Matthew 7:6. Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
Now the Lord Christ has almost finished His preaching about the fruit and the works that follow doctrine. Next He will begin warning and admonishing us to be on our guard against other doctrine. Thus He also admonishes the apostles when He sends them out to preach, and says (Matt. 10.16): “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” The situation of a Christian who is supposed to speak and preach the Word of God and to confess it by his life is really a dangerous one, because of the people. He has good reason to become impatient, because the world is so infinitely evil and because he lives in it surrounded by snakes and all kinds of vermin. That is why He declares: “Be careful not to throw what is holy before swine and dogs, for they might trample it underfoot or turn to attack you.” By this He intends to show them and to teach them a lesson. Wherever they go to preach in public before a crowd, they will find dogs and swine, who cannot do anything but trample on the Gospel and then persecute the preachers.
Now, who are the ones that trample on what is holy and turn against us? This, too, happens in two areas, both in doctrine and in life. In the first place, it is the false teachers that do it. They take our Gospel and learn it; thus they get our jewel and precious treasure in which we are baptized and live and of which we boast. Then they go back where they came from and start preaching against us and turning their snouts and their teeth against us. Our sectarian fanatics used to keep very quiet when the pope was raging and ruling, and you never heard a peep out of them. Now that we have run the danger of opening the path and of liberating them from the tyranny of the pope, and now that they have heard our doctrine and can imitate our preaching, they go out and turn against us. They become the worst enemies we have on earth, and no one has ever preached as badly as we, though without us they would not have known anything about it. In the second place, the situation is the same with regard to life. This is true most of all among us, where there is contempt or boredom with the Gospel and where things have progressed so far that a preacher can hardly make a living any more. Squire Bigwig10 out in the country monopolizes all the land and keeps the preachers in such a way that they cannot help losing their taste for preaching. He makes them his servants so that they have to preach and do what he wants. After him comes a Squire Skinflint in the cities and Tom, Dick, and Harry.11 They maintain that they do not want any Gospel or Word of God. Yet it is from us that they got their freedom from the tyranny of the pope and all their other possessions, even the outward ones. Now they would like to drive us out into the country along with our Gospel, or to starve us out.
Well, there is nothing we can do about it. We have to put up with these snakes, dogs, and swine surrounding us and corrupting the Gospel both in doctrine and in life. Wherever there are faithful preachers they always have to take this. Such is the fortune of the Gospel in the world, If it should ever develop again that people like the pope and the bishops have control—I have often predicted this, and I am afraid that it may happen, all too soon—then the Gospel will be eliminated altogether and trampled down, and its preachers will be done for. The Gospel has to be a doormat for everybody, and the whole world walks all over it and tramples it underfoot, along with its preachers and pupils. Now, what are we going to do about it? “Do not throw it,” Christ says, “before swine and dogs.” “Yes, dear Lord, but they already have it. Since the proclamation is in public and is broadcast into the world, we cannot keep them from coming across the Gospel and taking it for themselves.” But this still does not mean that they have it, and, thank God, we can keep them from getting at what is holy. They may perhaps get the shells and the husks, that is, the freedom of the flesh. But all of them—dogs or swine, bigwigs12 or misers or peasants—shall be prevented from getting a single letter of the Gospel, though they may read all the books and listen to all the sermons and get the idea that they know it thoroughly.
The art that Christ is teaching us here, therefore, is how to separate ourselves from any such hog or dog we may see. This is how we treat the schismatic spirits: We have no fellowship with them, we administer no Sacrament to them, we communicate no consolation of the Gospel to them. Instead we show them that they shall not enjoy anything of Christ, our treasure. By doing this we withhold the pearl and what is holy from them right well. So far as I am concerned, no bigwig or peasant, no fanatic or schismatic spirit shall get the Gospel and Christ unless he first asks me about it and agrees with me, so that I or any other real preacher can affirm it. Anyone who has the Gospel correctly must certainly agree with us and be one with us, insofar as we are already sure that what we have is the true Gospel and the pearls. Certainly he will not trample us underfoot the way Squire Bigwig does, or condemn us the way the sectarians do, or despise us the way the peasants do in the cities and towns. He will hold in esteem both the clear Word and those who preach it and gladly listen to it. Where this is not so, we shall regard them as swine and dogs and tell them that they will get nothing from us. Meanwhile we shall let them read and listen and lay claim to the name “Evangelical,” if they choose, the way I have to do with certain bigwigs and towns. This much is sure: Whoever despises the office of the ministry will not think very highly of the Gospel. Since they trample the ministers and the preachers underfoot and treat them more cruelly than the peasants treat their hogs, we shall take back our pearls and see how much of the Gospel they will have without any thanks to us. If you can trample the Word of God and its preachers underfoot, He can trample you underfoot as well.
Here is what Christ intends to say: “If you see that someone despises your preaching and tramples it underfoot, have no fellowship with such a person but withdraw from him.” He says the same in Matthew 18:17: “If he refuses to listen to you and the church, let him be to you as a heathen and a tax collector.” In other words, you tell them that they are not Christians but damned heathen, and you want them to hear no preaching and to have no part in our possessions, as Peter says to Simon Magus in Acts 8:21. This is what I do, and what everyone does who takes the preaching of the Gospel seriously, in order not to make ourselves partakers of their sin. God does not want us to be hypocritical with our sectarians, as though their doctrine were correct. We must regard them as our enemies, from whom we are separated by the Gospel, by Baptism, by the Sacrament, and by all their doctrine and life. In the same way we have to say to our own people that if they want to participate in the Gospel, they must not despise us but prove by their fruit that they mean it seriously, or at least that they hold the Word and the Sacrament in esteem and humbly submit to it.
“You see,” people say, “this is how they are trying to re-establish a dominion and to occupy a seat of authority, like the one the pope has been occupying. This would be intolerable, and we would have done better to remain under the pope.” To this I answer: “As a matter of fact, I myself have been afraid that this might happen. But abusing the clergy and trampling them underfoot is not the way to accomplish your purpose of preventing their tyranny, but the way to help bring it about. With the elimination of those whom you are trampling underfoot and chasing away you will still be unable to dispense with clergy or preachers. Christ intends to keep His rule over the world, so that His Gospel, Baptism, and Sacrament may remain. Though there may be no prince willing to protect it, He will do so, because the Father has placed Him at His right hand and wants Him to be Lord. Though you may chase away all the clergy, you will not topple Christ from His throne. What will happen to you is this: Because you refuse the upright and pious preachers and cannot tolerate them, God will replace them with others, who will govern you with a compulsion and a tyranny worse than the old one.” Therefore our bigwigs and others are on the right path when they put their heads together with the intention of hushing up and putting us under their thumb. They do not realize that there is Another sitting up there who keeps His rule and says: “If you refuse to have the right kind of preachers, then you shall have the devil and his preachers, who preach lies to you. These you will have to accept, and you will have to let them govern you and torment you.” Because the Gospel has been refused and even persecuted in our Germany, the corners are full of sectarians, fanatics, and Anabaptists; and there is nothing anyone can do to prevent it.
The right preventive measure here would be to take the Gospel seriously and to pray God faithfully that He may send true and faithful laborers into His harvest (Matt. 9:38). Then no one would have to be afraid. From such preachers we would not get oppression or compulsion or damage to our body or soul, but support and help and every kind of benefit for everyone. This has been true of us. We may well boast before God and the world that we have not sought any dominion or advantage for ourselves, but have served the whole world with our body and life. We have not imposed a burden or damage on anyone, but have gladly helped him, even in a temporal way. And for all this we have suffered danger, violence, and persecution. Since they do not like us any more, may God grant that others follow us who treat them otherwise, who oppress, torment, and skin them. Then they will see what they had in us, and they will have to take it from men whom they would not look at now or hire as stableboys. All they deserve is to have such tyrants of whom they have to be afraid, as they had the pope. He was the sort of government they need. Our crazy princes have just started to learn this. What they have in mind is to be unrestrained and unafraid of the pope. They are beginning to protect the clergy, not for their sakes but to subordinate them to themselves and to make them live by their good pleasure. They are protecting these clergy in such a way that it would be better for them to join sides with us, whom they consider to be their enemies, than to let their feathers be picked by the princes in the name of protecting them. But this is how it should be and must be, and it serves them both right.
It must not be this way among Christians. Those who have honest and pious hearts should highly esteem their ministers and preachers in all humility and love, for the sake of Christ and of His Word. They should regard them highly as a gift and jewel given by God, more precious than any temporal treasure or possession. Similarly, true and pious preachers will faithfully seek only the welfare and the salvation of all people. They will not impose any burden on them, either in their consciences or even outwardly in their temporal possessions and physical existence. Whoever despises them should know that he is not a Christian and that he has lost the treasure once more. Our preaching and admonition is for everyone who will accept it and agree with us. Whoever refuses to do so and yet uses the name of the Gospel or the pretense of Christian brotherhood to despise us and to trample us underfoot, against him we use the art of letting him keep the pretense but actually taking everything back, so that he has nothing left at all. We have the command to separate ourselves from such people. We do not enjoy doing it, and we would have preferred to have them stay with us. But since they refuse, we must let them go and not let them ruin our treasure or trample it underfoot.
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:223). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.