely has enough for himself? This the wise virgins prove, who did not wish to give of their oil to the foolish virgins, Matthew 25:9, and St. Peter, 1 Peter 4:18, says: “The righteous is scarcely saved.” And Christ in John 3:13: “And no one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven, even the Son of Man, who is in heaven.”

21 What then shall we reply to: “Make to yourselves friends out of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles ?” We say this: that this passage says nothing about the saints in heaven, but of the poor and needy on earth, who live among us. As though he would say: why do you build churches, make saints and serve my mother, St. Peter, St. Paul and other departed saints? They do not need this or any other service of yours, they are not your friends, but friends of those who lived in their days and to whom they did good; but do service to your friends, that is, the poor who live in your time and among you, your nearest neighbors who need your help, make them your friends with your mammon.

22 Again, we must not understand this reception into the eternal tabernacles as being done by man; however, men will be an instrument and witness to our faith, exercised and shown in their behalf, on account of which God receives us into the eternal tabernacles. For thus the Scriptures are accustomed to speak when they say: sin condemns, faith saves, that means, sin is the cause why God condemns, and faith is the cause why he saves. As man also is at all times accustomed to say: your wickedness will bring you misfortune, which means, your wickedness is the cause and source of your misfortune. Thus our friends receive us into heaven, when they are the cause, through our faith shown to them, of entering heaven. This is enough on these three points.

23 In this connection we will explain three questions, that we may better understand this Gospel. What is mammon? Why is it unrighteous? And why Christ commands us to imitate the unjust steward, who worked for his own gain at his master’s expense, which without doubt is unjust and a sin?

24 First, mammon is a Hebrew word meaning riches or temporal goods, namely, whatever any one owns over and above what his needs require, and with which he can benefit others without injuring himself. For Hamon in Hebrew means multitude, or a great crowd or many, from which Mahamon or Mammon, that is, multitude of riches or goods, is derived.

25 Second, it is called unrighteous, not because obtained by injustice and usury, for with unrighteous possessions no good can be done, for it must be returned as Isaiah 61:8, says: “For I, Jehovah, love justice, I hate robbery with iniquity.” And Solomon, Proverbs 3:27, says: “Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thy hand to do it.” But it is called unrighteous because it stands in the service of unrighteousness, as St. Paul says to the Ephesians 5:16, that the days are evil, although God made them and they are good, but they are evil because wicked men misuse them, in which they do many sins, offend and endanger souls.

Therefore, riches are unrighteous, because the people misuse and abuse them. For we know that wherever riches are the saying holds good: money rules the world, men creep for it, they lie for it, they act the hypocrite for it, and do all manner of wickedness against their neighbor to obtain it, to keep it, and increase it to possess the friendship of the rich.

26 But it is especially before God an unrighteous mammon because man does not serve his neighbor with it; for where my neighbor is in need and I do not help him when I have the means to do so, I unjustly keep what is his, as I am indebted to give to him according to the law of nature: “Whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them.” Matthew 7:12. And Christ says in Matthew 5:42: “Give to him that asketh thee.” And John in his first Epistle,1 John 3:17: “But whoso hath the world’s goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him?” And few see this unrighteousness in mammon because it is spiritual, and is found also in those possessions which are obtained by the fairest means, which deceive them that they think they do no one any harm, because they do no coarse outward injustice, by robbing, stealing and usury.

27 In the third place it has been a matter of very great concern to many to know who the unjust steward is whom Christ so highly recommends? This, in short, is the simple answer: Christ does not commend unto us the steward on account of his unrighteousness, but on account of his wisdom and his shrewdness, that with all his unrighteousness, he so wisely helps himself. As though I would urge some one to watch, pray and study, and would say: Look here, murderers and thieves wake at night to rob and steal, why then do you not wake to pray and study? By this I do not praise murderers and thieves for their crimes, but for their wisdom and foresight, that they so wisely obtain the goods of unrighteousness. Again. as though I would say: An unchaste woman adorns herself with gold and silk to tempt young boys; why will you not also adorn yourself with faith to please Christ? By this I do not praise fornication, but the diligence employed.

28 In this way Paul compares Adam and Christ saying: “Adam was a figure of him that was to come.” Romans 5:14. Although from Adam we have nothing but sin, and from Christ nothing but grace, yet these are greatly opposed to each other. But the comparison and type consist only in the consequence or birth, not in virtue or vice. As to birth, Adam is the father of all sinners, so Christ is the father of all the righteous. And as all sinners come from one Adam, so all the righteous come from one Christ. Thus the unjust steward is here typified to us only in his cunning and wisdom, who knows so well how to help himself, that we should also consider in the right way the welfare of our souls as he did in the wrong way that of his body and life. With this we will let it suffice, and pray God for grace.

No Commentary on these verses is yet included

This module currently includes commentaries on:

  • I. Gen 4:8-9:29
  • II. Ps 82
  • III. the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7)
  • IV. the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-Luke 1:55)
  • V. Galatians
Also included are Prefaces to:

  • I. Old Testament (at Gen.0.0)
  • II. Job
  • III. Psalms
  • IV. Proverbs
  • V. Ecclesiastes
  • VI. the Prophetic Books (not including Lamentations)
  • VII. the New Testament (at Matt.0.0)
  • VIII. Acts
  • IX. all Epistles
  • X. Revelations
Lastly, this module contains sermons/commentaries from Luther's Church Postil. These mostly cover the readings from the standard 1-year lectionary, including:

  • I. Matthew:
    • {Mt 1:25 linked from Lk 2:21}
    • 2:1-12
    • {Mt 2:13-23 linked from Lk 2:39}
    • 4:1-11 {links to Mk 1:12-13, Lk 4:1-13}
    • {Mt 4:18-22 linked from Lk 5:1-11}
    • Mt 5-7 postil entries not included because of the more complete commentary on the Sermon on the Mount
    • 8:1-13 {links to Mk 1:40-45; Lk 5:12-16; Lk 7:1-10}
    • 8:23-27 {links to Mk 4:35-41; Lk 8:22-25}
    • 9:1-8 {links to Mk 2:1-12; Lk 5:17-26}
    • 9:18-26 {links to Mk 5:21-43; Lk 8:40-56}
    • 11:2-10 {links to Lk 7:18-35}
    • {Mt 12:22-30,43-45 linked from Lk 11:14-28}
    • {Mt 13:1-9,18-23 linked from Lk 8:4-15}
    • {Mt 13:16-17 linked from Lk 10:23-37}
    • 13:24-30
    • {Mt 14:13-21 linked from Jn 6:1-15}
    • 15:21-28 {links to Mk 7:24-30}
    • {Mt 15:29-39 linked from Mk 8:1-9}
    • {Mt 18:12-14 linked from Lk 15:1-10}
    • 18:23-35
    • 20:1-16
    • {Mt 20:17-19,29-34 linked from Lk 18:31-43}
    • 21:1-9 {links to Mk 11:1-11, Lk 19:29-40, Jn 12:12-19}
    • {Mt 21:12-13 linked from Lk 19:41-48}
    • 22:1-14
    • 22:15-22 {links to Mk 12:13-17; Lk 20:19-26}
    • 22:34-46 {links to Mk 12:28-37, Lk 20:41-44}
    • 23:34-39 {links to Lk 11:49-51; Lk 13:34-35}
    • 24:15-28 {links to Mk 13:14-23, Lk 21:20-24}
    • {Mt 24:29-51 linked from Lk 21:25-36}
    • 25:31-46
    • {Mt 28:1-8 linked from Mk 16:1-8}
    • {Mt 28:16-20 linked from Mk 16:14-20}
  • II. Mark:
    • {Mk 1:12-13 linked from Mt 4:1-11}
    • {Mk 1:16-20 linked from Lk 5:1-11}
    • {Mk 1:40-45 linked from Mt 8:1-13}
    • {Mk 2:1-12 linked from Mt 9:1-8}
    • {Mk 3:22-30 linked from Lk 11:14-28}
    • {Mk 4:2-20 linked from Lk 8:4-15}
    • {Mk 4:35-41 linked from Mt 8:23-27}
    • {Mk 5:21-43 linked from Mt 9:18-26}
    • {Mk 6:31-46 linked from Jn 6:1-15}
    • {Mk 7:24-30 linked from Mt 15:21-28}
    • 7:31-37
    • 8:1-9 {links to Mt 15:29-39}
    • {Mk 10:32-34,46-52 linked from Lk 18:31-43}
    • {Mk 11:1-11 linked from Mt 21:1-9}
    • {Mk 11:15-19 linked from Lk 19:41-48}
    • {Mk 12:13-17 linked from Mt 22:15-22}
    • {Mk 12:28-37 linked from Mt 22:34-46}
    • {Mk 13:14-23 linked from Mt 24:15-28}
    • {Mk 13:24-37 linked from Lk 21:25-36}
    • 16:1-8 {links to Mt 28:1-8, Lk 23:56-24:7, Jn 20:1-2}
    • {Mk 16:12-13 linked from Lk 24:13-35}
    • 16:14-20 {links to Mt 28:16-20})
  • III. Luke:
    • 2:1-14
    • 2:21 {links to Mt 1:25}
    • 2:33-40 {v.39 links to Mt 2:13-23}
    • 2:41-52
    • {Lk 4:1-13 linked from Mt 4:1-11}
    • 5:1-11 {links to Mt 4:18-22, Mk 1:16-20}
    • {Lk 5:12-16 linked from Mt 8:1-13}
    • {Lk 5:17-26 linked from Mt 9:1-8}
    • 6:36-42
    • {Lk 7:1-10 linked from Mt 8:1-13}
    • 7:11-17
    • {Lk 7:18-35 linked from Mt 11:2-10}
    • 8:4-15 {links to Mt 13:1-9,18-23, Mk 4:2-20}
    • {Lk 8:22-25 linked from Mt 8:23-27}
    • {Lk 8:40-56 linked from Mt 9:18-26}
    • {Lk 9:10-17 linked from Jn 6:1-15}
    • 10:23-37 {links to Mt 13:16-17}
    • 11:14-28 {links to Mt 12:22-30,43-45; Mk 3:22-30}
    • {Lk 11:49-51 linked from Mt 23:34-39}
    • {Lk 13:34-35 linked from Mt 23:34-39}
    • 14:1-11
    • 14:16-24
    • 15:1-10 {links to Mt 18:12-14}
    • 16:1-9
    • 16:19-31
    • 17:11-19
    • 18:9-14
    • 18:31-43 {links to Mt 20:17-19,29-34; Mk 10:32-34,46-52}
    • {Lk 19:29-40 linked from Mt 21:1-9}
    • 19:41-48 {links to Mt 21:12-13; Mk 11:15-19}
    • {Lk 20:19-26 linked from Mt 22:15-22}
    • {Lk 20:41-44 linked from Mt 22:34-46}
    • {Lk 21:20-24 linked from Mt 24:15-28}
    • 21:25-36 {links to Mt 24:29-51; Mk 13:24-37}
    • {Lk 23:56-24:7 linked from Mk 16:1-8}
    • 24:13-35 {links to Mk 16:12-13}
    • 24:36-47 {links to Jn 20:19-29}
  • IV. John:
    • 1:1-14
    • 1:19-28
    • 2:1-11
    • 3:1-15
    • 3:16-21
    • 4:46-54
    • 6:1-15 {links to Mt 14:13-21; Mk 6:31-46; Lk 9:10-17}
    • 6:44-54
    • 8:46-59
    • 10:1-10
    • 10:11-16
    • {Jn 12:12-19 linked from Mt 21:1-9}
    • 14:23-31
    • 15:26-16:4
    • 16:5-15
    • 16:16-22
    • 16:23-30
    • {Jn 20:1-2 linked from Mk 16:1-8}
    • 20:19-31
    • 21:19-24
  • V. Acts (1:1-11; 2:1-13; 6:8-14 and 7:54-60; 10:34-43; 13:26-39)
  • VI. Romans (6:3-11; 6:19-23; 8:12-17; 8:18-22; 11:33-36; 12:1-5; 12:6-15; 12:16-21; 13:8-10; 13:11-14; 15:4-13)
  • VII. 1 Corinthians (1:4-9; 4:1-5; 5:6-8; 9:24-27; 10:1-5; 10:6-13; 12:1-11; 13:1-13)
  • VIII. 2 Corinthians (3:4-11; 6:1-10; 11:19-23, 12:1-9)
  • VIII. Ephesians (3:13-21; 4:1-6; 4:22-28; 5:1-9; 5:15-21; 6:10-17)
  • IX. Phillipians (1:3-11; 2:5-11; 3:17-21; 4:4-7)
  • X. Colossians (1:3-14; 3:1-7; 3:12-17)
  • XI. 1 Thessalonians (4:1-7; 4:13-18)
  • XII. 2 Thessalonians (1:3-10)
  • XIII. Titus (2:11-15; 3:4-8)
  • XIV. Hebrews (1:1-12; 9:11-15)
  • XV. James (1:16-21)
  • XVI. 1 Peter (2:11-20; 2:21-25; 3:8-15; 4:8-11; 5:5-11)
  • XVII. 1 John (3:13-18; 5:4-12)
  • XVIII. Isaiah (60:1-6)

Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity; Luke 16:19-31

1 We have hitherto heard in our Gospel lessons of various examples of faith and of love; for as they all teach faith and love, I hope you are abundantly and sufficiently informed that no human being can be pleasing to God unless he believes and loves. Now in this Gospel text the Lord presents to us at the same time an example of faith and of unbelief or of the state of the godless, in order that we also may abhor the contrary and the opposite of faith and love, and that we may cleave to faith and love more diligently. For here we see the judgment of God upon the believers and the unbelievers, which is both dreadful and comforting. Dreadful to the faithless and comforting to the faithful. But in order that we may the better grasp the meaning of this text we must picture to ourselves both the rich man and poor Lazarus. In the rich man we see the nature of unbelief and in Lazarus the nature of belief.


2 We must not view the rich man according to his outward conduct; for he is in sheep's clothing, his life glitters and shines beautifully, while he tactfully conceals the wolf. For this Gospel text does not accuse him of adultery, of murder, or robbery, of violence or of having done anything that the world or reason would censure. Yea, he has been as honorable and respectable in his life as that Pharisee who fasted twice a week and was not as other men, of whom Luke 18:11f. speaks. For had he committed such glaring sins the Gospel would have mentioned them since it examines him so particularly that it describes even the purple robe he wore and the food he ate, which are only external matters and God does not judge according to them. Therefore he must have led outwardly an exemplary, holy life; and according to his own opinion and that of others, he must have kept the whole law of Moses.

3 But we must look into his heart and judge his spirit. For the Gospel has penetrating eyes and sees deep into the secret recesses of the soul; reproves also the works which reason cannot reprove, and looks not at the sheep's clothing, but at the true fruit of the tree to learn whether it is good or not, as the Lord teaches in Mat. 7:17. Hence if we judge this rich man according to the fruits of faith, we will find a heart and a tree of unbelief. For the Gospel chastises him that he fares sumptuously every day and clothes himself so richly, which reason never considers as especially great sins. Besides, the work-righteous people think it is right, and that they are worthy of it, and have merited it by virtue of their holy lives, and they do not see how they thus sin by their unbelief.

4 For this rich man is not punished because he indulged in sumptuous fare and fine clothes; since many saints, kings and queens in ancient times wore costly apparel, as Solomon, Esther, David, Daniel and others; but because his heart was attached to them, sought them, trusted in and chose them, and because he found in them all his joy, delight and pleasure; and made them in fact his idols. This Christ indicates by the words “every day,” that he lived thus sumptuously daily, continuously. From this is seen that he diligently sought and chose such a life, was not forced to it nor was he in it by accident, or because of his office or to serve his neighbor; but he only thereby gratified his own lust, and lived to himself and served only himself.

5 Here one traces the secret sins of his heart as the evil fruit. For where faith is, there is no anxiety for fine clothing and sumptuous feasting, yea, there is no longing for riches, honor, pleasure, influence and all that is not God himself; but there is a seeking and a striving for and a cleaving to nothing except to God, the highest good alone; it is the same to him whether his food be dainty or plain, whether his clothing be fine or homespun. For although they even do wear costly clothes, possess great influence and honor, yet they esteem none of these things; but are forced to them, or come to them by accident, or they are compelled to use them in the service of others.

Thus queen Esther says, that she bore the royal crown against her will, and that she had to wear it for the sake of the King. David also would rather have lived a private life; but for the sake of God and of his people he had to become king. In like manner all the saints considered that they were constrained to fill their stations of influence, honor and glory; and their hearts were never entangled by them, and labored in these external things to be helpful to their neighbor, as Psalm 62:10 says: “Trust not in oppression and become not vain in robbery; if riches increase set not your heart thereon.”

6 But where unbelief reigns man is absorbed by these vanities, be cleaves to them, seeks them and has no rest until he has acquired them, and after he possesses them, he feeds and fattens himself with them as the swine wallow in the mire, and finds at the same time his happiness and felicity there. He never inquires how his heart stands with his God and what he possesses in God and may expect from him; but his belly is his God; and if he cannot get what he wants, he imagines things are going wrong. And lo, these dreadful and wicked fruits of unbelief the rich man does not see, he covers them over, and blinds his own eyes by the good works of his pharisaical life, and hardens himself until no teaching, exhortation, threatening nor promise can help him. Behold, this is the secret sin which today's Gospel punishes and condemns.

7 From this now follows the other sin, that he forgets to exercise love toward his neighbor; for there he lets poor Lazarus lie at his door, and offers him not the least assistance. And if he had not wished to help him personally, he should have commanded his servants to take him in and care for him. It may have been, he knew nothing of God and had never experienced his goodness. For whoever feels the goodness of God, feels also for the misfortune of his neighbor; but whoever is not conscious of the goodness of God, sympathizes not in the misfortune of his neighbor. Therefore as he has no pleasure in God, he has no heart for his neighbor.

8 For the nature of faith is that it expects all good from God, and relies only on God. For from this faith man knows God, how he is good and gracious, that by reason of such knowledge his heart becomes so tender and merciful, that he wishes cheerfully to do to every one, as he experiences God has done to him. Therefore he breaks forth with love and serves his neighbor out of his whole heart, with his body and life, with his means and honor, with his soul and spirit, and makes him partaker of all he has, just like God did to him. Therefore he does not look after the healthy, the high, the strong, the rich, the noble, the holy persons, who do not need his care; but he looks after the sick, the weak, the poor, the despised, the sinful people, to whom he can be of benefit, and among whom he can exercise his tender heart, and do to them as God has done to him.

9 But the nature of unbelief is that it does not expect any good from God. By which unbelief the heart is blinded so that it neither feels nor knows how good and gracious God is; but as Psalm 14:2 says: he cares not for God, seeks not after him. Out of this blindness follows further that his heart becomes so hard, obdurate and unmerciful that he has no desire to do a kindness to his fellow man; yea, he would rather harm and offend everybody. For as he is insensible to the goodness of God, so he takes no pleasure in doing good to his neighbor. Consequently it follows that he does not look after the sick, poor and despised people, to whom he could and should be helpful and profitable; but he casts his eyes upward and sees only the high, rich and influential, from whom be himself may receive advantage, gain, pleasure and honor.

10 So we see now in the example of the rich man that it is impossible to love, where no faith exists, and impossible to believe, where there is no love; for both will and must be together, so that a believer loves everybody and serves everybody; but an unbeliever at heart is an enemy of everybody and wishes to be served by every person and yet he covers all such horrible, perverted sins with the little show of his hypocritical works as with a sheep's skin; just as that large bird, the ostrich, which is so stupid that when it sticks its head into a bush, it thinks its entire body is concealed. Yea, here you see that there is nothing blinder and more unmerciful than unbelief. For here the dogs, the most irascible animals, are more merciful to poor Lazarus than this rich man, and they recognize the need of the poor man and lick his sores; while the obdurate, blinded hypocrite is so hard hearted that he does not wish him to have the crumbs that fell from his table.

11 Now all unbelieving people are like this rich hypocrite. Unbelief cannot do nor be different than this rich man is pictured and set forth by his life. And especially is this the character of the clergy, as we see before our eyes, who never do a truly good work, but only seek a good time, never serving nor profiting any one; but reversing the order they want everybody to serve them. Like harpies they only claw everything into their own pockets; and like the old adage runs they “rob the poor of his purse.” They are not moved in the least by the poverty of others. And although some have not expensive food and raiment, yet they do not lack will power and the spirit of action; for they imitate the rich, the princes and the lords, and do many hypocritically good works by founding institutions and building churches, with which they conceal the great rogue, the wolf of unbelief; so that they become obdurate and hardened and are of no use to anybody. These are the rich man.


12 Likewise we must not judge poor Lazarus in his sores, poverty and anxiety, according to his outward appearance. For many persons suffer from affliction and want, and yet they gain nothing by it; for example King Herod suffered a great affliction, as is related in Acts 12:23; but afterwards he did not have it better before God on account of it. Poverty and suffering make no one acceptable to God; but, whoever is first acceptable to God, his poverty and suffering are precious in the eyes of God, as Ps. 116:15 says: “Precious in the sight of Jehovah is the death of his saints.”

13 Thus we must look into the heart of Lazarus also, and seek the treasure which made his sores so precious. That was surely his faith and love; for without faith it is impossible to please God, as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, 11:6. Therefore his heart also must have confessed that he even in the midst of such poverty and misery expected all good from God, and comfortably relied upon him; with whose blessings and grace he was so richly satisfied, and had such pleasure in them, that he would have heartily and willingly suffered even more misery, if the will of his gracious God had so determined. See, that is a true, living faith, which softened his heart by the knowledge of the divine goodness; so that nothing was too heavy or too much to suffer and to do. So clever and skilful does faith make the heart, when it experiences the grace of God.

14 From this faith follows now another virtue, namely, love to one's neighbor, so that he is willing and ready to serve everybody; but since Lazarus is poor and in misery himself, he had nothing with which he could serve others; therefore his good will is taken for the deed.

15 But this lack of service in temporal things he abundantly makes good by his services in things spiritual. For even now, long after his death, he serves the whole world with his sores, hunger and misery. His bodily hunger feeds our spiritual hunger; his bodily nakedness clothes (or feeds, as some editions read) our spiritual nakedness; his bodily sores heal our spiritual sores; in this way he teaches and comforts us by his example, how God is pleased with us, when we are not prosperous here upon the earth, if we believe; and warns us how God is angry with us, even if we are prosperous in our unbelief; just as God had pleasure in Lazarus in his misery, and was displeased with the rich man.

16 Tell me, what king could have rendered a service to the whole world with his possessions, like poor Lazarus has done with his sores, hunger and poverty? Oh, the wonderful works and judgments of God! In what a masterly manner he puts to shame the cunning goddess and fool of this world, namely, reason and worldly wisdom! She stalks abroad and fixes her eyes rather upon the beautiful purple of the rich man, than upon the wounds of poor Lazarus; she would rather center her eyes upon a healthy, handsome person, as this rich man was, than upon a revolting and naked person like Lazarus; yea, she holds her nose before the stench of his wounds and turns her eyes from his nakedness. Thus the great goddess and fool of this world overlooks God in the very presence of such a noble treasure, and always quietly passes her own judgment, and at the same time makes this poor person so precious and dear, that all the kings hence are not worthy to serve him or to dress his sores. For what king, do you think, would not now with his whole heart exchange his health, purple and crown for the sores, poverty and misery of poor Lazarus, if it were possible for him to do so? And what person is there who would now give a snuff for the purple and all the riches of this rich man?

17 Do you not think that this rich man himself, had he not been so blind and had known that such a treasure, a man so precious in the eyes of God, was dying at his gate, would have run out, and dressed and kissed his sores, and laid him in his best bed; and made all his purple and riches to serve him? But at the time God's judgment went forth, he did not see that he could do it. Then God thought, truly, you are not worthy to serve him. When later the judgment and work of God were accomplished, the wise fool begins to come to himself; and since he suffers now in hell he will gladly give his house and land, to whom before he would not give a crumb of bread; and wishes now that Lazarus might cool his tongue with the tips of his fingers, whom before he would not touch.

18 Behold, even at the present day God is filling the world with such judgments and works, but no one sees it; yea, everybody despises it. There are continually before our eyes poor and needy persons, whom God lays before us as the greatest treasures; but we close our eyes to them, and see not what God does there; later, when God has done his work, and we have neglected the treasure, then we hasten and wish to serve, but we waited too long. Then we begin and make sacred relics of their garments, shoes and furniture, and make pilgrimages to and erect churches over their graves, are occupied with many like foolish deeds and thus ridicule ourselves in that we permit the living saints to be trodden under our feet and to perish, and we worship their garments, which is neither necessary nor of any use; so that indeed our Lord will let the judgment fall as he did in Mat. 23:29-33, and say: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and garnish the tombs of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we should not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye witness to yourselves, that ye are sons of them that slew the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers, how shall ye escape the judgment of hell?”

19 All believers are like poor Lazarus; and every believer is a true Lazarus, for he is of the same faith, mind and will, as Lazarus. And whoever will not be a Lazarus, will surely have his portion with the rich glutton in the flames of hell. For we all must like Lazarus trust in God, surrender ourselves to him to work in us according to his own good pleasure, and be ready to serve all men. And although we all do not suffer from such sores and poverty, yet the same mind and will must be in us, that were in Lazarus, cheerfully to bear such things, wherever God wills it.

20 For such poverty of spirit may exist in those who have very great possessions; as Job, David, Abraham were poor and rich. For David in Ps. 39:12 says: “I am a stranger with thee, a sojourner, as all my fathers were.” How could that be, since he was a king and possessed extensive lands and large cities? Thus it came about; although he indeed possessed these, yet his heart did not cleave to them, and they were as nothing compared with the riches he had with God. Likewise he had said of the health of his body that it was as nothing compared to the health of his soul before God, and he would indeed not have murmured, had God afflicted him with bodily sores and sickness. So Abraham also, although he had not the poverty and affliction of Lazarus, yet he had the mind and will to bear what Lazarus did, if God had visited him thus. For the saints should have one and the same inner mind and spirit, but they cannot have the same outward work and suffering. Therefore Abraham also recognized Lazarus as one of his own and received him into his bosom; which he would not have done, were he not of the same mind and had he not taken pleasure in the poverty and maladies of Lazarus. Thus is set forth the sum and meaning of the Gospel, that we may see, how faith everywhere saves and unbelief condemns.


21 This Gospel lesson suggests several questions. First, what is the bosom of Abraham, since it cannot be a natural bosom that is meant? To answer this, it is necessary to know that the soul or Spirit of man has no rest or place where it may abide, except the Word of God, until he comes at the last day to the clear vision of God. Therefore we conclude that the bosom of Abraham signifies nothing else than the Word of God, where Christ was promised, Gen. 22:18, to Abraham, namely: “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” In these words Christ is promised to him, as the one through whom every person shall be blessed, that is, shall be delivered from sin, death and hell, and through no one else and through no other work. All who have believed this passage, have believed on Christ, and have become good Christians, and have also through faith in this Word been released from sin, death and hell.

22 Thus were all the fathers before the birth of Christ carried into Abraham's bosom; that is, at their death they were established in this saying of God,, and they fell asleep in the same, they were embraced and guarded as in a bosom, and sleep there until the day of judgment; excepting those who have already risen with Christ, as Mat. 27:5.9 teaches, where they also remained. In like manner we, when we face death, must lay hold of and trust in the Word of Christ with strong faith, as John 11:26 says: “Whosoever believeth on me shall never die,” or like passages; and thus die in this faith, fall asleep, be embraced and guarded in the bosom of Abraham until the day of judgment. For the word spoken to Abraham and the word spoken to us is the very same word; both speak of Christ, that we must be saved through him. But the former is more particularly called Abraham's bosom, because it was spoken first to Abraham and began with him.

23 Likewise on the other hand the hell here mentioned cannot be the true hell that will begin on the day of judgment. For the corpse of the rich man is without doubt not in hell, but buried in the earth; it must however be a place where the soul can be and has no peace, and it cannot be corporal. Therefore it seems to me, this hell is the conscience, which is without faith and without the Word of God, in which the soul is buried and held until the day of judgment, when they are cast down body and soul into the true and real hell. For just as Abraham's bosom is God's Word, in which believers rest through faith, and fall asleep and are guarded there until the day of judgment; so must that on the contrary ever be hell, where God's Word is not, into which the unbelievers are cast until the day of judgment. That can be nothing else than an empty, unbelieving, sinful, and evil conscience.

24 The second question is: How then did Abraham and the rich man converse with one another? Answer: It could not have been a conversation with the natural voice, since the bodies of both were lying in their graves; likewise as little was it the natural tongue that complained of being tormented; nor was it natural fingers and natural water that were desired from Lazarus. Therefore this all must be in the conscience thus: When the conscience is awakened by death or by the agonies of death, then it will have a testimony of its unbelief and will see then for the first time the bosom of Abraham, and those embraced by it, that is, the Word of God, in which it should have believed and did not; from which it has the very greatest pain and anxiety as in hell, and finds neither help nor consolation.

25 Then thoughts arise in the conscience, which held such a conversation, if they could speak, as this rich man did with Abraham, and seeks then whether the Word of God, and all who have believed in it, would help; and with so much anxiety that it would receive the least comfort from the very meanest of men, but even that cannot be granted to him. Then Abraham answered him, that is, his conscience took such a view of the Word of God, that it cannot be; but he had his portion of good things in his life, and he must now suffer; while the others are comforted, whom he despised.

26 At last he feels, that it is declared unto him: There is a great gulf fixed between him and the believers, that they will never be able to come together. These are the thoughts of despair, when the conscience feels that the Word of God is withdrawn forever from him; accordingly the thoughts of his conscience rage and would gladly have the living to know that such are the agonies of death, and he craves that someone would tell it to them. But it is to no purpose; for be feels an answer in his own conscience, that Moses and the prophets are sufficient, whom they ought to believe, as he himself should have done. All such thoughts pass between the condemned conscience and the Word of God, in the hour of death or in the agonies of death; and no one can perceive what it is, except the one who experiences it; and he who experienced it wished that others should know it, but all is in vain.

27 The third question is: When did that take place, and if the rich man still daily without ceasing suffers thus until the day of judgment? That is a subtle question and not easily answered to the inexperienced. For here one must banish the idea of time from the mind and know that in the other world there is neither time nor hours, but all is an eternal moment or wink of the eye; as 2 Peter 3:8 says: “A day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day,” Ps. 90:4. Therefore it seems to me that in this rich man we have an example of the future of all unbelievers, when their eyes are opened by death and its agonies; which can endure but for a moment and then cease until the day of judgment, as it may please God; for here no definite rule can be established. Therefore I dare not say that the rich man suffers still at present as he suffered at that time; and I dare not deny that he still suffers thus; for both depend upon the will of God. It is sufficient for us to know that his example and the beginning of the suffering of all unbelievers are here clearly set before us.

28 The fourth question is: Shall we pray for the dead; since here in the Gospel there is no intermediate state between Abraham's bosom and hell, and those in Abraham's bosom do not need it, and it does not help those in perdition. We have no command from God to pray for the dead; therefore no one sins by not praying for them; for what God does not bid or forbid us to do, in that no one can sin. Yet, on the other hand, since God has not permitted us to know, how it is with the souls of the departed and we must continue uninformed, as to how he deals with them, we will not and cannot restrain them, nor count it as sin, if they pray for the dead. For we are ever certain from the Gospel, that many have been raised from the dead, who, we must confess, did not receive nor did they have their final sentence; and likewise we are not assured of any other, that he has his final sentence.

29 Now since it is uncertain and no one knows, whether final judgment has been passed upon these souls, it is not sin if you pray for them; but in this way, that you let it rest in uncertainty and speak thus: Dear God, if the departed souls be in a state that they may yet be helped, then I pray that thou wouldst be gracious. And when you have thus prayed once or twice, then let it be sufficient and commend them unto God. For God has promised that when we pray to him for anything he would hear us. Therefore when you have prayed once or twice, you should believe that your prayer is answered, and there let it rest, lest you tempt God and mistrust him.

30 But that we should institute masses, vigils and prayers to be repeated forever for the dead every year, as if God had not heard us the year before, is the work of Satan and is death itself, where God is mocked by unbelief, and such prayers are nothing but blasphemy of God. Therefore take warning and turn from these practices. God is not moved by these anniversary ceremonies, but by the prayer of the heart, of devotion and of faith; that will help the departed souls if anything will. Vigils, masses, indeed help the bellies of the priests, monks and nuns, but departed souls are not helped by them and God is thus mocked.

31 However, if you have in your house a spook or ghost, who pretends that the departed can be helped by saying masses, You should be fully persuaded that it is the work of Satan. No soul has yet since the beginning of the world reappeared on the earth, and it is not God's will that it should be so. For here in this Gospel you see that Abraham declares that no one can be sent from the dead to teach the living; but he points them to the Word of God in the Scriptures, Deut. 31: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” By these words Abraham turns to the command of God in Deut. 18:11, where God says: “Thou shalt not be a consulter with a familiar spirit.” Is. 8:19. Therefore it is surely nothing but the contrivance of Satan that any spirits should let themselves be entreated and that they should require so and so many masses, such and such pilgrimages or other works, and appear afterwards in the clear light and pretend that certain persons are saved. In this way Satan has introduced error so that the people have fallen from faith into works, and think their deeds may accomplish such great things. And thus is fulfilled what St. Paul declared in 2 Thess. 2:10-11, that God would send upon them powerful error, and temptation to unrighteousness, because they have not received the love of the truth that they might be saved.

32 Therefore be prudent and know that God will not let us know how it is with the dead, so that faith may retain its place in the Word of God, which believes that God will save the believers after this life and condemn the unbelievers. If now a familiar spirit present itself before you, take no notice of it; but be assured that it is the devil, and conquer him with this Saying of Abraham, “They have Moses and the prophets,” and likewise with the command in Moses, “Thou shalt not be a consulter with a familiar spirit;” then he will soon be gone. If he leave you not, then let him make a noise until he is tired, and in firm faith suffer his wantonness.

33 And if it were possible that it were indeed a departed soul or a good spirit even, then you should neither learn nor inquire anything of him, since God has forbidden you to do so; because he has sent his Son himself to teach us all that is necessary for us to know. What he has not taught us, that we should gladly not wish to know, and be satisfied with the teachings of the holy Apostles, in which he is preached to us. However, I have further written on this subject in the Postils on the Gospel for Epiphany and in my booklet on the Misuse of the Mass; where you may read more along this line.

34 Likewise, to give an example, we read in the Historia Tripartita (A History in Three Parts) of a bishop, who came to Corinth where he had come to attend a Council, and as he could not find a suitable lodging for himself and his attendants, he saw a house unoccupied and condemned as uninhabitable, and he asked if he might not be allowed to occupy it. Then they told him in reply that it was infested with nightly ghosts, that no one could live in it, and often people were found dead in it in the morning. Then the bishop said but little and immediately entered and lodged there the same night, for he very well saw that the devil was the author of all these ghost stories, and as he had firm faith that Christ was Lord over Satan, therefore he was not moved by his stratagems and he entered to lodge with him. And thus that house was made free by the prayers and presence of a holy man from infesting ghosts and horrifying spectres. Behold, you see that the ghosts are Satan, and there is little use to dispute with them; but one should despise them with a cheerful spirit as nothing.

35 A similar story we read about Gregory, the Bishop of Cappadocia, that he crossed the Alps and lodged with a heathen sexton or clerk of the church, who had an idol, that answered him the questions he asked; and he made his living by telling the people secret things. Now the bishop knew nothing of this, and proceeded the next day as soon as it was morning on his journey. But Satan or the evil spirit could not endure the prayers and presence of the holy man, and at once he betook himself out of the house, so that the heathen sexton could no longer receive answers as before. As soon as he felt his great loss, he set up a great howl to call back his idol, which appeared to him while he was asleep, and said, it was his own fault because he had lodged the bishop, with whom he (the evil spirit) could not remain. The sexton hastened to overtake the bishop and complained to him that he had taken his god and livelihood, and returned evil for the kindness extended to him. Then the bishop took paper out of his pocket and wrote these few words: “Gregory sendeth greetings to Apollinius. Be thou at liberty, O, Apollinius, to do as thou hast done before. Farewell.” The sexton took the letter and laid it by the side of his idol; then the devil came again, and did as before. Finally the sexton began to think, what a poor god is he, who allows himself to be driven away and lead by my guest who was only a man. And at once he started to the bishop, was instructed and baptized, and grew in his faith, so that he became the eminent bishop of Caesarea, a city in Cappadocia, upon the death of the bishop that baptized him. Behold, how simply faith proceeds, and acts joyfully, securely and effectively. Treat all your troublesome evil spirits in the same way.

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