THE SEVENTH CHAPTER.V.1, 2. Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
In the previous chapter we heard how the Lord Christ, in accordance with the doctrine of really good works, delivered a long sermon as a warning against avarice, as something that greatly hinders the kingdom of God, both in doctrine and life, and does deadly harm in Christendom. Here he now begins to warn further against another thing that is also a great, ruinous vice, and is called self-conceited-wisdom, that judges and blames everybody. For where these two vices rule, there the gospel cannot abide.
For the effect of avarice is either that the preachers keep silence, or that the hearers pay no regard to the gospel, which thus through contempt is disregarded. But if selfish-wisdom be conjoined with avarice, then every one claims to be the best preacher and himself master; no one will hear or learn from others. Then come sects and parties that falsify and corrupt the word so that it cannot remain pure, and thus again the gospel with its fruits is undermined. This is what he here now calls judging or passing sentence, when every one is satisfied only with what he does himself, and whatever others do must stink. A beautiful, gracious virtue! and the tip-top man whom we call Mr. Selfconceit, who is not liked either by Cod or the world, and yet is to be found everywhere.
But, lest we may stumble at this preaching and misunderstand it, if hereby it were altogether forbidden to judge and pass sentence, it is clear from what has often been said above, that Christ is preaching here only to his disciples, and is not at all speaking of the judgment or punishment that must occur in the world; as father and mother at home among the children and servants must judge, rebuke, and also chastise, if they will not do right.
Thus, a prince or a judge, if he means to discharge his duty properly, cannot do otherwise than to judge and punish. That belongs to secular government, which has nothing to do with us. Therefore we will not interfere with how things should go in that sphere. But here we are speaking of another kingdom, that does not indeed weaken or annul the other, namely, spiritual life and being among Christians; here it is forbidden for one to judge and condemn another. For there it occurs that the devil always mixes in and carries on his business, so that every one thinks well of himself, and believes that his way alone must avail and be the best, and blames and nullifies everything that is not measured by his standard.
This is now in secular affairs a supreme folly, and may be tolerated, though it is wrong, for it is so gross that every one understands it; as when a harlot imagines herself prettier than all others, and what she sees in others does not please her; or that a young fool will be so handsome and smart, that he does not know his like; and then, among the wise and learned, where this is very much in vogue, so that no one admits the value of anything that another knows or does, and every one claims to be the only one that can do everything better, and finds fault with everybody. Everybody sees and understands this very well; yet everywhere is this Mr. Selfconceit, who knows himself to be so smart, that he can bridle the horse by the tail, when all the rest of the world must bridle it by the mouth.
But when this occurs among us in spiritual affairs, and the devil sows his seed in the kingdom of Christ, so that it takes hold both of doctrine and life, then comes serious trouble. In the matter of doctrine the result is, that, although God has given and entrusted it to some one to preach the gospel, others are found, even among the disciples, who assume to know it ten times better than he, and the gospel must have the worry and misfortune to be judged by everybody, and every one becomes a doctor, and claims to be himself a master in doe-trine; just as happened to Moses, Numbers 16, when Korah with his crowd rose up against him and said: “Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy. Should God speak alone through Moses and Aaron?” — just as they say now: Should we not just as well have the Spirit and understand the Scriptures as others? Then there is at once another doctrine dished up and sects started, and judging begins and denouncing, and especially the shameful slandering that one party most bitterly blames and misrepresents the other; as we learn now very well through experience. Hence follows the deadly harm that Christendom is divided and the pure doctrine everywhere suffers wreck.
This Christ dreaded, yes not only dreaded, but also foretold that such would be the case. For nothing else can be made out of the world, even if we were to preach ourselves to death. Therefore, wherever the gospel flourishes, there parties and sects must follow, that again spoil and check it.
The reason is: the devil must sow his seed among the good seed, and where God builds a church, he builds a chapel or a tabernacle alongside.
For Satan wants to be always among the children of God, as the Scriptures say. Therefore Christ means hereby to warn his apostles and sincere preachers to guard themselves diligently against this vice, and to see to it that they do not let it come in to create separation and disunion, especially in doctrine; as though he meant to say: If you wish to be my disciples, then let your understanding and opinions in doctrine be alike and of one kind, so that no one may wish to be master, and know something new or better, and judge or condemn the rest; and do not pay special regard to persons, but abide by what I command you to preach, and be of one accord, so that one does not despise the other, or start something new.
Yet understand it so, that still it is not forbidden to him who is officially appointed to preach, to judge in regard to doctrine, besides also in regard to life. For it is his official duty publicly to rebuke what is not in accordance with the true doctrine, just for the reason that he may not allow sects to enter and arise; in like manner, when he sees that one is not living aright, that he also rebuke and warn. For he is there for the reason that he may look into this, and he must answer for it. Yes, every Christian, if he sees his neighbor doing wrong, is bound to reprove him and put him on his guard. And this cannot be done without judging. But all this is done by virtue of one’s office or authority, about which Christ is not here speaking; as has been sufficiently stated.
But this is forbidden, that every one take his own way for it and make a doctrine and spirit of his own, and imagine himself to be Mr. Extrawise and undertake to master and rebuke everybody, nothing of which has been committed to him. These are the ones whom Christ here rebukes. For he means that nothing should be undertaken or done from one’s own notion without being commanded, especially as to the judging of other people.
That I now call judging in doctrine, one of the highest, most disgraceful and dangerous vices upon earth, from which all the factious spirits have arisen, and of which hitherto monks, priests, and all that were in the papacy, were guilty of, when every one asserted that his matter was the best and denounced others; of which there is now no need to speak.
The other kind of judging is that regarding the life, when one blames and condemns the life and works of another, and is not pleased with anything that others do; that is indeed a widely diffused, common vice. Now we are under strict orders, so that, just as in regard to doctrine we are to be of one mind and understanding or faith: so also we are to be disposed alike and to have the same sort of heart in external life, although that cannot be all of the same kind as in the case of faith. For, since there are many kinds of callings, the works of them must be unlike and of various kinds. Besides, in this life, that is in itself of various kinds, we find also faults of many kinds, as, some very strange, irascible, impatient people; as it cannot but be among Christian people, since our old Adam is not yet dead, and the flesh is always striving against the spirit.
Here comes in play now a virtue which is called tolerantia and remissio peccatorum, so that one bears with another, has patience with and forgives him; as St. Paul so beautifully teaches, Romans 15:10, We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves; just as Christ says here: Judge not, etc., so that those who have high and better gifts in Christendom, (as some must have, especially the preachers,)still they may not take on any different airs or think themselves any better than those who do not have them: so that in spiritual matters no one should lord it over others. Externally there must be a difference, a prince higher and better than a farmer, a preacher more learned than an ordinary mechanic; thus a master cannot be a servant, a mistress be a maid, etc., but nevertheless in this distinction the hearts are to be similarly disposed and pay no regard to that dissimilarity.
This is done if I bear with my neighbor, although he be of a lower rank and have fewer gifts than I, and I am just as well pleased with his work, in attending as my house-servant to my horse, as with my own, being a preacher or ruler of land and people, although mine is better and of more importance than his. For I must not look at the outward masks, but that he lives in the same faith and in Christ, and has just as much from the grace, baptism and sacrament, although I have a different, higher work and office.
For God is all the same, who does and gives all this, and is just as much pleased with the smallest as with the very greatest.
In contrast with this there is ruling in the world the praiseworthy, beautiful virtue of which St. Paul speaks, that every one pleases himself, as, if a man comes along in the devil’s name, and cannot look at his own vices, but only at those of others; which adheres to us all by nature, and of which we cannot be rid, even though we are baptized, so that we are fond of beautifying and adorning ourselves and seeing what is good in ourselves, and flattering ourselves with it as if it were our own; and, in order that we may alone be beautiful, we do not look at that which is good in our neighbor; but, leaving that out of view, if we notice a little pimple, we fill our eyes with it, and make it so large, that we see nothing good on account of it, although he may have eyes like a falcon and a face like an angel. Just as if I saw some one in a golden garment, and there were perhaps a seam or a white thread drawn through it, and I would thereupon look amazed, as if it were on that account to be despised, and I on the other hand congratulate myself upon my coarse blouse, with a golden patch upon it.
So we do not look at our own vices, of which we are full, yet cannot see anything good in other people. If now this natural evil habit finds its way among Christians, there we begin to judge, so that I readily despise and condemn another if he stumbles a little or is faulty, and he again does the same to me, measures me with the same measure, (as Christ here says,) seeks for and rebukes also only the worst that he can find about me.
Thereby love is quite suppressed, and there remains only a biting and devouring of one another until they entirely eat each other up and altogether lose their Christianity.
The same is the case if one looks at the life of another, and will not look at himself, then one soon finds something that displeases him; another finds the same also in us; just as the heathen complain about affairs among them, that no one sees what he carries on his own back, but he who comes after him sees it very well; that is, no one sees where he himself is lacking, but he soon sees it in another. If one looks at other people in this way, the only result is a slandering and judging of one another. The devil instigates this among Christians, and carries it on to such an extent that there is nothing left among them but harsh judging in regard to the way of living, as also in regard to doctrine; so that the kingdom of Christ (which is a harmonious and peaceable kingdom, both in doctrine and life) is divided, and in place of it the spirit of sectism, arrogance and contempt prevails.
Therefore it is highly necessary that we be warned to learn and habituate ourselves to bear with, cover over and adorn our neighbor’s faults, if we have attended to our own official duty, whether it be preaching and publicly rebuking, or fraternally exhorting (of which Matthew 18 teaches); and if I see anything in my neighbor that does not altogether please me, that I turn and look at myself, when I will also find much that does not please other people, and which I would be glad to have excused and borne with; thus the itching will soon subside that tickles itself and is amused at the faults of others, and Mr. Self-conceit will scamper off and drop his judging. Yes, you will be glad, so that you may soon settle the matter with your neighbor and first of all say: Lord, forgive me my debt; and then say to your neighbor: If you have sinned against me, or I against you, now let us forgive each other.
But if you see that he is quite too discourteous, and will not cease without your rebuking him, then go and tell him himself about it, as it is now and often has been said, ( Matthew 18) that he may reform and desist. That is not judging and condemning, but fraternally exhorting to betterment, and in this way the exhortation would be made in a peaceable way, according to God’s command. Otherwise, with your tickling, ridiculing and mocking, you only embitter your neighbor against you, and harden him, and you yourself become much worse than he is, and twice as great a sinner, by withdrawing your love from him and taking pleasure in his sin, and besides you expose yourself to the judgment of God, and condemn him whom God has not condemned, and thus invoke upon yourself so much the heavier judgment, which Christ here gives warning of, and you deserve that God should the more surely condemn you.
See, this shameful evil all comes, as St. Paul says, from our pleasing ourselves, playing and toying with our gifts as if they were our own; but seeing nothing in another except where he is faulty, and thus becoming entirely blind, so that we see neither ourselves nor our neighbor aright.
When we should look into our own bosom and see first wherein we fail, that we do not do; but we have a blearness before our eyes, so that we think ourselves good-looking, if we observe a gift in ourselves that our neighbor has not, and by that very thing are spoiled, and we also do not see in our neighbor what is good in him, for we should always find as much of that as we now see of his faults. We should also be pleased with what is good in him and make due allowance, if there be some faultiness in it; as we please ourselves and readily apologize for ourselves.
In short, it is the worst vice and a devilish pride, that we are self-satisfied and merry if we see or feel a good trait in ourselves, and do not thank God for it, but become proud, and despise others, and have our eyes so completely filled with it that we do not care what else we do, thinking we are all right: we plunder and rob God thus of his honor, make an idol out of ourself, and do not see our trouble that we thereby occasion; for we would have enough else upon us, if we would look at it aright, as Revelation 3:17, says to a bishop who thought himself more learned than others: Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing, and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. For although it is true that thy gift is greater than that of another; as it must be, since thine office is different, higher and greater: but with the disgraceful addendum that thou displayest thyself in it, and thus pleasest thyself, thou dost totally ruin it, and makest the same high ornament viler than the faults of all others.
For the greater the gifts are, the more disgracefully are they perverted if you make an idol out of them, just as if you were to mix poison with excellent malmsey-wine. Thus you have now hit it admirably well, that you judge another on account of a small fault, and fall yourself with your selfesteem into the grievous sin; that you are ungrateful to God, yes, enthrone yourself in his place in your heart, and interfere with his jurisdiction, where one sin is weightier than those of all other men; besides, you become insolent toward your neighbor and so thoroughly blind that you no longer can know or look at God, your neighbor, or yourself.
What else do you accomplish by this judging than that you invoke the judgment of God against yourself? So that he reasonably must say to you: I did not bestow these gifts upon you in order that you might despise your neighbor and serve yourself with them, but that you should serve your neighbor, who is poor and frail, and me. But you go on, and never once thank me for them, as if all had sprung from your own heart, and you employ my own gift against me and your neighbor, and make a tyrant of yourself, a jailor and judge against your neighbor., whom you ought in love to bear with, to improve and to lift up if he should fall. What will you then answer when he thus will address you (as he here gives you timely notice), except that this sentence is justly pronounced against you, that you are making not a mote, as you perhaps see in your neighbor’s eye, (as Christ here says,) but a great beam out of a little mote.
I will say nothing about the fact that, with this wretched judging you are not only culpable on account of the act itself; but it usually happens that he who thus judges is himself a greater sinner than others; so that, if he were to go back and read his own record and register, how he has lived from his youth up, he would hear a story that would make him shudder, and which he would be glad to have unnoticed by other people.
But now every one takes it for granted that he is pious, and wants to forget all the past, and blame and condemn a poor man who has once sinned.
Thus he is involved in a double calamity, that he disregards his earliest life and forgets what he was; he does not think how it would have grieved him if he had been ridiculed and condemned. That is one sin, that he is ungrateful, and has forgotten the forgiveness of sins, the grace and all the goodness of God. The other, that he loses his piety and sets in array against himself all his former sins, by the very fact that he makes a display of himself in his piety, and becomes seven times worse than before.
For, do you not think that God can lay a list before your nose, and present not only your crimes and the sins of your youth, but also your whole life that you have regarded as excellent? as now the recluse life of the monks; how will you then stand and answer for daily blaspheming and crucifying his Son with your masses and other idolatries? That’s the way it goes, if we forget what we have been, we may then well judge others. But the orders are: Jack, take yourself by your own nose, and reach into your own bosom; if you want to seek and judge a scamp you’ll find the greatest scamp upon earth, so that you will readily forget other people and be glad at once to let them alone. For you will never find in another as much sin as in yourself.
For if you do see many in another, you see only a year or two; in yourself, however, your whole life, especially the dark spots of which others know nothing, so that you must be ashamed of yourself. See, that would be a good cure for the shameful vice, that you do not please yourself but pray God to forgive you and others.
Secondly, that, although you see something bad in your neighbor, you are not on that account to despise and condemn him; but on the other hand to see his good things, and with your own good things and gifts to help, cover over, adorn and advise him; and you should know that, although you were the holiest and most pious, yet you would become the very worst if you judge another. For your gifts were not bestowed upon you that you may tickle yourself with them, but that you may help your neighbor with them, if he needs it, so that with your strength you may bear his weakness, may cover and adorn his sin and shame with your piety and honor, as God through Christ has done to you and still does daily. If you will not do that, and will tickle yourself with them and despise others: then know this, if another in your presence has a mote in his eye, you towards him, before God, have a beam in your own.
So you see why Christ speaks so sharply against this vice and pronounces the strict sentence: He who judges, shall be judged; as is also reasonable.
For, since you interfere with God’s judgment, and condemn those whom God has not condemned, you give him reason again to damn you to hell with your whole life, although you had been ever so pious, and to raise to honor the neighbor whom you judged and condemned, and besides also to make him a judge over you, and cause him to find ten times as much in you to condemn as you found in him. So you have made a pretty muss of it, that you have angered and turned against you both God and your neighbor; and thus you lose at the same time both the grace of God and Christian life, and become worse than a heathen, who knows nothing about God.
V.3-5. Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beans that is in thine own eye? Or how will thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye, and behold a beam is in thine own eye! Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye, and then shall thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
In order that he may the more diligently warn us to guard against this vice, he uses a simple comparison and sets it clearly before us, saying that every one who judges his neighbor has a great beam in his eye, whilst he who is judged has only a mote; that he is ten times more deserving of judgment and condemnation, for the very reason that he condemns others. This is indeed a terrible, dreadful sentence. Where are now the factious spirits and Messrs. Wiseacres, who are great at mastering and finding fault with the Bible, and can do nothing else than to judge us and others? — when there is yet nothing to blame, or perhaps they discover a mote in us, for which they bitterly accuse us; as now the papists revile. When they try their best, and adduce great reason for judging and condemning us, this is the greatest, that some of ours hold ecclesiastical properties; or they accuse us of not fasting, and of whatever else that has any semblance of involving some faults. But they cannot notice their beam, that they persecute the gospel, murder the innocent on account of it, whilst they are themselves the great arch-robbers and thieves of monasteries and church properties.
For what robberies are not now committed by pope, bishops and princes? they are doing as they please with all the spiritual establishments; but [they maintain] that no one else is a real bishop, nor has his own with God and honor, and holds his seat as a thief and a robber: and yet all [with them] must be excellent, and not be called stolen or robbed. But, that we do not fast, or so strictly observe their style of righteousness, which they yet do not themselves observe, this must be alone evil, and all their sin and shame be pious and honorable. Thus it is throughout the world, that everywhere a beam judges the mote, and a great rogue condemns a small one.
Now it is true that we are not without faults, yes, no Christian will get so far as to be without a mote. Pot St. Paul himself could not do it, as he complains in the seventh of Romans; and all Christendom must daily pray:
Forgive us our debts, and it confesses the article of the Creed that is called the forgiveness of sins. But these beam-carriers and mote-judges will not endure this article, and will have everything so pure that there may be no want or fault in it; and as soon as they see anything of this kind, they fall to judging and condemning, as if they were so holy as not to need any forgiveness of sins or any praying; they want to reform the Lord’s Prayer and obliterate the chief article of the Creed, whilst they are completely full of blindness and devils, and have heart-grief over the motes of other people; and among ourselves, if we too become foolish, those who are full of vices and wickedness cannot cease looking at and condemning the small vices of others, so that the beam is master and judge of the mote.
But he who is a Christian must know (and will surely himself feel) that we cannot get along so faultlessly, without the mote, and the article of the forgiveness of sins must daily rule in us. Therefore one can easily excuse the faults of other people, and include them in the Lord’s Prayer, when he says: Forgive us, as we forgive, etc., especially if he sees that one loves and esteems the word, and does not despise or abuse it. For where that is, there is the kingdom of Christ and full forgiveness, by which the mote is consumed. Therefore we should not despise or condemn any one, if we observe this; or we shall also make of our own mote a beam, so that we also do not receive forgiveness, because we are not willing to forgive others.
Thus you say: Shall I then not rebuke if I see that wrong is done, or am I to call it right and sanction it? Or am I to be pleased that they seize the monastic properties, or live so coarsely, do not pray, or fast, etc. No; that is not what I mean. For he confesses here that there is a mote, and that it is to be taken away. But he teaches you how to go about it properly. I must say it is indeed not pleasant, the mote in the eye; but that I must see to it first of all that I do not have a beam in my own eye and first take that out.
First make the rogue in your own breast pious, then add to this, that the small one also becomes pious. For it is of no account that the great thieves hang the small ones, (as we say,)and great rogues condemn the little ones.
If the pope with his followers would begin here and they would first sweep before their own door, that they would not themselves be arch-thieves and scoundrels, we would also have to follow suit, or suffer for it. But now they will not let go their beam, and will have it unrebuked, and they condemn us because we still have a mote, and do not keep ourselves as pure as we should; and the result is, that the great heretic, the pope, condemns the other little heretics, and the great thieves, that are openly and continually stealing and robbing, must make the little thieves pious, and hang and pay for them.
This perverted business shall not exist in my kingdom (says Christ), but thus [it shall be], that you first make pious the great rogue that you will find in your own skin, if you properly look at yourself; afterwards, if you have accomplished this, you can easily make pious a little rogue. But you will be astonished at the trouble you will find with the great rogue, so that I may readily become security to you, and give my head as a pledge, that you will never get so far as to remove the mote from another’s eye, and must say: Must I first deal with other people and make them pious? Why, I cannot make myself pious, or become rid of the beam; and thus your brother’s mote will not be apt to be disturbed by you. See, this is what Christ means to say, that one should gladly forgive another and patiently bear with him, and all should show humility towards one another; as it would necessarily be if we would obey this teaching. Thus everything would move along nicely in Christendom, in true harmony, and God would be with us. But the devil prevents it from coming to this by means of his adherents and rebellious spirit.
And it ought to make us dread this vice, that he holds up before us such a dreadful decision, as I have said, that always he who judges has before God a beam in his eye; and the other, who is judged, only a mote. Now the beam is immeasurably a greater sin than the mote, that is, such a sin as completely condemns us, and for which there is no mercy. For however great otherwise our sins and faults may be, he can forgive them all; as he shows by this, that he calls the sin of the neighbor a mote. But this is the shameful addition and vileness, that ruins everything, that you judge and condemn another on account of his faults, and do not forgive as you wish that God should forgive you; you go along and will not see this beam, thinking that you are without sin.
But if you know yourself (as was said), you would also avoid judging your neighbor, and thus also your beam would be small and be called a mote, and attain forgiveness of sin, and you would also gladly forgive and bear with and excuse the mote of another, in view of the fact that God forgives and excuses your beam for you.
But it is rightly called a beam in the eye, that makes a man completely stone and cataract-blind, and which the world cannot see or judge. Yes, it is adorned with such a show that the world supposes it to be a splendid affair and great holiness; and just as Christ before said concerning the evil eye, that the avaricious kindle for themselves a light, and imagine a happy thought, that it must not be called greediness, but divine worship; so it is here also, that those who have the beam will forsooth have no beam or be rebuked, as being blind and miserable people, but praised as those who with true Christian intent judge the doctrine and life of others: as the factious spirits can admirably boast and swear that they do not teach otherwise out of any pride or envy, but they seek only God’s glory and their neighbor’s welfare, they make it so beautiful and clear, and their humility and regard for God’s honor is so great that they see nothing else than that. Thus it is also in life, if people begin to judge and blame one another; then we see the same covering-over and boasting; I do it not from enmity to the person, but from love for righteousness. The person I am favorable to, but the cause I oppose. That tickles then so gently under the beautiful show, that one is never aware of any beam.
But it is all wrong for you to judge and decide yourself, as you choose, without the word and command of God, and then call it God’s honor and righteousness; but it is a devilish addition, that ornaments itself with such a covering and beautifies itself. For here you hear that God will not allow us to undertake to be judges, either in doctrine or life; but where judging or rebuking is necessary, that those do it who are officially commanded to do it, preachers, pastors in spiritual affairs, and civil authorities in worldly government; or a brother with a brother, solely from brotherly love, that bears with and corrects the faults of our neighbor.
V.6. Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
The Lord Christ has now nearly finished his instructions in regard to the fruits and works that follow his teaching, and now begins a warning or exhortation to put us on our guard against other teaching; as he also exhorts his apostles, when he sends them forth to preach, and says: Behold, I send you forth as sheep among wolves; therefore be ye wise as serpents and harmless as doves. For a Christian, who is to minister the word of God and preach, and confess it in his life, truly lives in a dangerous calling, on account of the people, and has great reason for impatience, since the world is so dreadfully wicked, and he lives in it as among serpents and all sorts of vermin. Therefore says he: Beware that ye east not your holy things before swine and dogs. For they might trample them under foot, or turn against and rend you; meaning thereby to show and teach them that whenever they come and preach in public before the masses, they will also find dogs and swine, that do nothing else than trample upon the gospel and then also persecute the preachers.
Who are they then that trample upon our holy things and turn against us?
This happens now again in two things, doctrine and life. For first of all the false teachers do it, who take and learn our gospel from us and thus get our jewel and precious treasure, in which we have been baptized, live and boast ourselves, etc., and then go to their own haunts and begin to preach against us, and turn their snouts and teeth against us; as now our swarm of sectaries, that formerly kept very still when the pope was raging and ruling, so that one did not hear them peep; but now, since we opened the way and with great danger to ourselves freed them from the tyranny of the pope, and they have heard our doctrine and can imitate us in preaching, they go and turn against us and are our worst enemies upon earth, and nobody has preached as badly as we, without whom they would have known nothing about it.
Secondly, in the matter of living it is all the same, especially among us, where people despise or have become tired of the gospel, and it has already gone so far that they will hardly sustain a preacher any more; especially squire Greedy-jack in the country, who monopolizes all the property and supports the preachers in such a way that they lose all appetite for preaching, and he makes servants out of them, so that they must preach and do what he chooses. He is followed by Squire Skinflint in town, and Mr. Everybody, who act as if t. hey did not want to have any gospel or word of God, and yet owe to us their freedom from the tyranny of the pope and all other good things that they have. But now they would like to drive us along with the gospel out of the country, or to starve us.
Well, we cannot make it otherwise, we must endure it, that these snakes, dogs and hogs are about us, that are abusing the gospel, both as to teaching and living; and where there are preachers of the right kind, they must always be treated in this way. For this is the fortune of the gospel in the world; and if it ever happens again, (as I have often predicted, and fear it may only too soon happen,) that such people as the popes and bishops reign, then it will be completely put out of the way and trampled under foot, and its preachers will be gone. For the gospel must be everybody’s floor-doth, so that all the world may walk over it and trample upon it, together with its preachers and disciples.
What are we now to do about it? Cast it not (says Christ) before swine and dogs. Yes, dear Lord, they already have it. For, since it is publicly preached, we cannot prevent their falling in with it and seizing it. But they still do not really have it, and we’ll prevent them (thank God!) from getting that which is holy; the shells and husks they may indeed have, that is, carnal liberty; but let none of them, whether dog or hog, a greedy-jack, or miser, or peasant, get a letter of the gospel, although he may read all the books, and hear all the sermons, and have the notion that he thoroughly understands it.
Therefore the right thing for us to do, as Christ here teaches, is for us, when we see such a hog or dog before us, to separate ourselves from him as we do from these factious spirits, and to have no fellowship with them, and administer no sacrament to them, impart no gospel consolation to them, but show them that they are not to enjoy anything of Christ: our treasure. If we do this, we have completely withheld from them the pearls and that which is holy. For no skin-flint or boor, fanatic or captious spirit, shall get the gospel and Christ from me unless he beforehand asks me about it and coincides with me, so that I, or any proper preacher, may say yes to it. For he who has the gospel aright, must surely hold it with us and be of one mind, in case we are sure, in advance, that we have the true gospel and the pearls. Therefore he must surely not trample us under foot as Squire Greedy-jack, nor condemn us as the sectaries, nor despise us as the peasants, in towns and villages; but hold the dear word in honor, as well as all that preach and gladly hear it. If not, let us regard them as hogs and dogs, and tell them that they shall get nothing from us; meanwhile let them read and hear and call themselves evangelical, if they will, as I have to do with some miserly fellows and towns. For this is certain, he who despises the ministerial office will not have much regard for the gospel.
Since then they trample under foot the preachers and pastors, and treat them more shamefully than the peasants do their swine, we take back again to ourselves our pearls, and we will see what they will have of the gospel without any thanks to us. If you can trample God’s word and his preachers under foot, he can trample you too under foot.
This now Christ means to say: If you see that people will despise your preaching and trample it under foot, then have no fellowship with them and get away from them; as he also says in the eighteenth of Matthew: If he neglect to hear thee and the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican; in such a way that we say to them that they are not Christians, but damned heathen, and we will not have anything preached to them or let them have any part of our good things, as Peter, in the eighth of Acts, says to Simon Magus. This is the way that I do, and all that preach the gospel in earnest, lest we make ourselves partakers of their sins. For God will not have us to play the hypocrite in this way with our sectaries, as if they were right in their teaching; but we must regard them as enemies, as separated from them with gospel, baptism, sacrament and all their way of teaching and living. Thus we must also say to our own people, if they wish to have part in the gospel, that they must everywhere not despise us, but give practical proof that they are in earnest with it, and at least that they hold the word and sacrament in honor and submit to it with humility.
Yes, (they say,) in this way they want to get into power again, and put themselves again into a position of authority, like that hitherto occupied by the pope; this would be unendurable, and we might rather have remained under the pope. Answer: Yes, indeed, I have myself been much concerned lest that may be the result. But the way that they are taking, by despising and trampling upon them [the preachers of the word] is not the way to accomplish what they are aiming at, viz.: to prevent the tyranny of the pastors, but just the right beginning to effect it. For if these are out of the way, whom they have trampled under foot and driven off, they will still not be able to be without pastors or preachers. For Christ will maintain his rule in the world, so that still his gospel, baptism, sacrament must abide.
Although no prince were willing to protect it, he will do it, since the Father has placed him at his right hand, and means that he is to be Lord. Even if they now drive off all the pastors, they will not hurl Christ from his throne.
Therefore this will happen to them: because they will not have nor endure the upright, pious preachers, God will make for them others who will force them and tyrannize over them, worse than before.
Therefore they are on the right track, our Greedy-jacks and others, who put their heads together and think they will silence us and compel us to submit to them, not knowing that another One is sitting up there who reigns supreme, and says: If you will not have right preachers, then have the devil With his preachers, who preach lies to you; these you must accept, and besides be ruled and tormented by them; as those parts of our Germany are now already suffering, where they not only refuse the gospel but are persecuting it, so that they have all their corners full of sectaries, fanatics and anabaptists, and cannot prevent it.
But the right way to prevent this is to embrace the gospel earnestly and faithfully, beseech God that he may send true, faithful workmen into his harvest; then there need be no fear. For these preachers would not oppress or force us, or do us any harm in body or soul, but help everybody and do all the good possible; as has been learned in regard to ourselves, who may well boast before God and the world, that we have not sought any authority or advantage for ourselves, but have served all the world with our body and life; we have neither encumbered nor harmed anybody, but have gladly helped everybody, also in temporal things, and besides have suffered for it manifold danger, violence and persecution. But, since they don’t want us any more, may God grant that others come after us who will treat them differently, oppress, torment and skin them, so that they may see what they had in us, and they must suffer it from those whom they now do not look at and would not like to have as stable servants. For they deserve nothing better than to have these tyrants whom they must fear, as they had the pope; he was the right sort of a ruler for them. Our cranky princes, too, have already learned it, and think they would like to be rid of compulsion and no longer fear the pope; they begin to protect the priests, but not for their sake, but that they may force them into subjection to themselves, so that they may live by their favor, and they protect them in such fashion that they should rather come over to us, whom they regard as enemies, than to allow themselves to be plucked by them, under the name of protection. But it cannot be otherwise, and they are both rightly served.
But it must not be so among Christians, but upright, pious people should hold their pastors and preachers in high honor, with all humility and love, for the sake of Christ and his word, and have great regard for them as a precious gift and jewel, bestowed by God, better than all worldly treasures and possessions, in like manner also true, pious preachers will seek with all fidelity nothing else than the advantage and welfare of all people, without burdening them at all either in their consciences, or even outwardly in temporal affairs or bodily matters. But let him who despises them know that he is no Christian, and has again lost the treasure. We preach to and exhort everybody who will give heed to and join with us; but those who will not, and yet with the semblance and name of the gospel or Christian fellowship despise us, and will tread us under foot, against these we employ the artifice of letting them have the semblance, but in fact taking all back to ourselves, so that they have nothing at all left. For we are commanded to separate ourselves from them, although we are not glad to do it, and would rather that they should remain with us; but as they will not, we must let them go, and not on their account let our treasure perish or be trodden under foot by them.
V.7-11. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them which ask him?
After the Lord Christ had taught his disciples, and established the office of the ministry, so that they might know what they were to preach and how they were to live, he here adds an exhortation to prayer; he means hereby to teach that prayer next to preaching is the principal work of a Christian, as something always belonging to a sermon; and to show that nothing is more necessary in Christendom, (because we have so many temptations and hindrances,) than that we continue without ceasing in prayer, that God may give his grace and Spirit, that the gospel may become efficient and be in constant use by ourselves and others. Therefore God in the prophet Zechariah (as above quoted) promised that he would pour out upon Christians a spirit of grace and of supplication; he comprehends thus in these two things the whole of Christianity.
Thus he now means to say: I have instructed you, that you may know how you ought to live aright and against what you should be on your guard.
Now a necessary part of this is that you also pray, and confidently persevere with seeking and knocking, not becoming sluggish or weary in regard to it. For there will be need of begging, seeking and knocking. For although both doctrine and practice have rightly begun, yet there will be no want of faults and offenses, that daily hinder and obstruct us, so that we cannot advance, and against which we continually contend with all our powers, but without any stronger defense than prayer, so that if we do not use this it is not possible for us to maintain our ground and remain Christians; as we can see very plainly now what kind of hindrances resist the progress of the gospel; but we see, too, that we are not making much account of prayer, and taking it for granted that this warning and exhortation does not apply to us, and that we do not now need to pray, since the useless chattering and muttering of rosaries and other idolatrous little prayers has ceased; which is not a good sign, and it is to be feared that much misfortune will overtake us that we might have been able to prevent.
Therefore every Christian should heed this exhortation, first, as a command, just as well as the previous statement: Judge not, etc., is a command, and he should know that he is in duty bound to practice this Christian work, and not to do as that peasant, who said that he gave his preacher grain, so that he should pray for him; as some think: Of what account is my prayer? If I do not pray, others do; so that we should not think it does not concern us, or that it depends upon our choice, about which I have often more fully treated elsewhere.
Secondly, you have here the consolatory promise and rich assurance which he adds concerning prayer, that one may see that it is of consequence to him, and may learn to regard our prayer as clear and precious before God, since he so earnestly exhorts us to engage in it, so kindly invites and promises that we shall not ask in vain; and if we had no other cause or inducement than this friendly, rich word, this ought to be enough to drive us to do it. I will be silent as to how earnestly he exhorts and commands [us to engage in it] and how heartily we need it.
Besides, as if this were not enough, as we aside from this, for own great need’s sake, should ourselves engage in it, he adds a most beautiful comparison (the more to stimulate us) of every father in reference to his son, who although he may be a worthless wretch, yet, if he ask for a fish, he will not give him a serpent, etc. Hence he infers this comforting word: If ye can do this, who are not of a good sort, and have not a vein in you that is good towards God, how then should not God, your Heavenly Father, whose nature is altogether good, not also give to you what is good if you ask him for it? This is the very highest appeal wherewith he ought to or can persuade any one to prayer, if we only would look at these words and lay them to heart.
Now what the need is, for which he gives this exhortation, and which should urge us to pray, has been mentioned, so that, if we have the word of God, and have made a good beginning, both in doctrine and practice, then there cannot fail to occur temptation and opposition, not of one kind only but of thousands of kinds. For, in the first place, there is our own flesh, the old rotten sack, that is soon apathetic, inattentive, and disinclined to the word of God and a good life, so that we are always lacking in wisdom and the word of God, faith, love, patience, etc. This is the first enemy that is daily hanging about our neck so heavily that he is always dragging us in that direction.
Then comes the other enemy, the world, that begrudges us the dear word and faith, and will have no patience with us, however weak we may be; it falls upon us and condemns us for what we do, seeks to take from us what we have, so that we can have no peace with it. These are already two great temptations that inwardly hinder us and outwardly seek to drive us off.
Therefore we have no more to do than a]ways to cry to God, that he may strengthen and further his word in us, and restrain the persecutors and sectaries, so that it be not smothered.
The third enemy is now the strongest of all, the very devil, who has the great double advantage that we are not good by nature, and besides are weak in faith and spirit; he gets thus within my own castle and contends against me; he has in addition the world to aid him, so that he stirs up ugly crowds against me, through whom he shoots his poisonous, fiery darts upon me, that he may weary me, so that the word in me may be again smothered and extinguished, and he rule again as he ruled before, and prevent himself from being driven out. See, these are three misfortunes that oppress us heavily enough and lie upon our neck, and will not cease whilst we have life and breath. Therefore we have constant reason to pray and to call. Therefore he adds these words: Ask, seek, knock; to show that we do not yet have everything, but that we are in such a condition that there is failure and want everywhere. For if we had it all we would not need to beg or seek; if we were even in heaven already, we would not need to knock.
Now these are the chief temptations in regard to the serving of God and the keeping of his word. Next we have the common, temporal need of this life upon earth; as that we are to pray that he may grant us gracious peace, good government, and protect us from all kinds of trouble, sickness, pestilence, famine, bloodshed, storms, etc. For you have not yet got beyond the reach of death, nor eaten up all your daily bread, so that you need not pray that he may daily give it to you. Also, thus you have to pray for the secular authority, and against all kinds of vices, that the people may not rob and steal so from one another, since you must daily see that everywhere such shameful conduct abounds. In addition to all this you have at home your wife, child and domestics to be governed; there you will have your hands full. For he who has to observe and carry out in his whole life both Christian and civil righteousness, has undertaken more than one man’s work and ability.
What shall we now do? Here we are involved in such manifold great needs and hindrances that we cannot escape, if we should violently shut the door against them. How can I prevent my dying, who am so lazy and indifferent to the word of God and all that is good? or prevent the world from keeping up such a rumpus and racket, and the devil from raging? and how prevent there being so much trouble and misfortune? Now the dear Lord Christ knows this very well. Therefore he means to show us a precious, good remedy, as a kind, faithful physician, and teaches us what we are to do about this, as though he should say: The world is so mad, and undertakes to rid itself of this with wisdom and reason; seeks so many means and ways, help and counsel, how it may escape from these perplexities. But this is the only shortest, surest way, that you go into a little chamber, or into a corner, and there open your heart and pour [out] your desires before God with lamentation and sighing and assured confidence, that he, as your faithful, heavenly Father, will help and counsel in such perplexities; just as we read in Isaiah 37 about king Hezekiah: When the enemy with a great army was lying before the city, and he was so besieged and outnumbered, that no help nor counsel, to human appearance, was to be hoped for, in addition to which the enemy most insolently defied him, and mocked at his misfortune, and wrote him a letter full of blasphemy, so that he well-nigh despaired; then the pious king did nothing else than to go up into the temple, lay the letter before the altar, fall down and heartily pray. Then he was soon heard and helped.
But then we worry and frets and have the greatest trouble to bring ourselves to do it, and we miserably perplex ourselves, making martyrs of ourselves with our caring and thinking, trying to take our neck from the yoke and be rid of it. For it is a bad, cunning devil that rides me as well as others, and has often played these tricks upon me, when I was tempted or worried, whether in spiritual or secular affairs. He quickly interferes and brings it about that one wears himself out with his trouble; thereby he drags us away from prayer and confuses us to such an extent that one does not think of it, and before one begins to pray, one has already half worried himself to death. For he knows very well what prayer can accomplish, therefore he restrains and disturbs us as much as he can, so that we do not have recourse to it at all.
Therefore we ought to learn to take these words rightly to heart, and accustom ourselves to it, so soon as any trouble and need appears, only at once to fall upon our knees and lay the need before God, according to this exhortation and promise; then we should be helped, so that we need not worry ourselves with our own thoughts about seeking help. For it is a very precious remedy, which assuredly helps, and never fails, if it be only applied.
But how to pray aright has been shown above and elsewhere sufficiently.
For here we are speaking only of the power of prayer and of what should urge us to it. The most important thing is that you only at first look at the word of God that may instruct you what you are heartily to believe, so that you are sure of this, that your faith, gospel and Christ are right, and that your calling is pleasing to God; then you will soon see the devil against you, and feel that there is lacking everywhere, internally in faith and externally in your calling, that everything threatens to go wrong, and temptations are swarming on every hand: if you feel this, then be wise and prevail upon your heart to begin at once to pray and say: Dear Lord, I surely have thy word, and am in the calling that pleases thee, that I know.
Now thou seest how much I need everywhere, so that I know of no help except in thee; help thou, therefore, since thou hast commanded that we are to pray, seek and knock, and then we shall certainly receive, find and have what we desire.
If you will accept it thus and accustom yourself confidently to pray, and do not receive, then come and call me a liar. If he does not give at the minute, he will still give you so much that meanwhile your heart will experience comfort and strength, till the time that he gives more abundantly than you would have hoped. For this is also a good feature of prayer, if one habitually practices it, and thus meditates upon the word that he has promised, that the heart becomes continually stronger, and more firmly confides, and finally obtains much more than otherwise.
This I could clearly prove by my own example and that of other pious people. For I tried it too, and many people with me, especially at the time when the devil wanted to devour us, at the Diet at Augsburg, and everything stood bad enough, and was in such a turmoil that all the world supposed things would be turned topsy-turvy, as some had insolently threatened, and the swords had already been drawn and the rifles loaded.
But God so helped through our prayers, and opened the way, that those screamers, with their scratching and threatening, were completely put to shame, and a good peace and a gracious year was given to us, such as had not been for many a day, and such as we could not have hoped for. If now another danger and need arises, we will pray again and he must again help and deliver, although he may let us meanwhile suffer a little and be oppressed, so that he may the more strengthen us, and we be driven the more earnestly to pray. For what sort of a prayer would it be, if the need were not here and did not oppress us until we felt it? That one rightly feels his need helps to make his prayer the stronger. Therefore let every one learn by no means to despise his prayer, not doubting that it will assuredly be heard, and in due time he shall receive what he desires.
But why Christ uses so many words, that he puts it in three ways: Ask and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you, when it was enough to use one; it is easy to see (as has been said,) that he thereby means the more strongly to exhort us to pray.
For he knows that we are timid, and we are afraid to present our need to God, as unworthy, unfit, etc.; we feel the need, indeed, but cannot express it; we think God is so great and we so insignificant, that we dare not pray, which is also a great hindrance from the devil that does great harm to prayer. Therefore he entices us away from that bashfulness and hesitation, so that we have no doubt at all, but only draw near confidently and boldly.
For although I am unworthy, I am still his creature; and because he has made me worthy to be his creature, I am also worthy to take what he has promised to me and so freely offered. In short, if I am unworthy, he and his promise are not unworthy. Upon this, only venture it promptly and confidently, and lay it with all joy and assurance upon his bosom. But first of all see to it that you truly believe in Christ, and are in your right place, that pleases God, not as the world, that pays no regard to its place, and is only planning day and night to practice its vices and scoundrelism.
One might however interpret the three statements in this way, that he repeats the same thing in other words to indicate perseverance in prayer, concerning which St. Paul exhorts in the twelfth of Romans: Continue instant in prayer; as though he said: It is not enough to begin and give a sigh, and say the prayer and then go your way: but, just as the need is, so should the prayer be. For it does not once take hold of you and then go away, but it hangs on and falls about your neck again, and will not let go.
Do the same also, so that you always pray, and besides seek and knock, and do not let go; just as the example of the widow teaches in Luke eighteen, who would not let go of her judge, with persevering entreaty, and so pertinaciously that he was overpowered, and had to help her ungraciously. How much more (Christ there infers) will God give to us if he sees that we do not cease praying, but keep on knocking and knocking, so that he must hear; especially because he has promised it, and shows that he has pleasure in such perseverance. Therefore, as the need is always knocking, so do you continue to knock, and do not cease, because you have his word; so he will have to say: Well, then go, and have what you desire. Of this St. James says in his epistle, that the prayer of the righteous man availeth much, if it is earnestly pressed, and he quotes for this the example of Elijah the prophet from the Scriptures, etc. Thus God also does it for the reason that he drives you not only simply to pray but to knock, so that he means to try whether you can keep a firm hold, and to teach you that your prayer is not for that reason unpleasant or unanswered, although he delays and lets you often seek and knock, etc.
V.12. Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that mere should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
With these words he now concludes his teaching, given in these three chapters, and gathers them all up in a little bundle in which one can find it all, and every one can put it in his bosom and keep it well; as if he said:
Would you like to know what I have preached, and what Moses and all the prophets teach you? then I will tell you in a very few words, and state it so that you dare not complain of its being too long or hard to keep. For it is such a sermon that one can stretch out far and wide, and also make short; and all teaching and preaching flow out from it and spread themselves, and here they come together again. How could it be expressed more briefly and clearly than in these words? except that the world and our old Adam prevent us from catching his meaning and contrasting our life with this teaching; we let it go into one ear and out at the other. Were we always to hold it in contrast with our living and doing, we would not live so rudely and be so neglectful, but always have enough to do, and become our own masters and teach what we ought to do, so that we would not need to run after holy living and works, and would also not need many jurists and lawbooks for this purpose. For it is briefly stated and easily learned, if only we were diligent and earnest to do and live accordingly.
Thus, that we may see it in plain illustrations, there is surely no one who would like to be robbed, and if he asks his own heart about it, he must say that he really would not like that. Why does he not then conclude that he should not rob another? As, if you see at market that everybody makes his goods as dear as he chooses, that he wants to give for thirty pennies what is not worth ten, and you ask him: My friend, would you like to be treated that way? then he cannot be so coarse and unreasonable, but must say: I would buy it at its market value, and what would be reasonable and right, so that I be not overreached. See, there is your heart that tells you truly how you would like to be treated, and your conscience that concludes that you should also do thus to others, and it can properly teach you how you are to deal with your neighbor in buying and selling and all sorts of dealing; all of which belongs to the seventh commandment: Thou shalt not steal.
The same in regard to the other commandments: If you have a wife, daughter or maid, you would not like to have her disgraced or badly spoken about, but you want to have her honored and well treated and highly spoken of by everybody. Why then are you so perverse as to hanker after another man’s wife and yourself put her to shame; or to refrain from honoring her when you should do it, and to find pleasure in traducing and slandering? Also, you would not like to be injured by any one, or badly spoken of, or any thing of that kind; why do you not here yourself keep to the rule and measure that you demand and will have from others, and why do you soon judge, blame and condemn another if he does not do it to you, and yet will not yourself act according to your own rule? Thus go through all the commands of the second table, and you will find that this is the real stun of all the preaching that we can do; as he himself says here.
Therefore it is well called a short sermon; but again, if we were to spread it out through all its applications, it is so far-reaching that there would be no end to it; for we cannot count up all that will be done upon earth till the last day; and he is a splendid master who can compress and embrace in a summary such a long, diffuse sermon, so that every one can take it home with him, and daily remind himself of it, as written in his own heart, yes, in all his living and doing (as we shall hear further on) and see where he has been wanting in his whole life.
And I believe too that its force would be felt and its fruits realized if we would only accustom ourselves to remember it, and not be so very indolent and careless. For I do not think that any one is so coarse, or so wicked, if he would bear this in mind, that he would still shun it or take offense at it; and it is surely a wise device that Christ puts it in such a way that he takes no other illustration than ourselves, and he applies it in the closest possible way, laying it upon our heart, body and life, and all our members, so that no one need go far after it or spend much trouble or cost upon it; but he has laid the book in your own bosom, and besides so clear that you need no glasses to understand Moses and the law, so that you are your own Bible, master, doctor and preacher. He gives you such directions that you need only to look at them to find how the book reaches through all your doings, words, thoughts, heart, body and soul. Regulate yourself only according to that, and you will be wise and learned enough, above all jurists, art and books.
So, to take a rough illustration, are you a mechanic, you find the Bible lying in your workshop, in your hand, in your heart, that teaches you and preaches to you how you are to deal with your neighbor. Look only at your tool, your needle, your thimble, your beer-cask, your wares, your scales, your yard-stick, and you read this motto written upon them; so that you cannot look in any direction that it does not stare at you, and no one thing is so small, with which you daily have to do, that does not constantly say this to you, if you will hear it, and there is no lack of preaching. For you have just as many preachers as you have dealings, wares, tools and other apparatus in your house and home. That is always calling to you:
Dear friend, deal with me towards your neighbor just as you would like you neighbor to deal with you in his line of business.
See, thus would this teaching be written upon everything that we look at, and enstamped upon our whole life, if we only had ears that were willing to hear and eyes that were willing to see; and it is so richly preached to us that no one can excuse himself as not knowing it or not having it sufficiently told and preached to him. But we are like the adders that stop their ears and become deaf if we attempt to charm them; we will not see or hear what is written in our own heart and thoughts, and we rush ahead recklessly: Ha, what do others concern me! I can do with my own what I choose, and sell my goods as dear as I can; who will hinder me, etc.? as Squires Skin-flint and Gag do at market; and if one rebukes and threatens them by the word of God, they merely laugh and ridicule and only harden themselves in their wickedness. But we do not preach to these, nor does Christ, and he will have nothing to do with them, and just as completely despises them as they do [him], and he will let them go to the devil.
But those that want to be pious, and still fear God and think how they will live and act, must know that they are not to deal with and handle their property as they may wish, as though they were themselves masters of everything: but they are bound to do what is right and orderly, for which reason we have laws of the land and of the city. For so every one wishes to be dealt with by his neighbor; therefore he should do likewise, both taking and giving good wares. This is his seriously meant command, and he will not allow any liberty or arbitrariness to be made out of it, as if one could do it or not without sin; and he will insist upon it, however much the world may view it as an insult and despise it. If you do it not, he will deal with you according to your own measure, and it will come home to you, so that you will have no blessing in what you have gained contrary to this teaching, but all trouble and sorrow, and your children after you. For he will have his command kept, or there shall be no good or success enjoyed.
Secondly, it is not only brought so close home (as now stated)that we must see it in everything that occurs; but it is also presented in such a way that one has to blush at his own conduct. For there is no one who would like to do a base act so that other people should see it, and no one is as ready to sin publicly before the people as if it occurred secretly, so that no one sees it. Thus Christ means to set us here as witnesses against ourselves, and to make us afraid of ourselves, so that if we do wrong our conscience will oppose us with this command, as a perpetual witness, and say: See, what are you doing? This you ought to sell at such a price, according to common fair usage; now you are asking too much. Also, these wares you would not like to take from some one else, as you are depreciating or misrepresenting them, etc. How you should be vexed if some one would give you for a gulden what would be worth hardly ten groschen? so that, if you have a drop of honest blood in your body, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. For if some one else would do it you would call him a thief and a scoundrel. Why, then, are you not ashamed of yourself, as not some one else but you yourself must thus blame yourself, condemned by your own conscience? But that is all very well for a hard, shameless forehead, that feels no disgrace before the people, before itself, still less before God. But if another does it to you then you can readily cry out: Is not this a sin and a shame, and cunningly stolen from the purse? You can easily see a thief and scoundrel in another; but the one who hides in your own breast, and whom you can easily catch and feel, him you will not see.
O, how many such fellows there are in all trades and occupations, that live along securely, deceiving and cheating the people, wherever they can, and yet not willing to be counted thieves and scoundrels, if they only do it secretly and smartly. But if everybody was to give back what he has stolen and robbed in his business or trade, few people would retain anything; yet they live along as pious people, because they cannot be publicly criminated and punished, and they imagine too that they have not sinned; and if they look about themselves, every corner of the house and home is full of thievery, and God is witness that they do not have a gulden or two in the house that has not been stolen; and yet all this must not be called stealing.
Yes, if it were only stealing, and not also murder besides, for with bad, injurious wares, food or drink, people are made weak and sick, etc., and not only robbed of their money, but also of their health, so that many a one eats and drinks, so that he afterwards must pine away and often die in consequence of it. My good friend, is not that just the same as if you were to break into his house or chest, or to strike him a deadly wound? — only it goes by a different name.
If you were not so wicked and shameless, you should be ashamed of yourself when your conscience says this to you, and holds this saying before you so that you must reflect; yes, it would make you so fearful that you would not be able to stay anywhere on account of it. For it is a burden that is always oppressing and disturbing, yes is always condemning, as a perpetual witness against ourselves, so that it cannot possibly be borne.
That would then soon teach you that you must quit plundering and stealing, and such things that you would not like to have done to you by some one else, etc. Thus accustom yourself then to look a little at this saying, and practice it upon yourself, then you will have a daily preacher in your heart, in whatever way you may be dealing with your neighbor; thereby you can readily learn to understand every commandment and the whole law, and to govern and conduct yourself in your intercourse with others, so that you may well decide accordingly what is right and wrong in the world.
But do you say: How does he say that this is the law and the prophets? The Scriptures of the law and the prophets contain much more than this. For the Scriptures have the doctrine of faith and the promises, of which nothing is said here. Answer: Christ names here the law and the prophets in direct contrast with the gospel or the promise. For he is not preaching here about the important article, namely, concerning faith in Christ, but only of good works. For those are two different kinds of preaching; we must preach them both, but each in its proper time and place. That you see also clearly in the text, in the words where he says: Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, that do ye unto them likewise. Thereby he shows that his preaching now extends no further than to the dealings which people have with us and we with them, and says nothing about the grace of Christ which we receive from God. Therefore he now means to say: If one is to preach about good life and works, which we are to practice in dealing with our neighbor, then you will find in all the law and the prophets nothing else than what this saying teaches you. Therefore he uses the words: the people, and: that do ye to them, etc., to indicate that he is speaking only about the commandments of the second table.
And this is the best in the saying, viz., that he does not say: Other people shall do it to you; but: Ye shall do it to other people. For every one would like others to do good to him, and there are many scoundrels and bad fellows who would have no objection to other people being good and doing good to them; but they will not do it to anybody: as now our peasants imagine it is wrong and great oppression that they are to give fair measure; and yet they can loudly cry and complain that they are robbed or are taxed. But these are nothing but vile reptiles. Some, however, are a little better, who say: I would take my turn and gladly do what I ought, if other people would first do it to me. But this saying puts it in this way. Do thou what thou wouldst have from another. Thou shalt begin, and be the first, if thou wilt that others should do it to thee; or, if they will not, do thou it nevertheless. For if thou wilt not be good, and do good, before thou seest it in another, nothing will come of it. If others will not, thou art none the less obliged to do it, according to the law, and what is acknowledged to be right, as thou wouldst be glad to have done to thee. He who wants to be good must not regard the example of other people; and it will not do for you to say: He deceived me, and I must befoul him again; but because you do not like it, do not do it to him, and begin with that which you wish to be done to you. Thus you may then influence other people through your example, so that they will do good again to you, even those who before did you harm. But if you do not do it yourself, you have as your reward that no one does good to you; and you are served right, before God and the people.
V.13, 14. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is lite way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
He has now ended his sermon, our dear Lord, and finally concludes the same sermon with several warnings to equip us against all kinds of hindrances and vexations, both in doctrine and life, that we meet with in the world. For of a truth the teaching has been beautiful and precious, at the same time widely spread out and also briefly enough condensed, in a single word, so that it can readily be told and understood; but then comes the trouble and the labor to put it in practice; and it is indeed a difficult and hard life to be a Christian or pious, for that will not be sweet for us; as that good girl said: Much belongs to honor; yes, indeed, and still much more to a Christian life. This is what our dear Lord is here thinking of, that it may seem desirable and occur to them: I would indeed like to live in that way; but a great deal is required for that. Yes, I say that too (says he), therefore I warn you, be careful, and do not mind if it is a little sour and difficult; for it cannot be otherwise in the world.
This a Christian must know, and he must be prepared for it, so that he does not allow himself to be hindered or vexed, if the whole world lives otherwise, and he must by no means adapt himself to the course of the great mass, as Moses also prohibited already in the twenty-third of Exodus:
Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil, etc., as though he should say:
Offenses you will always find existing in the world; as also Christ here says: The way to destruction is broad and very many are walking upon it; and the gate is very wide, so that crowds pass through it.
That is the great offense that startles a great many people, and causes them to apostatize, yes, it has greatly perplexed the prophets and the holy people; as David in the Psalms often laments, especially in Psalm 73, at length: I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death, but their strength is firm.
They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men. In short, they are fortunate upon earth (says he)and become rich, have house and home full, live in luxury and do just what they please. But what do I do, on the other hand? I must be pious and suffer, and am plagued daily and chastened every morning, that is, if I slightly transgress, he is quickly behind me with the rod. That is what I get for it. There everything is in honor and joy; therefore all the world falls in with them, everybody praises and congratulates. As we saw under the papacy; if any one only put on a priest’s robe, him all the world had to praise and honor; everybody contributed to this, and she was a happy mother who bore him.
And it is just the same now: He who only is an enemy to us is held in high honor and esteem among them, let him live as he may. That was a great cross to the dear fathers, that they had to see this success and wickedness in the world, so that every one highly regarded it and ran after it, and they were to be pious and have nothing with it but misfortune, and suffer contempt and persecution from everybody.
Christ wishes to show this also, and to warn his own that every one should so live in the world as if he were alone, and regard his word and preaching as the very greatest thing upon earth, so that he would think thus:
Although I see that my neighbor and the whole city, yes the whole world lives differently, and all that are great, noble, rich, princes and lords, side with it; yet I have an associate who is greater than they all, namely Christ and his word. Therefore, though I am alone, I am yet not alone. For, because I have the word of God, I have Christ with me, together with all the dear angels and all the saints from the beginning of the world; so that really there is a greater crowd and more glorious procession about me than there could now be in the whole world; only, that it is not visible to mortal eye, and I must see and bear the vexation that so many people fall away from me, or live and act in hostility to me.
You must firmly hold on to this, if you expect to endure; otherwise this vexation will carry you away, if you are influenced by how other people live and believe. For the Turks hence conclude, as their strongest argument [against us]: Do you suppose that God is so cruel as to condemn a great world? In like manner also the papists: Yes, do you think that what you bring forth from your corner is the only right thing, and that the whole world is damned? Should so many popes, bishops, holy fathers, kings and princes altogether have erred, etc.? They insist so doggedly upon this that no man can tear them away from it, and they conclude most assuredly that our doctrine is not right; and their only argument is: There are many of us, there are few of them; we are pious, learned, wise, God’s people, occupy the apostles’ seat, etc., therefore we cannot be in error. Christ has surely not forsaken his church nor God his people. It is not possible, that God will damn so many people for the sake of a few; for he has not created heaven in vain.
But against all this Christ teaches thus: Only out with your eyes, or turn them the other way, so that you don’t by any means look at the great crowd, but only at God’s word; and be assured that it cannot be otherwise than that the way to destruction is broad, and the gate wide, and many going upon it; and again, the gate to life is narrow and the way strait, and very few going upon it. Therefore it is of no avail that the Turk and pope boast about those of their faith: We are many and have long believed as we do; therefore: it must be right. For Christ bluntly asserts the contrary, and he calls that the way to destruction that is broad and well traveled, and warns that we should not be worried because there are so few of us and the other crowd is so large. But it is very hard to digest this little mouthful, if one rightly feels it, so that I have myself often choked at it, and thought:
We are such a little, poor company, despised and damned by all that is high and great upon earth; ought we then to be boastful and defiant against all the world, to assert that our side alone is right, and to decide in regard to all of them that pope, bishop, and all that adhere to them, belong to the devil? Yet we must get over this, and conclude: I know that my cause is right, though the whole world should talk otherwise.
How must the dear virgin Mary have felt when the angel came and brought her the message that she was to be mother of the Highest? Who then was about her that believed this, or stood by her? Ought she to have taken it into the account that there were the daughters of so many rich, noble, great lords and princes there, and should God not have known how to find any other one for this high duty, to which no virgin had ever been called but herself, a poor, unknown, despised maiden? Also, how did the patriarch Abraham act, when he had to go forth from Chaldaea, and travel alone, as if he alone were a Christian and all the world condemned? But he had to give himself no concern about that, nor look around upon others, but had to speak thus: “How God manages with the whole world, I will let him see to that; but I will stick to his word and follow that, although I see all the world going differently;” as also Mary must have thought: “What God will do with others, that I will let him care for; but I will abide by the word that I hear, and that tells me what he will do to me.” So we must also conclude:
I see that the pope, bishops, princes, sectaries, civilians, and peasants, do as they please, despise and ridicule us with the greatest assurance, so that I might say: Do you then think that you alone are right against all of them?
But go along pope, princes, learned men, and all the world; I know that the doctrine is right, and that it is the word of God: I will abide by that, whatever may happen.
Thus Christ now means to say: I have given you this instruction, so that you may see how extremely few people agree with you, and how many will teach and live to the contrary, so that it will greatly perplex you; but be firm, and do not let it worry you, and know that it cannot be otherwise, and remember that I told you beforehand that the gate to life is strait and the way narrow; but the other broad and wide, etc. Therefore pay no attention to that, but hear what I say to you, and follow me. For I, with all the saints, have taken the narrow way; you must take it too, if you would come to me; let the others go their wide way. For you will see how narrow the pit will be into which they will have to go; on the other hand ye, who now must go by the narrow way through the strait gate, will come into a beautiful space, as large and wide as heaven and earth.
Now, what makes then the way so narrow and small? No one does but the very devil, the world and just our own flesh, which is lazy, resists and refuses, and will not move forward, to trust God and rely upon his word, cannot bear the world’s contempt, poverty, perils, etc. In short, it likes also to travel the broad road, therefore it makes this path for us sour and difficult.
Then comes the world, that persecutes us, hangs, murders, burns and drowns, because we will not go with it in the broad way; and if it can do no worse it slanders and abuses us most poisonously, drives us out with sword, fire, and water: so that it is a hard battle, to stand there and fight against our own flesh, so that one may trust God, love his neighbor, live chastely, and abide in his lot; and if we do all this in a hard struggle, then the world must come too with its persecuting and reviling us as the worst criminals upon earth, just to make our life hard.
Along with this comes the devil himself and torments the heart with evil thoughts, unbelief, fear, dread, despair, makes out of our good deeds sin and shame, and yet we have to remain among these enemies and exposed to their assaults. Under these circumstances one may be vexed and tempted to apostatize and say: I see indeed that those have rest and a good time, pass their clays in quiet peace, and have the same glory and honor of being the true servants of God: why shall I then alone suffer myself to be so wretchedly persecuted, vexed and abused? Where they all stay, there will I stay too.
The ancients have admirably depicted this in the legend of the Knight Tondalo (except that they did not rightly apply it, and interpreted it of purgatory or the punishment of souls after this life,) how he had to pass over a small bridge that was scarcely as broad as a hand, with a burden on his back, and under him a sulphurous pool full of dragons, and besides there was one coming towards him to whom he had to give place. That coincides well with this statement. For a Christian leads a life as hard as if he were walking upon a narrow path, yes, upon nothing but razors; thus the devil is beneath us in the world, he is incessantly snapping at us with his jaws, that he may drive us into impatience, despair and murmuring against God; besides the world opposes us and it neither will yield to us nor let us pass by, and our flesh hangs about our neck; so that we are crowded on every side, and the way in itself is so narrow, that of itself there would be trouble enough even if there were no danger or hindrance in the way: yet we must go through or fall into the hands of the world and the devil.
Therefore reflect and act accordingly: if you will be a Christian, let it be so.
For things will remain as they are: you will not make the way any broader, and must observe that a few go here, and the great crowd there. But let this be your comfort, first, that God is with you; then, that after you have gotten through you will come into a beautiful, wide place. For if you only adhere to the word and act according to it, not according to sight, then he is assuredly with you, and so effectively that your spirit will overcome the flesh, the world and the devil, so that he can accomplish nothing through your flesh, nor through the world, nor of himself. For the word upon which you rely through faith is too strong for him, although it appears little and we do not see it. But he knows very well what it can do, as he has often tested it and felt what a force and power it is, if one believes in it.
Therefore the prophet so confidently boasts in Psalm 118: “The Lord is on my side: I will not fear: what can man do unto me? They compassed me about like bees; they are quenched as the fire of thorns; for in the name of the Lord I will destroy them. Thou hast thrust sore at me that I might fall: but the Lord helped me,” etc. See, he too has nothing else than the word and faith, that the Lord is with him, whom he still does not see; but he feels indeed the world and the flesh that make his way narrow and embitter his life. Yet he remains firm, finds his satisfaction in the fact that the Lord is with him and approves his course, and he is sure that he will be on the Lord’s side and conquer, though all the world should oppose him.
We must also avail ourselves of this consolation, that we learn to make for ourselves out of the strait gate and narrow way a wide space, and out of the little company a great crowd, so that we do not stare at what we see, but through faith and the word look at the invisible, namely, that Christ himself and all the heavenly host are with me, and have gone the very same way, and in a beautiful long procession have preceded me to heaven, and that all Christendom till the last day are still traveling the same road. For where he goes and stays, there they must all go and stay. Thus our way becomes light and easy, so that we confidently pass through; as Christ also invites thither and says: Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavyladen, I will give you rest; for my yoke is easy and my burden is light; as if he meant to say: Do not be grieved by what I lay upon you in the world.
For it is a yoke and a burden to the flesh, and is called a narrow way and a strait gate; but only adhere to me and I will make it very easy and pleasant for you, and give you so much strength that you can easily go that way; and not only so, but you shall also experience that it will become lovely and sweet for you.
For this is certainly true, if we rightly look at both sides, that believers have the advantage, so that they ought not willingly to exchange with the ungodly. Although these live in luxury and those must suffer much; yet these trouble and worry themselves ten times as much as we do, with their poisonous, restless hatred, and with so many fruitless schemes, how they may harm us, and all sorts of evil practices and tricks, with which they criminate themselves, so that they still have no good conscience nor a real cheerful hour, and they are their own devil here upon earth; and yet they do not accomplish anything more thereby against us, than to befoul and oppress us somewhat, as much as God allows them.
But those who believe in Christ do not need these cares and troubles, and can still have a cheerful heart and conscience. Although we are somewhat distressed, and the devil annoys us: yet he must again refrain, and we are refreshed by the word, so that our burden and distress become sweet and we have only half a torment, outwardly in the external man; but they are doubly tormented by the devil, they have their hell both here and there, with perpetual torment and unrest of conscience, of murder and blood, so that they cannot have any cheerful, good thoughts toward God, although outwardly they may have a little joy and pleasure. So they are rightly served, as the Scripture says: Duplici contritione conteres eos Domine, Lord, destroy them with double destruction.
See, thus the Lord means with all fidelity both to have us warned and comforted, so that we do not care if our life is embittered, and we must see and feel so much vexation in the world, because if we look at it aright, it is only half-embittered, and through Christ, on whom we believes everything in our heart becomes sweet and conduces to life and eternal joy. What harms it then, if the old Adam is somewhat worried about it?
V.15. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Hitherto the Lord has been correctly presenting both doctrine and life, and warning against that which is contrary to it, and injures or hinders. In addition to that he now also adds a warning, so that we beware lest, whilst all is right both in doctrine and practice, teachers may secretly arise among us who under the name and semblance of genuine preachers and of the gospels may introduce something else, and pervert and ruin both the doctrine and life.
For it cannot be otherwise than that the true, pure teaching of the gospel must on every hand be attacked by the devil in all sorts of ways, both externally and internally, as Christ taught from the beginning of this sermon: that he who means to be a Christian must consider this; that he will have as enemies, first, those who are outside of Christendom, who will oppose, hate and injure him, striking and throttling him, or at least reviling, cursing and condemning; and it is settled that he who has no haters, revilers, and persecutors is not a Christian, or at least has not yet proved his Christianity by outward act and confession. For, as soon as he makes a profession, the world becomes his enemy, and if it can it will surely kill him for it. These are now open enemies and outside of Christendom, that every one can see and readily feel.
But in addition to these (Christ means to say here), you will have another kind of enemies that are not without and deny the doctrine, but who grow up among you, bear and boast of your name — these, first of all, do the great harm. For the others, though they make a great ado, cannot do more than take body and goods; but my heart and my faith they cannot take from me by violence. But these are not after body and goods, but let me keep what I have; but they cunningly reach after the doctrine, that they may take the treasure itself out of my heart, namely, the dear word, on account of which we suffer persecution from those enemies. This is indeed a lamentable business, that those who are called our brethren, and profess also the Christian doctrine, set themselves up against us and under the same name set aside the true doctrine and introduce another; as St. Paul also warns his Ephesians, and predicts (Acts 20): Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, etc. That is (I say) especially a lamentable thing that those should do it who are among us and of us, whom we regard as upright, and against whom we cannot protect ourselves until they have begun to do harm.
This is the persecution in Christendom that was predicted throughout the Scriptures, and has lasted in fact from the beginning of the world. For so it was with Moses among his people, yes, Jacob, Isaac and Abraham in their families, and Adam, who had only two sons, yet one of them had to instigate mischief.
And I think we have now had sufficient experience of it ourselves. How many there were who at first held with us and began [to follow] the gospel against the pope, so that it seemed as though we would have the whole world with us? But just when we were about to carry everything before us, our own people fall to work and do us more harm than all the princes, kings and emperors could have done. Well, what shall we do about it?
They do us great injury, and besides strengthen our enemies against us, who cry out, There one can see what our teaching is, since we are not a unit among ourselves, and the Holy Ghost cannot be with us, since we ourselves persecute, abuse and revile one another, etc. We must endure this, that the enemies be strengthened by this scandal, and we be weakened and reviled, and thus have both our enemies and our brethren against us, so that in fact there is no greater tribulation in Christendom, in external matters, so far as our teaching is concerned.
Since now we must always expect this, and cannot avoid it, Christ gives us along with this sermon both a consolation and a warning. The consolation is, that we are not to be alarmed, or to trouble ourselves to death in regard to this wretched tribulation, as we see and feel it, that we who confess the word of God are not a unit among ourselves; but, taught by his word, say thus in response to it: That I knew very well before, when I wanted to be a Christian, that it would be just as my Lord Christ beforehand predicted, that I must have two kinds of enemies, both from without and also from within, from my own dearest friends and brethren. Therefore this shall not frighten me off and make me apostatize from the doctrine, as if it were to be wrong for the reason that those set themselves against me who have been my brethren. Why, Christ himself had Judas, his betrayer, with him, and what he taught and did was not false or wrong because his dearest disciple deserted him and did the mischief. Therefore, we must not mind our Judases.
But the warning is, that we should certainly expect this and diligently take care and be on our guard that these parties do not deceive us, but we must arm ourselves against them and learn to know them. For by his saying:
Beware, he means to teach that we are not to be yielding or impatient, but to open our eyes, be wakeful, cautious and wise. For against those external enemies we need nothing more than patience, that we may suffer what they lay upon us, and be firm; but here it avails not to suffer, or yield, but to beware and see to it that I do not entrust a word even to my brother in confidence, but look with sharp, wakeful eyes only at the word, and trust no man who is now with me, who to-day can preach with me, but tomorrow perhaps against me. And no one should think himself safe, as not needing this exhortation. For it is such a dangerous, subtle temptation, that even the most spiritually minded have trouble enough to avoid being deceived by it. But the rest, that are secure and careless, cannot at all prevent their being misled. Therefore he does not without reason add the word: Beware. For the semblance and name is too attractive, so that no one can recognize it (as we shall hear) who does not have the correct understanding of the word of God, and besides with all diligence gives heed to it, and lets it be his supreme care to hold it pure and undiluted.
For see how he depicts them, the false teachers, according to their appearance and aspect. In the first place he gives the name, that they are called and are prophets, that is teachers and preachers; and are proud of it that they are not otherwise called or regarded, have just the same ministerial office, the same Scriptures, and the same God whom they boast of as the others; and yet they are false prophets. For he is speaking here of those who preach by virtue of their office. For the others, who act without official authority, are not fit to be called false prophets; but tramps and scamps, that ought to be turned over to the rabble, and are not to be endured, (even if they do teach aright,) when they want to interfere with the office and sphere of others, in violation of established order; or secretly and thievishly to creep into corners, where no one unauthorized ought to offer a sermon of his own, or to insinuate himself, although he may hear and know that the public preaching is false, as he is not responsible for that. For God established this office, as others, so that we are not to act contrary to it; but he who does not rightly discharge it will have to answer for himself, and will surely find his judge.
Secondly, says he, that they come in sheep’s clothing, so that one cannot blame them, nor outwardly distinguish them from other true preachers.
These two things it is that do harm, that they hold the true office, and besides come with such beautiful attire and semblance, that one cannot say anything else than that they are true, pious preachers, who seek every one’s welfare; as they charmingly profess, and can swear to it, handling only the name and word of God. This spreads very rapidly and hurries the people violently along, like a flood, so that one cannot resist it. For who is there among the rabble that can or dare set himself against these and rebuke them? Yes, who knows how to guard himself against them, since they come with God’s name and word (as they boast)?
But Christ herewith warns us against both, so that we are not to be influenced by the fact that they hold the office, although this is necessary, and belongs to a preacher; but no one is thereby assured that he is therefore to believe him, as if he could not in the office be a scoundrel: as it is not unusual in the world that there be in all offices and grades in society many scamps and low fellows that abuse their position. They may be called prophets indeed (says Christ); but beware, and see to it that they are not false prophets. In like manner, be not misled, if they come in sheep’s clothing with the precious name and semblance. For here you are told that under that there may behidden a ravening wolf. Therefore beware again that the sheep’s clothing do not deceive you. For they must all wear that beautiful covering and semblance if they are to deceive the people.
And this is just the difference between these secret and the other open enemies. For the latter rush in among us openly, so that every one readily knows them; but these come among us in the same office that we have, employ also the same Scriptures and words for appearance sake; but they come (says Christ,) of their own accord; that is, although they have the office, yet they bring the word and doctrine that God has not entrusted to them, nor did he send them for that, but their own dreams and devil’s doctrine, adorned with God’s name. Therefore be especially warned against the sheep’s clothing, so that you trust no one, however great a show he makes, but look only at the word, whether he rightly handles that, or under cover of it is selling his own wares.
See, if we would now accept this warning, and regulate ourselves according to the words of Christ, we could easily guard ourselves against all false prophets and preachers. But that they are so rapidly multiplying is owing to the fact that we who hear the true gospel do not earnestly accept it, do not take care that we truly have and hold it; move along in such a sleepy, lazy way, as if we could not go astray. That is the reason why we are deceived by this excellent show and semblance, before we are aware of it. For as soon as another new teacher comes and begins, then the word: attendite, beware, is forgotten, with which we ought to be equipped, and we ought so to hear every one as though we did not hear him, but were looking at and attending to the word alone. Those are trifling, unsettled spirits, that look only into the preachers’ mouths, and suddenly run after them, through curiosity that makes them eager for novelties, so that they think: O, I heard that one before, now I must hear this one too, he is a fine, learned, holy man, etc. There the devil has already gained a foothold, and ensnared them before they are aware of it, drives and leads them as he pleases, from one conspiracy into another; as St. Paul says of these (Ephesians 4:14) that they are like a reed, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine. If today or tomorrow some one else up. pears, they rush after and listen to him.
The reason is, they have no certain understanding in their heart of God’s word, have little regard besides for the gospel; think, if they have heard it once or twice, that they know it and now have it all: they are soon tired of it, open their eyes and ears if some one comes that brings something new; and it happens with them, as with Adam and Eve, misled by the serpent; who gazed at the forbidden tree and imagined these beautiful thoughts against the word of God: Why should we not eat just from this tree? because thus eager and curious, so that they became tired of all the other trees in the whole of Paradise and gazed only at this one, etc.
But if it were a serious matter with us in regard to the gospel, and we were carefully living so as to keep the treasure pure and clean, we would not be so easily deceived. For I hope indeed that no factious spirit shall so easily upset me, because I know that the gospel is true, and I would not like to lose it. But if some one comes in beautiful sheep’s clothing, I will not look at his mask, as if I wanted to hear something else or new: but [I ask] whether he agrees with my gospel. If not, then thank God, I am thoroughly assured that he is a false prophet and a ravening wolf under his sheep’s clothing.
Thus the devilish spirits have the twofold advantage, that we are such heedless, secure and frivolous people, and they can trick themselves out in the beautiful wool of the sheep. For by sheep’s clothing he means not bad conduct and gross sin, as of the heathen and unchristian people; but the excellent name and reputation of real Christians, that have holy baptism, sacrament, Christ, and everything that belongs to Christ. They must bring all this along. For no one must come along and say: This I say; but thus:
Dear friends, this Christ says, here you have God’s word and the Scriptures, this you must believe, if you wish to be saved; he who teaches otherwise deceives you, etc.; they make use of the precious name of Christ, and God, and the awful, grand words: God’s honor, truth, eternal salvation, and whatever other words like these thereto belonging. If now any one hears these excellent words, and is so earnestly exhorted in view of his soups salvation and destruction, he becomes alarmed, and surrenders himself at once, if he is not well furnished and decided against it. For it cuts like a sharp razor, and strikes through body and soul. That is a part of the sheep’s clothing.
Besides, they embellish themselves with wonderful works and ways, go about in gray coats, look morose, and lead a hard, strict life with fasting, bodily mortification’s, hard couches, etc., and do not live at all like other ordinary people. That makes again a great impression, and captivates the people admirably, so that they fall in by crowds; and such a villain with a single sermon can mislead a whole city that has had the word of God for a long while, and make them forget in an hour what they have heard for ten years; so that even I, if I wished, would easily undertake in two or three sermons to preach my people back again into the papacy, and get up new pilgrimages and masses, by means of this show and special sanctity. For the rabble is, as was said, easily thereby persuaded, and at any rate curious and eager to hear what is new.
See, thus must they embellish themselves, both in doctrine and practice, so that they employ the same words that we hear, and along with this lead a beautiful attractive life; as now our anabaptist sectaries, in fact, mislead many people by crying out that we do not have the real gospel, because one may see that it yields no fruit, and the people continue to be bad, proud, avaricious, etc.; that there must be something more than the mere word and letter: the Spirit must do it, and they must honestly strive to live better; if it were the word of God it would surely also produce fruit. Then they go on and say they have the true understanding, and the right fruits and life. If a simple, inexperienced man hears this, he says: O, that is really so! lets himself thus be carried away by the taking words: Spirit, and fruits of the Spirit. Then they go further, and say: He who wants to be a Christian must not share in civil authority, or bear a sword, or have anything of his own, as it is with us; but he is a true Christian who proves it by his works, forsakes everything, does not accept any secular authority and rule; dresses in a gray coat; suffers hunger and sorrow, etc. These they call fruits of the Spirit. See, these are nothing but sheep’s clothing; with these they carry away crowds of the poor people.
Who can now recognize the wolf under this and guard against him?
Answer: I know no other counsel than, as I have said, that every one first see to it that he is sure of his case and of the doctrine, and have so settled it in his heart that he can adhere to the doctrine, although he see everybody upon earth teaching and living otherwise. For he who wishes to get along safely must absolutely not look at any outward marks in Christendom and shape his course after them, but must look alone to the word that shows the true way of living that avails before God. As, for example, the principal topic and sum of the Christian doctrine is this, that God has sent and given his Son, Christ, and alone through him forgives us all our sins, justifies and saves us. That you are to cling to, and nothing else. Then, if you look about you, you will see a great variety of dissimilar personalities and modes of living, that one is a man, woman, master, servant, prince, subject, rich, poor, representing the various callings or offices that are in the world, and all so mixed up together that I can see nothing that has a peculiar appearance [about any of them]. But as I am so settled in mind, and know that main topic in which I have the whole summed up, my heart concludes thus: Suppose I see a husband or a girl, master or servant, learned man or layman, clothed in gray or red, fasting or eating, looking grave or laughing; what have I to do with that? In short, what that difference is that I see [in them], that is all the same to me. For I understand this, that a maid in a red dress, or a prince in his golden garment, can be just as good a Christian as a beggar in a gray coat or a monk in a woolen or hair shirt, and I am with such an understanding safe against all sorts of external masks.
But he who does not hold this main truth, or know how to regulate everything by it, cannot avoid being deceived by these masks, when he sees one happy with his wife and children, or splendidly and richly dressed, etc., and another looking demure, fasting much, barefoot, and in a gray cowl, and he concludes at once: O, that is a holy man! the others are of no account; and keeps gaping thus after the masks, out of humor; is not smart enough to say: Can there be a rogue lying hidden under the gray coat? as a Christian can conclude and say: Dear monk, if you wear your gray coat not of necessity, but with the peculiar notion that you will be regarded by others as something peculiar, then you are a desperate, double scoundrel, making the people gape by your pretended sanctity; otherwise you would have to say: If a farmer, who is ploughing or manuring upon his field is just as good a Christian as I, and will get to heaven, what do I want with my peculiar way of living?
But, as I have said, the great common mass hankers after these masks that fill their eyes and make a special show, so that it amounts to nothing if one preaches long against them. And we are besides naturally inclined to this doctrine and works. For it is well pleasing to reason, which always likes to deal with God with its own works. Thus it happens that the devil through these teachers prompts and agitates until he has quite persuaded us.
But we who want to go safely must before anything else see to it, as I have always taught, that we are firmly rooted in our main point, concerning Christ; then we can correctly judge concerning all outward masks and styles, and the Spirit will duly teach and lead us. Thus every one will find enough real good works to do in his calling, if he wants to be pious, so that he need not seek for anything special.
For, are you a prince, judge, husband, servant, maid, etc., and are you to practice and prove your faith, to fill your place and calling properly, and do what is right: then you will surely get so much to do and to work, that no Carthusian will have a harder order to work for than you. For what sort of great trouble and hard work is that, for him to wear a gray coat or hood, or walk in wooden shoes, or mortify his body a little, if he be somewhat strict, and yet along with that live without care and worry, and have enough to gormandize and guzzle?
But this one must eat his daily bread in the sweat of his face and with hard work, and must let not alone his body but rather his heart be plagued by the wicked world and his neighbors, and expect and endure all misfortune, discord and affliction; so that a true citizen’s calling, conducted in a Christian way, is more than a ten-fold Carthusian order; except that it does not make a show, like the monk, who wears a hood, is separated from the people, etc., and yet, if we open our eyes and rightly compare the two, even reason must come to the same conclusion. Thus also a prince, although he wears golden chains and a cloak of marten fur, but is pious, yet he is under the marten cloak such a plagued and miserable man, that you cannot find his like in any monastery. Thus go through all offices and callings. If you find a pious man or woman, you need not look there for a monk or a nun; for he or she is already monk or nun enough, and is living in a harder order than all the hood and tonsure wearers; yes, it is all tomfoolery before God with all the monks and hermits, in contrast with a pious child, servant or maid, who is obedient to duty. Only do what a pious man or woman ought to do, there you have a rule that is harder to follow than the rules, hoods and tonsures of St. Francis and of all the monks, which cover rather a scoundrel than a pious Christian.
But proud reason will not look at this, but disregards it and thinks: O that is a common affair, that every one may have at home! gapes after something else that is strange and odd, looks in wonder, follows the continual bawling; which is all a mere false show, with which they come along and so dress up their trifling way of living as to put contempt upon all else that are God’s ordinances and callings, as if they were of no account. But it is all owing to this, that we do not take hold of the word of God with real earnestness, or we would soon say: Let the Carthusians come on, and the Anabaptists, the devil himself or his mother, they could not make better callings or ways of living than God has made.
Therefore we must count every calling as excellent, high, divine, whether it be that of a pious husband, servant, maid or faithful laborer, and could thus rightly judge according to the word about all works and callings, and every one could rightly teach and live, and everything would move along splendidly. Those would be the right callings which God has ordered and established, and which he approves; and if God granted that we could bring it to pass that a city would have many of these pious citizens, women, children, masters, servants and maids, we should have heaven upon earth, and would need no monasteries, and should have no need of fasting, or praying and singing all day long in the churches, but simply of doing what their various offices and callings require.
Thus you see what the kinds of sheep’s clothing are with which they set the people gaping. But what are they inside and in fact? Nothing else (says Christ) than ravening wolves. That is what they seek, the desperate scamps, that they with a beautiful show of doctrine and life may ruin and destroy souls. Not outwardly, as the tyrants and persecutors, who destroy life and property; also, not as the preachers, who publicly preach against us and condemn our doctrine, etc.: but inwardly, that they secretly tear away the treasure of our heart, which has now become the throne or kingdom and dwelling-place of God. That is, all their scoundrelism that they so adorn with doctrine and life, aims at destroying the faith and the foundation article concerning Christ; as now the Anabaptists outwardly bear our name, and indeed acknowledge that we have the gospel, with the word and preaching; but there follows (they say) no fruit. Just with this word: No fruit, they turn the attention of the people from faith to works, and they push aside the main thing, which is faith in Christ, and they lead us away so that we are to look alone at the fruits; if these appear, then it is the true gospel, and vive versa; and their whole teaching is nothing else than that one must do his utmost and make a display with the fruits, have no private property, forsake everything, etc.; fall back again upon their works, and place their confidence in them, as thereby to be saved. And what is the worst, they do not teach the true fruits, which the gospel teaches and demands after faith, but what they dream about and imagine; say nothing about how every one is to follow his calling properly and faithfully, and abide in it, but just the contrary; lead the people away from these callings, teach them to forsake them as worldly, and run away from them, and look at something that is peculiar; look morose, live severely, stop eating, drinking, dressing like other people, let themselves be tortured and killed willingly and when not required. Else (say they) the gospel yields no fruit in you, and you are still no Christian, although you have long been believing, etc.
And these their dreams they adorn with the Scriptures and quotations from the gospel, though Christ never taught or required this, neither by word nor example, that we are to run away from the community, forsake everything, have nothing of our own, except when it becomes necessary that we must either do this or give up his word. Therefore you must not forsake these things before he orders you, or you are forced to do it. If it comes to that, then say: Before I will forsake Christ and the gospel, rather may go wife, child, body and goods, sun, moon, and all creatures. But apart from necessity you have God’s command, that you are to love your neighbor, serve and help him with body and goods, in like manner to love and rule your wife, child, domestics, not run off from them and desert them, as these [fanatics] do, against the word and ordinance of God, altogether without necessity, and yet they want to boast of the great fruits of the gospel, as special saints.
Learn thus to recognize these spirits, as they under the sheep’s clothing inwardly raven, and take away the faith, lead you from Christ back upon yourself, and call this fruits of the gospel, which they themselves imagine, by which they destroy the real fruits. That is what these ravening wolves are in sheep’s clothing that have always been injuring Christianity. Hitherto they have been called monks; now they are Anabaptists, as a new sort of monks; in old times they were Pelagians, Ishmaelites, Esauites, Canaanites.
For this faith has continued since the beginning of the world; and although these Anabaptists may get out of the way, others will certainly come.
In short, monkery will endure as long as the world stands, although With other new names and methods. For all that go about getting up something peculiar, beyond faith and ordinary callings, these are and remain monks, although they do not use the same kind of style, clothing or methods. It is true we can easily be on our guard against these that go about with hood and tonsure; for they are now sufficiently marked, so that every one knows them. But beware of the new monks, that do not wear hoods, but yet start some other odd notions, pretend great devotion and sanctity, with demure looks, gray coats, and a strict mode of living; they say, one must not wear satin or silk, red or variegated clothes, just as those monks also taught, so that still it is monkery all the same, only with a different mask. Therefore, the artists have hit it exactly, when they paint the devil in a monk’s hood with his devil’s claws sticking out below. For he has been doing nothing else from the beginning of the world than to mislead the world by monkery.
V.16-20. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Since the Lord Christ has warned his followers to hold firmly to his doctrine, and to beware of their being misled by others who under sheep’s clothing are ravening wolves: he now instructs them also, as an additional warning, how they are to recognize them by their fruits, and he uses art illustration in plain, simple words that even a child can understand. For no one is so simple as not to know that a thorn-bush bears no figs or grapes, etc. But however simple the words are, yet no one sees how much they mean unless he diligently considers the word of God. But it all depends upon this, that we understand what he means by a good or bad tree or fruit. For it is easily said: This is a fig-tree or a thistle, a good apple or a sour wild plum, and with the eyes and reason it can be easily seen and understood; but as Christ here uses it, there is no other way to explain it except by spiritual comprehension, according to God’s word. For we heard above how these same false teachers employ such semblances and smooth words, that reason cannot judge them, or guard itself against them. Yes, it is just that kind of doctrine and life that grows out of reason and suits it, and is naturally pleasing to us, because it teaches about our own doing and working, which we understand and can do.
By a good tree that brings forth good fruit is meant, in short, one who lives and conducts his walk and conversation according to the word of God, pure and simple. For he means to tell hereafter also of many who have heard the word of God, and also say: Lord, Lord, and besides have done many wonderful works, and yet are false and hypocritical. Therefore we must here completely silence reason and follow the word of God alone, and then infer, if we wish to judge about life and works, that we may know what God’s word calls a good tree or good fruits. For this is too much for reason, (as I said,) if it sees a man who wears nothing but a gray coat, fasts every week, as the Pharisee in the gospel, yes who also does wonderful works and miracles, that he should not be a good tree with good fruits. For it cannot look any higher, or think and understand any better, is badly caught by it, so that it concludes he who leads a different life from other people, he must be a peculiar, holy man; she sees not, the blind fool, that these works are all still far, far from the word of God.
And if you now ask: Whence do you know that these works are so precious as you make them out to be? it can give no other answer than: I think so. There, go to the dogs with your thinking, if I am to trust my soul’s salvation upon it. The rule is: you must know, and not imagine or think, and you must have a sure basis and evidence from the word of God, so that he is satisfied, and you can say: The work is well done, the calling is well pleasing to God, that I know; not according to my own light or star, so that it appears good or evil to me; but that is decided by the word and command of God. It does not seem to me that a husband, or wife, or prince, or judge is as holy as one who creeps into corners or goes into the wilderness: but it does not avail to decide according to my thinking; and although some one should exercise devils and do all the miracles that the apostles did, I would rather be servant to a shoemaker or a dishwasher according to God’s word, and I will consider this calling superior to your thinking, even if you could raise the dead. Therefore adhere to it that bringing forth good fruits means that kind of life and good works that are in the line of God’s word and command.
Thus these words — by their fruits ye shall know them — are given as a token and set as a sign whereby they can be judged and recognized. If we are deceived, it is no one’s fault but our own. For he has not left us in doubt, but has drawn the picture clear and distinct. If you cannot judge them (says he,)because of their sheep’s clothing, then observe their fruits and works, whether these are upright and good.
Yes, (you say,) how am I to recognize these? they too may themselves be deceptive. Answer: You surely know what God’s commands are; then see whether they agree with them. For I will assuredly warrant you that no captious spirit will come without making it perfectly sure and leaving a stench behind him that one may see that the devil has been there; and there has never yet a false doe-trine or heresy made its appearance without bringing the characteristic mark along with it which he here indicates, that it has proposed other works than those which God has commanded and ordained. That now the world is misled is owing entirely to its following wild reason and neglecting the word of God, paying no attention to what he commands and gaping after the pretenders, if it only sees something odd.
He who wishes to judge rightly here, let him do as Christ teaches, and set before himself their works and fruits, and contrast them with the word or command of God, and he will soon see how these coincide. Look at the very holiest Carthusian monk with his strict order, and St. Paul on the other hand with the ten commandments, and you will see that St. Paul preaches in this style: If you have Christ through faith, then let every one be obedient and subject to the authorities, and exercise love toward one another in all callings. See, there you have a true mirror of a Christian life, according to God’s command and ordinance. In contrast with this comes that factious spirit and says: O that is of no account! There are many bad people in the [different] callings, and it is all a worldly matter, etc.; ah, we must seek something better. So he goes along and makes something peculiar and odd, comes parading along in a hood or a gray coat; that must now be a grand life and a perfect calling.
But if you are firmly rooted in God’s word, you can soon judge and say:
Where has God commanded you to get special callings and works in opposition to the common callings that he has ordained? I know very well that there are many bad fellows and pious people in all callings; but what concern is that of mine how they abuse them? I will still abide by the word that teaches me that such callings are good, although there are bad people in them. That is what I look at and regulate myself by; and because the calling is good, the works and fruits, performed according to the word of God, just as the calling demands, must also be right and good. But because your calling has no word of God for it, the works, done in the calling, cannot be good, and both tree and fruit are rotten and of no use.
Thus you have a sure judgment, that cannot deceive you, as Christ teaches you, to know them by their fruits. For I have also read about all the heretics and fanatics, and have found that they one and all every time put forth something different from what God had ordered and commanded, one on this subject and another on that. One forbade to eat all kinds of food; another marriage; the third denounced the civil authority; and each one took up something peculiar to himself, so that they all must walk in this track.
Therefore it lies (as I have said), entirely in this, that one properly knows and holds the definition, what Christ calls good works or fruits, namely, that a good work is that which is ordered or commanded by the word of God and is covered by that command. As a married woman who is pious and deports herself rightly can say this and boast that her calling is commanded by God and has the right, pure, unadulterated word of God, and heartily pleases God. Therefore her works are all good fruits; so that one is to judge and decide a thing to be good not because we think so, but because God says so and pronounces it good. Adhere to this, and you cannot go astray as they must do. For the judgment stands, that they cannot teach any proper fruits. God also thinks the same way about this, so that they must preach nothing else than about purely invented juggleries; and, because they despise real fruits and works, as not having any special show about them, he too despises their foul works that they put forth with great show, and presume to do things better than he has done.
It is a proverb, invented by the priests, and I think the devil himself mocked them with it: When our Lord God made a priest the devil was looking on, and wanted to imitate him, and he made the tonsure too broad and it turned out a monk; therefore they are the devil’s creatures. That is said by way of a joke, but it is nevertheless the pure truth. For where the devil sees that God orders obedience and love to one another, and constitutes an excellent, spiritual little assemblage, he cannot refrain from building his chapel or beer. shop alongside of the church, and also afterwards teaching his monkery, poverty, gray coats, etc., so that always the monks are the devil’s priests; for they preach the doctrine of devils (as Paul also calls it) wrought out of their own imaginings, and they claim to be wiser than God and to do his work better than he does.
Therefore Christ now means to say: If you wish to know and judge them, keep to the pure word of God, that you may be sure what the right fruits are and see how they accord with them: thus you will surely find that they teach and practice otherwise than as God has commanded; from that you can certainly also test the tree, that it is not good; and they consider this a coarse, childish comparison. Can one gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles? Yes, very well, (they think)should not we be able to do that?
Why one may gather pure sugar from them. For these works are by far more valuable, according to their notion, than those God has ordered. But look at the two kinds of trees, the vine or fig-tree, and in contrast the thorn-bush or thistle. Thistles and thorns may also bloom, but what kind of fruit do they produce? But the fig-tree, however, is such a simple tree, makes no boast of its fruits or leaves, puts forth no leaves before the fruit is at hand, but before you are aware it produces fruit. So also the vine, it is more completely destitute of show and glory than any other tree, a mere thin, weak wood; yet it bears the very sweetest grapes, better than any other growth, whilst other trees plume themselves upon their leaves and flowers, so that one should think that they would yield pure sugar; and yet they produce nothing but these sour fruits that are of no use. Thus also here these have the show and make a racket with their boasting of special works as if they alone were doing it: and when the bloom is over, there are nothing but medlars that are quite full of stones, neither nourishing nor feeding anybody, or thistle heads that only prick or scratch if one takes hold of them. For if one contrasts with them the command of God, whether God has commanded and ordered these works, and whether they have been done for the service and benefit of a neighbor, it is seen that they are of no account and only hinder the real good works. Again, as to the other callings, they make no show, do not shine and glitter, and yet they yield the very finest, best fruits, and cause the greatest benefit upon earth, but [they do this] before God, and before those who are enlightened through spiritual eyes, so that they can rightly look at and judge the matter.
Therefore he now speaks thus: Can one also gather figs from thorns? As if he would say: It may bloom beautifully, but wait a little, and see when the time comes to gather the fruit what you will find then. For nothing more will come of it than that people are thereby deceived that have been waiting for large, valuable fruit, and yet find nothing which they or others can comfort themselves with or enjoy; besides the harm is done, that even the very highest reason is deceived and misled by this phantom, gotten up by the devil, which has not God’s word and sound understanding, but follows its own notion and devotion and supposes if this pleases it, this must also please God; but it should be turned the other way, so that I am glad to hear what pleases him, although there are vexatious things in all God’s callings, and besides there are many bad people in them that injure these fruits, just like miserable worms.
And this comparison he concludes with a common saying which he was fond of using elsewhere: Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and an evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. But what is the need of teaching this in so many words? Who does not know this already? Why a blind man could tell it by the bush; and he thinks us such fools that we don’t know this? Well, he who knows it, let him know it; but we are willing to learn it and remain Christ’s scholars. For, as was said, it is not such an easy art to decide in regard to this doing, of which Christ is speaking. But this saying serves to comfort and strengthen such as are in those callings that reason does not consider desirable or respectable, so that there is much vexation in them and much evil is done in them, by which many people are startled, so that they are considered dangerous, as if one could not easily serve God in them, etc.; with this St. Augustine worried and plagued himself greatly, even when he was already a great doctor, so that he would have been glad to see everything right, and to separate from the callings what was bad, and the Pelagian heretics made him a great deal of trouble with this matter: as nearly all the heretics have aimed at making things perfectly pure, and, (pardon the expression) have totally befouled them.
But why need we go far to find it? It is here admirably put, and in a few words: The calling that God has created and ordained, and the man who moves and lives in this calling according to the word of God, he can produce nothing but good fruits. With that you can now console your heart against these thoughts: Alas, this or that one has put me into this calling!
There is nothing but disgust and trouble in it! This has often assailed me in regard to my office, and it still does, so that, if it were not for the word of God, I would long since have foresworn the preaching of a sermon, and would have given good-bye to the world; as the monks used to do. But that is the work of the devil himself, who makes every one’s calling so burdensome to him, and so blinds proud reason that it cannot recognize the office and work that God assigns to us and which is heartily pleasing to him, and thus it ruins its own calling and fruits. For it would surely be a good tree and a good calling; but reason does not see it and stands in its own light, so that it cannot bring forth good fruits.
Therefore learn to look at your calling thus according to this saying, so that you may thence conclude: Now I know, thank God, that I am in a good, happy calling, that pleases God; although it is vexatious to the flesh, has much trouble and dissatisfaction, all that I will cheerfully endure. For here I have the consolation that Christ says: A good tree yields good fruit, in all callings comprehended in God’s word, although they are despised and depreciated by the world and the special saints. On the other hand, I hear the decision, that every evil tree brings forth evil fruit: so that when I see the holiest Carthusian, I see a worthless, evil tree, although he makes a fine display and has not so much worry and opposition. For the devil does not embitter and burden him as he does the true, divine callings. Therefore those callings and works they are well pleased with.
But just as little as I can see in my calling that my fruit is good, just so little also can he see that his calling and fruit is evil and of no value; and this saying must be inverted among them, and read thus: An evil tree brings forth good fruit, and a good tree brings forth evil fruit; so that, in short, here reason cannot judge, nor see the goodness of its calling and its works, or derive joy or pleasure from them; but it praises the opposite. For, if we could see it, we should move along in constant joy, and should suffer and endure everything with a cheerful heart that God lays upon us, assured that because the tree is good its fruits must also be good; so that if a pious farming servant hauls a wagonload of manure to the field he is hauling a load of valuable figs and grapes; but [this he does] in the sight of God, not in our eyes, who do not believe, hence every one becomes tired of his calling and gapes after another.
That is now what Christ means when he con-eludes so bluntly and directly:
A good tree brings forth good fruit, and the opposite; and, to make it still stronger, he adds with seeming superfluity, and says: A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, and an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit. How, cannot a servant or a maid be a scoundrel? Cannot a man or a woman commit adultery? Cannot a prince be a tyrant, or a preacher be an impostor? You have said the same yourself. Where are we to look for scamps and scoundrels except in the various trades and callings? Answer; Yes, that is only too true; but in that case he is no longer a good tree, for he goes beyond his calling and lives in opposition to God’s command. But if he abides in his calling or office, and does what this demands, he cannot be an evil tree. Therefore says he: Only be careful to remain a good tree and I will warrant you that what you do cannot be evil. For the works that God has ordered must have the praise that they cannot be called evil.
What better thing could we now desire than to have this praise and testimony from Christ himself, against all factious spirits and such as make special claims to sanctity, that we know that we are in such a calling in which we cannot do evil, if we live in accordance with God’s word and do what is our duty. Yes, even if something evil should intervene, if we overdo things not purposely or willfully, but through ignorance or weakness, this must also be good and pardoned. In short you cannot spoil it, because you are in the divine office and word, only abide in that and it cannot be evil; or, although it would otherwise be sin, yet it must not be called evil, but be covered over and forgiven; so richly shall you be blessed through the word of God. Just as a fig-tree, or other tree, although it sometimes bears a worm-eaten fruit, yet this is still a good fruit, after its kind, without prickle or thorn; yes, rather than have no fruit at all, it must have fruit that is worm-eaten, yet innocently so; thus all the works of a Christian are of a good kind, because the tree is good, and he so lives that he would gladly bring forth only good fruit, although sometimes through the weakness of the flesh, or some other hindrance, something evil slips in.
On the other hand, those thorn-bushes and thistles, if they should do their best, cannot bring forth any good fruit that may be called a good apple or fig. And no Carthusian or barefooted monk, if he should pray and torture himself to death, could say a Lord’s Prayer that God would call good or do any good work; but the more he would do, and worry himself to do good works, the worse he would make it. For it is decided: A thistle bears no figs, and a thorn-bush no grapes; and in short: an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit. That sounds like severe and strict denunciation of all selfconstituted orders and callings, that they cannot do a single good work; and on the other hand like admirably comforting us, so that we who live according to God’s word cannot do evil.
Thereupon he now concludes: Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is cut off and cast into the fire. There you have the decision stated that shall be proclaimed in regard to all who teach and maintain their own works, aside from the word of God, who mean to accomplish and effect it that their cause must ever abide and think that God must spare them, as valuable trees and plants, and fence them in and take the best care of them: but do not perceive what a sentence has been pronounced against them, so that he has already detected the kind and marked it on the tree, as Christ elsewhere says, and that they are fit for nothing but the fire of hell. For it stands written: Every plant that my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up, etc.
This he has now spoken through comparisons, and as in parabolis or dark words. Now he goes further and means to explain what he meant thereby, and he adds the right comment, with clear, plain words, and says:
V.21. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
That is, just those who serve me, and regard their way of worship as the very best, and are earnestly concerned about entering into the kingdom of heaven, and think they have it before all others, against these I will shut heaven. That is a terrible decision, that no one is farther down in hell than the greatest devotees, that is the most holy monks; as the devil also has made a proverb, and himself made a mock of his saints, as a scoundrel who himself cannot conceal his villainy, so that it is said: Hell is paved with the tonsures of priests and monks. That is just what he says here, that those who claim to be the greatest saints shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Why? For they say: Lord, Lord, (says he,)but they do not the will of my Father which is in heaven. How is this? Are they not doing the will of God, when they are serving God night and day, and besides are working miracles, as is presently said? What shall become of the other great crowd if these are not to be saved? Answer: You hear very plainly that he says No to this, and makes a distinction between saying: Lord, Lord, and doing the will of his Father; and he says; I do not want those who solemnly cry:
Lord, Lord, and come with their great devotion, as if I must lift them to heaven; but those I want who do my Father’s will. They hope and presume that they will not only get to heaven, but will also by their merit bring others in, and will have high seats and receive special crowns, etc; as they confidently boast: Shall not a Carthusian merit more, and have a higher grade in heaven than a mere layman or a married woman? Else what does he gain in the monastery with his strict disciplines, etc.? But it is not:
Carthusians or servants of God enter heaven, but those who do the will of God.
For to do the will of God does not mean to put on hoods or wear gray coats, and to run off from the community into monasteries, etc., for the scriptures have not a word about that; but it means this, that Christ has preached and taught, namely, that we believe in Christ, and be found in that calling that has [the sanction of] God’s word, and do in it what he has commanded. Turn to the ten commandments and see how St. Paul out of these teaches those in all callings, how inferiors are to render fidelity and obedience to superiors, the others to love and serve each other, etc., and every one to be faithful in his office. There you find nothing about priestliness or monkery, gray coats, or other specialties. He now who lives in this way, he does the will of God, which he has himself indicated. These are fit for heaven, not those who neglect the word of God, and yet have meant to serve God with great earnestness and devotion, so that they say over and over again: Lord, Lord, whilst the rest of us hardly say it once.
For these same persons are always busier and livelier in their worship than the real Christians; but since they have done their own will, they may also seek another Lord who may hear them and open heaven for them.
Therefore he means hereby to warn us again to be careful not to be misled by these who offer such great splendid worship (although they may even work miracles); but be content with what he calls good, so that everything is done in accordance with his command, although it makes no display, nor is pleasing to reason, because we have the test, that no factious spirit can be content with that, nor teach or bring forth good fruit, but they are busied merely with their own thoughts, spun out of their own head. These are now the first whom Christ rejects, that come and make the world full of forms of worship; as he predicted about them in Matthew 24:23: For there shall arise false Christ’s and false prophets and shall say: Lo here is Christ, or there, and shall deceive many. Then others shall come who not only say: Lord, Lord, but also do great wonders and signs. Concerning this he now adds:
V.22, 23. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
These are now high, excellent people, and yet they are shamefully deceived and altogether unexpectedly go to hell. The others of whom he has just been speaking, go to the same place as a genial crowd, unless they are at the very last converted; as I hope that, nevertheless, many of them have been saved on their death-bed, converted from that error. But these claim to be sure of heaven, begin to call God to account, and say: Are we not to be saved? Surely we have preached in thy name and done so many wonderful works.
How can this now be, that they do wonderful works, and besides in the name of Christ, and yet can be counted among false Christians and damned, wicked people? I always thought, as it is also true, that God gives no sign or testimony to confirm lies, as Moses says, Deuteronomy 18:20, etc.: “If a prophet shall presume to speak in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak — and if thou say in thy heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken.”
And yet here the contrary is stated, that they do miracles in his name, and yet are false, wicked people.
First, this may be an answer, that they were once real Christians and truly preached and did wonderful works, but afterwards became apostates. For this is the very devil’s [work], (against which also St. Paul warns his Corinthians,) if a Christian begins to feel that he is in advance of others, and has superior understanding, wisdom, and other gifts, so that he is selfsatisfied and becomes proud, and he turns out to be such a man as shells himself out of the grain and nothing is left but the empty husk; he thinks nevertheless that he is pious and well off; as there have been many such people, and there are still many such. For it is an extremely dangerous thing, if God endows a man with high, excellent gifts, that he do not become proud, but continue humble. Thus we read about an ancient father in the wilderness, who had a peculiar gift to exorcise devils, and helped many people, so that all the world ran after him and regarded him almost as a God. Then he began to be tempted by the vain honor, and when he felt that, he besought God to guard him and not let him fall into [the sin of] pride. Then God let him be possessed and plagued by the devil for four weeks, so that he lost all his reputation, and everybody said: See, he helped others, now he lies there and cannot help himself! Thus he was rid of the temptation and remained humble. I give this as an example, to show how dangerous a thing it is with great, high gifts, and how pride is always apt to attach itself to them; as we see also in gross outward things, yes, in the beggar’s staff of temporal possessions and authority. in short, God’s gifts are so grandly noble, but we are so befouled, that we cannot avoid becoming proud and taking on airs if we are conscious of them; on the other hand, of becoming desperate if we do not have them.
That (I say) would be indeed an answer, but we will not press it here, although it is fair. For the principal thought is that he is here speaking of false prophesying and wonder-working as he says also in Matthew 24:24: For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect; and St. Paul says of Antichrist, 2 Thessalonians 2:9. Who will come with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness, etc., because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved; so that assuredly false miracles must be performed in Christendom, and the false Christians must regard them as real, true miracles.
Now that has been abundantly verified in the papacy; although in Turkey there are many of these priests and peculiar saints. One need only read. their books and legends, especially those written by the monks, what a hotch-potch it is, brim-full of wonders; that are all however nothing but lies and knavery. How have people nowadays been fooled with so many pilgrimages to the valley of the Grim, to Eichen, to Treves, etc., and I have myself seen some monks, shameless, bad fellows and reckless men, who nevertheless exorcised the devil and played with him as with a child.
But who could relate all the knavery and raising of the devil that has been practiced under the holy name of Christ, of Mary, of the holy cross, St. Cyprian, etc., all of which the monks have carried on with vigor, and all the world has fallen in with them and no one dared peep against it. There was no pope or bishop that would preach against it, but all helped it along; and if any body resisted it, he was overwhelmed and silenced with violence; as not long ago bishop Ernst, of Saxony once pulled down such a devil’s chapel; but he had to suffer for it, so that he fell sick in consequence and was glad to rebuild it. Along with this devil-raising business there have now been started and confirmed purgatory, masses for the dead, and worship of all saints, pilgrimages, monasteries, churches and chapels. Yes, many have also prophesied about future times, as Liechtenberg and others; but all this has been done by the devil, that he might endorse his abominable lies, and bewitch the people and hold them captive in error, so that no one could escape him.
For that is a small matter for the devil, to let himself be driven out, if he chooses, by a bad fellow, and yet remain unexercised; for by that very performance he more completely possesses and ensnares the people with the shameful deception. Thus he can also guess at what is future, as a shrewd, experienced spirit; although he commonly mocks the people with his prophesying, and juggles in such a way that one may interpret him in various ways, and however it turns out he still has hit it; as he used to do in ancient times by his heathenish priests. Thus the people then are infatuated and bounce in: O here God lives! Here one sees and touches the miracles and signs! They cannot reckon that the devil does it only for the purpose of deceiving and misleading the people; and they do not think, the fools, that Christ clearly foretold all this and faithfully warned us against it through himself and his apostles. But it had to be so, and we have been rightly served, because we despised the word of God and did not take into the account that we must lose Christ and accept the miracles of the devil; and it was just real sport for the devil, whereby he ruled with full power in Christendom, as he sought to do.
Since we have now seen this, and alas quite too often experienced how great harm the devil has done through these lying spirits and false miracles, we should be made wise and not (as those before us have done) let the word of Christ lie and be spoken in vain, so that it may not go with us as it went with them. For it is a sermon, yes a prediction, written as a warning; but alas too late for those who lived before us; but early enough for us, if we will only heed it, so that we do not care how they boast of the signs and wonders that Mary and other saints have done, and dress them up beautifully wherewith to lead us away from the word; but to be so wise, since we hear this warning that these false miracles must occur, as not to believe in any mere miracles.
For he faithfully and earnestly warned, as he was speaking of these wonderful works, Matthew 24:25: “Behold, I have told you before;” as though he would say: Beware, and heed my warning; otherwise you will surely be misled. For you have my word, so that you know what is the will of my Father. Contrast these two together. Here you have my doctrine, which shows you how you ought to live and act: there you see the miracles that stand opposed to this doctrine, so that you can decide thus: Since I see there such excellent signs, and on the contrary have here the doctrine and the warning besides, I will first see to it what the miracles tend to, and will carefully examine whether they really serve to strengthen my faith in the word, namely, that Christ died for me, that I through him may before God become pious and be saved; then, that I may pursue my calling and faithfully attend to the same. Thus I learn the opposite fact, that they want thereby to strengthen and confirm their silly notion, and teach thus: Run to this or that saint, creep into a hood, etc., there so many miracles and wonders daily occur, there is such a holy order, etc. That means led away from Christ, from my church, pulpit, baptism and sacrament, that I should adhere to, also from my calling and the works demanded of me.
Therefore I will not hear or know it, even though an angel should come from heaven and awaken the dead before my eyes. For Christ has taught and warned me thus: Cling to my word, pulpit and sacrament; where this is, there you will find me. Abide there, you need not go or seek any farther; I will not come any nearer to you than where my gospel, baptism, office of the ministry is, through which I enter your heart and speak with you. Also, that he says: Be thou father or mother, prince, master, subject, and obedient, etc., and abide in thy calling, there thou hearest him speak, and present in person. Why do you then still run, as a senseless man, to stock and stone, where no word of God is preached, and yet through the devil’s miracles open wide your eyes as though Christ would be there where his word is not!
See, thus they should have done against the papists, who come crowding with their custom, fathers, councils, and so many wonders and miracles, by which they want to have their matter confirmed, and should have answered only in a few words: Well, let us hold the two in contrast; there I have the word of Christ, of that I am sure, and it is most powerfully confirmed, through all the world: and you show me on the other hand your doctrine and miracles, that lead one to rosaries, pilgrimages, worship of saints, masses, monkery and other peculiar self-chosen works. There is nothing about Christ, nor faith, baptism, sacrament, obedience, and good works which I am to do in my calling towards my neighbor, as Christ teaches me; but just the contrary. Therefore they cannot be true miracles, but both the doctrine and the miracles are a delusion of the devil.
Thus we could readily know and judge all false miracles, and say: Miracles hither, miracles thither, I do not care for them, though you were to raise the dead before my eyes. For all that can be deceptive: but God’s word does not deceive me. For the devil can readily befool and bewitch the people, so that he holds a man awhile as dead and then lets him come to himself again, as if he were awaked from the dead; or he can ruin one’s eye or other member and then restore it again, so that one should think it was done by a miracle. Thus God decrees also that truly real miracles may occur as the punishment of those who pay no regard to the truth, as St. Paul says, and as a warning to others. For there is such excessive disregard for his word and such ingratitude, that no wrath is sufficient to punish it; as will be the case with us again, if the world stands long, who have sinned to such a degree that it must become much worse with all kinds of error and wonders.
For since the world absolutely will despise the word, and not hear it, and gape after something else: he will send it enough so that it may be led astray into the depth of all error; as was hitherto the case, when in all churches, monasteries, schools, nothing else was preached and taught, all books were stuffed full of these lying miracles, and with no other reason than that these miracles had occurred; as if it had not been sufficiently predicted that this should happen, and the people be deceived thereby, so that even the elect should hardly be saved from the error; and those are rightly served who so easily let themselves be misled and will not heed this warning. For he gave the word, how we are to believe and live, and besides confirmed it with miracles enough. He means to let that be enough, and stop there, and do nothing else; but they want to get up a different new doctrine and better callings against God’s word and the true miracles.
Therefore Christ now says: I will pay no regard to it, although they boast:
Lord, have we not in thy name done many wonderful works; but will pronounce this sentence upon them: I never knew you; depart from me, ye workers of iniquity, etc. How so, dear Lord? Are not the signs and wonders here, so that we cannot deny it? Yes, (he will say,) why then have you neglected my word, confirmed by my miracles, and have gotten up something else of which I know nothing, and have controlled the world according to your notion and have followed that? Because then you have despised my word, and have not done my Father’s will, I will also not know you or have any mercy. They are mistaken about this now upon earth, supposing that they shall be the nearest to God; but they will find it out all too suddenly. This is now the right meaning of this text, so that he is speaking of false miracles, which the false teachers perform to establish their doctrine, whom he will not know, neither with their miracles nor prophesying, etc.
But in regard to this it is now earnestly asserted (and I do not know if this is the proper place for the discussion of it) that God sometimes allows real miracles to be performed by bad people, which God does through them; as Caiaphas, the high priest, prophesied, John 11:50, and Balaam, Numbers 24:17, who uttered the most beautiful announcement concerning Christ, as Moses himself says, that the Holy Ghost entered into him, and he had to prophesy against his will, as also Caiaphas; and it cannot be denied that also Judas, as an apostle of Christ, did many miracles, as well as the other apostles and disciples. What shall we say to this? St. John himself answers, when he says concerning Caiaphas: Because he was high-priest that year he prophesied. For this can easily happen, that such a person, being in public office, or a ruling person, prophesies or works miracles and does a great deal of good, bringing many people to God; and yet the person himself may not be pious, and be going to the devil. Thus, a preacher is in a public calling and an official person, and if we look at it aright, such a person performs the very greatest work, miracle and wonder that happens on earth. For through his office, word and sacrament that he applies to you he brings you to faith, saves you from the devil’s power and from eternal death, and leads you to heaven and eternal life; which is far above all external signs and wonders, and yet he may still be himself an unbelieving, bad man.
Therefore in this matter we must always look to the word of God, and judge according to that, not according to the person. Now you have heard above concerning those miracles that are performed in order to confirm something else than God’s word, of which there is nothing in the Scriptures. But here are those miracles that relate to something that God has spoken and confirmed. Thus, the prophecy of the high-priest Caiaphas announced that Christ with his death should redeem the world, etc. This was a true, precious prophecy, although his motive was poisonous and evil.
Thus also the prophet Balaam, although he was a villain, yet he predicts truly, as a prophet, concerning God’s people and Christ, and God speaks through him. If now a preacher properly administers his office, and in virtue of it performs miracles, we should hear him. But if he wanted to get off the track and go another way, to start something else, aside from his office, he would no longer be a true but a false prophet. Thus, also, if the apostle Judas preached and performed miracles, who belonged to the devil, as Christ says, it was done by virtue of the apostolic office, to establish Christ, so that thereby the people might believe on him.
In accordance with this, judge concerning all who hold an office in Christendom. For they are not all Christians, or pious people, who are in office and preach. God does not ask about that; but let the person be as it may, the office is still right and good, and does not belong to man, but to God himself. Thus, Caiaphas prophesies not as Caiaphas, a murderer and bad fellow, but as a high-priest. So, the pastor or preacher baptizes and brings to eternal life, not as Mr. John Pommer, but as a pastor. For to honor and confirm the office God causes this to be done. Since now Judas is in the right public office, which Christ has appointed, therefore the office is honored in him, not the person.
For this is also the case in worldly affairs, as Solomon says in Proverbs 16:10: Divinatio in labiis regis, a divine sentence is in the lips of the king; that is, everything that the authorities order, is right, and God confirms it.
Therefore if they condemn criminals and punish them officially, that is God’s judgment, which he utters in heaven above and will have executed, although it otherwise, aside from the office, is forbidden. Thus the Scriptures make all who are in the sacred office prophets or predictors, although personally they are often villains and tyrants; as Solomon again says, 8:15: “By me kings reign;” that is, their law and sentence is my law and sentence, and all that they do officially, if they rightly rule; and yet nevertheless for the most part in the world there are great scoundrels among them, that boldly make a bad use of their position and power; yet, if they remain in their office, and do what right demands, it is all God’s business. It is just the same, to use an humble comparison, as when a prince or lord gives orders to a servant, or sends forth his ambassadors, that one hears and honors them, although they are bad fellows: not for their own sake, but for the sake of their lord, whose office and command they bring with them, etc.
Since now God does this in secular, affairs, much more will he insist upon it in spiritual affairs, so that his office and service shall be efficient and effective. Therefore, as was said, it is a purely miraculous event, if a pastor preaches or baptizes, in so far as he properly administers the gospel and baptism, whether he be pious or wicked; and if he himself, as not being a Christian, does not have the treasure, yet he receives it who accepts the word and believes. If now these miracles and wonders are effected through the ministerial office, so that thereby souls are redeemed from sin, death and the devil; how much more can it be done with small, external miracles, in corporeal matters, that do not affect the soul?
Therefore we must here also carefully distinguish the two things, office and person, so that we do not reject the office for the sake of the person; as commonly happens, if one be pious, there are twenty of them wicked: but we must inquire carefully whether the office and the miracle tend and serve to praise and confirm the doctrine, so that one may believe on Christ, and whether they harmonize with what he has spoken, commanded and established, if you see that, then say: This sermon is right, though the person may be of no account. The miracle I will accept, but as to the person I will not ask, etc. If that be not the case, thou must not accept or believe it, the miracle may be ever so great, and the person ever so holy and excellent. But here are also many bishops, preachers, and those in other offices, who suppose that God must regard their persons, and they are thereby misled, as I said above. Therefore it will be of no avail for them to boast at the last day and say: Lord, we have surely in thy name done wonderful works. For God did not bestow this upon them for the sake of their person, but of their office, and he did the works not for their sake personally, but in view of their office, to confirm it. This is now said concerning public officials, by whom signs and wonders are performed, some of whom are pious, and some wicked, which neither detracts from the office nor adds to it.
But what do you say about those who perform miracles and prophesy and are yet not in office? as we read in Luke 9 of some who performed miracles and yet were not Christ’s disciples, so that the apostles told Christ of it and said: Master, we saw one who drove out devils in thy name, and we rebuked him; for he did not follow thee. But he answered: Do not hinder him; for he who is not against us is for us, etc. Now that was a single person to whom the office had not been entrusted by Christ, and yet he says they should not hinder him, and he adds the reason, Mark 9:39:
There is no man which shall do a miracle in my name that can lightly speak evil of me. Answer: That is true, as I have said, that God does not allow miracles to be done by bad men, unless they are in public office; because God does not give miracles on account of their person, but of their office.
But if real miracles are done by a single person, that person must certainly be pious, as some are, who have special revelations, through dreams, visions, etc.; but these miracles must have the tendency to praise and further Christ and the gospel.
Thus you have two kinds of miracles that are good and honest, first, those which are done by pious persons who are Christians; then also those done by wicked persons, who yet are in office and teach correctly; but that we are always to judge according to this sure test, which is to be applied to all kinds of persons, whether pious or impious, in office or out of office, whether the miracles have the tendency to praise Christ and to strengthen your faith. But if you discover that they are pointing you in a different direction, as to go upon pilgrimages, pray to saints, deliver souls from purgatory, and in short, to rely upon your works and establish a righteousness of your own; then say: If you would perform all miracles for me, so that I could see and make sure of them, I would still not believe you; for Christ has sufficiently warned me against that.
This rule God himself stated through Moses in Deuteronomy 13:1-3: “If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass whereof he spoke unto thee, saying: Let us go after other gods which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, etc.” There he stated also the causam finalem, by which one can recognize them and proceed aright. If they try to persuade you to establish a different divine worship, that is, not to adhere to the one, pure doctrine, but to begin something else alongside of it, then we are not to believe, although it snows miracles. And he explains it further, and says: For the Lord your God proveth you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. As though he were to say: He wants to test you, how firmly you hold to the doctrine that has already been established and is in vogue.
In short, our orders are to accept no wonders or miracles, however great and numerous they may be, that are opposed to the well-established doctrine. For we have the command of God, who has given it from heaven:
Hear ye him, Christ alone ye are to hear. Besides we have also this warning, that false prophets shall come, and perform great miracles, but all of them lead the wrong way, from Christ to something else. Therefore there is no other way to avoid this than to be well-grounded in the doctrine and keep it constantly in view; thus we can properly judge everything according to that, whether it is taught by the gospel or your faith, which you repeat every day, which declares: I believe on Christ alone, who died for me, etc., or whatever else it is.
Now, we have been warned enough, whoever is willing to heed it. But it avails nevertheless little with the great mass, as it availed but little heretofore; and I verily believe that if some one would arise here today and perform only one miracle, great crowds would fall in with it. For that is the way of the senseless crowd, when one puts forth something new before it and makes it stare, that it drops everything, word and doctrine, and gapes after that, although one should yell himself to death against it: as it has allowed itself heretofore to be fooled and led by the nose with coarse, palpable lies and unblushing fraud, whenever a villain has turned up and lied about a new relic, new pilgrimages, etc., and it has run after these things like crazy. This comes of the shameful overcuriousness and surfeit of our flesh and blood, along with the very devil himself, so that always the signs and wonders, especially those that are false, prove more attractive than even the genuine. For, that Christ and his apostles and others have performed miracles, that one does not see and regard; but that any one drives out a devil, that beats all. Well, he who will not take warning, and wants to be deceived, dare not lay the blame upon us.
V.24-27. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock; and the rain descended, and the floods came; and the winds blew, and beat upon that house,, and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house,, and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
That is the conclusion and the end of it, upon which it all depends: He who not only hears this sermon with his ears, but who does it, he is a wise man.
For the doctrine is indeed good and excellent, but it is not preached in order to be heard, but that it be applied to practical life; and especially because we are always exposed to danger from false prophets and wonderworkers, so that we may reflect, and accept this doctrine and warning, since we hear and have it, both teachers and scholars. For if one wants to postpone it till the hour comes when death and the devil come storming in upon us, with his rain-storms and tempests, then it has been put off too long. Therefore we are not bidden only to hear and become able, but to do and struggle.
Those also hear it who say: Lord, Lord, as heretofore the pope, bishops, and kings and all the world have heard, and the mass-priests and monks have daily read, sung, and intoned: but none has done it or preached it; but they have clung to their false worship and false miracles, and have encouraged others to do the same. Therefore, although they have heard much, and have also performed miracles, yet they have not done the will of God. For they do not continue in the doctrine of Christ and real good works, but they fall back upon their own works, done without faith and love, so that among all the monks and priests not a single genuine work is to be found. For they do none of them to serve or help their neighbor, but seek only their own thereby, and thus are entirely without faith, love and patience. Therefore among them nothing at all is done, as Christ says, although they hear the true doctrine; for it takes no hold upon them, for their hearts are nothing but mere sand.
But they nevertheless (as was said) have much to do and to teach, even more than the true preachers and Christians; by this too they lead the people astray. For a hermit or a Carthusian seems to be doing much more, with his strict spiritual living and doing, than St. Paul or any true preacher or Christian. For the external masks of special works and divine worship make people stare so that an ordinary Christian life makes no show in comparison. Therefore they are not lacking in doing, teaching and believing. But here is the difference (says Christ,) that they hear my teaching indeed, but they will do nothing except what they have themselves invented; on that track I cannot keep them, so that they would do what I teach them. If we Christians were as diligent in our works as they are in theirs, we should be altogether saints. But neither side amounts to anything. We are lazy and idle; they do quite too much, but of real works they do none at all. Thus we still have the advantage (thank God!)that we have begun a little to believe and love, and are upon the right track, however slowly we move.
He closes this now with a beautiful comparison, how it will finally be with both of these: He who hears and practices my teaching is an excellent, prudent builder, who does not build upon the sand, but seeks first a strong rock as a foundation. If he has this, he builds upon it, so that it may stand firm and endure. When then storms and showers come, around and above, and waters underneath (the wind meanwhile howling) seek to soften the earth and overturn the building, it stands against these immovable, as if to defy them all. But he who places his building upon sand will find that it stands only till the waters wash it away and the wind overturns it, so that it lies upon a heap or falls to pieces of itself.
With this comparison he means to warn us faithfully, so that we take good care to hold firmly to his doctrine and not let Christ be taken out of our heart as our only sure foundation and cornerstone of our salvation, as St. Paul and St. Peter (from Isaiah 28) call him. If we stand founded and built upon that, we will surely abide unmoved, and can let the world and the devil, with all false teachers and captious spirits pour down upon us hail and slags, and beset and assail us with all sorts of danger and trouble.
This confidence and security those miserable, foolish people cannot have.
For they are not standing upon the rock, that is, upon the doctrine concerning Christ, but upon the drifting sand of their own imaginings and dreams. Therefore, when trouble comes, so that they have to struggle with the devil and death, they feel how they have rested their confidence upon loose sand, and their callings and works cannot endure; as I have myself seen and known many of these poor people, especially in monasteries, who have deeply felt this, so that at last they became crazy through fright and timidity of conscience, and some continued in perpetual despair! The reason was, that they had built upon their own doing, devotion and good intentions, and knew nothing about Christ. That was just the kind of a structure for the devil, that he could joyfully overturn and throw all into a heap.
St. Bernard himself had also to feel and acknowledge this, who had nevertheless led a very strict life, with praying, fasting, bodily mortification, etc., so that he was deficient in no respect, and served as an example for all others, so that I know of no one among the monks who wrote or lived better than he. Yet, when he came to die, he had himself to pronounce this judgment upon his entire holy life: O, I lived a damnable life, and spent my life shamefully! Ah, how so, dear St. Bernard? You were surely a pious monk all your life. Is then chastity, obedience, your preaching, fasting, praying, not an admirable thing? No (says he,) it is all lost and belongs to the devil. There comes the wind and rain, and throws foundation, basis and building all into a heap, so that he would have had to be eternally damned, by his own judgment, if he had not turned about, and, made wiser by his loss, deserted monkery, seized upon another foundation and clung to Christ, and been kept in the faith that the children use in their prayers, when he said: “Although I am not worthy of eternal life, nor can attain it by my own merit, yet my Lord Christ has a double right to it, once as Lord and heir to it, inherited from eternity; secondly, attained through his suffering and death. The first he retains for himself; the other he bestows upon me,” etc.
Thus all the monks and priests, and all that claimed to be holy, that were ever saved, had to creep out of their hoods and all their works, and cling to Christ; although it went very hard with them. For it is very difficult for a man who has spent his whole life in this self-made holiness, and has depended upon it, to tear himself loose from it in an hour and cast himself upon Christ. Therefore he warns and exhorts us to lay hold of and practice his teaching whilst we have the time, before the last agonies overtake us.
Thus our dear Lord has now completed this beautiful sermon. Now the evangelist states in conclusion how the whole world had to testify that this was a very different style of preaching from any they had heard before, and to which they had been accustomed.
V.28, 29. And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
Thereby the evangelist shows what kind of preachers and teachers the scribes had been, namely, that [their teaching] had been a mere cold, vain, idle babbling; that they had not urged or insisted upon God’s commands with earnestness or energy; just as our rag-washers have hitherto upon the pulpit been driveling about nothing else than purgatory, indulgences, hoods, rosaries, lighting of candles. But he took hold quite differently, showed what they had never heard before, the true doctrine and life, and rebuked vices in such a way that they all felt that the man taught with authority, and everything had life and a voice, as if it had hands and feet, and they had to say that this was preaching with authority, whilst that of the others was vain, empty, yes a mere dead wish-wash. Therefore our papists now act shrewdly in that they are ashamed of their filthy rags, and keep silence [in regard to those other topics] and begin also to preach a little, after us and our books, about faith and good works; although they still twist and butcher it, as not being really in earnest about preaching right, or having grace to be able to understand it.
There remains yet at the end one question to be treated of, because we heard in this sermon that Christ insisted so strenuously upon works, when he says: The poor shall inherit the kingdom of heaven; the merciful shall obtain mercy; also, those shall be rewarded in heaven who suffer persecution for his sake; and what is said about this at the end of the fifth chapter: If you love those who love you, what kind of reward shall you have? and in the sixth chapter concerning alms, fasting and praying: Thy Father which seeth in secret, shall reward you openly, etc.; from which sayings the senseless, false preachers conclude that we get to heaven and are saved by our own working and doing, and thereupon they build upon this their endowments, monasteries, pilgrimages, masses, etc.
Although, however, this question is somewhat sharp, and belongs rather to the university, among the learned, than to the pulpit, before ordinary, simple-minded people; yet, as it occurs so often in our text, we must not overlook it altogether, but must have something to say about it. For it is very necessary that every one should have some idea of the difference between grace and merit. For the two do not accord with one another. If one is preaching grace, he surely cannot be preaching merit; and what is grace cannot be merit, else grace would not be grace, says St. Paul in Romans 11:6. There is no doubt about that. Therefore, he who confounds these two confuses the people and misleads both himself and those who hear him.
Well, we will ignore for the present the sharp answer, and discuss this question in the plainest way that we can; and in the first place we must distinctly remember this, that there is a great difference between faith, or essential Christianity, and its fruits, as I have often said. For, according to the Christian name and nature one is not different from another; all have at once the same treasure and the same kind of possessions. For St. Peter has no different or better baptism than St. Paul, and a child born yesterday no inferior baptism to that of John the Baptist or St. Peter and all the apostles; thus they have also no other, better Christ than the least Christian.
If we now look at this, there avails no merit, or difference. For the least Christian receives just as well the same body and blood of Christ in the sacrament, and when he hears the gospel he hears the very same word of God that Peter and Paul heard and preached. Also, no saint can pray another or better paler noster, or pronounce and confess a creed and ten commandments different from those prayed daily by me and every child.
That is now so plain that every one can easily understand it; so that in what entitles us to be called Christians there is no inequality or preference of persons, but one is just like the other, man, woman, young, old, learned, unlearned, noble, ignoble, princes peasant, master and servant, great and small saint, as there is only one kind of Christ and creed: just as the sun in the heavens is of one kind towards everybody, shines upon a peasant as well as upon a king; upon a blind man as well as upon one who sees well; upon the sow upon the street as upon the most beautiful woman upon earth, and shines as readily upon a thorn as upon a rose, upon filth as upon purple, and it is the very same sun that shines upon the poorest beggar as upon the greatest king or emperor.
But thereafter, if we begin to consider external matters and what we are doing, as that I, who am a Christian and baptized, am in addition to this also a preacher, whilst I could be a Christian without that; then the inequality begins and it extends to the various distinctions among Christians; not as Christians, or as to the nature of Christianity, but as to its fruits. Thus I am a preacher, that is, such a Christian who is to present the word to the people, to comfort the distressed, to instruct the erring and ignorant, etc. And this one is the head of a family or a mechanic, who is to rule his house, attend to his business, provide for his wife and children.
There is a man, different from you and me; yet I must say: He is just as much a Christian, and gets as much from baptism, the grace of God and eternal life, as I and all the others, and is no less in Christ than I; and there is here no difference between women or men, etc. Yet the woman’s work is different from that of the man, that of a servant from that of his master, that of a preacher from that of a civilian; likewise, a child compared with its father, a scholar or disciple with the teacher, each of them having his own work or fruits; and thus everywhere there is a difference in external circumstances, whilst yet all are at the same time Christians and one according to the inner life. For there is no more than one Christianity and only one natural condition of all men. That we see too in the heavens (says St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:41,) that there are so many kinds of stars, and differing from one another, one great, the other small, one shining clearly, the other dimly, and yet there is but one sun in our heavens. In this respect they are all alike, that all stand in one heavens and have one kind of sun; and yet they are unlike as to size and brightness. Thus it is also upon earth (says St. Paul, further,)not all flesh is the same flesh, but there is one flesh of man, another of beasts, another of birds. In the fact that they are flesh they are all alike, and one has his members, head, heart, stomach, etc., just as well as the others; yet there is a great difference between men, beasts, birds and fishes.
If now you wish to speak about a Christian, or to depict him, you must paint him so that he is in no wise different from others, and one must be in all respects as the others. For you must not describe him as a man or woman, a preacher or layman, prince or beggar, mechanic or Carthusian monk. For these distinctions have nothing to do with him; but so far as his essential character is concerned, he is just as good and holy as Peter and Paul, and no one is any more and better than he. For if St. Peter were better than I, as to the true essentials of Christianity, he would have to have a better Christ, gospel and baptism than I. But because the great treasure that we have is altogether one and the same, we must in this respect be all alike and no one must be raised above the other. It may well be that one does more and greater things than another, as, that St. Peter raised persons from the dead. But thereby, that he does miracles which I do not, he is indeed a greater, brighter star than I in the heavens, but not a different kind of star, and he has no other heavens. St. Paul did and labored more than all the other apostles; but he did not for this reason have a better apostolic office, nor did he preach a different and better Christ.
This is what we now say about merit. If we are speaking about that which concerns the essence of Christianity [or the Christian life] according to which we are all equal, how we become pious be. fore God, and attain forgiveness of sins and eternal life, here all our merit is totally excluded, and we must neither hear nor know anything about it.
For you have not at all deserved the gospel, or Christ, or baptism, but it is a pure grant, freely given; so that our sins are gratuitously forgiven, we become God’s children and are assigned to heaven without our doing anything towards it.
And here we contend against the abomination of the sophists who so greatly exalt our works, that we thereby secure a gracious God, and merit heaven. Yes, they venture shamelessly to say that a man even in mortal sins can do so much of his own accord, and perform such acts of devotion or accomplish such good works that he may thereby allay and propitiate the wrath of God. That means hurling the roof to the ground, quite upsetting the foundation, building salvation upon nothing but water, driving Christ entirely from his throne and setting up our works instead. For it must follow from that, that we have no need at all of baptism, of Christ, or gospel, or faith, because even when in mortal sin I find so much virtue and power in me that I can extricate myself by my own works and merit forgiveness of the same and eternal life. From this you see that God is slandered and blasphemed by all that they drivel about merit, on the subject about which we are now disputing, how and whereby we are to attain to the grace of God and eternal life. Yet they are not satisfied with teaching this shameful blasphemy of God; but they are actually fighting for it and denouncing us as heretics on account of it.
This every one can now readily understand, that one of these two must be false: either that we cannot by our doing merit grace, or Christ with his baptism must be of no account and nothing; and Christ must have acted like a fool, to let himself be martyred and shed his blood so dearly, and to have undergone so much, in order to acquire and bestow upon us what was not at all necessary and what we already have by ourselves. Therefore, although they revile us as heretics on this account, that we do not agree with them about this merit of works, we will gladly submit to their calling us heretics and leave the matter in the hands of God our judge; but only the more firmly resist them and reply to them that they are not heretics, but the very worst blasphemers of God that the sun ever shone upon, who most shamefully deny and curse Christ, as Peter prophesied about them, and as the epistle to the Hebrews says, they smite Christ on the mouth and trample him under foot, with his baptism, sacrament and entire gospel, and what God has given us through him.
And I would really like to hear what they could say to it, the miserable people: If they assert that we by our works can begin by securing grace, and when this is done, and so much is merited, that we. over and above the first grace (as they call it), merit in addition the kingdom of heaven and eternal salvation; what does one then merit by the other subsequent works?
For I will suppose that a papist has done his mass or other work in grace, and has thereby merited the kingdom of heaven, as such an excellent work that is worthy of eternal life, which they call meritum de condigno; what will he then merit by the works and masses that he does next day and afterwards in the same grace? Then they begin, (as they do not know what else to say,) and make essentiale and accidentale premium, and say: These following works enable one to merit something additional, as a little gift into the bargain, which God gives to us over and above eternal life. Is this true? then I am to understand that the first works are the best, but the others are not so good. Otherwise they must merit just the same; yet commonly the following works are accustomed to be better, because they are now more diligently practiced.
Since now the last works do not merit the kingdom of heaven, the first must also not merit it; or, if they are equally good, and every work can merit this, then God must build as many heavens as the good works that are done; and where would our Lord God at last get so many heavens as to pay for every good work? Those are really smart people, that can measure it off so smoothly and accurately. But what shall we say? All that they say is nothing but lies and deception, for there is not a word of it true; first, that any one can merit grace by any work of his own, much less if one is lying in mortal sin; and then, although a man were in grace by works (as they say), that these works, done in grace, should be so precious as to merit the kingdom of heaven. For there stands Christ and asserts the contrary with dear, plain words. Luke 17:10: “When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants.”
Therefore we ought to hold fast to our doctrine, so that we never allow any work to put in a claim for securing the favor and grace of God, delivering from sin and entitling to heaven. For this, in short, my merit is to be nothing; and if one should want to use it in that way, I must trample it under foot, and damn it to the devil himself in hell, as something that would hinder my faith and lead me to deny Christ. For here the truth stands, that God has bestowed all this gratuitously, out of pure grace, in that he sends his Son and lets him die for me, and announce and give this to me, commanding me only to believe this and be baptized in it. My works have nothing to do with this, but it is a pure gift, granted from heaven and brought to me by Christ. Therefore let all merit in this matter be entirely thrown away, and let us conclude that one cannot secure grace and the forgiveness of sin in any other way, manner or measure than by the word of God concerning Christ, and receiving it by faith. And that God may hear us, why should we boast of our merit, since they themselves and all the saints must daily pray, in the Lord’s prayer, as long as we live: Forgive us our debts, etc.? And the desperate saints dare unblushingly to say that a man, though lying in mortal sin, can prepare himself for grace and afterwards also merit everlasting life.
But how do you account for it that there are so many passages concerning merit and reward? To this we reply now, for the benefit of the simpleminded, that these are merely for a consolation to Christians. For if you now have become a Christian, and have a gracious God and forgiveness of sins, both of those past and of those that you are daily committing [I say to you], that you must do and suffer much on account of your faith and your baptism. For the devil himself, together with the world and the flesh, will besiege you and on every hand torment you, as has been abundantly shown in these three chapters, so that you may feel as if the world was too narrow for you. Now if [our Savior] would allow us to be thus perplexed, without word or consolation, we should be led to despair and to say: Who is willing to be a Christian, preach, or do good works? He sees surely how it goes with them, and the world tramples upon them, reviles and abuses them, treats them cunningly and wickedly, and finally robs them of honor, property and life itself; and he [my Savior] calls me nothing else than poor, distressed, hungry, soft-hearted, peaceable, afflicted and persecuted: is it always to be so, and never different?
Then he must talk out, encourage and comfort, and say: You are now in grace and the children of God; although you must now suffer for that in the world, do not be alarmed at that, but hold on, and do not let yourselves be made weary or weak whatever you may see, but let every one do just what he should. If he suffers on that account, it will not harm him, and he may know that the kingdom of heaven is his, and he shall be richly repaid. Ah, how paid? Why we have it already, through Christ, without and in advance of all our doing. Thus, as St. Paul says, that God will make a great, bright star out of you, and grant you a special gift, even in this life. For a Christian can even here upon earth accomplish so much with God through his prayers and works, that he may spare an entire land, prevent wars, famines, pestilence, etc.; not that the work on account of its worthiness is so valuable, but for this reason, that he has promised it, for our invigoration and consolation, so that we are not to think that our works, plagues and misery are lost and forgotten.
Now there is here no merit, by which we are to earn grace, or our baptism, Christ and heaven (of which they speak when they are talking of merit); but it all refers to the fruits of Christianity. For Christ says also (as we have seen) in this sermon nothing about how we become Christians, but only about the works and fruits which no one can do unless he is already a Christian, and in grace; as the words prove, that they must endure poverty, misery, persecution, just for the reason that they are Christians and have the kingdom of heaven, etc. If we now speak of those fruits that follow being in grace and having forgiveness of sin, we may consent to speak of a merit and reward; but we object to calling those works of ours the chief good, which must be there beforehand, and without which they could not be performed, or be pleasing to God. If now we only insist upon this point, that there is no merit but only pure grace [by which we are saved], then we will not object to giving the name to the fruits that follow; but, so that one does not falsely pervert those passages, and refer them contrary to the Scriptures to our meriting grace, but interprets them properly, as intended, to comfort Christians, especially amid suffering and hostility, when one feels and it seems as if our life, suffering and doing, were in vain and accomplishing nothing; as the Scriptures everywhere console, where they exhort to perseverance in good works, as in Jeremiah 31:16: Est merces operi tuo, thy work is not in vain; also, St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:58: Labor vester non est inanis in domino, your labor is not in vain in the Lord. For, if we had not this consolation, we could not endure this wretchedness, persecution and misery, that we should do so much good, and let our teaching and preaching be rewarded with sheer ingratitude and disgrace; and would have at last to cease from doing and suffering what was plainly our duty. But God means to arouse and confirm us by this beautiful promise, so that we pay no regard to the ingratitude, hatred, envy and contempt of the world, but regard him who says: “I am thy God. If the world will not thank you, and robs you of honor, property, and even of life on that account, then cling to me and take comfort from this, that I have a heaven, and so much in it that I can easily recompense you, and ten times more than can now be taken from you;” so that we can have this answer for the world: Well, if it will not treat us with favor, let it go along with its favor, and all that it has; I did not begin anything on its account, and I will henceforth neither do nor omit anything on its account. But I will do and suffer everything for his sake who gives me such rich promises, and says:
Although you have already, aside from this, all treasure in heaven through Christ, and more than enough; yet I will give you still more, as additional, so that you shall have the kingdom of heaven fully revealed, and you shall visibly behold Christ in everlasting glory and joy, (whom you now have in faith), so much the more as you now suffer and labor.
Here are applicable the charming passages and exhortations, such as Hebrews 10:35: Magnum habetis remunerationem, etc. Cast not away, therefore, your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward; and Christ, in Matthew 19:29: “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” Thus he speaks also here: Merces vestra magna est in coelo, you shall be well rewarded in heaven; by which he shows that they already have the kingdom of heaven, and yet shall have it so much the more glorious when it now is revealed.
See, if we turn these passages in this direction, they are rightly used, so that they have no reference to our confiding in our works contrary to faith, but to the consolation of Christians and believers; and if the sophists had aimed their talk about merit in this direction, it would have been all right.
But they based their own work-holiness and monkery upon it, so that God should thereby regard them as peculiar saints, and sell heaven for these, and should give them the highest seats, as those with whom common Christians were not to be compared; and they acted indeed not unwisely in the matter, for that did not bring poverty, misery, mourning, persecution, but money, property, honor, and no order was established for the purpose of using in it the word of Christ, sacrament, faith, love and patience; but only with their hoods, and rigid, peculiar mode of living, they want to be highly esteemed and exalted before God, as those who need no Christ or faith.
In this way now we admit that Christians have merit and reward with God; not for the purpose of becoming children of God and heirs of eternal life; but for the consolation of believers who already have this, that they may know that he will not let that be unrewarded that they suffer here for Christ’s sake; but, if they suffer and labor much, then he will specially adorn them at the last day, more and more gloriously than others, as stars especially great in comparison with others. Thus St. Paul will shine forth bright and clear above others most splendidly. That does not mean forgiveness of sins, or meriting heaven, but compensation for suffering with so much the greater glory.
But we will not suffer the matter to stand where they put it; for that is to slander and blaspheme Christ, God and the Holy Ghost, and everything that God has given us by them, and we would rather be denounced as heretics and scoundrels, and be burned with fire, than give up or deny this treasure: but we will also insist upon this consolation even if we must suffer for it all trouble, shame and persecution. For this will be the result at any rate. The devil will not agree to this, or accord with us; but means to maintain the pope’s doe-trine and bring us to believe as he believes; and as he sees that we won’t do it, he lays himself out against us with all his might. For he knows very well, if this point is settled, that Christ and the forgiveness of sins are a perfectly free gift, that any one can count it off on his fingers and conclude that the papacy with its masses, monkery, purgatory, worship of saints, etc., must be nothing, and all will fall to pieces of its own accord.
Now learn to answer in this way about those passages that refer to merit and reward. I hear indeed that Christ says: Blessed are the poor, for they shall have the kingdom of heaven; and, Blessed are ye when ye suffer persecution for my sake; for great is your reward in heaven, etc. But he does not thereby teach me to rest my salvation upon that, but gives me a promise that is to be a comfort to me in my sufferings and in my Christian life. You must not confound these things for me and mix the two together, nor make my merit out of that which God gives me in Christ through baptism and the gospel. For we are not here told that we can merit that, and that we need no Christ and baptism for it; but that those who are Christ’s disciples, to whom he has here preached, and who must undergo all manner of suffering for his sake, may know how they are to comfort themselves, because they have a hard time of it on earth, namely, that they because of this shall have everything so much the more abundantly in heaven; and he who does and suffers the most shall be so much the more gloriously recompensed.
For although (as I said) in Christ all are alike, and grace is bestowed equally upon all, and brings full salvation to every one, as the highest, most common possession, so that he who has Christ has all: yet there will be a difference in the brightness and the glory with which we shall be adorned and shine; just as in this life there is a difference in the gifts, so that one labors and suffers more than another; but in that life it will all be manifest, so that all the world shall see what each one has done, and shall have so much the greater glory, at which the whole heavenly host will rejoice. Let this be enough about that.
God preserve us in his grace, revealed in Christ. Amen.
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