Saturday, June 19, 2010

Matthew 5:11,12 (Luther)

Matthew 5:11. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account.

This, too, is a great and severe persecution and, as I have said, the real suffering of Christians, that they endure bitter slander and poisonous defamation. Though other people must also suffer persecution, violent and unjust treatment, still men are willing to let them keep their reputation and good name. So this is not yet really Christian suffering, which requires not merely all sorts of tortures and troubles, but more; their good name must be spit upon and slandered, and the world must boast loudly that in murdering the Christians it has executed the worst kind of criminal, whom the earth could no longer carry, and that it has done God the greatest and most acceptable service, as Christ says (John 16:2). Thus no name has ever appeared on earth so slanderous and disreputable as the name “Christian.” No nation has ever experienced so much bitter opposition and attack by wicked and poisonous tongues as have the Christians.

Right now they are proving this in the slander, defamation, lies, deceit, vicious tricks, and wicked misinterpretations they have perpetrated against the dear Gospel and its preachers, such that one would die many times rather than endure these poisonous, malicious darts (Eph. 6:16). Along comes the pope with his thunderbolts, damning us to the ninth hell as the children of the devil. In the same way his retinue, the bishops and princes, rage and roar with such terrible blasphemies and slanders that our whole body trembles and we would soon tire and give up if we did not have a comfort stronger and more powerful than all their malice and rage. Thus we let them rage and blaspheme. They will only plague themselves, and their poisonous hatred and insatiable envy will give them a burning pain. But we are content and courageous. If they want to rage and storm, we can still laugh and be joyful.

Therefore I say it again: Anyone who wants to be a Christian should learn to expect such persecution from poisonous, evil, slanderous tongues, especially when they cannot do anything with their fists. He should let the whole world sharpen its tongue on him, aim at him, sting and bite. Meanwhile he should regard all this with defiant contempt and laughter in God’s name, letting them rage in the name of their god, the devil, and being firmly persuaded, as we have said above, that our cause is the right cause and is God’s own cause. This they themselves have to confirm; even though they condemn us, they have to say it is the truth. Besides, before God our heart and conscience are sure that our teaching is right. We are not teaching on the basis of our own brains, reason, or wisdom, or using this to gain advantage, property, or reputation for ourselves before the world. We are preaching only God’s Word and praising only His deeds. Our enemies, on the other hand, brag about nothing but their own deeds, merits, and holiness. They persecute us for refusing to loin them in this.

They do not persecute us for being adulterers, robbers, or thieves. In fact, they can tolerate the most desperate scoundrels and criminals in their midst. But they are raising such a hue and cry because we refuse to approve their teaching and life, because we praise nothing but the Gospel, Christ, faith, and truly good works, and because we do not suffer for ourselves but suffer everything for the sake of Christ, the Lord. Therefore we will sing it to the end with them. No matter how hard their head, ours is still harder. In short, they must let that Man alone, whether they like it or not.

Matthew 5:12a. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

These are really sweet and comforting words. They should gladden and encourage our hearts against all kinds of persecution. Should not the dear Lord’s Word and comfort be dearer and more important to us than that which comes from a helpless bag of worms, or the rage, threats, excommunication, curses, and lightning of the miserable pope, even though he deluged us with the very dregs and the whole hell of his wrath and cursing? For I hear my Lord Christ telling me that He is truly delighted, and commanding me to be happy about it. In addition, He promises me such a wonderful reward: the kingdom of heaven shall be mine and everything that Christ has, together with all the saints and all Christendom—in short, such a treasure and comfort that I should not trade it for all the possessions, joy, and music in the whole world, even though all the leaves and all the blades of grass were tongues singing my praises. This is not a Christian calling me “blessed,” nor even an angel, but the Lord of all the angels, before whom they and all the creatures must kneel and adore. With all the other creatures, therefore, with the leaves and the grass, they must cheerfully sing and dance in my honor and praise.

And those who slander and curse me, what are they by comparison but nits and lousy paunches—if you will pardon the expression—so shameful that there is no name for them. If every creature, the leaves and the blades of grass in the forest and the sand on the shore, were all tongues to accuse and destroy them, what would all that be in comparison with a single word of this Man? His voice sounds clear enough to fill heaven and earth and to echo through them, silencing the slobbering coughs and the hoarse scratching of His enemies.

You see, that is how we should learn something about using these words for our benefit. They are not put here for nothing, but were spoken and written for our strengthening and comfort. By them our dear Master and faithful Shepherd, or Bishop, arms us. Then we shall be unafraid and ready to suffer if for His sake they lay all kinds of torment and trouble upon us in both words and deeds, and we shall despise whatever is offensive to us, even though contrary to our own reason and heart.

For if we cling to our own thoughts and feelings, we are dismayed and hurt to learn that for our service, help, counsel, and kindness to the world and to everyone we should get no thanks except the deepest and bitterest hatred and cursed, poisonous tongues. If flesh and blood were in charge here, it would soon say: “If I am to get nothing else out of this, then let anyone who wants to, stick with the Gospel and be a Christian! The world can go to the devil for help if that is what it wants!” This is the reason for the general complaint and cry that the Gospel is causing so much conflict, strife, and disturbance in the world and that everything is worse since it came than it was before, when things moved along smoothly, when there was no persecution, and when the people lived together like good friends and neighbors.

But here is what it says: “If you do not want to have the Gospel or be a Christian, then go out and take the world’s side. Then you will be its friend, and no one will persecute you. But if you want to have the Gospel and Christ, then you must count on having trouble, conflict, and persecution wherever you go.” Reason: because the devil cannot bear it otherwise, nor will he stop egging people on against the Gospel, so that all the world is incensed against it. Thus at the present time peasants, city people, nobles, princes, and lords oppose the Gospel from sheer cussedness, and they themselves do not know why.

So this is what I say in reply to these idle talkers and grumblers: “Things neither can nor should run peacefully and smoothly. How could things run smoothly, when the devil is in charge and is a mortal enemy of the Gospel? There is good reason for this, too, since it hurts him in his kingdom, where he can feel it. If he were to let it go ahead unhindered, it would soon be all over and his kingdom would be utterly destroyed. But if he is to resist it and hinder it, he must rally all his art and power and arouse everything in his might against it. So do not hope for any peace and quiet so long as Christ and His Gospel are in the midst of the devil’s kingdom. And woe upon the peaceful and smooth situation that used to be, and upon those who would like to have it back! This is a sure sign that the devil is ruling with all his might and that no Christ is there. I am worried that it may be this way again and that the Gospel may be taken away from us Germans all too soon, which is just what these rioters are struggling for now.”

But we have the assurance that it is not our fault when there is trouble. It would give us heartfelt joy if everything went right. We have done our share. We have been teaching, warning, pleading, beseeching, and giving in, even to our enemies, offering them peace, and doing everything we should do. We have given help and counsel with all our might, at our own risk and disadvantage, tolerating what we should. Yet all we accomplish is shameful and poisonous persecution, slander, and abuse from men who will not stop till they have cooled their rage in our blood. Since the situation will never be different, we let them go ahead with their threatenings, fury, and blasphemy, and hold on to the comfort we have heard. We are sure that they cannot accomplish what they desire until they first topple Christ from heaven and make a liar out of Him, with all that He has said.

Matthew 5:12b For so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.

“When this happens,” He wants to say, “you are not alone. Look around, count back to all the holy fathers that ever lived before you, and you will find that their lot was the same. Why should you expect any special treatment? Should He forsake His method for your sake? He had to put up with it when His dear fathers and prophets were persecuted and killed, slandered, and ridiculed by everyone, and made the mockery of the world.” As we see from the Scriptures, it had become a common and proverbial expression that if someone wanted to refer to a prophet, he called him a “fool.” So in the history of Jehu (2 Kings 9:11), they said of a prophet: “Why did this mad fellow come to you?” And Isaiah shows (Is. 57:4) that they opened their mouths and put out their tongues against him. But all they accomplished by this was to become a terrible stench and a curse, while the dear prophets and saints have honor, praise, and acclaim throughout the world and are ruling forever with Christ, the Lord. “This is what you should expect for yourselves, too,” Christ says, “that you will receive the same reward that they did, a reward more abundant and glorious than you can believe or dare to wish. For you are members of the same company and congregation.”

What a dear and wonderful Preacher and faithful Master! He leaves out nothing that will help to strengthen and console, whether it be His Word and promise or the example and testimony of all the saints and of Himself. And all the angels in heaven and all the creatures support this. What more would you want and need? With such comfort, should we not put up with the anger and spite of the world and the devil for His sake? What would we do if we did not have a righteous and divine cause, if we had no splendid sayings and assurances like these and still had to suffer, as other people do who have no comfort? In the world it is impossible to avoid all suffering. And for the sake of the Gospel, as we have said, there must be some suffering; it reinforces the faithful and advances them to their promised comfort, joy, and bliss, and it punishes and damns the wicked despisers and enemies of the Gospel.

So far Christ has been equipping and preparing His Christians to live and suffer in the world, especially those who are to hold public office in Christendom. Even apart from this, however, every Christian should be ready at all times to take a stand, by himself if necessary, to confess his Lord and to represent his faith, always being armed against the world, the devil, the sects, and whatever else may be lined up against him. Now He goes on. He commits the office to them and teaches them how to carry it out; later on He will also put into their mouths what and how they are to preach. These are the elements that go in to make a Christian perfect: that in his person he lives properly and suffers in all sorts of ways on this account and that he properly administers and carries out his office, in which he is to serve and help other people. So now He adds:

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 (21:49). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Matthew 5:10 (Luther)

Matthew 5:10. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

I have said earlier that all these items and promises must be understood by faith in reference to things that are neither seen nor heard and that they are not talking about outward appearances. How can the poor and the mourners be said to look outwardly successful and blessed when, in addition, they have to suffer all sorts of persecution—all things that the whole world and our reason calls trouble and that they say should be avoided? Therefore whoever wants to have the blessedness and the possessions that Christ is talking about here, must lift up his heart far above all senses and reason. He must not evaluate himself on the basis of his feelings, but he must argue this way: “If I am poor, then I am not poor. I am poor outwardly, according to the flesh; but before God, in faith, I am rich.” Thus when he feels sad, troubled, and worried, he must not use this standard and say that he is not a blessed man. But he must turn himself over and say: “I feel sorrow, misery, and sadness of heart; but still I am blessed, happy, and settled on the basis of the Word of God.” The situation in the world is the exact counterpart of this, for those who are called rich and happy are not. Christ calls out His “Woe!” against them and calls them unhappy (Luke 6:24, 25), although it appears that they are well off and having the greatest possible success. Therefore they should lift up their thoughts above the riches and fun which they are having and say: “Yes, I am rich and living in the midst of pure fun. But too bad for me if I have nothing else; for there must certainly be plenty of trouble, misery, and sorrow in all this that will come over me before I feel it or know it.” This applies to all these items; every one of them looks different before the world from the way it looks according to these words.

So far we have been treating almost all the elements of a Christian’s way of life and the spiritual fruits under these two headings: first, that in his own person he is poor, troubled, miserable, needy, and hungry; second, that in relation to others he is a useful, kind, merciful, and peaceable man, who does nothing but good works. Now He adds the last: how he fares in all this. Although he is full of good works, even toward his enemies and rascals, for all this he must get this reward from the world: he is persecuted and runs the risk of losing his body, his life, and everything.

If you want to be a Christian, therefore, consider this well, lest you be frightened, lose heart, and become impatient. But be cheerful and content, knowing that you are not badly off when this happens to you. He and all the saints had the same experience, as He says a little later. For this reason He issues a warning beforehand to those who want to be Christians, that they should and must suffer persecution. Therefore you may take your choice. You have two ways before you—either to heaven and eternal life or to hell, either with Christ or with the world. But this you must know: if you live in order to have a good time here without persecution, then you will not get to heaven with Christ, and vice versa. In short, you must either surrender Christ and heaven or make up your mind that you are willing to suffer every kind of persecution and torture in the world. Briefly, anyone who wants to have Christ must put in jeopardy his body, life, goods, reputation, and popularity in the world. He dare not let himself be scared off by contempt, ingratitude, or persecution.

The reason is this: the devil is a wicked and angry spirit. He will not and cannot stand seeing a man enter the kingdom of God. And if the man undertakes to do so, he blocks the way himself, arousing and attempting every kind of opposition he can summon. If you want to be God’s child, therefore, prepare yourself for persecution, as the wise man says.17 Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:12: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” And Christ Himself says (John 15:20): “The disciple should not be better off than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” There is no other way out, and therefore the statement is: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” to let us know how to console ourselves. Otherwise this would look outwardly like a troubling and unhappy situation, and it wears us down to be sitting constantly amid danger to life and property. But when faith takes over, we can lift ourselves up above this and think: “Nevertheless Christ has said that I am blessed and well off. Because He has said so, I let it be my comfort and pleasure. The Word will make my heart great, yes, greater than heaven and earth. What are all my persecutors in comparison with this Man or His Word? If there are one or two persecuting us, there are many more (2 Kings 6:16) defending us, cheering us up, consoling us, and blessing us—yes, 10,000 angels over against one of them, together with all the saints, who act in concert with Christ and with God Himself.” Hence we must not be so coarse and cold, letting this Word lie around, but blow it up and magnify it, pitting it against every persecution. Then we shall see and learn that we should despise all our suffering as nothing at all when compared with this great consolation and eternal blessing.

But it is significant that He should add the phrase: “for righteousness’ sake,” to show that where this condition is absent, persecution alone will not accomplish this. The devil and wicked people also have to suffer persecution. Rascals often get into each other’s hair, and there is no love lost between them. So one murderer persecutes another, and the Turk battles against the Tartar; but this does not make them blessed. This statement applies only to those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. So also 1 Peter 4:15 says: “Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or a wrongdoer.” Therefore bragging and yelling about great suffering is worthless without this condition. So the godless monks have deceived the poor people whom they have led away to be punished, consoling them with the statement that with their death they were paying for their sins. Beware of any death that is supposed to pay for your sin, for it belongs in the abyss of hell. First there must come righteousness and the death of Christ, the Lord.
See to it, therefore, that you have a genuine divine cause for whose sake you.suffer persecution, and that you are really convinced of it so that your conscience can take a stand and stick by it, even though the whole world should stand up against you. The primary thing is that you grasp the Word of God firmly and surely so that there can be no doubt or hesitation there. Suppose that the Emperor, the bishops, or the princes were to forbid marriage, freedom in the choice of food, the use of both kinds in the Sacrament, and the like, and were to persecute you for these things. Then you would have to see to it that your heart is convinced and persuaded that the Word of God has made these things free and unprohibited, that it even commands us to take them seriously and to stake our lives upon them. Then you can have the confidence to say: “This cause does not belong to me but to Christ, my Lord. For I have not concocted it out of my own head. I have not assumed or begun it on my own or at the advice or suggestion of any man. But it has been brought and announced to me from heaven through the mouth of Christ, who never deludes or deceives me but is Himself sheer Truth and Righteousness. At this Man’s Word I will take the risk of suffering, of doing and forsaking whatever I should. All by itself, His Word will accomplish more to comfort and strengthen my heart than the raging and threatening of all the devils and of the world can accomplish to frighten me.”

Who cares if a crazy prince or foolish emperor fumes in his rage and threatens me with sword, fire, or the gallows! Just as long as my Christ is talking dearly to my heart, comforting me with the promises that I am blessed, that I am right with God in heaven, and that all the heavenly host and creation call me blessed. Just let my heart and mind be ready to suffer for the sake of His Word and work. Then why should I let myself be scared by these miserable people, who rage and foam in their hostility to God but suddenly disappear like a puff of smoke or a bubble, as the prophet Isaiah says (Is. 51:12, 13): “I, I am He that comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass, and have forgotten the Lord, who made you, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth?” That is to say: “He who comforts you and takes pleasure in you is almighty and eternal. When it is all over with them, He will still be sitting up there, and so will you. Why, then, let the threatening and fuming of a miserable, stinking bag of worms concern you more than this divine comfort and approval? Be grateful to God and happy in your heart that you are worthy of suffering this, as the apostles went forth (Acts 5:41) leaping for joy over the fact that they were disgraced and beaten down.”

You see, these words are a great blessing to us if only we receive them with love and thanks, since we have no shortage of persecution. But our great advantage is that our enemies themselves cannot condemn our cause and must acknowledge—no thanks to them!—that it is right and true. What is wrong is the fact that we are teaching it, for they refuse to learn or accept it from us. Such a thing is unprecedented and unheard of. What we suffer on this account, therefore, is a holy and blessed suffering, as they themselves must testify. This is no longer a human persecution, but a truly demonic one, when they say that we must not and dare not call it the Word of God but must keep our mouth shut and not preach unless first we go and fall at the pope’s feet, asking for approval from him and from his masks.

So let us be all the more willing and happy to suffer everything they can do against us, since we have the strong and certain comfort and the great and glorious satisfaction that their own mouth confirms our teaching and our cause. In addition, we hear the wonderful and delightful promise here that we shall be well rewarded in heaven and that we should be happy and rejoice over this, as people who do not have to yearn for heaven but already have it. All they do by their persecution is to further this, actually driving and chasing us to heaven. Now tell me whether these simple, short words do not encourage you as much as the whole world can, and provide more comfort and joy than all the suffering and torture our enemies can inflict on us. We should not listen to them with only half an ear, but take them to heart and ponder them.

This applies to persecution with deeds and fists, involving person or property, when Christians are seized and tortured, burned, hanged, and massacred, as happens nowadays and has happened before. There is, in addition, another kind of persecution. It is called defamation, slander, or disgrace, involving our reputation and good name. In this way Christians have to suffer more than others. Now Christ discusses this.

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 (21:44). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Matthew 5:9 (Luther)

Matthew 5:9. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

With an excellent title and wonderful praise the Lord here honors those who do their best to try to make peace, not only in their own lives but also among other people, who try to settle ugly and involved issues, who endure squabbling and try to avoid and prevent war and bloodshed. This is a great virtue, too, but one that is very rare in the world and among the counterfeit saints. Those who are not Christians are both liars and murderers, as is their father, the devil (John 8:44). Therefore they have no other goal than to stir up unrest, quarrels, and war. Thus among the priests, bishops, and princes nowadays practically all we find are bloodhounds. They have given many evidences that there is nothing they would rather see than all of us swimming in blood. If a prince loses his temper, he immediately thinks he has to start a war. Then he inflames and incites everyone, until there has been so much war and bloodshed that he regrets it and gives a few thousand guldens for the souls that were killed. These are bloodhounds, and that is what they remain. They cannot rest until they have taken revenge and spent their anger, until they have dragged their land and people into misery and sorrow. Yet they claim to bear the title “Christian princes” and to have a just cause.

You need more to start a war than having a just cause. As we have said, this does not prohibit the waging of war; for Christ has no intention here of taking anything away from the government and its official authority, but is only teaching individuals who want to lead a Christian life. Still it is not right for a prince to make up his mind to go to war against his neighbor, even though, I say, he has a just cause and his neighbor is in the wrong. The command is: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Therefore anyone who claims to be a Christian and a child of God, not only does not start war or unrest; but he also gives help and counsel on the side of peace wherever he can, even though there may have been a just and adequate cause for going to war. It is sad enough if one has tried everything and nothing helps, and then he has to defend himself, to protect his land and people. Therefore not “Christians” but “children of the devil” is the name for those quarrelsome young noblemen who immediately draw and unsheathe their sword on account of one word. Even worse are the ones that are now persecuting the Gospel and ordering the burning and murder of innocent preachers of the Gospel, who have done them no harm but only good and have served them with body and soul. We are not talking about these right now, but only about those who claim that they are in the right and have a just cause and think that as high and princely personages they ought not to suffer, even though other people do.

This also means that if you are the victim of injustice and violence, you have no right to take the advice of your own foolish head and immediately start getting even and hitting back; but you are to think it over, try to bear it and have peace. If that is impossible and you cannot stand it, you have law and government in the country, from which you can seek legitimate redress. It is ordained to guard against such things and to punish them. Therefore anyone who does violence to you sins not only against you but also against the government itself; for the order and command to maintain peace was given to the government and not to you. Therefore leave the vengeance and punishment to your judge, who has the command; it is against him that your enemy has done wrong. If you take it upon yourself to wreak vengeance, you do an even greater wrong. You become guilty of the same sin as he who sins against the government and interferes with its duties, and by doing so you invalidate the justice of your own righteous cause. For the proverb says: “The one who strikes back is in the wrong, and striking back makes a quarrel.”14

Note that this is one demand that Christ makes here in opposition to those who are vengeful and violent. He gives the name “peacemakers,” in the first place, to those who help make peace among lands and people, like pious princes, counselors, or jurists, to people in government who hold their rule and reign for the sake of peace; and in the second place, to pious citizens and neighbors, who with their salutary and good tongues adjust, reconcile, and settle quarrels and tensions between husband and wife or between neighbors, brought on by evil and poisonous tongues. Thus St. Augustine boasts that when his mother Monica saw two people at odds, she would always speak the best to both sides. Whatever good she heard about the one, she brought to the other; but whatever evil she heard, that she kept to herself or mitigated as much as possible.15 In this way she often brought on a reconciliation. It is especially among womenfolk that the shameful vice of slander is prevalent, so that great misfortune is often caused by an evil tongue. This is the work of those bitter and poisonous brides of the devil, who when they hear a word about another, viciously make it sharper, more pointed, and more bitter against the others, so that sometimes misery and murder are the result.

All this comes from the shameful, demonic filth which naturally clings to us, that everyone enjoys hearing and telling the worst about his neighbor and it tickles him to see a fault in someone else. If a woman were as beautiful as the sun but had one little spot or blemish on her body, you would be expected to forget everything else and to look only for that spot and to talk about it. If a lady were famous for her honor and virtue, still some poisonous tongue would come along and say that she had once been seen laughing with some man and defame her in such a way as to eclipse all her praise and honor. These are really poisonous spiders that can suck out nothing but poison from a beautiful, lovely rose, ruining both the flower and the nectar, while a little bee sucks out nothing but honey, leaving the roses unharmed. That is the way some people act. All they can notice about other people are the faults or impurities which they can denounce, but what is good about them they do not see. People have many virtues which the devil cannot destroy, yet he hides or disfigures them to make them invisible. For example, even though a woman may be full of faults and have no other virtue, she is still a creature of God. At least she can carry water and wash clothes. There is no person on earth so bad that he does not have something about him that is praiseworthy. Why is it, then, that we leave the good things out of sight and feast our eyes on the unclean things? It is as though we enjoyed only looking at—if you will pardon the expression—a man’s behind, while God Himself has covered the unpresentable parts of the body and, as Paul says (1 Cor. 12:24), has given them “greater honor.” We are so filthy that we only look for what is dirty and stinking, and wallow in it like pigs.

You see, these are also real children of the devil, who gets his name from doing this. He is called diabolus, that is, a slanderer and reviler, who takes pleasure in shaming us most miserably and embittering us among ourselves, causing nothing but murder and misery and tolerating no peace or concord between brothers, between neighbors, or between husband and wife. I once heard of a case where a married couple lived together in such love and harmony that it was the talk of the whole town. When the devil was unable to undermine this in any other way, he sent an old hag to the wife, to tell her that her husband was having an affair with another woman and planned to kill her. Thus she embittered the wife against her husband and advised her to hide a knife on her person in order to beat him to it. When the hag had done this, she went to the husband and told him the same, that his wife planned to murder him; and as proof of it, she said, he would find a knife next to her in bed at night. He found it, and he cut her head off with it.16 Whether this story is fact or fiction, it does show what such wicked and poisonous mouths can do, even to people who love each other deeply. Thus they may rightly be called “the devil’s mouths” or she-devils; for the devil, diabolus, means nothing else than a bitter, poisonous, evil mouth.

So be on your guard against such people, and neither listen nor pay attention to them. Learn to put the best interpretation on what you hear about your neighbor, or even to conceal it, so that you may establish and preserve peace and harmony. Then you can honorably bear the title “child of God” before the whole world and before the angels in heaven. You should let this honor draw and attract you; in fact, you should chase it to the end of the world, if need be, and gladly surrender everything you have for it. Now you have it offered to you here and spread out in front of you for nothing. There is nothing that you have to do or give for it, except that if you want to be a child of God, you must also show yourself to be one and do your Father’s works toward your neighbor. This is what Christ, our Lord, has done for us by reconciling us to the Father, bringing us into His favor, daily representing us, and interceding on our behalf.

You do the same. Be a reconciler and a mediator between your neighbors. Carry the best to both sides; but keep quiet about the bad, which the devil has inspired, or explain it the best way you can. If you come to Margaret, do what is said of Monica, Augustine’s mother, and say: “My dear Margaret, why are you so bitter? Surely she does not intend it so badly. All I notice about her is that she would like to be your dear sister.” In the same way, if you meet Catherine, do the same thing. Then, as a true child of God, you will have made peace on both sides as far as possible.

But if you will or must talk about an evil deed, do as Christ has taught you. Do not carry it to others, but go to the one who has done it, and admonish him to improve. Do not act ostentatiously when you come and expose the person involved, speaking when you ought to be quiet and being quiet when you ought to speak. This is the first method: You should discuss it between yourself and your neighbor alone (Matt. 18:15). If you must tell it to others, however, when the first method does not work, then tell it to those who have the job of punishing, father and mother, master and mistress, burgomaster and judge. That is the right and proper procedure for removing and punishing a wrong. Otherwise, if you spread it among other people, the person remains unimproved; and the wrong remains unpunished, besides being broadcast by you and by others, so that everyone washes out his mouth with it. Look what a faithful physician does with a sick child. He does not run around among the people and broadcast it; but he goes to the child and examines his pulse or anything else that is necessary, not to gratify his pleasure at the cost of the child, nor to make fun of him, but with the good, honest intention of helping him. So we read about the holy patriarch Joseph in Genesis 37. He was tending the cattle with his brothers; and when he heard an evil report about them, he went and brought it to their father as their superior, whose task it was to investigate and to punish them because they would not listen to him.

But you may say: “Then why do you yourself publicly attack the pope and others, instead of keeping the peace?” Answer: A person must advise and support peace while he can and keep quiet as long as possible. But when the sin is evident and becomes too widespread or does public damage, as the pope’s teaching has, then there is no longer time to be quiet but only to defend and attack, especially for me and others in public office whose task it is to teach and to warn everyone. I have the commission and charge, as a preacher and a doctor, to see to it that no one is misled, so that I may give account of it at the Last Judgment (Heb. 13:17). So St. Paul (Acts 20:28) commands the preachers to watch and guard their whole flock against the wolves that were to appear among them. Thus it is my duty to chastise public sinners so that they may improve, just as a judge must publicly condemn and punish evildoers in the performance of his office. As we have said often enough, Christ is not talking here about public office, but in general about all Christians insofar as we are all alike before God.

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 (21:39). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Matthew 5:8 (Luther)

Mathew 5: 8. Blessed are those of a pure heart, for they shall see God.

This item is rather obscure, and not very intelligible to us who have such coarse and carnal hearts and minds. It is also hidden from all the sophists, who have the reputation of being most learned; none of them can say what it means to have a “pure heart,” much less what it means to “see God.” With mere dreams and random thoughts they walk around things of which they have no experience. Therefore we must look at these words according to the Scriptures and learn to understand them correctly.

They have imagined that having a pure heart means for a man to run away from human society into a corner, a monastery, or a desert, neither thinking about the world nor concerning himself with worldly affairs and business, but amusing himself only with heavenly thoughts. By this delusive doctrine they have not only beguiled and dangerously deceived themselves and other people, but have even committed the murderous crime of calling “profane” the act and stations which the world requires and which, as a matter of fact, God Himself has ordained. But Scripture speaks of this pure heart and mind in a manner that is completely consistent with being a husband, loving wife and children, thinking about them and caring for them, and paying attention to other matters involved in such a relationship. For God has commanded all of this. Whatever God has commanded cannot be profane (Acts 10:15); indeed it must be the very purity with which we see God. For example, when a judge performs his official duty in sentencing a criminal to death, that is not his office and work but God’s. If he is a Christian, therefore, this is a good, pure, and holy work, one he could not do if he did not already have a pure heart. In the same way it must be regarded as a pure work and a pure heart when a servant in the household does a dirty and repulsive job, like hauling manure or washing and cleaning children. Hence it is a shameful perversion to disparage the relationships covered by the Ten Commandments this way and to gape at other special and showy works. As though God did not have as pure a mouth or eyes as we, or as pure a heart and hand when He creates both man and woman! Then how can such works and thoughts make a heart impure? This is the blindness and foolishness that comes upon men who despise the Word of God and who determine purity only by the outward mask and the show of works. Meanwhile they are causing trouble with their own wandering thoughts and gaping as though they wanted to climb up to heaven and grope for God, until they break their own necks in the process.

Let us understand correctly, then, what Christ calls a “pure heart.” Note again that the target and object of this sermon were principally the Jews. They did not want to suffer, but sought a life of ease, pleasure, and joy; they did not want to hunger nor to be merciful, but to be smug in their exclusive piety while they judged and despised other people. In the same way, their holiness also consisted in outward cleanliness of body, skin, hair, clothes, and food, so that they did not dare to have even a speck on their clothing; if anyone touched a dead body, or had a scab or a rash on his body, he did not dare to approach other people. This is what they called “purity.” “But that does not do it,” says He; “the ones I praise are those who take pains to have a pure heart.” So He says in Matthew 23:25: “You cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside you are full of extortion and rapacity.” Again (Matt. 23:27): “You are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” This is the way it is with our clergy today. Outwardly they lead a decent life, and in the churches everything is conducted with such excellent taste and formality that it is beautiful to behold. But He does not ask for such purity. He wants to have the heart pure, though outwardly the person may be a drudge in the kitchen, black, sooty, and grimy, doing all sorts of dirty work.
Then what is a pure heart? In what does it consist? The answer can be given quickly, and you do not have to climb up to heaven or run to a monastery for it and establish it with your own ideas. You should be on your guard against any ideas that you call your own, as if they were just so much mud and filth. And you should realize that when a monk in the monastery is sitting in deepest contemplation, excluding the world from his heart altogether, and thinking about the Lord God the way he himself paints and imagines Him, he is actually sitting—if you will pardon the expression—in the dung, not up to his knees but up to his ears. For he is proceeding on his own ideas without the Word of God; and that is sheer deception and delusion, as Scripture testifies everywhere.

What is meant by a “pure heart” is this: one that is watching and pondering what God says and replacing its own ideas with the Word of God. This alone is pure before God, yes, purity itself, which purifies everything that it includes and touches. Therefore, though a common laborer, a shoemaker, or a blacksmith may be dirty and sooty or may smell because he is covered with dirt and pitch, still he may sit at home and think: “My God has made me a man. He has given me my house, wife, and child and has commanded me to love them and to support them with my work.” Note that he is pondering the Word of God in his heart; and though he stinks outwardly, inwardly he is pure incense before God. But if he attains the highest purity so that he also takes hold of the Gospel and believes in Christ—without this, that purity is impossible—then he is pure completely, inwardly in his heart toward God and outwardly toward everything under him on earth. Then everything he is and does, his walking, standing, eating, and drinking, is pure for him; and nothing can make him impure. So it is when he looks at his own wife or fondles her, as the patriarch Isaac did (Gen. 26:8), which a monk regards as disgusting and defiling. For here he has the Word of God, and he knows that God has given her to him. But if he were to desert his wife and take up another, or neglect his job or duty to harm or bother other people, he would no longer be pure; for that would be contrary to God’s commandment.

But so long as he sticks to these two—namely, the Word of faith toward God, which purifies the heart, and the Word of Understanding, which teaches him what he is to do toward his neighbor in his station—everything is pure for him, even if with his hands and the rest of his body he handles nothing but dirt. If a poor housemaid does her duty and is a Christian in addition, then before God in heaven she is a lovely and pure beauty, one that all the angels admire and love to look at. On the other hand, if the most austere Carthusian fasts and whips himself to death, if he does nothing but weep out of sheer devotion, if he never gives the world a thought, and yet lacks faith in Christ and love for his neighbor, he is nothing but a stench and a pollution, inwardly and outwardly, so that both God and the angels find him abhorrent and disgusting.

So you see that everything depends on the Word of God. Whatever is included in that and goes in accordance with it, must be called clean, pure, and white as snow before both God and man. Therefore Paul says (Titus 1:15): “To the pure all things are pure”; and again: “To the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure.” Why is this so? Because both their minds and their consciences are impure. How does this happen? Because “they profess to know God, but with their deeds they deny it” (Titus 1:16). These are the people who are abominable in the sight of God. Look how horribly the apostle paints and denounces these great Jewish saints. Take, for example, a Carthusian monk. He thinks that if he lives according to his strict rule of obedience, poverty, and celibacy, if he is isolated from the world, he is pure in every way. What is this but their own way of thinking, growing up in their own heart without the Word of God and faith? In this way they think that they alone are pure and that other people are impure. St. Paul calls this an “impure mind,” that is, everything they think and imagine. Since this delusion and idea is impure, everything they do on the basis of it must also be impure for them. As their mind is, so is their conscience, too. Though they should and could be of help to other people, they have a conscience that functions on the basis of their ideas and is bound to their cowls, cloisters, and rules. They think that if they neglected this routine even for a moment to serve their neighbor and had relations with other people, they would be committing a most grievous sin and defiling themselves altogether. The cause of all this is that they do not acknowledge God’s Word and creatures, although, as St. Paul says (Titus 1:16): “With their mouths they profess that they do.” If they knew the means and the purpose of their creation by God, they would not despise these other stations nor exalt their own so highly; they would recognize the purity of these as the works and creatures of God, and would honor them, willingly remain in them, and be of service to their neighbor. That would be the true recognition of God, both in His Word and in His creatures, and the true purity of both heart and conscience, which comes to this faith and conclusion: Whatever God does and ordains must be pure and good. For He makes nothing impure, and He consecrates everything through the Word which He has attached to every station and creature.

Therefore be on guard against all your own ideas if you want to be pure before God. See to it that your heart is founded and fastened on the Word of God. Then you will be purer than all the Carthusians and saints in the world. When I was young, people used to take pride in this proverb: “Enjoy being alone, and your heart will stay pure.”12 In support of it they would cite a quotation from St. Bernard, who said that whenever he was among people, he defiled himself. In the lives of the fathers we read about a hermit who would not let anyone come near him or talk to him, because, he said: “The angels cannot come to anyone who moves around in human society.” We also read about two others, who would not let their mother see them. She kept watch, and once she caught them. Immediately they closed the door and let her stand outside for a long time crying; finally they persuaded her to go away and to wait until they would see each other in the life hereafter.

Look, this is what they call a noble deed, the highest kind of sanctity and the most perfect kind of purity. But what was it really? Here is the Word of God (Ex. 20:12): “Honor your father and your mother.” If they had regarded this as holy and pure, they would have shown their mother and their neighbor all honor, love, and friendship. On the contrary, they followed their own ideas and a holiness they chose for themselves; hence they isolated themselves from them, and by their very effort to be most pure they most shamefully profaned themselves before God. As though even the most desperate scoundrels could not have such thoughts and put on such a show that people would have to say: “These are living saints! They can despise the world and have to do only with angels.” With angels all right—from the abyss of hell! The angels like nothing more than to watch us deal with the Word of God; with such people they enjoy dwelling. Therefore leave the angels up there in heaven undisturbed. Look for them here on earth below, in your neighbor, father and mother, children, and others. Do for these what God has commanded, and the angels will never be far away from you.

I have said this to help people evaluate this matter correctly and not go so far away to look for it as the monks do. They have thrown it out of the world altogether and stuck it into a corner or a cowl. All this is stench and filth and the devil’s real dwelling. Let it be where God has put it, in a heart that clings to God’s Word and that regards its tasks and every creature on the basis of it. Then the chief purity, that of faith toward God, will also manifest itself outwardly in this life; and everything will proceed from obedience to the Word and command of God, regardless of whether it is physically clean or unclean. I spoke earlier of a judge who has to condemn a man to death, who thus sheds blood and defiles himself with it. A monk would regard this as an abominably impure act, but Scripture says it is the service of God. In Rom. 13:4 Paul calls the government, which bears the sword, “God’s servant.” This is not its work and command, but His, which He imposes on it and demands from it.

Now you have the meaning of “pure heart”: it is one that functions completely on the basis of the pure Word of God. What is their reward, what does He promise to them? It is this: “They shall see God.” A wonderful title and an excellent treasure! But what does it mean to “see God”? Here again the monks have their own dreams. To them it means sitting in a cell and elevating your thoughts heavenward, leading a “contemplative life,” as they call it in the many books they have written about it. That is still a far cry from seeing God, when you come marching along on your own ideas and scramble up to heaven, the way the sophists and our schismatic spirits and crazy saints insist on using their own brains to measure and master God together with His Word and works. But this is what it is: if you have a true faith that Christ is your Savior, then you see immediately that you have a gracious God. For faith leads you up and opens up the heart and will of God for you. There you see sheer, superabundant grace and love. That is exactly what it means “to see God,” not with physical eyes, with which no one can see Him in this life, but with faith, which sees His fatherly, friendly heart, where there is no anger or displeasure. Anyone who regards Him as angry is not seeing Him correctly, but has pulled down a curtain and cover, more, a dark cloud over His face. But in Scriptural language “to see His face” means to recognize Him correctly as a gracious and faithful Father, on whom you can depend for every good thing. This happens only through faith in Christ.

Therefore, if according to God’s Word and command you live in your station with your husband, wife, child, neighbor, or friend, you can see God’s intention in these things; and you can come to the conclusion that they please Him, since this is not your own dream, but His Word and command, which never deludes or deceives us. It is a wonderful thing, a treasure beyond every thought or wish, to know that you are standing and living in the right relation to God. In this way not only can your heart take comfort and pride in the assurance of His grace, but you can know that your outward conduct and behavior is pleasing to Him. From this it follows that cheerfully and heartily you can do and suffer anything, without letting it make you fearful or despondent. None of this is possible for those who lack this faith and pure heart, guided only by God’s Word. Thus all the monks have publicly taught that no one can know whether or not he is in a state of grace.13 It serves them right that because they despise faith and true godly works and seek their own purity, they must never see God or know how they stand in relation to Him.
Ask one who has most diligently observed his canonical hours of prayer, celebrated Mass and fasted daily, whether he is also sure that this is pleasing to God. He must say he does not know, that he is doing it all as a risk: “If it succeeds, let it succeed.” It is impossible for anyone to say anthing else. None of them can make a boast and say: “God gave me this cowl, He commanded me to wear it, He ordered me to celebrate this Mass.” Until now we have all been groping in such blindness as this. We performed many works, contributed, fasted, prayed our rosaries; and yet we never dared to say: “This work is pleasing to God; of this I am sure, and I would be willing to die for it.” Hence no one can boast that in all his life and activity he has ever seen God. Or if in his pride someone glorifies such works and thinks that God must be well disposed to them and reward him for them, he is not seeing God but the devil in place of God. There is no word of God to support him; it is all the invention of men, grown up in their own hearts. That is why it can never assure or pacify any heart, but remain hidden by pride until it comes to its final gasps, when it all disappears and brings on despair, so that one never gets around to seeing the face of God. But anyone who takes hold of the Word of God and who remains in faith can take his stand before God and look at Him as his gracious Father. He does not have to be afraid that He is standing behind him with a club, and he is sure that He is looking at him and smiling graciously, together with all the angels and saints in heaven.

You see, that is what Christ means by this statement, that only those who have such a pure heart see God. By this He cuts off and puts aside every other kind of purity. Where this kind is absent, everything else in a man may be pure; but it is worth nothing before God, and he can never see God. Where the heart is pure, on the other hand, everything is pure; and it does not matter if outwardly everything is impure, yes, if the body is full of sores, scabs, and leprosy.

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 (21:32). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.