THE SIXTH CHAPTER OF ST. MATTHEW.V.1-4. Take heed that you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore, when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth; that thine alms may be in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
Hitherto the Lord Christ was rebuking the false teachings and interpretations of Scripture, by which the people had been led only to avoid sinning with the fist, the heart meanwhile remaining internally entirely impure; and he showed and clearly exhibited the true meaning of the Scriptures and of the law. Now he assails their way of living, after denouncing their teaching, and rebukes their good works, and shows that they have nothing good, neither in doctrine nor works, although they were daily teaching and doing good works, as holy people, so that they were regarded as the best kernel of the whole Jewish people, and as the holiest on earth, and the whole world had to look to them as its mirror and pattern, according to which they should live: as we have hitherto known how to look for the true doctrine and life nowhere else than among our spiritual pastors and monks; and yet these are now rebuked by the Gospel, so that every one sees that they have neither taught nor lived aright, but have misled and deceived themselves and the people.
Now it is truly a mortifying preaching that comes into the world in such a way as to let these holy people have no claim to anything right or good; whereby it will merit to be opposed and not tolerated in the world. But the Holy Ghost does not shrink on this account, but goes on, as it is his of-rice, wherever he comes, to rebuke both; as indeed both need to be rebuked.
For this is true, where the teaching is not right, there it is impossible that the life, which must be directed and controlled by it, should be right and good; but what one does in accordance with it, those are bye-paths and deviations, and so much the worse because at the same time there remains the semblance and the notion that it is the true, divine teaching which points and leads towards heaven, and the works have the name of being good, and yet they look no further than to the fist: as they supposed it was enough, and well done, if they only did the works, gave many alms, fasted and prayed, no matter how their heart stood towards God; and besides they were defiled by the shameful trait that they were doing it all only to be seen by the people and get honor and glory by it from the people; for that reason Christ here rebukes and utterly rejects it.
And first of all he rebukes their alms, which is still the best among all external works. For it means nothing else than to help the poor and needy; and it embraces not only giving a piece of bread to a beggar before the door, but all sorts of kind deeds and all good works done to a neighbor.
For the little word alms is taken from the Greek word ejlehmosunh which means mercy; as we also generally call them works of mercy. Whence also the Scriptures praise these works above all others, even those done towards God, as sacrificing, praying, etc.; as Christ himself says through the prophet Hosea: I have delight in mercy and not in sacrifice. So also in Isaiah 58, he finds fault with their grieving him by fasting and scourging their bodies, and demands these works, that they are to do good to the poor, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, etc. How does it then happen, that he here rebukes the Pharisees on account of such a good work? Answer: He does not rebuke the work, but their purpose and aim in doing it. For the deed would be in itself good, but it is spoiled by their smearing their filth over it, because they seek only their own glory and honor before the people by it, and do it not for the sake of God or their neighbor. Therefore he pronounces a short, sharp judgment, that all such alms, however great, many and costly they may be, are in vain and of no account.
But who believes that this vice and fault is so common in the world, and especially in the case of the best, and how few there are of those who without this seeking for worldly honor or favor are doing good works?
Take all the alms given in the whole papacy, and count up as many as you can find, that are not given with this intention. Yes, the world will never get to understand what it really means to give alms. For we are all inclined that way, if the people would not begin to praise us, or to show us honor, gratitude or favor, every one would soon draw back his hand. For if the pope had said to the princes and founders [of monasteries, etc.]:
Gentlemen, I will not give you a penny for all your foundations and alms, etc., what do you suppose they would have given for churches and other institutions? They would not have had a stone hauled or laid in position; as we now see, because we teach correctly and exhort to these works, so that we are to give for God’s sake, from a pure, simple heart, without any seeking for our own honor or merit, etc., now nobody wants to give a cent.
But hitherto, when they had praise and honor for doing it, it snowed with alms, endowments and wills; and yet this had something to do with it, that men believed they were meriting heaven thereby; nevertheless, that was not the real reason, but it was just what Christ here says, that it was a great thing in the eyes of the people, and was praised. Otherwise they would not have cared for it, so as to do it for the sake of God and the kingdom of heaven.
This we can readily understand by the fact, as said above, that if we persuade and urge the people most earnestly to perform such good works, and represent it in the most attractive way that we can, as something heartily pleasing to God, along with all the angels in heaven, and that God will reward it a hundred fold: still nobody will touch it. What is the defect in our plea? Simply this, that one is no longer to get for it praise and honor, gratitude and praise before the world. Because the head is cut off, the body will not follow any more. But if the head were to become alive again, then things would soon move on again as they used to do, when this was the way it went. If a rich prince gave so much to a monastery, then they all came and said: Deo gratias! and they promised to merit it [God’s favor] with their prayers and divine worship. That had to be proclaimed in all pulpits, and all the world had to say: O, that is a splendid deed! That is the way it was done everywhere in all the papacy; although there may have been a few whom God found honest. See, this is a sure indication that this was done only so as to merit thereby gratitude, honor and praise.
In addition to this you have also this evidence, that these saints soon become angry and withhold their gifts, if they experience ingratitude or contempt. For if they did not do it for the reason mentioned, they would not become angry at this, or for that reason cease, but they would continue and say: I did not begin it for that purpose, and for this reason I will not cease; but for God’s honor and pleasure I will do it, even though no one gives me a good word for it. But if you come scratching along after this fashion: I have done so much for him, and it is forgotten already, and there’s no gratitude in the people, etc., I would gladly take out my heart and give it to some one; but since I see that it has to be lost, and he shows himself so ungrateful, and all my labor and trouble go for nothing, I’ll let him have hell fire before I give him a cent or a crust of bread; see, there the scamp peeps out, and you show by your own words why you are doing it, namely, that people are to worship and celebrate you, and honor you as a god; as we now see in the case of some great miserly bishops, how they can rage and scold, if one is not always thanking them, or saying what they like to hear, so that they even insult princes and lords with it, and want to blame everybody.
See, this is the shameful perversion of good works, and the common fault in all the world, that nobody does anything good without such a design.
For the world cannot get out of the crazy notion, nor tolerate and overcome ingratitude. That is where the monks come from, who ran off into the wilderness, because they were too weak to endure this, that they should be in the world, help and do good to everybody, and get as their reward nothing but contempt, harm, disgrace and ingratitude. But what devil tells you to do a good work with the expectation of meriting the honor and favor of the world, which is uncertain and can soon fall away and be changed, and not to have a better object in view, namely God, for then it cannot be lost, as he will richly repay you, both now and hereafter?
And you are served exactly right; since you are such a rogue, and aim at nothing else than to be worshipped by the people, and make a god of yourself; he can very well let the world and the devil deal with you, so as to take your godhead from you and throw it into the dirt, where it ought to lie. For, as you try to sit on God’s throne and appropriate the honor that belongs to him, he very properly hurls you down again, so that complete disgrace is all the thanks you get for the stolen honor.
Therefore, it is a miserable business, as to the world [in its relation to almsgiving]: whether it is professedly pious or wicked, in either case it is worthless. For it will either be an open devil, with evil works; or it will be God himself, with good works. It is intolerable, in either case. Therefore no one can do a good work unless he is a Christian. For if he does it as a man, then he does it not for the honor of God, but of himself and for his own benefit; or, if he pretends it is for God’s honor, this is a malodorous lie.
Thus Christ now means to teach how one is rightly to give alms, and says:
If thou givest alms, do not have a trumpet sounded before thee, and have it loudly reported, so that a whole town must know it and talk about it; just as among us, when a charitable distribution is made, all the bells are rung; but, if you give alms, do it so that your left hand does not know what your right hand does. That is just what St. Paul says in Romans 12:8 and elsewhere: He that giveth, let him do it with simplicity. But to give with simplicity means that one does not seek thereby his own honor, favor, gratitude, or reward, and is not influenced by any one, whether he be unthankful or not; but he gives away freely what he wishes to give; just as God gives daily, and causes his sun to shine, regardless of the thankful or unthankful, just as if he saw nobody. That is a simple heart and intention, which neither seeks nor desires anything else than only God’s will and honor.
These simple alms we do not find among the worldly. For their giving is of such a character, that the right hand gives, but the left hand takes That is called — givers, takers — as the children mockingly call each other; yes, given in such a way that one takes ten times as much in place of what he gives, as, where one gives a drop of water and takes a cask of wine. For the world gives in such a way that it will have the honor that is immeasurably greater than all money and property, and buys thee with a trifle, so that it may have in thee a perpetual captive, with body and life, and whatever thou hast, yes, and God himself besides.
Therefore says Christ: If thou givest alms with the right hand, take care that thou dost not seek to take more with thy left hand; but hold it behind thee, and do not let it know anything about it; so that it means given with simplicity, and not taken, or given in such a way that one must owe thee ten times as much, and celebrate and worship thee as an idol; as our young squires now do — if they have served some with a ducat or two, they want to have him so bought and under such obligations to them, that he must let everything be gold that they say and do, and dare not say a word to them except what they like to hear. My good friend, if you can sell your bits at that rate, you are not a poor tradesman, by any means.
Therefore let every one know how to guard against this vice, and watch himself closely that he be not also found among these. For there are but few people that are aware of it, and it deceives also even those who suppose they are very pious and full of good works, and are yet in this way twice as bad as others; thus God is specially hostile to this vice, and can less endure it than that one should openly rob his neighbor and do him wrong, than to give in this way, and so shamefully spoil the good work, so that you make of yourself an idol, and you more securely bind and hold your neighbor than any one else. But that is the way it goes; where the true doctrine lies prostrate, and yet everybody professes great piety, there these good works follow, that have nothing but a vain show, and do twice as much harm as open evil works.
But some one may say: What is to come of it, that he says that alms are to be secret? Is it objectionable for one to let it be proclaimed and shown to those who are to take and receive it? Answer: No; you must see what Christ has in view, for he is looking at the heart and intention, namely, if it is given or bestowed so that honor and glory are sought by it, then it is of no value before God, although many poor may thereby be helped. But to give alms in secret means where the heart does not expose itself, or seek honor and name from it; but is so disposed that it gives away freely, without regarding whether it may have any show or praise before the people; yes, if besides it is despised and abused by everybody, thus it is called secret and done alone before God, even though it takes place openly before all the world. For it is covered over by this simplicity of the heart that does not inquire or care about the issue, let God decide, let come from it gratitude or ingratitude, good or evil. For thus I do not see it, though others may see it; thus I and others in our preacher’s office must do, so that we do not concern ourselves whether we thereby please the people or not; yes, must rather expect for it contempt, ingratitude, persecution, and all sorts of misfortune. For every good work must expect this, and by it be tried and proved, that it may endure and be found upright; which is not the case with the other hypocritical sham work.
In short, he who means to be a Christian must not want to do, or omit any good work, out of regard for others, but only in order to serve God with his office, calling, money, goods, or whatever he has or can do, and honor him so far as he can, although he may never merit any thanks thereby upon earth. For it is also impossible that a pious man should be here rewarded for the very smallest work that he does, even if he were crowned with gold and received a whole kingdom. Therefore he should look for nothing more than getting his bread and butter for it, and expect no reward from the world, that is not worthy to recompense a good work, or indeed to recognize and honor a real Christian; and if it even knows him, it is not so good as to thank him. Because, therefore, it is not undertaken out of regard for the world, it ought not to be omitted on its account; but it should be commended to God, who will abundantly reward it; not secretly, but openly, before the whole world and all angels.
If we do not so understand and feel in this matter, we cannot perform any really good work; but we become impatient, discontented, and allow ourselves to be overcome by the shameful ingratitude of the world, so that thereby this good work is ruined and lost; and it then appears that we meant to do it not for God’s sake, but for the sake of the people. And as for myself, I would long ago have given the world its walking-papers and let it go to the devil, rather than let it hear a word from me. But it is no concern of hers, but of our dear Father in heaven; out of love for him, and for his praise and honor, we will preach and do good, because all else in the world is hostile to him and most shamefully despises and reviles him, and does all it can to oppose and vex him; and we take our comfort from the fact that he yet lives if all the world perishes; and because he has declared and promised that he will properly recompense and reward it, he surely will not lie to us. Then try it, and you will find that it will not fail you. This, at first, in a general way, is what we have to say in regard to almsgiving and all other good works, how a Christian is to be disposed in heart in regard to them, etc.
V.5, 6. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men.
Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
Along with almsgiving, or doing good to our neighbor, it is also our Christian duty to pray. For, just as the necessities of the present life demand that we do good to our neighbor and sympathize with him in his need (for that is why we live together upon earth, so that one may serve and help the other); so, because we are daily exposed in this life to all manner of danger and need, that we cannot avoid or turn aside, we must also ever call upon God and seek for help, both for ourselves and every one else.
But as proper almsgiving is a rare thing in the world, not only because of the common robbing and stealing that abound in the world, as no one does good to his neighbor, and everybody scratches on his own dung-pile, and does not ask how his neighbor gets along; but also because if they do a good deed, they seek only their own interests thereby; so that thus the world is nothing else than a set of robbers and thieves, both on the right and left, both bodily and spiritually, both in bad works and good; just so now is praying a rare thing, that no one does but Christians, and yet it was such a common thing in the world, especially among the Jews, as Christ here shows, in synagogues and at the corners of the streets, and now in so many churches, monasteries, nunneries, etc., muttering and bawling day and night with singing and reading, so that the world is everywhere full of it, and there is no lack of this work, and yet taken altogether it is not worth a cent.
For since Christ here rebukes and rejects all their praying, who were nevertheless so diligently practicing it, only that they might be seen of men and get glory; how much more is the praying of our ecclesiastics to be condemned, who seek nothing else thereby than that they may fill their bellies, and not one of them would say a pater noster if he did not get pay for it. And when they have done their best, they have mumbled over a bagfull of words, or intoned them, without heart, sense or faith, just like bells or organs; they have gotten thereby the honor and glory of being the only ones that pray; but that the others, as occupied with worldly affairs, cannot pray or serve God, and they must pray in our stead, so that we may make lords of them by our money and goods.
But how necessary prayer is, is not to be told here; we ought indeed ourselves to feel this, since we live in flesh and blood that are full of all sorts of evil tendencies; besides, we have the world around us and against us, that causes us much misery and affliction, and manifold trouble; and in addition the devil is everywhere around us, who originates innumerable sects, parties and heresies, and drives us to unbelief, despair, etc., so that there is no end to this, and we have no rest, because we are surrounded by these enemies who do not cease until they have stricken us down, for we as single poor men are much too weak for so many enemies. Therefore God says in the prophet Zechariah 12:10, that he will give to his own “the spirit of grace and of supplication,” wherewith they may be sustained during their present exposure, and guard and defend themselves against the evil, harmful spirit. Therefore it is the special work of Christians, who have the Spirit of God, that they be not weary and idle, but pray without ceasing, as Christ elsewhere teaches.
But now comes the test, that it be a genuine prayer and not a hypocritical one, as theirs was, and ours has hitherto been. Therefore Christ begins by teaching them how to pray aright, and shows how they are to go about it, namely, that they should not stand and pray openly upon the streets, but should pray at home, alone, in their chamber, in secret, etc.: that is, that they should first of all lay aside the false desire to pray for the sake of the appearance and reputation, or anything of that kind. Not that we are forbidden to pray upon the street or openly; for a Christian is not bound to any place, and may pray anywhere, upon the street, in the field, or in church; but merely, that it must not be done with reference to the people, to get honor and profit from it, just as he forbids sounding a trumpet or bells at alms-giving — not for that reason, but he rebukes the addition and the false motive with these words: that they may be seen of men.
Thus it is also not commanded as necessary that we must go into a closet and shut the door; although it is suitable for one to be alone when he wishes to pray, as he can pour out his prayer to God free and unhindered, and use words and gestures that he could not in the presence of others. For although prayer can take place in the heart without any word or outward indication, yet this helps to stir up and enkindle the spirit; but the heart should, aside from this, be praying almost without intermission. For a Christian (as above said) has the spirit of supplication always present within him, so that his heart is perpetually engaged in supplication and prayer to God, whether he is eating, drinking, laboring, etc. For his whole life is devoted to the dissemination of the name, honor, and kingdom of God, so that whatever he does must contribute to this.
But yet (I say) in addition to this we must also pray outwardly; both individually, that each person use a benediction or a Lord’s Prayer, or the Creed, or a psalm, in the morning, in the evening, at table, and when he has time, and collectively, when they come together, handle the word of God, and thereupon thank him and call upon him in view of the common need.
This has to be done openly, and time and place are set apart for this purpose, when the people assemble; this is a precious method of prayer, and a strong defense against the devil and his wiles, for then the whole Christian community combines with one accord, and the more earnest the effort, the sooner the prayer is heard, and the more efficient it is: as it is even now doing much good, averting and hindering many artifices of the devil, that he would otherwise employ through his agents, so that surely what is now left secure, both in ecclesiastical and secular affairs, is preserved through prayer.
But what are the needful elements and characteristics for constituting a real prayer, I have often elsewhere said and treated of, namely, to repeat in a word, that we are urged to it, first, by the command of God, who has strictly enjoined it upon us to pray; then, his promise, in which he assures that he will hear us; thirdly, our contemplation of our need and misery, which so oppresses and burdens us that we greatly need to carry this straight to God, and pour it out before him, as he has commanded; fourthly, that we upon this word and promise of God pray with true faith, in full confidence that he will hear and help us; and all this in the name of Christ, through whom our prayer is acceptable to the Father, and for whose sake he gives us every grace and blessing.
This Christ shows also here with the word: Pray to thy Father in secret, etc., and afterwards more distinctly, where he says: Our Father who art in heaven, etc. For this amounts to saying that our prayer is to be addressed to God as to our gracious, kind Father, not as to a tyrant or angry judge, etc. Now no one can do that unless he has the word of God, that he wishes to have us call him Father, and that as a Father he has promised to hear and help us, and that he have this faith in his heart, so that he cheerfully dare call God his Father, and pray with hearty confidence, and rely upon this prayer, as assuredly heard, and await help.
But there were none of these elements in that Pharisaic prayer, for they thought no further than how the work was to be done, so that they might be looked upon as holy people, who like to pray; or like our monks and priests, so that they may fill their belly by it. Yes, they are so far from holding that they ought to pray with such faith, that they have regarded it as a folly and presumption that one should congratulate himself upon the certainty that his prayer is acceptable to God and heard by him; and thus, although they prayed, they counted everything as a pure venture, and thereby grievously angered God by unbelief and abuse of his name, against the first and second commandments.
Therefore learn here that no true prayer can be offered without this faith.
Do you, however, feel weak and timid? for flesh and blood always hinder faith, as if you were not worthy or fit and in earnest to pray; or do you doubt whether God has heard you, because you are a sinner? then cling to the word and say: Though I am a sinner and unworthy, yet I have the command of God, that tells me to pray, and his promise that he will graciously hear me, not because of my worthiness, but for the sake of the Lord Christ. By this means you can drive away the thoughts and doubts, and cheerfully kneel down and pray, not regarding your worthiness or unworthiness, but your need and his word upon which he tells you to build; especially since he has placed before you and put into your mouth the words how and what you are to pray for (as follows), so that you joyously send up these prayers through him, and can lay them in his bosom, that he may lay them by his own worthiness before the Father.
V.7-13. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
He rebuked above their wrong intention in prayer, as they sought their own honor and profit among the people even in doing that which was directed to God alone, calling upon him and beseeching him for help in our need and temptation. Here he is rebuking this perversion of prayer, that they suppose it is praying if one uses many words and vain repetitions, and he calls it a heathenish method, a trifling useless prattle, as of those who suppose they will otherwise not be heard. For he saw very well that this would be the case, and that such an abuse would continue in Christendom, as it existed among them already at that time, so that prayer would be made a mere work, that would be valued in proportion to its size and length, as if thereby it were admirably done, and thus instead of a true prayer there was a mere prattle and babbling, of which the heart knew nothing.
Thus, as we see, it was carried on in monasteries, nunneries and the whole ecclesiastical crowd, that seem to have had nothing else to do in their calling than to weary themselves daily so many hours, and at night besides, with singing and reading their Horas; and the more of this they could do, the holier and greater worship they called it. And yet among them all there was not one that uttered a real prayer from his heart: but they were all filled with the heathenish notion that one must tire God and one’s self with crying and muttering, as if he neither could nor would otherwise hear; and they have thereby accomplished nothing else than to waste their time and punish themselves like asses, with their praying.
Therefore they have themselves said that there is no harder work than to pray; and that is in fact true, if you aim to make a work or labor out of your praying, imposing upon your body to read or sing so many hours continuously, so that any day laborer would rather choose to thresh for a whole (lay, than only to move his mouth for two or three hours one after another, or look straight into a book. In short their prayer was not a sighing or desire of the heart, but a mere force-work of the mouth or tongue: so that if a monk has been reading or muttering his Horas for forty years, he has not prayed from his heart for an hour during all that time. For they never think of presenting their wants before God in their prayers, but they think only that they must do it, and God must regard this trouble and toil.
But the Christian’s prayer, which is offered in faith upon the promise of God, and presents before him from the heart its need, that is easy, and occasions no labor. For faith soon tells what it wants, yes, with a sigh that the heart utters and that cannot be reached or uttered in words, as Paul says. The Christian prays, and because he knows that God hears him, he does not need to prate everlastingly. Thus the saints in the Scriptures prayed, as Elijah, Elisha, David and others, with short, but strong and powerful words; as we see in the Psalms, in which there is hardly one that has a prayer of more than five or six verses. Therefore the old fathers have very properly said, there is no use in many long prayers, but they praise the short ejaculatory prayers, in which one lifts a sigh heavenward with a word or two; which one can do very often when he is reading, writing, or doing some other work.
But the others, who make only a huge labor out of it, can never pray with satisfaction or with devotion, but they are glad when they are through with their babbling; for it must be so, if one prays without faith and with no feeling of need, thus there can be no heart in it: but if the heart is not in it, and the body is to do the work, then it becomes difficult and vexatious; as we see also in secular labor: he who does anything unwillingly, how difficult and disagreeable it is; but on the contrary, if the heart is cheerful and willing, then it takes no notice of the work. So also it is here; if one is in earnest about it, and takes pleasure in prayers then he neither knows nor feels any labor or troubles but looks only at his needs and has finished singing or praying the words before he knows what he is about. In short, one should pray short, but often and strongly; for God does not ask how much and long one has prayed, but how good it is and how it comes from the heart.
Therefore Christ now says: Your Heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask for it; as if he would say: What are you about, that you think to overwhelm him with your long babbling, so that he may give you what you need? You do not need to convince him with words, or instruct him at length; for he knows beforehand better what you need than you do yourselves. Just as if you were to come before a prince or a judge who knew your case better than you could describe it to him, and you would undertake to make a long story to inform him about it, he would rightly laugh at you, or rather be offended at you. Yes, we do not know, says St. Paul, how we are to pray; so that, if he hears us and gives us something, he gives it above what we can understand or hope for. Therefore sometimes he lets us ask for something that he does not soon give, or indeed does not give at all, as knowing very well what we need or what would be useful to us or not; what we ourselves do not see, and at last must ourselves confess that it would not have been good for us if he had given to us in accordance with our prayer. Therefore we need not teach him or prescribe with our long babbling what and how he is to give to us: for he will give in such a way that his name may be hallowed and his kingdom and his will may be advanced and promoted, etc.
But do you say: Why then does he let us pray and present our need, and does not give it to us unasked, since he knows and sees all our need better than we do? He gives surely to the whole world daily so much good freely, as sun, rain, corn, money, body, life, etc., which no one asks or is grateful for; as he knows that they cannot get along for a single day without light, eating and drinking; why does he then tell us to pray for these things?
Answer: He does not require it, indeed, for the reason that we are to teach him this with our praying, viz., what he is to give us, but in order that we may acknowledge and confess what kind of blessings he is bestowing upon us, and yet much more he can and will give; so that we by our praying are rather instructing ourselves than him. For thereby I am turned about, that I do not go along like the ungodly that never acknowledge this or offer thanks for it; and my heart is thus turned to him and aroused, so that I praise and thank him, and have recourse to him in time of need and look for help from him; and the effect of all this is that I learn more and more to acknowledge what kind of a God he is; and because I address my supplications to him, he is the more disposed to answer me abundantly.
See, this is now a genuine supplicant, not like those other useless talkers, who babble indeed a great deal, but never acknowledge this. But he knows that what he has is the gift of God, and he says from his heart: Lord, I know that I cannot of myself produce or get a piece of my daily bread, or shield myself against any kind of need or misfortune; therefore I will await it and beseech it from thee, as thou dost teach me, and dost promise to give me, as he who is ready with favors regardless of my thoughts, and who anticipates my need.
See, such acknowledgment in prayer is pleasing to God, and is the true, highest and most precious worship which we can render to him; for thereby the honor and gratitude that are due are given to him. This the others do not do, but they seize and devour all the gifts of God, just as hogs; they appropriate one country, city, house, after another; never think of paying any regard to God; want meanwhile to be holy with their great intonations and babbling in the churches. But a Christian heart, that learns out of the word of God, that we have everything from God and nothing from ourselves, such a heart accepts this in faith and familiarizes itself with it, so that it can look to him for everything and expect it from him. Thus praying teaches us, so that we recognize both ourselves and God, and learn what we need and whence we are to seek for it and get it. Thus there is developed an excellent, sensible man, who can readily adapt himself to all circumstances.
Christ, having thus rebuked and rejected these false and useless prayers, proceeds himself to give an excellent brief form, how and what we are to pray, that embraces all kinds of wants that are to drive us to prayer, so that we can daily remind ourselves of them in such short words, and no one may be excused, as though he did not know how or what he is to pray; and it is a very good practice especially for ordinary people, children and house servants, to pray the whole of the Lord’s prayer daily, morning and evening and at table, and also at other times, so that one may present to God in it all our needs in general. Since, however, the Lord’s Prayer is sufficiently expounded in the Catechism and elsewhere, I will add no further comments at present.
It is, however, as has often been said, surely the very best prayer that was ever uttered upon earth, or that any one could conceive, since God the Father gave it through his Son, and laid it upon his lips; so that we dare not doubt that it is extremely pleasing to him. He admonishes us at the very beginning, both concerning his command and his promise, in the word: “Our Father,” etc., as the one who demands from us this honor, that we are to ask from him, as a child from its father, and he wants us to have the confidence that he will gladly give us what we need; and this is further also a part of it, that we glory in being his children through Christ; and thus we come in accordance with his command and promise, and in the name of the Lord Christ, and appear before him with all confidence.
Now, the first, second and third petitions refer to the highest benefits that we receive from him: namely, first, because he is our Father, that he may have his honor from us, and his name be held in high honor in all the world.
Herewith I gather into one heap all sorts of false belief and worship, the whole of hell, all sin and blasphemy, and pray that he may put a stop to the abominable belief of the pope, the Turks, the factious spirits and heretics, all of whom desecrate and abuse his name, or under his name seek their own honor. There are indeed but few words, but their meaning is as wide as the world, against all false doctrine and life. Secondly, after we have his word and true doctrine and worship, that also his kingdom may be and remain in us, that is, that he may control us in this doctrine and life, and thereby protect and preserve us against all the power of the devil and of his kingdom, and that all the kingdoms that rage against it may go to destruction, so that this kingdom may stand. And, thirdly, that not our will, nor that of any man, but alone his will may be done, and that what he thinks and advises may succeed, in opposition to all designs and undertakings of the world and whatever may strive against this will and counsel, even if the whole world masses itself and struggles to maintain its antagonistic cause. These are the three most important topics.
In the other four petitions we find ourselves confronted by the need that daily meets us on our own account, with reference to this poor, weak, temporal life. Therefore we pray, in the first place, that he may give us our daily bread, that is, everything that is needful for the preservation of this life: food, a healthy body, good weather, house, home, wife, child, good government, peace, and that he may preserve us from all manner of calamity, sickness, pestilence, dear times, war, insurrection, etc. Then, that he may forgive us our trespasses, and not regard the shameful misuse of and ingratitude for the blessings which he daily so richly bestows upon us, and that he may not for this reason refuse and deny us these or punish us with the disfavor that we deserve; but graciously forgive us, although we, who are called Christians and his children, do not live as we should.
Thirdly, because we are living upon earth, in the midst of all manner of temptation and vexation, where we are assaulted on every side, so that we are hindered, and are tempted not alone outwardly by the world and the devil, but also inwardly by our own flesh, so that we cannot live as we should, nor be able to endure for a day amid so much danger and temptation; we pray therefore that amid this danger and need he may sustain us, so that we are not thereby overcome and ruined. And, finally, that he may at last wholly deliver us from all evil, and when the time comes, that we are to pass out of this life, may grant us a gracious, happy dying hour. Thus we have laid upon his bosom briefly all our bodily and spiritual need, and in a few words have gathered up a world of meaning.
But there is in the text a small appendage that closes the prayer, as with a common grateful confession; which is this: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. These are the proper titles and names that belong to God alone. For these three things he has reserved for himself, that is, to govern, to judge, and to glory. No one has a right to rule or have supremacy except God alone, or those to whom he has entrusted it, through whom as his servants he exercises the control. Likewise no man has a right to judge another, or to be angry and punish, except he who holds the office by divine appointment. For it is not a natural right of men, but one given by God.
These are the two, that he here calls the kingdom, or the sovereignty, so that all authority may be his; and then, the power, that is, the result of the deciding, exsecutio, so that he can punish, hold the wicked in subjection and protect the pious. For he who punishes, does it in God’s stead, and it is all owing to his power that one handles justice, protects and sustains.
Therefore let no one avenge himself or punish, for it is not his office or sphere, and it does not avail; as he says: Vengeance is mine, I will repay; and elsewhere he threatens: He who takes the sword, shall perish by the sword.
So also the glory, or honor, is alone God’s own, so that no one may boast of anything, of his wisdom, holiness or ability, except through him and from him. For, that I honor a king or prince and call him Gracious Lord, or bend the knee before him, this is not done on account of his person, but on God’s account, as he is sitting in majesty in God’s stead. So, when I show honor to father and mother, or to those who are in their stead, I do this not to man, but to the divine office, and I honor God in them; thus, where there is authority and power, to this is due honor and glory.
And thus his kingdom, power and glory prevail in the whole world, so that he alone rules, punishes and is glorified in the divine offices and estates, as father, mother, master, judge, prince, king, emperor, etc., although the devil, through his agents, opposes himself and aims to hold the authority and power, exercise vengeance and punishment and monopolize all the glory. Therefore we pray also especially for his name, his kingdom and his will, as those that alone should avail, and that all other names, kingdoms, power and will may go to destruction; and we thus confess that he is the highest in all these three respects, but the others are his instruments, by which he acts and accomplishes these things.
V.14, 15. “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
That is a remarkable addition, but a very precious one; and any one may well wonder how he happens to add such an appendix to this particular petition: Forgive us our trespasses, etc., whilst he might just as well have added also such a fragment to one of the others, and have said: Give us our daily bread, as we give to our children; or, Lead us not into temptation, as we tempt no one; Deliver us from evil, as we rescue and deliver our neighbor; and yet no petition has anything added to it except this one. And it looks besides as if the forgiveness of sins was gained and merited by our forgiving: what would then become of our doctrine that forgiveness comes alone through Christ and is received by faith? Answer to the first: He meant especially to state this petition in such a way, and to link the forgiveness of sin to our forgiving, so that hereby he would obligate the Christians to love each other, and to make this their main and foremost duty, next to faith and the reception of forgiveness, to be constantly forgiving their neighbor; so that, as we live in faith toward him, so also towards our neighbor in love, that we do not vex or injure others, but think that we always forgive although we are injured (as this must often happen in this life); or we are to know that we are also not forgiven. For if anger and ill-will be present, this spoils the whole prayer, so that one cannot pray or wish any of the former petitions. See, this means the making of a firm and strong bond, by which we are held together, so that we do not become disunited, and create divisions, parties and sects, instead of our coming before God, to pray and get what we need: but we are to forbear with one another through love, and remain of one accord. If this be the ease, the Christian man is perfect, as both believing and loving aright. What other faults he may have, these are consumed in the prayer, and all is forgiven and cancelled.
But how does he attach in these words forgiveness to our doing when he says: If you forgive your neighbor, you shall be forgiven, and again, etc.?
Does not that make forgiveness depend upon faith? Answer: The forgiveness of sin, as I have often said elsewhere, occurs in two ways; first, through the Gospel and the word of God, which is received internally in the heart before God, through faith; secondly, externally, by works, of which 2 Peter 1:10 says, when he is teaching about good works: Dear brethren, be diligent to make your calling and election sure, etc. Here he means, that we are to make this sure, that we have faith and the forgiveness of sin, that is, that we show the works, so that one may tell the tree by the fruits, and that it may be manifest that it is a good and not an evil tree. For where there is true faith, there assuredly good works will follow. In this way a man is both inwardly and outwardly pious and upright, both before God and man. For this is the result and the fruit, with which I make myself and others sure that I am a true believer; which I cannot otherwise know or see.
So also here the external forgiveness which I practically show is a sure sign that I have the divine forgiveness of my sins. Again, if this is not shown towards my neighbor, then I have a sure proof that I am not forgiven before God, but am still in unbelief. See, this is the twofold forgiveness; one internal in the heart, that clings alone to the word of God; and one external, that breaks forth, and assures us that we have the internal one.
Thus we distinguish works from faith, as an internal and external righteousness; but in such a way that the internal is there first, as the root and stem from which the good works as the fruit must grow; the external, however, their witness, and as Peter says, certifcatio, an assurance that the other is certainly there. For he who has not the internal righteousness, he does none of the external works. Again, if the external signs and proofs be wanting, I cannot be sure of the former, but am deceiving both myself and others. But if I see and feel that I am gladly forgiving my neighbor, then I can conclude and say: I do not this work naturally, but I feel myself through the grace of God disposed otherwise than before.
This is a short answer to the twaddle of the sophists. But this is also true, that this work, as he here calls it, is not a mere work like others that we do of ourselves; for faith is not thereby overlooked. For he takes this work and plants a promise upon it, so that one might honestly call it a sacrament, thereby to strengthen faith. Just as baptism too is to be regarded as a work that I do, when I baptize or am baptized; but because God’s word is associated with it, it is not a mere work, as that which itself avails or effects something: but a divine word and token upon which faith rests.
Thus also, our prayer, as our work, would not avail or effect anything; but its efficacy comes from this, that it is done in accordance with his command and promise, so that it may well be regarded as a sacrament, and rather as a divine work than as one of our own.
I say this for this reason, because the sophists look at the works that we do, only by themselves, aside from God’s word and promise. Therefore, when they hear and read these passages that refer to works, they must indeed say that man merits this by his doing. But the Scriptures teach thus: that we are not to look to ourselves, but to God’s word and promise, and cling to this by faith, so that, if you do a work prompted by the word and promise, then you have a sure proof that God is gracious to you; in such a way that your own work, that God has now taken to himself, is to be to you a sure proof of forgiveness, etc.
Now God has provided various ways, modes and manners, through which we obtain grace and the forgiveness of sins; as, first, baptism and the sacrament; also (as just said) prayer; also absolution; and here our forgiveness; so that we are richly provided for, and can find grace and mercy everywhere. For where would you seek it nearer than with your neighbor, with whom you are daily living, and have daily occasion to practice this forgiveness? For it cannot be that you are not much and often offended: so that we have not only in church or with the priest, but in the midst of our life, a daily sacrament or baptism, one brother with another, and every one at home in his house. For if you take hold of the promise through this work, you have the very thing that you get in baptism. How could God be more richly gracious to us than by hanging about our neck such a common baptism, and binding it to the Lord’s prayer, which [baptism] every one realizes in himself when he prays and forgives his neighbor? So that no one has cause to complain or to excuse himself, that he cannot bring himself to it, and it is too high and far off for him, or too heavy and dear, since it is brought home to him and his neighbor, right before his door, yes, put into his bosom.
See, if you look at it, not with reference to the work itself, but with reference to the word which is associated with it, you find it an excellent, precious treasure, so that it is no longer your work but a divine sacrament; and it is a powerful consolation that you can attain to the grace of forgiving your neighbor, although you may not be able to come to other sacraments. This ought to induce you willingly to do this work from the heart, and to be thankful to God that you are worthy of this grace: you ought surely to run after this to the end of the world, and spend all your means for it; as we used to do for the fictitious indulgences. He who will not receive this must be a shameful, cursed man, especially if he hears of and recognizes this grace, and yet remains so crooked and stubborn that he will not forgive, whereby he at once loses both baptism and sacrament and everything else. For they are all linked together, so that he who has one should have them all, or retain none. For he who has been baptized ought also to receive the sacrament; and he who receives the sacrament must also pray; and he who prays must also forgive, etc. If you do not forgive, you have here a fearful sentence, that your sins also shall not be forgiven, although you are among Christians and are enjoying the sacrament and other blessings; but these will be all the more injurious and condemnatory for you.
And that Christ may the more incite us to do this, he has employed kind, friendly words, saying: If ye forgive men their trespasses, etc. He does not say: their wickedness and villainy, or perverseness and vice, etc. For by a trespass he means such a sin as is committed rather through weakness or ignorance than from malice. Why does he thus minimize and reduce the sin of our neighbor — for we often see that many a one sins deliberately, from sheer wickedness and an evil will? He does it for the reason that he wishes to allay your anger, and soften you, that you may willingly forgive, and he is more concerned to make your heart sweet and friendly than to make the sin as great as it is in itself.
For before God it is and must be so great, that it deserves eternal condemnation, and excludes from heaven, even though it be a small sin, and only a fault, if one does not acknowledge, and ask your pardon for it.
But he does not mean that the sin should be thus regarded by you and me, whose prerogative it is not to punish sin, but to forgive it; so that you should think thus: Although your neighbor has done something against you through malice, yet he is still misled, taken captive and blinded by the devil.
Therefore you ought to be so pious as to rather pity him, who is overcome by the devil, so that it may be called a great, unpardonable sin, on the part of the devil who has put him up to it, but on the part of your neighbor, a failure and fault; as Christ also himself has done toward us, when he prayed on the cross: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. That was making our sin small and of little account, which is yet in itself the very greatest that was ever committed on earth. For what greater sin can be committed than most shamefully to torture and kill the only-begotten Son of God?
Yet you must so interpret this error and fault that your neighbor who has sinned against you may acknowledge it, and request forgiveness and desire to reform. For I have elsewhere said that there are two kinds of sin; one that is confessed, which no one should leave unforgiven; the other which is defended — this one none can forgive, for it will not be regarded as sin or accepted as forgiveness. Therefore, also Christ, Matthew 18:18, where he is speaking of forgiveness or the keys, places both side by side, binding and loosing; to show that one cannot absolve the sin which one will not acknowledge to be sin or have forgiven, but must bind it in the depth of hell; but on the other hand, those which are confessed we are to absolve and raise to heaven, etc.
Just as it is with the office of the keys, so is it also with each Christian in regard to his neighbor; who, although he should be ready to forgive every one that injures him, yet, if any one will not acknowledge and refrain from sin, but besides will continue in it, you cannot forgive him; and this not on your account, but on his, because he will not have forgiveness. But so soon as he acknowledges his guilt and asks forgiveness, everything must be granted, and the absolution follow promptly. For since he rebukes himself and forsakes his sins, so that no sin any longer adheres to him, I should the rather pass them by; if he however himself clings to them, and will not forsake them, I cannot take them from him, but must let him lie in them, making for himself out of a pardonable sin an unpardonable one. In short, if he will not recognize himself, we must burden his conscience as heavily as possible and show no mercy, as he will perversely be the devil’s own. On the other hand, if he confesses his sin, and seeks your pardon, and you refuse to forgive, then you have laden it upon yourself, so that it will condemn you too.
Thus Christ intends also that the sin be confessed, inasmuch as he still calls it a transgression; he does not mean to deny that it is wrong, or to impose it upon you to sanction it as properly done, or treat it as right or good; only if it have become pardonable, and of so small an account as to be called only a fault, that you then say to your neighbor: Although I cannot praise it, and it is wrong, yet, since you acknowledge your error and your heart is now changed, and you have no ill-will against me, I will also gladly overlook it as a fault and oversight, and will forget my anger.
If you now are thus disposed towards your neighbor, God will also show himself again towards you with a sweet friendly heart, and he will make your great, heavy sin that you have committed against him, and are still committing, of such small account that he calls it only a fault, if you acknowledge it and pray for forgiveness, as he is more inclined to forgive than we can expect him to be. Now you should offer your body and life to God for such a heart, and seek for it to the end of the world; as they used to seek for it in the papacy, and worried themselves for it with many kinds of works. Now there is here such a heart offered to you, presented and given altogether gratuitously, just as baptism, the gospel and all its blessings; and you get more than you with all your works and those of all men could acquire. For here you have the sure promise that cannot belie or deceive you, that all your sins, however many or great they may be, shall be before him as small as human daily weaknesses, which he will not count or remember so far as you have faith in Christ. For just as other sacraments originate in and operate through the Lord Christ; so also, that our prayer is heard and we have certain forgiveness; that we have not deserved it, but all is acquired through him and bestowed upon us; so that he always remains the sole Mediator, through whom we have everything, so that also the forgiveness based upon this work avails alone through him.
So you see now why Christ added this appendage to the prayer, so that he might thereby unite us the more closely together, and preserve his followers in unity of spirit, both in faith and love, so that we do not allow ourselves to be separated on account of any sin or fault, that we may not lose faith and everything else. For it cannot be otherwise than that many offenses will daily occur amongst us in all callings and kinds of business, when we are saying and doing towards one another what one does not like to hear or endure, and give occasion to wrath and contention. For we still have our flesh and blood, that acts after its own fashion, and easily lets slip an evil word, or an angry sign or deed, by which love is wounded, in such a way that there must be much forgiveness among Christians; as we also incessantly need forgiveness from God, and must always cling to the prayer: Forgive us, as we forgive; unless we are such ungodly people, that we always more readily see a mote in our neighbor’s eye than the beam in our own, and throw our sins behind us. For, if we should look at ourselves daily from morning till evening, we should find so many cleaving to us that we should forget other people, and be glad that we could engage in prayer.
V.16-18. Moreover when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily, I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
As he rebuked their almsgiving and praying, so does he here rebuke their fasting. For these are about the three good works that comprehend all the rest: the first, all kinds of good deeds toward our neighbor; the second, that we are concerned about all manner of needs, both those of others and our own, and bring them before God; the third, that we mortify our body.
But, as they had shamefully abused both almsgiving and praying, so that they thereby sought not God’s honor but their own glory; so did they also abuse and pervert fasting, not to keep their own body under constraint and in discipline, nor to praise and thank God; but to be seen of men, and have a name, so that people would have to be astonished, and say: O these are excellent saints, who do not live like other common people, but go about in gray coats, hanging their heads, looking sad and pale, etc. If these do not get to heaven, what will become of the rest of us?
But he does not mean to have fasting in itself rejected or despised, just as little as he rejects almsgiving and praying, but he rather confirms these, and teaches how to use them aright: so he means to properly restore fasting, so that it be rightly used and properly understood, as should be the case with a good work.
It originated among the Jews, when Moses commanded them to fast about fourteen consecutive days, in the autumn, at the feast of expiation. That was the common fast, which they all observed at the same time. In addition the Pharisees had their special fasts, so that they did something more and were counted more holy than others. For that fast was not appointed that they might thereby be seen and observed by others, since it was kept by all the people; and what is common to all, with that no one can specially distinguish himself. Therefore they had to undertake many special fasts, that they might be seen, as much higher and more spiritual than common people; hence they also boast in the gospel against Christ: Why do the disciples of the Pharisees fast so often, and thy disciples do not fast? etc.
Besides, they assumed distinguishing attitudes and marks by which it should be known when they were fasting; they disfigured their faces, so that they did not wash or anoint themselves, but looked sad and gloomy, and put on such a wonderful earnestness that men had to talk and sing about it, etc.
Now comes Christ and demolishes this fasting, and teaches the direct contrary, and says: If you wish to fast, then fast in such a way that you do not have a sad countenance; but wash and anoint your face, so that you appear merry and cheerful, as on a holiday, so that no difference is noticeable between your fasting and keeping holiday. For it was customary among the Jews for them to sprinkle their bodies with aromatic water and anoint their heads, so that their whole person was fragrant when they were keeping a holiday or wanted to be cheerful. If you fast in this way, between yourself and your Father alone, then you have fasted rightly, so that it pleases him; but not as if it were forbidden on a fast day to wear poor clothes or go unwashed; but the notion is rejected that it is to be done for the sake of the reputation, and in order to make people open their eyes at your peculiar way of doing it. Indeed we often read of how they fasted, putting on sackcloth and casting ashes on their heads; as in the case of the king of Nineveh and the whole city. But that was another kind of fasting that their need and misery taught them.
Now, we have copied from the Jews our great fasting season, and at first kept fourteen days; then we became holier, and stretched this out to four weeks, until at last it was drawn out to forty days; but, not content with that, we have set apart besides two days in every week throughout the year for fasting, the Friday and Saturday; finally the four golden or compulsory fasts; these were yet all common or general fasts: besides this, the advent season found some special saints who made a fast out of that, aside from what the monks in monasteries observed; and then every one selected some special saints in addition to the general fasts, until the result was that all of this was of no account if each one did not make his own fast.
Now such fasting as this all taken together is not worth a penny. For the primitive fathers may indeed have meant it well and observed the fasts properly; but it soon was overdone and ruined by the filth, so that it was of no account. And it got what it deserved. For as this wonderful multiplication of fasts was mere human trifling, so it soon degenerated into shameful abuse. For I may honestly say that I never saw a genuine fast in the papacy, in what they call fasting. For what kind of a fast is that for me, when they prepare a meal at noon of costly fish, excellently spiced, more and better than for two or three other meals, and the strongest drink besides, and spend an hour or three at it until they have filled their belly full? And that was a common thing and a trifle even among the very strictest monks. But the holy fathers, the bishops, abbots and other prelates got at it in earnest at once with ten and twenty courses, and at night took so much refreshment that several threshers could have fed for three days upon it. It may well be that some prisoners, or poor and sickly people, have had to fast through poverty; but I know of no one who fasted for the sake of devotion, and still less now. But now these, my dear papists, have all become good Lutherans, so that none of them thinks any more about fasting; but meanwhile they let our poor pastors have hunger and trouble and hold a real daily fast in their stead.
Since then this fasting has turned out to be a great deal worse than that of the Jews and Pharisees, who did honestly and truly fast, only that they sought their own honor thereby; but ours under the name of fasting has become a mere feasting, and is no fast, but a mockery of God and of the people; besides having the disgraceful addition of making a distinction in the kinds of food, and forbidding the use of some, so that they call only that fasting if one abstains from the use of meat, but meanwhile have the best fish with excellent condiments and spices and the strongest wine; therefore I have advised, and do still advise, that we trample such fasting under our feet as an abominable mockery of God; so that it vexes me that men should carry on and endure this blasphemy in Christendom, and deceive God with the mask of calling such a life of high living and bellyfilling a fast and a good work.
This is now a gross, shameless, disgraceful deception, which does not need the Scriptures for a rebuke, but every peasant, yes a child of seven years, can comprehend and understand. But they have also added the still more disgraceful abuse (which ruins even true fasting), that they sought thereby great merit before God, as thereby to atone for sin and propitiate God; so they impose this fasting as penance in absolution. That is really fasting in the name of all the devils, smiting Christ in the mouth and trampling him under foot: so that so far as abuse is concerned, if something bad must be done, I would sooner allow that one should guzzle to repletion; and I would rather see a gorged sow, if I have to look at filth, than such a saint who fasts most strictly on water and bread.
The teaching and books of all the monks, the papal bulls, all the pulpits, are still full of this abomination, so that they know nothing of any other fasting when they are doing their very best. I will say nothing about their magnifying the gross, shameful, lying fasts of which we have spoken, and their thereby establishing and confirming the worship of the saints; and no one has been found to say a word against these abuses. Therefore I still assert that all my life long I never saw in all the papacy a fast that was a truly Christian one; but only disgraceful fasting and feasting, instead of real fasting, and, along with that, sheer idolatry and hypocrisy, whereby God was insulted and the people deceived. Therefore let us learn here what it means to fast aright.
There are two kinds of fasts that are good and commendable; one may be called a secular or civil fast, ordered by the government, as any other ordinance or command of the authorities, not demanded as a good work or a divine service. For that I would like to see, and would advise and help to bring it about, that the emperor or prince should issue the order that for one or two days in the week no meat should be eaten or sold, as a good useful ordinance for the country, so that everything should not be gobbled up, as is now done, until at last dear times must come and nothing is to be had. After that, I would be glad if at certain times, once a week, or as might be thought best, people did not have a meal in the evening, except a bit of bread and a drink, so that everything is not consumed with incessant gormandizing and swilling, as we Germans do, and that we should learn to live temperately, especially the young, plump, strong people. But that should be an entirely secular matter, subject to the temporal authority.
In addition to this there should be also a general spiritual fast, which we Christians should observe, and it would be a good arrangement to hold a general fast a few days before Easter, Whitsuntide and Christmas, and thus distribute the fasts through the year. But by all means not for the purpose of making an act of worship out of it, to merit something by it, or to propitiate God; but as an external Christian discipline and exercise for the young and simple people, that they may learn to adapt themselves to the times, and to make the needful distinctions throughout the year; as we have hitherto kept the four ember-weeks, that every one was guided by. For we must distinguish and mark off certain times for the rude common crowd, as fast and feast days, for preaching and commemorating the principal events of the life of Christ; in such a way that thereby no special divine service is aimed at, but only a memorial day, whereby one can divide up the whole year and tell what special time it is. So I would have no objection to people fasting on every Friday evening throughout the whole year, setting it apart as a day to be distinctly marked. But such fasting I neither can nor will inaugurate, unless it were beforehand harmoniously agreed upon. See, thus the Christian Church would have plenty of fasting to do, so that they could not blame us for despising and entirely refusing to fast.
But this is also still not the real Christian fasting that Christ has in view, which has special reference to each person in particular, and which, if it is to deserve the name of true Christian fasting, must be done thus, not merely by not eating in the evening, which is only a part of it, and the very least part; but it consists in your disciplining and restraining your body.
This relates not only to eating, drinking, sleeping, etc., but also to being idle, indulging in sports, and everything that pleases and pampers the body.
True fasting means quitting and refraining from all such things, and solely in order to curb and humiliate the flesh; as the Scriptures inculcate fasting, and call it affligere animam, to mortify the body, etc., so that it renounce voluptuousness, high living, pleasure. This was the fasting of the primitive fathers; they ate nothing the whole day, went about sorrowing, and denied the body everything, so far as nature would allow it.
This fasting we now meet with rarely, especially among our spiritual monks and priests. For the Carthusians, who claim to lead the strictest lives, do not practice it, although they make some pretence of doing it, by wearing a dress of haircloth; but they gormandize, nevertheless, and cram their belly full of the best food and drink, and without any care live most luxuriously.
No; it does not mean thus to quibble and deceive, but it demands the mortification of the body, and withholding from it all that pleases and gratifies it; and even if they did really fast aright, yet they would still make a devilish abuse of it by basing their holiness upon it and claiming to get something special from God by it, etc. Therefore, we are not to build anything upon it, although our fasting may be of the very best kind. For there may be a secret scoundrel lurking behind it, against faith or love; as also the prophet Isaiah, 58:3, (as quoted above) rebukes the fasting, by which they mortified their bodies, but at the same time cheated and oppressed their debtors, etc. Thus Christ also rejected the fasting of the Pharisees; not that they did not honestly fast, but because they sought thereby their own glory and honor, etc.
Therefore, very much is needed to make fasting a truly good work, and pleasing to God. For he cannot at all endure it that you pay your court to him with your fasting as a great saint, and yet at the same time cherish hatred and wrath against your neighbor, etc.; but if you want to fast properly, bear in mind that you are first to be a pious man, and have both genuine faith and love. For this business has to do not with God or our neighbor, but with our own body, etc. But nobody wants to do this.
Therefore, I may well say, that I have never seen any real fasting. For there has been nothing but half and fragmentary fasting, and a miserable deception, when they, for appearance sake, break off a meal, but nevertheless daily tickle the body; except that now in the case of some pious preachers and pastors in the villages and elsewhere, who have to do it from necessity, and besides suffer reproach, ridicule and all manner of annoyance, and get from no one as much as a piece of bread. With these there is neither pleasure, nor show, nor easy times; these are they who wander in the world, whom no one knows, of whom the world is not worthy (as is said in the epistle to the Hebrews 11:38). But the Carthusian monks and our insurrectionary rabble in their robes of haircloth and their gray coats, at these we are to look with amazement, and say: O, what holy people are these! How hard it is for them to go about so shabbily clothed; and yet they are always guzzling and swilling their belly full.
See, that I call the real fasting of Christians, if one mortifies the whole body and forces it, with all the five senses, to relinquish and do without everything that ministers to its ease, whether this be done willingly or by compulsion, (yet that one gladly assents to this and endures it), whether one eats fish or flesh; but nothing more than sheer need requires, so that the body is not thereby injured or incapacitated, but held under constraint and at work, so that it does not become idle, or lazy and lewd. But such fasting as this I do not presume to require, nor will I impose it upon any one. For every one must here look to himself, and judge his own feelings, for we are not all alike, so that one cannot set up a general rule; but every one, in proportion as he is strong, and feels what his own flesh requires, must in such proportion afflict or relieve it. For the intention here is to antagonize lust and the excitement of the flesh, and not nature itself, and it is not limited by any rule or measure of time or place; but it is to be steadily applied, if necessary, so that we hold the body in check, and habituate it to endure discomfort, if it become necessary to do it; and it is to be used according to the discretion of every one, so that no one may undertake to measure it off by rules, as the pope has done; just as we cannot measure off prayers, but let them be free, if any one’s devotion suggests or demands them; nor can we apply it to the almsgiving, to whom, or when, or how much we are to give, as if forced by necessity and law.
This is the extent of the general law for all Christians, and it is commended that every one live temperately, soberly and discreetly, not for a day or a year, but daily and continually, which the Scriptures call sobrietatem, living soberly; so that, although they cannot observe all the principal fasts, yet do this much that they are moderate in eating, drinking, sleeping, and in all the needs of the body, that it may minister to what is necessary and not to what is superfluous and capricious, and not live here as if we were only to eat and drink, to dance and be merry. If, however, sometimes through weakness we are guilty of some excess, that will have to be reckoned under the head of forgiveness of sins, as other daily failings.
But first of all see to it that you are in advance pious and a true Christian, and are not thinking to render a service to God through this fasting; but serving God must be simply faith in Christ and love to your neighbor, so that you do just what is your duty. If this be not the case with you, then rather let the fasting alone. For fasting is meant only to be imposed upon the body to cut off outwardly its lust and the occasions for lusting; just as faith does the same inwardly in the heart. Let this be enough said about fasting.
Now we must look also at the words that Christ appends to all of these things, almsgiving, praying and fasting — that they are to be secret, then will our Father, who seeth in secret, reward us openly. For it is a necessary comforting assurance for Christians who do these works uprightly, since in the world their works are maligned and so covered up and concealed that no ungodly person can see them; and even if he sees them, yet with eyes open he does not acknowledge them. Thus, take ourselves for example, what good we do through the grace of God, that no one sees, and the whole world denounces us as those who pray, fast, and despise and forbid all good works, and occasion only misfortune and discord. But how we pray, both openly and secretly, that they are not to see, even if they hear it and are standing alongside, and would like to attack us publicly, as we are helping to keep the peace and do good, etc. For God has so ordained it, as the Scriptures say, that no ungodly person shall see the glory of God, that is, everything that God says and does; as also Isaiah says, 6:10: Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, etc.
And so it is with us, both in our doctrine and life. For I suppose our gospel is not hidden, in itself, but so noised abroad that they all see and hear it; else they would not so furiously rage against it; yet they cannot see it, and it must be called among them not the gospel, but a damnable heresy. So also they do not see its fruits in us and our good works that we show towards them, as our enemies, and humble ourselves most completely before them, offer them peace and everything that is good, and besides faithfully pray for them: yet they are not worthy to recognize this, but must for this very reason so much the more horribly persecute us. Thus they also do not see our fasting, how our preachers willingly endure hunger and trouble, that they may serve the people, etc. But when they fast along with a good, fat collations and three or four courses, that is a splendid feat and great holiness; just as our praying must be considered as nothing in contrast with their babbling and howling in the churches.
See, thus, the entire Christian life must be and remain hidden, and cannot attain to any notoriety nor have any show and display before the world.
Therefore be satisfied, and do not worry about it, though it be concealed, and indeed covered up and buried, so that no one sees or regards it, and be content that your Father up there in heaven sees it; he has sharp eyes and can see very far off, although it be covered by great, dark clouds, and buried deep in the earth; in such a way that the life of all Christians is intended alone for the eyes of God. For that is at all events the outcome of it all; we may live as we will, and do as well as we can, yet we still cannot please the world, nor do what seems right to it or worthy of praise, and it does not really deserve to be helped and benefited.
Therefore we must also again give it its walking-papers and send it home to the devil, and confidently defy it with such rhymes as: “Let the world go, it has a poor show,” etc. It is enough that we are acting to please him who sees what we do; and we will neither do nor leave undone anything to please them, God helping us, whether they thank or abuse, are angry or laugh; we will not at any rate make it otherwise than it has always been.
Why should we then strive after the honor or gratitude that cannot be obtained? No, we will commend it to the scoundrels that wear rosaries about their necks, are bellowing day and night in the choir, are gormandizing on nothing but fish and stinking oil, etc., and are doing nothing but lost works; these shall gain the honor and glory from the world, as they deserve them both, and they belong together, as cattle and a stable, with the devil behind. For as the works are, so shall also the priests be, that one villain may praise another.
That is one part of the consolation, that we know that the world is not worthy of us; but we have another One in heaven, who beholds us and our works. The other part is, that he says: “Thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly;” that it will not only be seen, but also rewarded; and not in secret, but openly, that the whole world may see, along with its own perpetual disgrace. Therefore let him dispose of it; he will bring it to light, so that it is not kept in the dark, and [he will do it] on earth and in the presence of the people; as also the thirty-seventh Psalm comfortably teaches: “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.” See how the dear martyrs were so shamefully murdered, and yet they now so shine forth that all the world in contrast is a mere stench. So John Huss before our day was condemned, with unheard of brutality, and his name (as they supposed) was forever obliterated; yet now he shines forth with such honor that his cause and teaching must be praised before the whole world, and the matter of the pope lies in the dirt most ignominiously.
Then let us now be shoveled under and stay hidden; the time will come when God will draw us forth, that our cause must shine before the eyes of all the world, even yet in this life, but still more gloriously at that day when some poor man will step forth with his fruits and good works, and put to shame the whole papacy and the world, so that his cause will be perfect light and clearness, but the other nothing but filth; only so that we cling to the word of Christ, and do not care or be worried about it that we are now befouled and thrown into the dark before the world: but look to him and do everything for his sake. For God’s work and word cannot lag behind, but must come forth to the light, however deeply it is covered up and buried; so that I have often myself wondered, when I looked at the papacy, how the devil through the pope’s abominations has thrown the dear gospel into a dung-pile and puddle, and covered it up so completely that I thought it would not be possible for the truth ever to come forth again amid such perversions of masses, purgatory and numberless other abominations: yet it had to come forth, just when it lay the deepest, and they were thinking that they had settled the matter for ever.
The same thing happened to Christ himself; when they had put him under ground and supposed they had covered him up so deeply that nobody would ever mention him again, then he blazes forth and shines by his word so brightly that they all had to go under for ever. Therefore we ought also to feel safe, for we have his word, so that our doctrine and works must come to the light and be praised before the eyes of all the world; although now they are concealed; unless God himself must stay in the dark. See, this is the comforting assurance, given to us as an admonition, that we are to exercise ourselves in really good works, and not worry ourselves because they are not observed by the world, for it is too blind; and just as little as it recognizes God, just so little does it recognize his word and works; and it will never come to see how grand a thing it is to be a baptized child, or a Christian who receives the Lord’s Supper and gladly hears the word of God; but has to look at it as a mere water-bath, or a bit of bread, and a useless talk. So also it does not see what he is doing who rightly fasts or prays. Therefore we commend it to him who can see it, and hope that he will put to shame the blind, crazy saints, with their pompous, hypocritical display by which they are now darkening the life and works of Christians.
V.19-21. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
He has been thus far rebuking their false interpretations of the ten commandments, and purifying and cleansing the befouled and obscured doctrine; then he taught the nature of real good works in contrast with their false, pretended good works; in such a way that we may rightly understand the ten commandments and do really good deeds. Now he begins to warn against the temptations that beset this doctrine, and continues in this strain almost until the eighth chapter, and means to set forth the whole matter most admirably, as a skilled master, who omits nothing that may serve to keep us in the true doctrine and life.
First of all he takes up the beautiful, great vice that is called avarice. For these are about the two worst plagues that always make their appearance, if we preach the gospel and try to live accordingly: first, false preachers, who corrupt the doctrine; then squire avarice, who hinders right living; as we see now, since the gospel is preached again, that the people have become much more avaricious than before, they rake and scrape together as if they were almost dying from hunger; they formerly groped in blindness, as if stupefied, listened to the preaching of irresponsible dreamers, and gave by the score what was demanded, so that they neither saw nor knew what was being taken from them; but now, since their eyes are opened, that they know how they ought to live and perform really good works, they watch their pennies so closely, and are as avaricious, as if each one would like to monopolize the treasures of the world: so that I cannot otherwise explain it, or tell whence it comes, except that it must be a temptation from the very devil himself, who always interjects this abominable vice along with the light of the gospel, to hinder it. For the gospel gives us the consolation that we not only are there to live forever, but are also here to have enough to eat, as we read in the eighth Psalm: that Christ is to be a King and Lord over all the world, and have in his hand all sheep and oxen, and all the beasts upon earth, so that he will not let us die of hunger. Now, this we know; and yet we ourselves are much more deeply immersed in avarice and care for daily food than before, and are all the time short of funds and out of pocket, and cannot give for the glory of God the tenth part of what we used to cram down the throat of the devil.
Christ taught the same thing in many other places, and announced it beforehand. As, when he sent out his apostles to preach, his chief care and admonition were that they should beware of these two things, false teaching and avarice; and he strictly charged them that they should take no provision with them on the way, nor be concerned about what they should eat and drink, so that (as above said) the two most injurious things in Christendom, by which it is greatly perverted, are: spiritually, the faith by false doctrine, bodily, the fruits by avarice. Therefore there is need here of preaching and warning, when we have decided upon doctrine and life, that we take due care to adhere to it and not be diverted from it by false interpretations of Scripture; and then to beware of avarice that it do not secretly ensnare and get possession of us, so that we do not aim only at temporal things, to have enough here, as if that were all.
For it is a dangerous, insinuating vice, and can put on an attractive appearance and start beautiful thoughts, so that it even deceives Christians, and no one can be sure of being safe against it. For when they see how ill it goes with them in the world, that is ever imposing upon them, and begrudging them even a bit of bread, so that they for its sake must nearly die of hunger; how the poor preachers are now left to endure trouble and want; they are so tempted that they consider how they may get and accumulate something, so that they may stay in the world, until at last they actually become involved in worldly care and avarice, and through this let their ministerial office fall and lie, and some even let go the gospel altogether.
See, for this reason Christ now begins with many words to preach against the great idol mammon, and paints it in the most detestable colors, so that one should by all means be on his guard against it; and he says, in the first place: Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through, etc. Here he gives to the treasures upon earth three burrowers, rust, moths and thieves; these are scandalous watchmen when they are set over treasures. Now God has wisely ordained that where a treasure is there must such fellows be that watch it; just as commonly the sparrows or rats and mice with the corn.
For it is not worth anything better, since we do not rightly use money and property, but through sheer avarice scrape it together for ourselves, and no one gives or grants it to another.
But this means not only the moths and rust that devour clothes or iron and brass; nor mice and rats, that can be caught in traps; also, not the mere thieves that secretly empty the coffers, but also the great living moths and public thieves, as the great corrupters and profligates at court, that can empty bins and purse for a prince, and at last strip him of all that he has; so also in cities, not only those who creep into a citizen’s house, but who with cunning secrecy suck out the city’s resources by usury and extortion in the market and wherever they can; so that, in short, wherever there is money and property there must also moths and thieves be, eager for it; and everything in the world is full of these rats and mice, wherever people live together. For what else than such a rust or moth is an unfaithful counselor at court, or an officer who does nothing but nibble away at a prince’s money or property as long as it lasts? As there are now many of these hypocrites, who with daily, heavy, unnecessary and useless expenses make the princes poor, and who do not care whether a prince is prospering or going to ruin, if they can only be masters of his money and manage things as they please. Thus also, in all towns and villages we find everything full of rats and moths, both great and small, secret and public, as shoemakers, cobblers, tailors, butchers, bakers, brewers and saloon-keepers, and other trades, workmen and day-laborers. Yes, in every house, he who has a lazy, unfaithful servant or maid, what else has he than a weevil, that devours more for him than if he had his floor full of rats and mice? Now see what a fine god mammon is, who has no better protectors and courtiers about him than mere moths and rust, so that if one has been gathering treasures for a long while, yet there must be so much devouring by this kind of hangers-on that no one who ought to enjoy it is glad or takes pleasure in it; and not many treasures of great men and princes have ever been well invested, but they have generally been wasted through wars, or devoured by these miserable cankers, or otherwise uselessly squandered or destroyed.
Therefore, those are best off who have not many treasures, for they have not many rats to feed, and need not be afraid of thieves.
How, then, are we to have no treasures at all, and are all hereby condemned who gather treasures upon earth? Surely that cannot be the case. For, if everybody would do as you and I do, to-morrow nobody would have anything in house and home. The lords and princes must acquire and have provision for land and people. For to this end God has created gold and silver and given them mines. Thus we read in the Scriptures that Moses taught the king that he should not have too many horses, too much gold and silver, etc. Thereby he admits that he may gather treasures moderately; as also King Solomon himself boasts [that he has gathered treasures], and the patriarch Joseph gathered so much that he made all Egypt the king’s own, with its corn, money, property, cattle, and the very bodies of the people besides, as complete vassals; thus Abraham, too, had many sheep and much gold and silver with which he traded. What shall we say to it then, that he here so clearly forbids us to gather treasures? since he himself (if we wanted to reckon with him)had a fund, because Judas held the bag, and yet there was always a balance on hand, so that they never wanted for anything when he sent forth the disciples, as they themselves said. Why, then, does he here forbid this, and say that they shall take no money, nor scrip, nor shoes with them?
Answer: It has been said above, often enough, that Christ in this sermon teaches a single person or a Christian man; and that a man of the world and a Christian are to be kept quite distinct. For a Christian does not mean a male or female, young or old person, lord, servant, emperor, prince, farmer, citizen, nor anything that is part of the world and may be known by a worldly designation; he has no person or mask, and should neither have nor know anything in the world, but be satisfied with his treasure in heaven. He who does not properly make this distinction cannot rightly understand these sayings; as our sophists and fanatics, who mix and confound these things together.
A prince may very well be a Christian, but as a Christian he is not to rule; and in so far as he rules he is called not a Christian, but a prince. The person is a Christian, but the office or princeship has nothing to do with his Christianity. For, so far as he is a Christian, the gospel teaches him that he is to injure no one, not to punish or take revenge, but to forgive everybody, and to endure whatever injury or injustice is done to him. That is (I say) the lesson of a Christian. But that would not constitute a good government, if you would preach in that way to the prince; but he must speak thus: My Christianity is something between God and myself, that has its own rules, how I am to live with reference to him; but besides this I have in the world another office or rank, that I am a prince. This person does not stand related to God, but the relation is between me and my land and people, etc.
In this respect the question is not how you are to live towards God, and what you are to do and suffer for yourself; let that be for your person as a Christian, that has nothing to do with land and people. But your princely person must do none of these things or have anything to do with them; but think how it may manage the government, keep and protect justice and peace, punish the wicked.
See, in this way both ranks or offices are rightly divided, and yet in one person, and so to speak are contradictory, so that one person shall at the same time suffer everything, and not suffer; but in such a way that to each office its own appropriate experience is applied: namely, as said above: If it affects me as a Christian, then I am to endure it; but if it affects me as a secular person, which is not between God and me, but bound to land and people, (whom I am commanded to help and protect, and the sword is placed in my hand for this purpose,)then it is not suffering that is called for, but the opposite. So every man upon earth has two persons: one for himself, bound to no one, but to God alone; aside from that, a secular one, with which he is bound to others; as we must be mixed together in this life, as a husband or householder with wife and child; who, although he is a Christian, must nevertheless not suffer it from those related to him that they practice knavery or reckless behavior in the house, but he must resist and punish wrong-doing, so that they must conduct themselves properly, etc. If you rightly apprehend this difference, then it is easy to understand the teaching of Christ. For he is speaking here, and in all his sermons, not about how a secular person is to do and live; but how you are to live uprightly towards God as a Christian, who has not to concern himself about the world, but only about the life to come.
Thus I say also in regard to this text: My person, that is called a Christian, is not to care for or lay up money; but I am to be heartily devoted to God only. But externally I may and am to use temporal good for my body, and, as to other people, so far as relates to my secular person, I may gather money and treasures; yet not too much, so that I do not make an avaricious belly out of myself, that cares only for itself, and can never be filled. For a secular person must have money, corn and provision for his land, people, or others that belong to him. Thus, if one could rule in such a way as the patriarch Joseph in Egypt, so that all the storehouses and vessels should be full of food, and could manage the country in such a way that all its need would be provided for, from which provision one could help the people, advance to them and distribute among them, if necessary; that would be an excellent treasure and an admirable and Christian use of worldly goods.
For what a prince gathers, he gathers not for himself, but as a person belonging to all, yes, as a common father of the whole land. For we must not all be beggars, but every one provide so much for himself, that he can maintain himself and not impose upon others, and, besides, he should help others, and thus one should contribute to others when it is necessary.
Thus every city should lay up as much as it can for the common need; yes, every parish should have a common treasury for the poor. That would not be unfair, but should be called laying up Christian treasures. For it is not such a treasure as ministers to avarice and lust; as the world does, and as our priests hitherto have gathered money, and with no other purpose than to find their pleasure with it, and to play with the florins like the little girls with their dolls. But when necessity calls for it, when others are to be helped, then there’s nobody at home. These are the devil’s treasures, against which Christ is here speaking, that we are not to lay up treasures upon earth, that is for one’s self and for his own pleasure; in such a way that the heart does not become avaricious, and cling to the temporal mammon, but seek for and lay up another treasure in heaven. But outwardly and secularly you may lay up as much as you can with God and honorably; not for your own satisfaction and avariciousness, but for the need of other people. He who thus accumulates shall have blessing and indulgence besides, as a pious Christian.
But those who are thus avariciously scraping together, so that they cannot cease, and yet do not let any one enjoy it, so that they dare not themselves make a cheerful use of it, with them it shall happen, as is here said, that moth and rust and thieves shall consume, so that as it came so shall it go; although it also often happens, on the other hand, that even where things have been properly gathered, they are nevertheless consumed in this way.
For no better treatment can be expected on earth for temporal good at any rate. If this now happens to those who lay up treasures rightly, how much rather to those who seek nothing else than the money, not the use, advantage and fruit of the money. For it is here so denounced that moth and rust must attack it and consume it, and it be stolen, so that no one can succeed who thus avariciously rakes and scrapes together; and although a farmer has gathered a great deal, he still must not use it, that does not become him, but he must bury it, so that it does not benefit him or any one else, otherwise the worms gnaw and bite at it, or it falls to the share of the public servants or scoundrels at court, so that it may not be better spent.
Thus now Christ is trying with these words to reason us out of the idea of thus avariciously grasping after mammon, and he speaks about it so contemptuously that he could not make it more odious to us. For what sort of a god is that, who cannot do so much as to defend himself against moth and rust, but must let himself be daily gnawed at and consumed, and lie there to be plundered by everybody, so that everything that comes along feasts upon him, and every thief steals him, etc. That is vexatious, to have such a helpless god, subject to moth, rust and thieves, who yet rules the whole world. Therefore we ought to be ashamed of ourselves, that we are such people as to be clinging to such a moth-eaten treasure and placing all our confidence upon it. Since you know this, (he means to say), do not set your heart upon it, so that you lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth; but be satisfied with what God here gives you, and hold it liable to be lost or taken from you. For that is all that can be expected; especially if you wish to be a Christian, and confess or preach your Lord, you must be always expecting to be snapped at and cast out, as one that has challenged the world and all the devils. If you are to be really consistent, you must be courageous enough to despise all their treasures and goods, and be assured of another, better treasure.
Therefore he says: Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, that is, let the world have its moth-eaten treasures, liable to be robbed and stolen, that are of no more value than that the world may take pleasure and comfort in them. But you that are not of the world, but belong to heaven, and are purchased for heaven by my blood, so that you may have another eternal treasure that is prepared and appointed for you, do not let your heart here be entrapped: but, if your office and worldly calling are such that you must have to do with earthly treasure, do not cling to it or serve it But let it be your aim to gain those treasures that are laid up for you in heaven. For those are true treasures that neither moth nor rust can reach, and they are altogether safe against everything that can devour or steal. For they are so deposited that they always remain whole and ready, and are so guarded that no one can break through after them.
Let him now who wants to be a Christian apply this stimulus and this logic to himself. For it ought to please an avaricious fellow, and make his heart laugh, when one shows him such a treasure that no rust can corrupt and no thief steal. But the world is said not to regard this, because it neither sees it nor feels after it, but continues clinging to the gold and silver that it sees glittering, although it knows and sees that it is not secure for an hour against rust and thieves. But we are not preaching to these. He who will not adhere to Christ, and shape his course with reference to the invisible treasure, let him go his way; we will not drag any hither by main force. But take notice, if your time comes that you must go hence, then call upon your treasure that you have laid up, and upon which you have relied for consolation, and see what you have in it, and what it can help you.
But it happens, as is written in the seventy-sixth Psalm (v. 5): Dormierunt somnum suum omnes viri divitiarum, et nihil invenerunt in manibus suis — the full-bellied rich that served mammon, when they were to die, found nothing at all. That is indeed a terrible thing, that those who have served mammon their whole life long, and have done injustice and wrong unto many for its sake, and have despised the word of God, yet in the time of need could not have a hair-breadth of enjoyment. Then for the first time their eyes are opened so that they look into another world, and go groping about for what they have gathered as a provision, yet they find nothing, and are left to pass away empty in disgrace; then they become so anxious and afraid that they in consequence forget what they have laid up, and they find nothing also in heaven; and there happens to them just what Christ says, in Luke 12:19, about the rich man who once had a grand good harvest, so that he meant to pull down his barns and build greater, and thought to have a good time, and said: “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink and be merry.” Notice, that is the little song of the farmers, that all greedy bellies sing; but what follows? “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: and whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” So he both loses this treasure [his soul], and must be robbed of his gathered goods, and so disgracefully that he knows not who shall get them.
For this is the way of the world, since one rarely sees great treasures divinely gathered, so that they dare not spend them as they would like to do, or have them benefit some one, but they must be scattered in such a way that no one knows what has become of them; as! have already often observed, especially in the case of great, rich, ignorant priests, who have left large possessions, that, however, soon disappeared after their death, or fell to the share of those who gave them no thanks for them, but recklessly squandered and shamefully destroyed them. And especially if a war occurs, then the devil has it all his own way, so that they fall into the hands of the fire-eaters, for whom they never were intended, and who besides pile upon the people for them all sorts of misery.
Therefore, if some one has long been laying up, and any one asks him who is to get it, he has to say that he does not know; and it usually does not turn out as he expected. Therefore he is a great fool, that he risks all his comfort and well-being upon it, and plagues himself with great care and anxiety all his life long, and yet does not know for whom he has gathered it; yet nobody considers this. For man’s blindness and wickedness are too great, and the world will still be the world, and have the bother, that it may serve the moth-eaten treasure; and if it has long served, and has angered God, then it must have as its reward that God at last cannot help it, and lets it have the disappointment coupled with insult and injury. That it cannot prevent, as little as fire can be prevented from burning, or water from extinguishing. Therefore let them only go their way, and know that you are taught, as a Christian, to think where you ought to have and find your treasure, where it is safe for you, and always abides, and cannot be displaced or become another’s; and meanwhile use this world’s goods and make the best of it, as a passing possession. And if you thus gather treasures with God and with honor, then he will also see to it that it remains, if it ought to remain, so that it is nevertheless not lost, but well used, and that much good is done with it.
Christ now ends this with a proverb, and says: Where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also. That is as much as saying what we Germans say of a greedy belly: Money is his heart; that is, if he only has money, that is his joy and comfort, in short, his God. Again, if he has nothing, that is his death; there there is no heart, no joy, no comfort. Therefore he means to say: Beware, and test your own heart, and know assuredly that your heart will be where your treasure is; as we are else wont to say, what is dear to a man, that is his God. For his heart draws him thitherward, is occupied about it day and night; he sleeps and wakes with it, whether it be money and property, pleasure or honor, etc. Therefore observe your own heart, and you will soon find what is sticking in it, and where your treasure is. For this may readily be felt, if you have as great a pleasure and diligence in hearing the word of God and living accordingly, and in securing that life, as you have in gathering and storing away money and property.
For, if my heart be so disposed (and also proves itself such, where it can be proved)that I would rather lose not only money and property, but also my neck, rather than to forsake or despise the gospel, and to do wrong or violence to my neighbor for my own benefit, I can conclude that money and property are not my heart’s treasure, although I am also gathering and saving; but having freely exposed them to danger and hazard, I am striving for another treasure, in heaven, namely, that hidden in the word of God.
Again, however, if it be the case with you that you let others preach and teach and exhort as they will, and you go along, thinking that you have enough, and live in style; never ask whether you are doing right or wrong by your neighbor, if you only have your own, and make your calculation so that with one penny you may gather twos yes ten, and have no concern about God’s word and preachers, and about the world with its laws, then you can also understand that your treasure is not above in heaven, but remains with the moth and rust; so completely, that you would rather auger God and the world before you would lose a penny, and give up anything for its sake: as now peasants, citizens, noblemen everywhere shamelessly talk and live, who for the sake of a penny venture to dare defy the government of God in the Church and in the world, so that this saying may remain true and practically convict them, since they will not hear nor be instructed. For it cannot be otherwise, even if we worry long about it and would gladly see it otherwise. Therefore it is best, if we have told it to them, that we let them go their way, and despise and laugh at them as much as they do at us. For God says in the second Psalm that he can laugh too, and laugh so that they will have bitter weeping; that means that he will speak with them in his wrath and will alarm them in his sore displeasure.
V.22, 23. “The light of the body is the eye: if, therefore, thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If, therefore, the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!”
That is a warning, that we must not allow ourselves to be deceived by the beautiful color and appearance with which avarice can adorn itself and conceal the villain. For, as I have said, there is no vice among all the natural vices that more readily deceives people and does greater harm both to the gospel and to its fruits. For it hinders wherever it can the preaching of the gospel and its being kept among the people; and although the gospel be preached, the preachers who have fallen under the power of avarice are of no account, so that both are thereby injured, the people who are to hear it, and those who ought to preach it; so that those who indeed have it will not support the preachers, and let them die for hunger, so far as they are concerned; and as the preachers see this, they take special pains not to live at the mercy of the people. These are then more dangerous enemies than the others. For, although a peasant becomes avaricious, and gives nothing to support the gospel, a preacher can still be provided for; although his support is very meager. But when the preachers themselves become involved in it, the gospel is no longer to their taste, so that they should suffer or venture anything for its sake; but they will lay their plans accordingly, so that their belly does not lack, and they will preach what will please the people and bring the money.
Therefore St. Paul calls this a peculiar vice, a worship of idols or idolatry, that is in direct opposition to the faith, which is the true worship or honoring of God. For it makes mammon and the impotent penny its God and Lord; what it wills, that he does; thus he lives and preaches, and is completely owned and captured by it, so that he no longer asks after the word of God and does not hazard a penny on its account.
Now Christ can do nothing more against all this than to rebuke this vice and warn those against it who are willing to be warned; and this is indeed necessary. For even the pious can hardly prevent their being deceived by it.
But others move along serenely, as though completely swallowed up by it, notwithstanding what we preach and declare. The Jews, too, were such a set, immersed in their avarice, so he had to be all the time rebuking them; and all the prophets, when they were holding forth about the faith, were perpetually rebuking and denouncing avarice, against their preachers and false prophets as well as against the mass of the people. But it was of no avail, except in the case of a few who would be thereby influenced, for whose sake Christ and we all must still preach, and let the others go their way, since they will be of the devil’s party.
Now Christ used this saying more than once as a common saying, not only in reference to avarice, but also in reference to other matters, especially as to doctrine. For in matters of doctrine it occurs that the factious spirits and lying preachers pretend that they are heartily and truly in earnest, and seek the honor of God and the salvation of souls, so that no one boasts and asseverates as vigorously as they do. To these he utters the warning:
Beware, that your eye be single and not evil; that is, that your way of thinking and your boasting is right, and not secretly evil, and that you are not deceiving yourselves with false notions and thoughts.
For it is commonly these people that the devil bewitches, and just as when a man lies in a dream or sleep, and is so completely stupefied that he cannot see that he is dreaming; but he does not think or know anything else than that it is really happening so, and he is so sure of it that he could not feel anything more sure; and yet it is nothing else than a dream, which soon vanishes, and when he awakens it is all gone; and although it seems to him sometimes that it is a dream, or that he is dreaming of a dream, yet he is ensnared, so that he cannot extricate himself, or become master of his senses. So those people are also ensnared, who insist so confidently upon it that their cause is the pure truth, so that they may swear everything upon it, and yet it is all nothing but dreams and the thoughts of crack-brained people. Therefore it is a dangerous thing if one does not cling closely and simply to God’s word, and allows himself to be led away from it to the thoughts of men that have an excellent appearance and soon captivate, so that he who falls within their influence cannot afterwards extricate himself from it. For he does not know anything else but that it is the real word of God, and he adheres so firmly to it that he cannot be persuaded to abate a jot or tittle of it; as we see that some have lost their necks for it.
But this is not the place to develop this thought. For here he applies the saying to the common vice of avarice, which, although it is gross and external, yet there is no vice in reference to doctrine that can so adorn itself and wear so beautiful a covering, so that it must not be called avarice, but be seen and praised, as though one were heartily opposed to the vice, and no one were so mild, kind and merciful; and yet he does not himself see that his heart deceives him, and that he is altogether immersed in avarice.
We must therefore examine the text a little farther, and exhibit it plainly in illustrations, although it is not possible to comprehend in how many ways the evil eye can contort and help itself; [we do this] in order that one may learn to be on his guard against such influences. For this is also a common temptation among Christians, so that no one believes that so few people are free from it; for the heathen and others are guilty of it in its grossest forms, so that one can easily recognize it.
Christ’s now saying: “The eye is the light of the body,” is a reference to the natural body. If it had no eye, no sun would be of any use, although it might shine a hundred times so brightly. Therefore the body has no other light that may lead and direct it, than the eye; because one can see with it, we need not be afraid that he will drive alongside of the bridge into the Elbe, or go through hedges and bushes, or rush into the fire or among the spears; for the light guards him against danger and harm. But he who has no eye must go forward, and stumbles over wood and stones until he falls and breaks his neck or is drowned in the water; for there is no light there, but total darkness.
So (he means to say) it is in the matter of Christianity, especially with avarice. Here take care that your spiritual body has an eye, that is, an upright, good intention and understanding, that you may know how you believe and live, and do not deceive yourself with false notions and darkness. Thus, for example, if you thus reason: “I will work and do something, that I may gain something and maintain myself with wife and child, with God and honor; and if God grants that I may also thereby serve and help my neighbor, that! will gladly do;” see, that is the light or the spiritual eye, from the word of God, that shows you what belongs to your calling, and indicates to you how you are to fill it and live in it. For this is right, and has to be, since the body lives here, so that every one may do something that he may support himself and keep house.
But now beware that this eye does not become evil and deceive you; that you do this with a simple intention, and have only this purpose, to work and do what your calling requires to meet the necessities of yourself and your neighbor, and not under this pretense to seek something else, namely how you may thereby gratify you avarice. For flesh and blood is a master in misusing this light and employing it as a pretense. So, if it now happens that you have procured some means of living that you are fond of, and are only concerned how you can keep it and increase it, and, if you have a gulden, would like to have ten more: see, here the evil eye comes creeping in, that looks not only at the means of living and the necessary possession, but also at its avarice, and can still adorn itself [with the pretense] that it is not seeking avarice, but is doing what God has ordered it to do, and is accepting what God gives.
Well, here no one can look into your heart and judge you; but beware yourself that your eye is not evil. For it happens very easily, and there is a strong inclination to it, especially when one sees how profitable it is; love is thirsty and is never satiated, and nature besides is strongly disposed that way: so whores and scoundrels come together, and things go as they ought to, as we say: Occasio facit furem, money makes villains. Therefore Christ warns his own so diligently. For the world is a great whore-house, and quite merged in this vice: and we ourselves must live in it, and these examples and incitements tempt us, so that we are in great danger and have to be well upon our guard that we do not let the devil ride us.
If now your eye is single, (says Christ), your whole body is light; that is, all that you are doing and living in your outward deportment, in accordance with your office and calling, that is all upright, moving in accordance with God’s word, with the proper intention, so that it shines like the sun, before God and man, and it stands well before all the world; and all that you do is excellent, and you can use worldly good with a good conscience, as having been honestly and divinely acquired, etc. Again, if your eye is evil, so that you do not act in these things as required by God and your office, but leave the track and are concerned only to gratify your lust and love for money; then your whole body is dark, and everything that you do is condemned by God and lost, although you are called a pious man before the world. For the body lets itself be led with its whole external movement and life as a blind person, and cannot go or live otherwise than as the eye directs.
Thus he means to warn us and charge every one conscientiously to see to it how his mind and heart are disposed, so that he do not flatter himself with the beautiful and yet false idea that he has a good, honest reason, and a real good right to rake and scrape together in this way, and impose upon God, so that he does not observe the scoundrel; as though he said: You may adorn yourself as you will; but if you deceive God, then you have deceived a wise, shrewd, and besides an experienced man. But take care that you are not deceiving yourself, and that your light does not become an evil eye that makes your whole life dark and abominable in the sight of God; for he has a clear, sharp sight, and will not allow himself to be deceived by your extra coat of paint. And he concludes this warning with a threat, to alarm, so that we may not so readily make use of that plausible, invented notion, and says: But if the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!
That is, although you may invent such plausible ideas, as that you do not mean to accumulate through avarice, as the others, but intend to do it in such a way that you can defend it before God and the world, so that it must not be called avarice, and yet you live just the same, and make thus for yourself a light of your own in your heart; but see to it just here that this light is not also darkness, not alone that it is sheer avarice in your heart, but also that you mean to conceal it as with the light, so that it is not to be called avarice, and thus there is a double darkness, much greater than before.
Just as that was a great darkness under the papacy that completely extinguished the light of Christian doctrine, so that they taught nothing else than to take away sin and be saved by works, etc. But when they besides at once defended this and boasted of it that it was the true divine doctrine, and that he who denied this was a heretic, and was forbidding the worship of God and all good works, etc., then there was the blackness of darkness, so that they adorned this darkness and error with the name of truth, and thus made the darkness greater by the superadded light; just as if one knows the devil, that it is the devil, and makes a god of him. That means to cover darkness with darkness and yet claim that it is bright and luminous, yes, the very sun itself.
Thus Christ now concludes: If the opinion and doctrine that one regards as light is itself darkness, how great must the other darkness be which this brings with it; namely, that one practices this doctrine, and lives accordingly. Thus here, he whom avarice has mastered, so that he rakes and scrapes, he has already a darkness in his heart. But if he goes on, and flatters himself that it is not to be called avarice, and silences his conscience, so as not to be rebuked, that is now a real, thick, double darkness. Just as a fool, who claims to be sensible and not chargeable with folly, is properly called a great, big fool; or an ugly strumpet, who claims to be pretty and adorns herself with her nasty trumpery; that is only making things blacker and worse; and in fact all men are so disposed, that no one wants to have his sin rebuked; but all try to cover their tracks, so as to get approbation and praise, and thus out of one bad sin they make two.
Now when this happens in spiritual affairs, then the great murderous harm is done. For those in this calling cannot easily do things moderately, but, when it comes to dealing with the gospel, they are apt to overdo it with their charities. Again, if they apostatize from the gospel, then there is no end to their avarice; as it used to be hitherto: when they’ began to give, it fairly snowed with gifts, to churches, public worship and ecclesiastical establishments; as in old times the emperors and princes with good intentions gave whole districts of country for such purposes, and endowed such institutions; but now again hardly anybody gives a penny, and they are avariciously gobbling up everything, as if they were afraid of dying with hunger.
This is the way the monks, priests and prebendaries used to do, whom no one could satisfy with gifts. If one had gathered two, three or four fiefs, he would want to have as many more; and yet they all wore the same mask:
Though I would have enough with one prebend, parish or bishoprick, yet something more is needed that I may honorably fill my station as a prince, nobleman, or some other prelate. Then he makes use of all possible means to rake and scrape together all that he can get, and all for the purpose of honorably filling his place; and yet the light is kindled [it is now pretended] that he must not be said to be acting avariciously, but doing it all for the maintenance of his rank. So easily one can find a little gloss with which to kindle a light for the devil; and if one has no other resort, it will have to be this, that one says: “I will gather my money together in such a way that I may afterwards provide for masses and public worship, or give alms for the maintenance of the poor,” etc. That is kindling a great, beautiful light; then a man may worry himself to death and always say: “I mean it well; and the simple-minded man, our Lord God, is capitally hoodwinked, so that he cannot see or notice these cunning tricks, and I’ll get into his heaven before he is aware of it.” But I have also seen many who have thus hoarded, so that guldens by the thousand lay stored up, but afterwards they died off with their property, so that no one knew what had become of it; for it was gained by avarice, it had to be left in avarice, devoured by moth and rust, and never be put to proper use.
This I mention as an example from which one may see how skillfully Squire Avarice can adorn himself and put on pious airs if he has occasion for it; and yet, in fact, he is a two-fold scoundrel and liar. For what does God care for it, that you mean to lead a splendid, knightly life, so that he should be pleased for you to act avariciously, contrary to his command, and live in such a way as if you wanted to get everything for yourself, to display your splendor and pride, and afterward say that you are doing it for God’s sake, and for the honor of the Church, and mean to pay for it with benefices and church-services. Just as if some one were to break into your house and open your coffers and take what he could find, and would afterward say he meant to give some of it for alms: ah, that would be a beautiful sacrifice!
The right thing is: If you want to give to God, give him of what is; your own; for he says: I hate sacrifices that come from robbery. If you have, give what you choose; if you have not, then you are excused. But if you are avariciously scraping together so that you may be able to give, and pretend that you are doing it with that intention, then you are not in earnest, but it is a light that you have yourself taken from the dark lantern wherewith to deceive God and the people.
Thus I might go through all ranks and conditions, and show how men dress themselves up so that avarice takes on the name of a virtue, and mammon is praised and honored as a god. But who is to tell all that the farmers at market, the citizens in towns, the nobleman in office and on his estate, are everywhere doing? The one example that I have given is enough to show clearly and distinctively the darkness that is thick enough to be felt, and also to judge the others accordingly. What are we to think now of the great mass of the nobility that are now undertaking to deal in nearly all kinds of business, even with iron and nails? We must not call this all avarice; but, as God has given it, every one may seek his means of living as best he can, so that he may honorably fill his station, etc. That is also a little light that makes them stock-blind, so that it prevents them from seeing anything at all; whilst yet in ordinary worldly justice it is so ordered that every one may carry on his business and trade so that still his neighbor may also have a chance to get along and maintain himself. But now nobody can do anything for these griffins and lions that monopolize all kinds of business, and besides want to be called pious and honorable people.
But (as was said) who can imagine what a multitude of such tricks are now employed in all ranks and trades? For what is the world, but a great wide sea of all wickedness and scoundrelism, concealed under a covering and color of good that cannot be understood? Especially now in this last age, which is a sign that it cannot long endure, and is going to destruction. For the tendency is, as we say: the older, the stingier; the longer, the worse; and everybody is becoming so avaricious, that almost nobody can get to eat and drink on account of others, although God gives everything in abundance. But that is the reward of the ingratitude and contempt that is shown towards the gospel, as I have said: He who apostatizes from the gospel must be so possessed by the devil that he cannot be avaricious enough: just as, on the other hand, he who has the gospel in his heart becomes mild, so that he not only ceases to rake and scrape together, but gives and risks everything, as much as he ought to and can.
Well, we must still let the world be the world, and although it for a long while avariciously gathers everything for itself, it must nevertheless go back upon itself and leave everything for us; or, if we still must suffer poverty and trouble in the midst of it, we still have no evil portion, as Isaac and Jacob among their brethren. Through us they have gained worldly property and complete freedom from the oppression and burdens of the papacy, so that they may do what they please. That is the portion of Ishmael, a flask with water, that Abraham hung about his neck, and let him go. But we have a different portion, that is called spiritual good and heavenly blessing: and are thus well provided for. Their great possessions that they have we gladly renounce, and would not have them if they would throw them after us; on the other hand, they do not want the spiritual blessings that we have. So we will hold possession of the real territory, and the inheritance that is ours forever, and we will let them boast of their portion that will soon fade away, and rob themselves for its sake of our inheritance, which we would still be glad to share with them. If they, however, rob us of their portion, we have always so much that we can readily recover from the loss.
But let us beware of this, that we do not fall into the false light, along with the world, that is the evil eye, that extinguishes the true light and makes of it a twofold darkness; and see to it that avarice does not perplex you with that sweet notion and beautiful coloring, that you mean to bring yourself or your children into a high, honorable position, and give them a great deal only to better and exalt their position; for thus avarice is the longer the less satisfied, but is always reaching out for something higher and beyond, and nobody is satisfied with his place; but, he who is a citizen would like to be a knight; a nobleman would like to be a prince, and so forth; a prince would like to travel like the emperor. But do you wish to travel like a Christian? then beware of this notion as of the very worst darkness, and conduct your business in such a way, if God, through his blessing, gives you success, that your neighbor also alongside of you may provide for himself and have pleasure in you, so that you may lend him a helping hand.
For if you let the evil eye deceive you, then you have already lost the word of God, as driven out by that light, and one thick darkness is added to the other, that makes you totally blind and obdurate, so that nothing more can be done for you.
V.24. No man can serve two masters; for either he will hale the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Here he pronounces a most fearful sentence against the avaricious: first of all against his Jews, who were the real avaricious bellies, and yet wanted to be holy and very devout, like our priests and ecclesiastics, he means to say: “You think you are all right, and are serving God with great earnestness, and are yet, along with that, avaricious scoundrels, so that you are doing all this for mammon’s sake, although you are also serving God.” But this is the statement: No man can serve two masters at the same time. If you wish to be the servants of God, then you cannot serve mammon. Here he means two masters who are opposed to one another, not those who reign with one another. For that is not self-contradictory, if I serve my prince or the emperor and God besides; for it passes regularly from one to the other, so that if I obey the lowest one I am obeying the highest also. Just as the head of a family sends his wife or children to the servants, and through them commands these what they are to do: there is no multiplicity, but it is all one lord and from one master. But God and the devil, that means two masters, that are opposed to one another and issue contradictory orders.
God says: Thou shalt not be avaricious, nor have any other God; but the devil, on the contrary, says: You may be avaricious and serve mammon.
Reason itself teaches this, that it is not sufferable to serve two antagonistic masters at the same time; although the world can skillfully do it, and this is called in German, carrying the tree on both shoulders, and blowing hot and cold from the same mouth; as when a nobleman serves a prince, and accepts hire from him, and betrays and sells him to another and accepts money also there, and watches what the weather promises to be, if it will rain here, so that the sun may shine there, and thus betrays and makes merchandise of both. But there is no serving, in all this, and even reason must say that such people are traitors and scoundrels. For how would you like it if you should have a servant who would accept wages from you and would be looking with one eye towards some one else, and not be at all concerned about your affairs; but, if something should go wrong to-day or to-morrow, would scamper off to the other and leave you in the lurch?
Therefore it is right to say: He who is a good servant and wants to serve faithfully, must not cling to two masters, but speak thus: “I have my support from this master, him will I serve as long as I am with him, will do the best I can for him and not concern myself about any one else.” But if he wants to pilfer here, and steal there, then he’s ready for the hangman. For one should kill the hens that eat at home and lay their eggs elsewhere. Thus did the Jews also; they supposed that God should regard them as great saints, and be well satisfied if they sacrificed in the temple and slaughtered their calves and cows, although they meanwhile were acting avariciously wherever they could, until they carried on their merchandizing before and in the temple, and set up their money-changing tables, so that materials could be promptly furnished and no one should leave without sacrificing.
Against these Christ now pronounces this sentence, so that no one may undertake to be the servant of God and mammon. It is not possible to maintain his service, which he has established, if you are determined to be avaricious after mammon. For the worship of God means that you cleave to his word alone and make everything bend to that. He who will live according to that, and be consistent, must at once renounce mammon. For this is sure: as soon as a preacher or pastor becomes avaricious he is no longer of any use, and cannot preach any thing good. For he must be on his guard and dare not rebuke any one, allows himself to have his mouth stopped by presents, so that he may let the people do what they please, avoids making any one angry, especially the great and powerful: and thus neglects his duty and office that requires him to rebuke the wicked. Thus also, if a burgomaster or judge or any one who holds an office is to execute his office and see to it that it is rightly administered, he must not be much concerned about how rich he may become and derive benefit from it. Is he, however, a servant of mammon, he allows himself to be bribed with presents, so that he becomes blind and no longer sees how the people live.
For he thinks: Am I to punish this one or that one? then I will make enemies and may thereby lose what is mine, etc. And although he has an excellent service, and is occupying the office that God has ordered and given to him, he still cannot administer and exercise it; this is the work of mammon, that has taken possession of his heart.
So it goes now in the world everywhere, so that it supposes it to be a small matter and no great danger with regard to mammon; and it flatters itself with the beautiful, sweet thought, that it can still serve God; but this is a miserable deception by which the devil blinds a person, so that he no longer attends to his official duty, and becomes absorbed in avarice; and this solely for the reason that he fears that he will not receive honor, gifts, or presents.
Therefore Christ (as above said) pronounces a strict sentence that one should not deceive himself with such thoughts and count this a small matter; but should know that he who for the sake of mammon, money or pleasure, or honor or favor, does not administer his office as he should, will not be recognized by God as his servant, but as his enemy, as we will hear; but he who wishes to be found in God’s service, and to execute his office properly, so that he may think, with a manly heart, that he can despise the world with its mammon; but this not as an outgrowth of his own evil heart, but as a gift from heaven, with prayer that God, who has bestowed upon you this office, may also give you grace to administer it; and enable you to believe that you have and can do nothing nobler and better on earth than the service that you are to render to him, and not be much concerned as to whether you suffer harm through it or get into trouble; and comfort yourself with this, that you are serving a great Master who can easily make you enjoy your loss, which is better than that you should lose the eternal treasure for the sake of the small temporal good that at any rate cannot help you. For if you are to choose a master, would you not much rather serve the living God than the powerless dead knave?
See, thus every Christian does who has God’s word, that he may so honor and observe it, and not care whether the world is thereby vexed or fails to get any advantage from it; but he thinks thus: There is purse and pocket, house and home, etc.; out here is my Christ: if am now to leave and give up one, then I will let all that go, so that I may keep my Christ. That is what Christ means when he says one cannot serve two masters. For it will happen sooner or later that they will conflict, and one must yield to the other. Therefore there is no use for you to flatter yourself that you mean to keep them both as masters; but you must soon decide to leave one or the other.
Therefore the stress lies here on the little word, serve. To have money and property, wife, child, house and home, this is not sinful; but you must not let this be your master, but you must make it serve you, and you be its master; as we say of an honest, excellent, well-disposed man: He is master of his money; not so subservient to it and held captive by it as a stingy greedy-belly, who would rather let God’s word go, and everything else, holding back both hand and mouth, than to run any risk with his money.
That is a womanly, childish and servile heart, that despises and neglects the eternal treasure for the sake of the scaly mammon which it cannot use or enjoy; yet lives along securely meanwhile, thinks it can attend to God’s word at any time, keeps on accumulating as much as it can, so as not to miss a penny for God’s sake, until it sinks more and more deeply into avarice, gets farther and farther from God’s word, and finally opposes it altogether.
For Christ used hard language and spoke very plainly when he said: “Either he will hate the one and love the other; or he will hold to the one and despise the other.” That is as much as to say: The shameful love of mammon makes enemies to God; as some of our priests publicly say: That would indeed be an excellent way of teaching, but it does harm; therefore it is objected to, and not unreasonably (as they think), for it does give occasion to trouble. But mammon is a capital god; he does no harm in the kitchen or in the purse. Therefore here love and friendship come to an issue over the words: “he will hate the one and love the other.” For there are two masters, that are opposed to each other, and cannot peaceably dwell together in one heart, as little as two owners in one house; so that when the test comes that one must serve and hold to the one, then one must anger the other or leave him. Thus one becomes the enemy of God, as a matter of course, because he loves money and property.
This is the precious fruit of the service of mammon; as can especially now be seen, since avarice has gained such complete control, that there is a perfect leprosy of avarice among the nobility, peasants, civilians, priests and laymen. Is not that a great piece of sanctity and a beautiful virtue, that one takes the best part of man from God and gives it to mammon? For that is certainly the highest service, to which the heart is sincerely devoted, which the whole body and all the members hanker after; as Christ said above: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” For what one loves, that he will assuredly run after, that he will be glad to talk about, that has all his heart and his thoughts; hence also Augustine says: “Deus meus, amor meus,” what I love, that is my god. From this you see what kind of people those are to whom Christ applies this title — that they are the enemies of God, who yet feign such great display of serving him, as his best friends; but at heart they are nothing else than real devil’s saints, who heartily hate and persecute God and his word and work.
For that is truly to hate God, if one hates his word. This is the way of it: If one rebukes a man for avarice and unbelief, and holds before him the first commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” that is, thou shalt not incline thy heart, desire and love, to any one else than to me; and he will not hear or endure that rebuke; but begins to rebel and rage against it, until he is quite embittered against it in heart, with rankling hatred against the word and its preachers. Therefore there is in the text of the ten commandments such a word of threatening: “I am a jealous God, visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children of them that hate me,” etc., by whom he means these very greedy-bellies and mammon-servers, as the Scriptures call avarice idolatry or the worship of idols. Yet they want (as above said) to be praised as the greatest saints, and as enemies of idolatry and heretics, and by no means to have it said that they hate God. But this is the proof against them that they cannot hear or see the word of God, when it attacks their avarice, and want to be wholly unreproved; and the more one rebukes and threatens them, the more they laugh and mock, and do what they please against God and every one else.
See now, is not this a shameful evil and an abominable sin, that ought to alarm us and make us heartily hostile to mammon, ask God’s protection against it, and flee from it as from the devil? For who would not dread falling into it, and hearing this decision concerning himself that he is to be called an enemy of God, who not only depises him, but wishes that God and his word did not exist, that he might only have his free pleasure and will, to God’s annoyance and vexation. For reckon yourself what will happen to such a man, and what kind of a person he is loading upon himself, so that at last it will be quite too heavy for him.
And they are indeed very well punished (as the text says), by the fact that they are such miserable people, that their heart, desire, love and pleasure are set upon the out-house, when they ought to be in heaven and set upon that which is God’s. How could a man more completely disgrace himself than by turning his consolation away from God, who gives him everything that is good, and well deserves to have our good will, and posting himself behind the devil and taking delight in his stench and hell, and even becoming so hellishly wicked that he not only despises the word of God, but becomes so murderously opposed to it that he wishes there were no God? That is the gratitude that he receives from these greedy-bellies, to whom he daily gives bodily life, sun and moon, and the treasures that they have. But they will find out what they gain thereby, and they have it in part already, so that they must be constantly devouring the devil’s stench and filth.
That is one part of the text, spoken of mammon: “Either he will hate the one and love the other;” the other is: “or, he will hold to the one (that is, God) and despise the other.” Here he does not merely say: “He will love the one;” but he shows the deed and work of love by the word: “hold to.”
For he who is to love God and his word, will not find it so very small a matter, but often very hard to do, and the love will become such as the devil will often make sour and bitter. Therefore it is necessary that we be able to hold and hang fast to God’s word, and do not let ourselves be torn loose from it, although our own flesh and the example of the whole world, and the devil besides, oppose it and endeavor to take it from us; and he must needs be a man and have knightly courage that can resist so many enemies; yes, there must be a great fiery zeal of love, that is burning so brightly that one can give up everything, house and home, wife and child, honor and property, body and life, yes, despise it too, and trample it under foot, so that he only may preserve the treasure, which he still does not see, and which is despised in the world, but only offered in the mere word and believed on in the heart.
Yet he does not mean thereby that we are not to have money and property, or, if we have it, to throw it away; as some fools among the philosophers, and cranky saints among Christians have taught and done. For he grants that you may be rich, but he does not want you to fix your love upon that; as David taught and proved by his own example: “If riches increase, set not your heart upon them.” Psalm 62:10. That is such a state of mind that, in the midst of money and property given by God, can keep the heart free (which the world cannot do), and if it seeks to entice the heart to itself (as the beautiful florins and shining silver goblets and jewels bewitchingly smile), and to bear it away from God, then he can trample it under foot, and so completely despise it as the world clings to it, and on the contrary despises the heavenly treasure. In short, a man must be mammon’s master, so that it must lie at his feet; but he must be subject to no one, nor have any one as his master except the word of God. But this is preached to the little flock that believe in Christ, and hold his word to be true; with the others it amounts to nothing.
V.25. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment!
The Lord expatiates here in delivering a strong denunciation of this ruinous vice, because (as said above) it commonly pushes its way in violently along with the gospel, and fiercely assails not only the world but also Christians; especially, however, those who are to preach the word of God and expose themselves to all sorts of danger on its account, who are despised and oppressed by the world, so that they so far as the flesh is concerned have good reason for anxiety. For he who wishes to be a Christian and confess his Lord, he makes the devil (who is a prince of the world) his enemy.
Therefore he assails and seizes him, not through the word and faith, but through that which is under his kingdom and power. Now we have our worthless body, flesh and blood, still in his kingdom; that he can indeed torment, and cast into prison, rob of food, and drink, and clothes, so that we, with all we have, must always be in this danger. Flesh and blood, on the other hand, thinks how it can also manage to hold its place securely and escape danger. Thus the temptation arises that is called care for a livelihood; though the world does not consider it a temptation, but rather considers it a virtue, and it praises these people that can scheme for great property and honor, etc.
And here you learn what it means to serve mammon, namely, to care for life and our body, what we are to eat and drink, to have about us and to put on; that is, to think only of this life, how we may become rich here, may gather and heap up money and property, as if we were to remain here forever. For this is not sin, nor serving mammon, that we eat and drink, and clothe ourselves, as the needs of this life and of the body require, so that it may have its food and clothing; also, it is no sin to seek and gain food; but [it is sinful] to be careful about it, that is, to set the heart’s comfort and confidence upon it. For care does not inhere in the garment or in the food, but right in the heart; that cannot let it go, it will hanker after it; as we say: Goods give courage, etc., so that caring means hankering after it with the heart. For what the heart does not intend and love, that I am not concerned about; and again, what I care for, that I must have a heart for.
Yet you must not press the text too closely, as though it meant to forbid caring for anything at all. For every office or calling carries with it the duty of caring for that which belongs to it, especially where one is placed over others; as St. Paul says, Romans 12:8, concerning spiritual offices in Christendom: He that ruleth, let him do it with diligence. Thus the head of a family must care for his children and domestics, that they be well trained and do what they should; and if he neglects this he does wrong. In the same way it is the care of a preacher or a pastor that the preaching and the sacraments are rightly attended to; that he comfort the distressed and sick, rebuke the wicked, pray for all kind of needy ones, etc. For he is commanded to wait upon and direct souls. Thus a prince and other persons in authority must care for the secular government, that it is rightly administered, as their office requires. In like manner also subjects are to care that they faithfully render and accomplish their obedience; servants and maids, that they properly serve their masters and guard their interests, etc.
Christ is not here speaking of this kind of care; for there is an official care that is to be carefully distinguished from avarice. For that is not concerned about itself, but about its neighbor; it does not seek its own, yes, it even neglects its own, and is indifferent about it, and serves another, so that it is called a care of love, which is godlike and Christian, not that of selfishness or of mammon, which is both against faith and lover and it is the very thing that hinders the official care. For he who is in love with his money and caring for his own advantage will not pay much attention to his neighbor or his office, which involves his neighbor. As we saw heretofore in our ecclesiastics, who were not at all concerned about properly caring for souls, but their whole aim was that the world should contribute enough to them; and what did not bring them in any money, that they neglected, so that not one of them would as much as say a Paler noster for another without pay. But a pious pastor cares only for this, that he may rightly administer his office, that souls may be benefited thereby; is not concerned about it, that he does not gain much by it, yes, has to suffer much for it, bite himself with snakes, have the world and the devil as his enemies, lets God see to it that he gets enough to eat, etc.; but consoles himself with another treasure (for the sake of which he does all this,) in that life, which is so great that all that he here suffers is quite too small in comparison, etc.
Because now he has forbidden this care of avarice and mammon worship as idolatrous and making men enemies to God, he continues, by adding many illustrations and comparisons, so that he may make avarice all the more odious to us, and endeavors to depict it in such hateful colors that we will feel like spitting upon it, and says, first of all: Is not life more than food? that is, you can and must entrust God with your life, of body and soul, and it is not within your power to continue it for a single hour; what fools then you are that you will not entrust to him your body’s nourishment, that he may procure eating and drinking for you? For how can one imagine greater folly than for one to be painfully solicitous about getting food and drink, and having no care about getting body and life or retaining them for an hour? — just as if one should be careful to adorn his house beautifully, and did not know who was to live in it; or, how he might prepare much and excellent food in the kitchen, and should have no one who was about to eat it. Just so it is that we act with our avariciousness, that we care for the least and never think of the most important. That is really unnecessary and superfluous, yes, foolish care. And though we should care a great deal about our bodily life, there would be nothing gained by that, for it is not for a moment within our power; just as little as if any one were to worry himself to death, how the grain is to grow in the field, which he has not sowed; or where the silver is to lie in the mine, that he has not put there.
Since then, in the whole matter of our life we must dismiss care, and this, without our thinking or doing anything about it, is hourly maintained by God; why should we worry about little things as if he neither could nor would give us food and covering? We ought to be ashamed that anyone should say of us that we are guilty of such folly. Yet our conduct, especially that of the great, rich bellies, is nothing else than that of the fools, that are ever caring only to have their kitchens full, and have an abundance provided, and yet have no table or guests; or who have many luxurious beds provided and have no one to occupy them; just as if a shoemaker should do nothing else all his life but fill his shop with shoelasts, and never think about where he would get leather to make a shoe; ought we not to march him out of the country as a crank and a fool?
See, Christ thus shows us what foolish people we are, so that we might well spit upon ourselves; and nevertheless we live along in this blindness, although it is perfectly plain, that we cannot take care of our bodily life, and if we did care for that we would just thereby have to become Christians and think: See, I do not even have my own life in my hand for a moment. Since then I must entrust my bodily life to God, why shall I then doubt and care how the belly may be nourished for a day or two? Just as if I had a rich father who would gladly present me with a thousand florins, and I would not trust him to give me a penny when I need it.
V.26, 27. Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, not gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
Here he adds an illustration and a comparison to the exhortation in mockery, ridicule and contempt of the wretched avarice and belly-care, so that he may drive us away from it, and remind us what we ourselves are, so that we may be heartily ashamed of ourselves, since we are far nobler and better than the birds, as we are lords not only of the birds, but of all living creatures, and all things are given to us for service and created for our sake: and yet we have not so much faith as to trust that we may sustain ourselves with all these things that God has given and provided for us: whilst he is daily giving their food and nourishment to the smallest birds, yes, to the very smallest worms, as our servants, without their caring or thinking at all about it, yet they do not gather anything or lay up in store; they neither sow, nor if it be sowed can they gather it in.
Is it not now a shameful disgrace, that we, for whom God has given and provided all creatures, and for whom he causes so much to grow every year, so that we have enough annually to sow, and very much more to reap, cannot trust our belly to him without care and avarice? For if anybody ought to care and gather, it should be done by the little birds; since they cannot do that, and might think when summer is coming: See, now all the world is sowing its grain, so that in summer they may again gather it in; now, or in harvest, everybody is harvesting and accumulating, and as all do not have a little grain to sow or to gather in, where are we throughout the year, especially in the cold winter, to get anything to eat, when everything has been housed and nothing is left in the fields? What would we men do if we for a single summer had nothing to sow? Yes, if we did not know of provision for a fortnight, how would all the world then become desperate, as if we would all have to die of hunger? Now the little birds fly in the air summer and winter, sing and are happy, never worry or care at all, though they do not know where they are to get food tomorrow: and we miserable, greedy bellies, never cease caring, although we have barns and store-houses full, and see grain growing in the fields so abundantly.
See, thus he makes the birds masters and teachers, so that a weak little sparrow must stand in the gospel, to our great, lasting disgrace, as teacher and preacher of the very wisest man, and hold this daily before our eyes and ears; as though he wished to say to us: See, miserable man, you have house and home, money and property, and every year your field full of grain and growth of all kinds, more than you need; yet you have no peace, and are always caring lest you may die of hunger; and if you do not see provision and know that it is before you, you cannot trust God, that he will give you food for one day; whilst there are such multitudes of us, not one of whom is all his life-time ever anxiously concerned, and yet God daily nourishes us. In short, we have as many masters and preachers as there are little birds in the air, that put us to shame with their living example, so that we ought to be ashamed, and not venture to lift up our eyes if we hear a bird singing, that is proclaiming heavenward God’s praise and our disgrace; yet we are so obdurate that we pay no attention to it, although we hear this preached and sung daily on every hand.
Yes, see what else they do, the dear little birds; how entirely free from care they live, and look for their food alone from the hand of God. If we cage them, that they shall sing, and give them plenty to eat, so that they ought to think: Now I have enough, so that I need not care where I will get anything to eat; for I now have a rich master, and my barns are full, etc.; that they do not do, but they would much rather be free in the air, are fatter too, and sing better and more sweetly Laudes and matins, early in the morning, before they eat; and yet not one of them knows of a little grain in store; they make a beautiful, long Benedicite, and let our Lord God take care, even when they have little ones that they have to feed. Therefore, when you hear a nightingale, you hear the cutest preacher, who reminds you of this gospel, not with poor, mere words, but with the living act and example, because it sings the whole night long, and screams itself nearly to death, and is merrier in the grove than if it is cooped up in a cage, where we have to attend to it with all diligence, and where it seldom thrives or remains alive; as if it were to say: I would much rather be in the kitchen of the Lord, who has made heaven and earth, and is himself cook and host, and daily feeds and nourishes innumerable little birds out of his hand, and has not just a sack full, but heaven and earth full of little grains.
Thus Christ now speaks: Since you daily see how your heavenly Father feeds the little birds in the field, without their having any care; cannot you then trust hint so much that he will also feed you, because he is your Father, and calls you his children? Should he not much rather care for you whom he has made his children, and to whom he gives his word and all creatures, than for the little birds, that are not his children, but your servants? And yet he holds them in such high esteem that he daily feeds them, as if he had only these to care for; and he takes pleasure in it, that they quite without care fly about and sing, as if they should say: I sing and am cheerful, and yet I know not of a little grain that I am to eat; my bread is not yet baked, my grain is not yet sowed; but I have a rich master who cares for me, while I sing or sleep; he can give me more than all men and I could get with our caring.
Since now the birds understand the art of trusting him so completely, and throwing off care from themselves upon God, we, who are his children, should much rather do it. Therefore it is an excellent illustration that puts us all to shame, so that we, who are people endowed with reason, and besides have the Scriptures at hand, do not have so much wisdom as to imitate the birds, and must daily hear ourselves disgraced before God and the people, as often as we hear little birds sing. But man has become crazy and foolish, since he fell away from God’s word and command, so that henceforth there is no creature living that is not wiser than he; and a little finch, that can neither speak nor read, is his teacher and master in the Scriptures, although he has the whole Bible and his reason to help him.
This is the first illustration; to this he appends a saying taken from our own experience, and shows that our caring is useless and accomplishes nothing:
Who is there among you, (says he,) who can add one cubit to his stature, although he is concerned about it? If a man should never grow to full size except through his own caring, how large would we grow? or, of what avail would it be for a little dwarf to worry himself to death how he might become larger? What do you accomplish by caring where you are to get food and clothing? just as if it stood in your power to make your body as stout and as tall as you wished. Your body with all its members is of definite size, and has its length and breadth, so that you cannot make it otherwise, and you are defied to make it a hair’s-breadth taller. What a fool then you are, that you are concerned about that which is not within your power, and which is already limited both as to time and extent, viz. how long your bodily life shall last, and cannot trust him that he will procure for you also both food and clothing as long as you have to live here, etc.!
V.28-30. And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, That Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
Here you have another illustration and comparison, in which the little flowers of the field, that are trampled upon and eaten by the cattle, must also become our teachers and masters, so that our disgrace may become still greater. For see how they grow up, so beautifully ornamented with colors, and yet not one of them cares and thinks how it is to grow, or what kind of color it is to have, but it lets God care for this; and, without any care or effort on its part, God clothes it with such beautiful, lovely colors, that Christ says that Solomon in all his glory was not as beautiful as one of these; yes, no empress, with her whole retinue, with all her gold, pearls and jewels. For he cannot name any king who was richer, more glorious, and more splendidly adorned than Solomon: yet the king, with all his grand display and splendor, is nothing in comparison with a rose or pink or violet in the field. Thus our Lord God can adorn whom he will adorn, so that it deserves to be called adorned, and no man can make or paint such a color, and wish for or get another still more beautiful adornment; and if we should beautify them with gold and satin, they still would say: I would rather that my Master up there in heaven should adorn me, who adorns the little birds, than all the tailors and embroiderers on earth.
Since now he clothes and adorns so many flowers with such various colors, and each has its own dress, and outranks with it all worldly splendor, why cannot we confide in him that he will also clothe us? For what are the flowers and grass upon the field in comparison with us? Or, for what were they created except to stand there for a day or two, and exhibit themselves, and then to wither and become hay; or, as Christ says, to be cast into the oven, so that one may burn them and heat the oven? Yet our Lord God holds these perishable and insignificant things in such estimation, and bestows so much expense upon them, that he adorns them more splendidly than any king upon earth, though they do not need this ornamentation, and it is even lost upon them, as they soon perish along with the flower. But we, his highest creatures, on whose account he has made all else, and to whom he gives everything, and who are of such account to him that this life is not to be the end of us, but after this life he means to give to us eternal life; should not we have so much confidence in him, that he will clothe us as he clothes the flowers of the field and the birds of the air with manifold beautiful colors and feathers? That is putting the case as so dishonorable for us, and depicting our unbelief as so disgraceful, that he could not make it more contemptible.
But it is the [fault of the] miserable devil and the terrible fall that we made, that we must see the whole world full of these illustrations of the birds against us, who with their example and appearance rebuke our unbelief, and become our highest Doctores, sing and preach to us, and smile at us so lovingly, that we should only believe; yet we live on, let ourselves be preached and sung to, and keep on avariciously raking together; but [it is] to our eternal shame and disgrace that every little flower testifies against us and condemns our unbelief before God and all creatures until the judgment day. Therefore he now concludes this sermon before his Christians.
V.31, 32. Therefore take no thought, 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 heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
Since you daily see these illustrations in everything that lives and grows out of the earth, how God nourishes and feeds it and most beautifully clothes and adorns it: be induced to lay aside care and unbelief, and consider that you are Christians and not heathen. For such caring and avarice belong to the heathen, who do not know God, or ask about him, and it is real idolatry, as St. Paul says, and as was said also above, where he calls it serving mammon.
Therefore no greedy-belly is a Christian, although he was baptized; but he has surely lost Christ, and has become a heathen. For the two cannot endure each other, to be avaricious and full of care and to believe; one must exclude the other. Now there is nothing more shameful before God and all creatures, for Christians who hear and know the word of God, than that they can be said to be like the heathen who do not believe that God nourishes them and gives them everything, and thus fall away from God, deny the faith, and pay no regard either to his word or to these manifest illustrations. This is a hard sentence that reasonably ought to alarm every one. For it is a prompt conclusion, that a professed Christian should either reflect, and leave off caring avariciously, or know that he is no Christian, but ten times worse than a heathen.
Besides, (he says,)since you are Christians, you dare not doubt as to your Father’s knowing very well that you need all this; namely, that you have a belly that needs eating and drinking, and a body that needs to be clothed. If he did not know it, then you would have cause to care and to think how you might nourish yourselves; but now that he knows it, he will not neglect you. For he is so kind that he gladly attends to it, and especially for you Christians, because (as was said) he cares also for the birds of the air.
Therefore drop the care, for at any rate you gain nothing by it. It does not depend upon your caring, but upon his knowing and caring. If nothing grew in the field before we cared for it, we would all have died in our cradles, and nothing could grow after night when we are lying asleep; yes, if we were all to worry ourselves to death, no stalk would grow in the field for our caring; we must ourselves see and comprehend that God gives everything without our caring for it; yet we are such godless people that we will not cease our caring and avarice, nor allow God alone to have the care, to whom alone it belongs, as to a father for his children.
V.33. Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
The Lord saw very well, as I said, that none among the outward, gross vices so outrageously counteracts the gospel, and hinders [the progress of] God’s kingdom, as avarice. For as soon as a preacher lays his plans for becoming rich, he no longer rightly administers his office; for his heart is ensnared by the care for the means of living, as in a net, as St. Paul calls it, so that he can no longer teach and rebuke, as and where he should; concerned lest he might lose favor and friendship among those from whom he can secure it: allows himself to be misled, so that he keeps silent, and misleads other people too; not through heresy, but through his own belly, which is his idol. For he who wants to be the right kind of a preacher, and faithfully perform his duty, must retain and assert his liberty unterrifiedly to tell the truth, without respect of persons, and rebuking if necessary great and small, rich, poor, powerful, friend and foe. This avarice does not do.
For it fears, if it should offend many people or good friends, it would find itself in want of bread. Hence it draws in its whistles and keeps silence.
In the same way also the mass of the people, who are not preachers, but who should hear the word of God, and help to further the kingdom of God, every one in his own station and mode of living, are not willing to run any risk or to be prepared for or endure any want, for the sake of the gospel; but they look out for it, first of all, that they have enough, and that their belly is provided for, no matter whether the gospel keeps up or lags behind; thus they go along, raking and scraping, as well as they can, giving the preachers nothing, even besides taking from them what they may have.
Thus it goes according to the devil’s wishes, so that no one wants to preach or hear any more, and thus both the doctrine and its fruits in the hearts of the people disappear, and the kingdom of God falls entirely away.
This is alone the work of the abominably devilish mammon. See, that is the reason why the Lord Christ so faithfully warns his own against it by such a long sermon.
And in order that we may the better guard ourselves against it, he prescribes in these words a very powerful remedy, how we are to treat it, so that we do not need to care; and that we may yet have enough, yes, a much greater and more excellent treasure than mammon can give us, and than we can get through our caring, and this remedy is, to seek the kingdom of God.
But it is very important that it should be deeply impressed upon our heart what the kingdom of God is, and what it imparts. For if we could be made to understand this, so that we would rightly apprehend and could in our heart measure and weigh how great and precious a treasure it is in contrast with mammon or the kingdom of the world, that is, everything upon earth, then we would spit upon mammon. For what more would you have, although you should have the possessions and the power of the king of France, and of the Turkish emperor besides, than a beggar before the door has with his scraps? For the only thing we have to do is daily to fill our belly; we can’t do anything more with all our worldly goods and glory; and the poorest beggar has as much of this as the mightiest emperor, yes, his broken victuals taste much better and do him more good than the splendid, royal meal does to the latter. That is the whole of it, and no one gets any more from it, and in a little while we must say good-bye to it all, and we cannot prolong our life with it for a single hour when the time comes.
Hence it is a poor, miserable, yes a nasty, stinking kingdom.
What is, however, on the contrary, the kingdom of God, or of the Lord Christ? Count that up for yourself, and say, what is the creature in comparison with the Creator, and the world in comparison with God? For if all heaven and earth were mine alone, what would I have as over against God? Not as much as a little drop of water or a particle of dust in comparison with the entire ocean; besides, it is such a treasure as cannot cease or diminish and become smaller; so that both as to its greatness and durability it cannot be measured or comprehended by any human heart or senses; and shall I so shamefully reject and give up God and his kingdom, that I may take this dirty, deadly belly-kingdom in preference to that divine, imperishable one that gives me eternal life, righteousness, peace, joy and salvation? And everything that I here in time seek and desire I am to have in this one eternally, and everything immeasurably more glorious and superabundant than what I can obtain here upon earth with great difficulty, care and labor; and before I can get it, and can accomplish what I want, I must go away and let everything lie. Is that not a great, shameful folly and blindness, that we do not see this? Yes, a stubborn wickedness of the world, possessed by the devil, that it will not be instructed or give heed when we preach this to it?
Therefore Christ wishes with these words to stir us up, and to say: if you wish to be properly careful and solicitous about having always enough, then seek for that treasure that is called the kingdom of God. Do not be concerned for the temporal, perishable treasure that is destroyed by moth and rust, as he said before. You have a very different treasure in heaven, which I am pointing out to you; care and seek for that, and contemplate what you have in that, and you will easily forget the other. For it is a treasure of such a kind that will sustain you forever, and cannot be lost or taken away, so that because the treasure is enduring and you clinging to it, you must also endure, even though you have not a penny from the world.
It has often been told what the kingdom of God is, namely, most briefly, that it does not consist in external things, eating and drinking, etc., nor other works which we can do; but in this, that we believe in Jesus Christ, who is the head and sole king in this kingdom, in and through whom we have everything, so that no sin, death and misfortune can injure him who abides in it [the kingdom], but he has eternal life, joy and salvation, which here begin in this faith, but in the last day will be revealed and eternally completed.
What now does it mean to seek this kingdom? or how do we attain to it?
What way must we take? One points in this direction, another in that.
Thus, the pope teaches: Go to Rome and get an indulgence, confess and do penance, read or hear mass, put on a hood, and practice long public worship and a severe, strict life. That is the way we always used to run, just as we were told, as silly and foolish people, and all wanted to find the kingdom of God; but we found just the kingdom of the devil. For there are many ways here, but one and all are aside from the only [true] one, which is to believe in Christ and to diligently apply and use the gospel, upon which faith rests, with preaching, hearing, reading, singing, meditating, and in every possible way, so that one may always at heart be growing and becoming stronger, and give outward evidence by his fruits, so that he may be always promoting it and leading many others to it; as we (thank God) are now doing, and there are still many besides, both preachers and other Christians, who with all diligence are busily urging it on, so that they subordinate all that they have, and would be ready to lose it all, rather than let go of the word.
No monk, nun or priest does or understands this, although they boast that they are God’s servants and espoused to Christ. For they all miss the only right way, and ignore the gospel; they know neither God nor Christ and his kingdom. For he who wants to know and find it must not seek for it after his own notion, but hear his word, as the foundation and corner-stone, and see whither he directs you and how he interprets it. Now .his word about his kingdom is this: He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. This word was not spun out of our heads, nor did it grow out of the heart of any man; but it descended from heaven, and was proclaimed by the mouth of God, so that we may be perfectly sure and not miss the right way.
Where now this is practiced, both among preachers and hearers, so that the word and sacraments are diligently employed, where men live accordingly and persevere in so doing, so that it becomes known among the people, and the young people are drawn in and taught: that is what we mean by seeking and promoting and being properly concerned about the kingdom of God.
What is the meaning of his adding: And his righteousness? The kingdom has also a righteousness; it is, however, a different righteousness from that of the world, as it is also a different kingdom. This means now the righteousness that is by faith, that is efficient and active through good works; in this way, that the gospel with me is a very serious matter, and I diligently hear and practice it, and am actually living in accordance with it, and am not a trifling gossip or a hypocrite, who lets it in at one ear and out at the other; but I am one who gives practical proof that the kingdom is here, as St. Paul says, 1 Corinthians 4:20: The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. That we call the gospel with its fruits, that is, doing good works, with diligence and fidelity attending to one’s business or office, and suffering variously for it. For he calls righteousness in general the whole life of a Christian with reference to God and man, as the tree with its fruits; but not meaning that it is therefore entirely perfect, but always improving; as he here bids his disciples be always seeking, as those who have not yet actually seized it, nor have already completely learned and lived it. For in the kingdom of Christ it is with us half sin and half holiness. For whatever of faith and of Christ is in us, that is altogether pure and perfect, as not of our own, but of Christ, who through faith is ours, and lives and works in us. But what is still our own, that is altogether sin, yet under and in Christ covered over and obliterated through forgiveness of sin, besides daily through the same grace of the Spirit mortified, until we are entirely dead to this life.
See, this belongs to the righteousness of this kingdom, that it be upright and no hypocrisy. For it is set over against those who talk and boast indeed about the gospel, but have nothing of it in their life. For it is in fact a hard thing to preach the word of God and do good to everybody and suffer all kinds of misfortunes besides; but for that reason it is called the righteousness of God. For the world does not relish it, that it should do right and suffer harm for it; this is not a part of its way of ruling. For there it is not right that he who does right should be punished or suffer violence, but should receive gratitude and some good as his reward. But our reward is not stored away for us upon earth, but in heaven: there we will find it.
Now he who knows this, and will do accordingly, will have enough to do, so that he has no need to seek other ways; and he will probably forget also avarice and the cares of mammon. For the world will make it so sour for him that he will not care much for life and temporal good, but he will become so tired of it that he will have to be hourly looking and hoping for death.
This is the exhortation by which he points us from temporal good to eternal treasure, so that we may not esteem this good in comparison with the one that we have in heaven, etc. Along with this he gives also a promise and a consolation, so that we are not to think that he will therefore not give us anything at all upon earth and let us die of hunger, because we have so much to suffer from the world that neither gives nor wishes us anything, and we are hourly expecting that all we have shall be taken from us; but we must know that we are still also here to have what we need for the requirements of this life. Therefore he says: Seek first the kingdom of God, then all these things shall be added unto you; that is, you shall have besides to eat and to drink and to wear, as an addition, without any care of your own, yes, just in order that you may not care for those things and for God’s sake risk everything; and it will come to you so that you will not know whence it comes, as our daily experience teaches us. For God still has so much in the world that he can also feed his own, since he feeds all the little birds and worms, and clothes the lilies of the field, as we have heard, yes, since he gives and lets grow so much for us wicked fellows: so that the world nevertheless must let us eat and drink with it, although this vexes it.
What more shall we now desire, if we know this, if we have and handle God’s word, and every one does as he should, so that we have enough to eat and to drink and wear, and get just as much ourselves as a king or emperor, namely, that we feed our belly, except that he to suit his rank must have more and grander things, but still does not enjoy anything more; and my bread feeds me just as well, and my clothes cover and warm me just as well as his royal meal and his gold and silver pieces. For how should it be possible that he should die of hunger who serves God faithfully, and advances his kingdom, since he gives in such superfluity to the whole world? There would have to be no more bread upon earth, or the heavens not be able to rain any more, if a Christian should die of hunger; yes, God himself must first have died of hunger.
Since now he has been creating and giving in such superabundance, besides has so certainly promised that he will give enough and so give before we look for or know it: why will you then torment yourself with that hateful caring and avarice? Surely the Scriptures (especially the Psalms) are full of such passages, that he will feed the pious in the time of famine, and never has “seen his seed begging bread.” He will not prove a liar in your ease, if you can only believe. If now the world, as it is, noblemen, peasants and civilians, does not do it, he will still find people, or other means, through which he can give, and more than they can now take from you.
V.34. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
Care for this (he means to say,) how you may keep with you the kingdom of God, and renounce the other care so completely that you be not concerned about the morrow. For when the morrow comes it will bring its own care; as we say: Comes the day, so comes also the counsel. For our caring accomplishes nothing at any rate, though I care for only one day; and experience teaches that often two or three days slip away from us sooner than today; and he to whom God is propitious and gives success, can often without trouble and care accomplish more in an hour than some one else in four whole days with great trouble and care; and if he has been long at work and taken great pains, making it wearisome to himself, another might have accomplished it in an hour; so that no one can do anything except when the time comes that God gives, granted without our caring; and it is in vain that you try to anticipate and by your caring (as you suppose) do great things.
For our Lord God understands the art of secretly shortening and lengthening time for us, so that to one an hour may become a fortnight, and again in such a way that one with long labor and toil gains nothing more than another with short and easy labor; as one can plainly see daily, that there are many who by hard, constant labor scarcely gain their daily bread, and others without special labor have so arranged and ordered their affairs that all moves easily and they succeed. God does everything in such a way that our caring does not necessarily have the blessing. For we will not wait, so that these good things may come to us from God, but we want to find them ourselves before the gift comes from God.
See how it is in the mines, where men are busily digging and seeking; it still often happens, that where one hopes to find the most ore, and where it seems as if it was all to become gold, there nothing is found, or it breaks off suddenly and disappears. Again, in other places, that are regarded as failures and neglected, there are unexpectedly the richest results; and one, who has invested all his property there, gets nothing; another from a beggar becomes a lord; and afterwards, those who have accumulated many thousand guldens before the end of ten years again become beggars, and it does not often happen that these large possessions reach to the third heir.
In short, the motto should be: Not sought, but bestowed; not found, but providential, if success and blessing is to come with it. But we would like to make it so that it would come as we plan; but that amounts to nothing; for he thinks, on the other hand: You shall not get it so, or at least not keep it long and enjoy it. For I have myself known many persons who ran their hands into pockets full of guldens, and groschens were beneath their notice; but afterwards they would have been glad if they could have found as many pennies.
Since you now see that there is no use in it, and your caring does not avail, why do you not let it alone and turn your thoughts upon having the kingdom of God? For he will give to you; but not because of your caring, even though you should work. For such care accomplishes nothing; but the care does that belongs to your office; and to the kingdom of God it belongs that you do what is commanded you, preach and propagate the word of God, serve your neighbor according to your calling, and take what God gives you. For those are the best possessions that are not thought about, but are bestowed and providential; and what we have acquired by our caring or are proposing to keep, will be likely first of all to fail us and go to ruin, as often happens to the rich bellies, whose grain and other stores often for their great care are ruined; and it is a great grace that God does not let us care for it how the grain grows in the field, but gives it to us, whilst we are lying and sleeping; else we would ourselves ruin it for us by our caring and would get nothing.
Therefore he now says: Why will you be concerned about more than the present day, and load upon yourself the trouble of two days? Be content with what the present day imposes upon you; to-morrow will bring something else for you. For he calls it an evil or plague that we are compelled to support ourselves by the sweat of our brow, and that we must have other providential daily cares, misfortunes and dangers; as, if something be stolen from you, or some other harm befall you; also, if you become sick, or your domestics, etc., as it happens in this life that we must daily expect and see such trouble. Endure this evil, trouble and misfortune, and do be content with it, for that is enough for you to bear; and drop the anxiety, by which you only make the trouble greater and heavier than it is in itself; and look at these illustrations, that God never made any one rich through his anxious care, whilst many of them are most anxiously caring and yet have nothing. But this indeed he does, if he sees that one is diligently and faithfully attending to his duty, and taking care to do that so as to please God, and lets God care for its success, him he abundantly blesses. For it stands written, Proverbs 10:4: “The hand of the diligent maketh rich.” For he wants none of those who neither care nor work, like the lazy gormandizing bellies, as if they had only to sit and wait for him to send a roasted goose into their mouth; but his command is, that we honestly lay hold and work, then he will be on hand with his blessing and give enough. Let this suffice about this sermon.
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