Saturday, June 26, 2010

Matthew 5:18,19 (Luther)

Matthew 5:18. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

That is to say: “I want it to be taught and held pure and whole, without the least subtraction.” This is an indication that He found a far different situation, one in which neither doctrine nor life was in good condition. Therefore, as we shall see, He must take up both of these and salt them through to purify them. We have to teach the same way; we do not permit a single letter to be subtracted from the Gospel, but we say that it all has to be taught, believed, and kept pure. Thus He indicates that He is going to preach a sharp sermon. He will not let them get away with the accusation that He intends to abolish the Law. Instead He will turn the attack back upon them by proving that they have weakened and abolished the Law with the glosses they have smeared over it. Our mob of papists have done the same with the Gospel and Scripture. They have completely ignored that most important doctrine, the righteousness of faith through Christ. They have removed one kind from the Sacrament and have concealed the words of the Sacrament. In fact, they have had the audacity to take the commandments which Christ lays down here and to preach them as bits of good advice rather than as necessary commandments, in direct opposition to the word and stipulation that heaven and earth have to pass away before even the least of these could be left unobserved. Now He immediately passes serious judgment upon such preachers:

Matthew 5:19. Whoever, then, relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

“I will make this very strong,” He says. “Not only will I not abolish them. But if any preacher relaxes or ignores the tiniest part, he should know that he is no preacher of Mine, but is damned and excluded from the kingdom of heaven.” The phrase “shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven” means simply that he shall not be in the kingdom of heaven, but that, as he considers it a trifle to despise God’s command, so he also shall be despised and rejected.
The preachers of the Gospel must all be ready to make the same claim before the whole world, and we challenge our opponents to show us one passage or article of Scripture which we abolish or do not preach correctly. At the Diet of Augsburg they themselves had to testify that our confession is purely Scriptural and does not conflict with any article of faith. All they are shouting about is the fact that we do not also hold to the additional things that have been decreed for them by the councils and the popes; we are supposed to be damned because we want no part of their foul maggots and tawdry human baubles. Nevertheless we have always expressed our willingness to get along with them. We still could, too, if they would grant this much: that these things are free and optional, neither necessary for salvation nor contrary to the Gospel; that a person may participate in them or not as he pleases, as he may in any other free and nonobligatory thing that neither helps nor hinders us, the way a person takes part in the activities during a carnival. But this concession they will not make. So we cannot do otherwise. For the sake of their worthless and useless rot, we cannot surrender Christ our Savior, who through His dear suffering and death has shown and given us more kindness than the pope, Francis, Dominic, or any saint. If they let us keep Him, we would be willing to observe everything that they would impose upon us, and do so better than they do themselves.

Since they are not satisfied with this, but want to make us forsake Christ and pure doctrine which they themselves cannot criticize, we repudiate them. Christ condemns and rejects them, both their doctrine and their life, as men who not only relax God’s Word and commandment but absolutely nullify it by such shameless teachings as these: that it is not necessary to love God with all your heart; that a person is honoring his parents if he decides to enter a monastery or gives the church the money he might have used to support his parents; that a man may desert his betrothed to enter a monastery. In short, everything that the Lord demands here on the basis of God’s command they have made nonobligatory, as if these were merely bits of good advice or works of supererogation.

From all this you can tell what wonderful Christian teachers and holy people these men are! They brashly dare to abolish and abrogate all of God’s commandments, and do so with impunity. Of us, meanwhile, they demand with violent threats that we acknowledge the necessity of their man-made trifles. When we refuse to accept and support these, they attack us with horrible edicts and every kind of fury. Figure out for yourself what Christ will say to all this, since here He pronounces the severe judgment that a man shall have no part in His kingdom if he breaks even the least commandment while teaching and keeping all the others exactly. Where do you think they belong but in the deepest fire of hell? Never has there arisen such a shameful race on earth who dealt so impudently with the Word of God against their own better knowledge, while they still laid claim to the title “Christian leaders.” So beware of them. Let no one be scared by their damnation, persecution, and madness. Here we have the assurance that those who teach God’s Word purely and truly and cling to it shall be great before Christ in the kingdom of heaven in spite of the fact that this mob may curse them to the lowest hell.

I shall not go into the question now of how the Law is to be fulfilled so that no iota or dot of it is lost, though at the same time we teach that no man can fulfill it. I have said that here Christ is not talking primarily about life, but about doctrine. He is not dealing with the great chief doctrine of what He is and what He gives us. We cannot be justified or saved through the teaching of the Law, which only brings us to the knowledge of ourselves, the knowledge that by our own ability we cannot properly fulfill an iota of it. Once we have become Christians through Baptism and faith, we do as much as we can. Still we can never take our stand before God on this basis, but we must always creep to Christ. He has fullfilled it all purely and perfectly, and He gives Himself to us, together with His fulfillment. Through Him we can take our stand before God, and the Law cannot incriminate or condemn us. So it is true that all must be accomplished and fulfilled even to the smallest dot, but only through this one Man. About this we have said enough elsewhere.

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 (21:70). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Matthew 5:17 (Luther)

Matthew 5:17. Think not that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Having given the apostles a serious command and having commissioned them to the ministry, the Lord Christ now takes the next step. He Himself starts salting and shining as an example to teach them what they should preach. He also attacks the doctrine and the life of the Jews, to rebuke and reform their delusions and deeds. As I have said, He does not discuss the great chief doctrine of faith here. Instead, He begins from the bottom by clarifying and commending the Law, which their Pharisees and scribes had completely obscured and distorted. For it is also necessary to clarify and to correct the teaching about God’s commandments.

But it is a sharp and intolerable salt when he attacks and condemns such people as these for not teaching or living correctly, conceding nothing good or right to them—the very best and holiest people, irreproachable, who are teaching God’s commandments and performing holy acts of worship every day. In this way He gave them an opportunity for a shrill denunciation of Him and for the accusation that He wanted to abolish and destroy the Law which God had given. Similarly, the pope and his mob are denouncing us and accusing us of heresy for prohibiting good works. He foresaw this accusation against Him and this interpretation of His teaching. Hence He explains from the outset that He has no intention of abolishing the Law, but had come for the very purpose of correcting and confirming the teaching of the Law in opposition to those who were weakening it by their teaching.

Such a clarification was necessary on account of their great renown and on account of their excellent reputation. If anyone took it upon himself to denounce them, they would immediately create a fuss and throw dust in his eyes by insisting that they alone are the people of God, with so many prophets and holy fathers: “Who are you, that you should be wise enough to criticize everyone else, as though our fathers and we had all been wrong, we who have and preach the Law of God?” That is exactly what the whole world is yelling at us now. It accuses us of condemning the holy fathers and the entire church, which is infallible because it is governed by the Holy Spirit. “Because you are criticizing our teaching and life,” they say to Christ, “this is an indication that you are condemning the Law and the Prophets, the fathers and the whole nation.” To this Christ answers: “No. Certainly I have no intention of destroying the Law or the Prophets. I am more respectful toward them and more scrupulous and serious in my observance of them than you are, so much so that heaven and earth could pass away before I would let an iota or a dot perish or be useless. Indeed, I will go on to say that if anyone despises or departs from the very smallest commandment in his teaching, he will be thrown out of the kingdom of heaven for this minor offense, even though he might keep everything else. Thus we are in agreement that Moses and the Prophets must be taught and enforced rigidly, but the issue is this: since both of us have the obligation and the desire to teach the Law, it has to be determined which of the two sides is correctly citing and interpreting Scripture or God’s Law. This is the point at issue, and here I have to salt and denounce. With their glosses the Jews have distorted and corrupted the Law, and I have come to set it straight.” Right now, too, both we and our opponents, the pope and the other sects, are appealing to the same Scripture and laying claim to one Gospel and Word of God. We have had to attack the doctrine of the pope, which has corrupted Scripture for us with its stench and filth.

He is not denying that they are God’s people and that they have the Law, the fathers, and the prophets. Nor are we condemning or denying that under the pope there were Christians or Baptism or the Gospel, but we are saying: “What we have is the right Baptism and Gospel.” We protest against having to accept and approve the way they smear it all up, the way they interpret and distort it by defiling the pure doctrine with the foul and wormy, yes, the demonic addition of their cowls, tonsures, indulgences, purgatory, and sacrificial masses. This is where we set to work with our salting, to get rid of this stench and to fumigate it. So it is clear that the very dissolvers and destroyers of Law and Scripture decorate themselves with lovely titles like “Scripture” or “Gospel” or “Christian Church” and that under this pretext they have imported their maggots and corrupted everything and made it useless. And then they yell at us for attacking the Christian Church, the holy fathers, and good works!

Now He says: “I have come not to destroy the Law but to fulfill it.” That is: “I do not intend to bring another law or a new law, but to take the very Scriptures which you have and to emphasize them, dealing with them in such a way as to teach you how to behave.” What the Gospel or the preaching of Christ brings is not a new doctrine to undo change the Law, but, as St. Paul says (Rom. 1:2), the very same thing that was “promised beforehand through the prophets in the Scripture.” From our opponents, therefore, we accept the very same Scriptures, Baptism, and Sacrament that they have; and we do not intend to propose something new or better. All we are doing is insisting upon their proper preaching and administration and upon the elimination of anything that does not harmonize with them.
St. Augustine interprets the word “fulfill” in a twofold manner.25 According to him, “fulfilling the Law” means, first, “supplementing its deficiencies” and, second, “carrying out its content in works and in life.” But the first interpretation is mistaken. All by itself, the Law is so rich and perfect that no one need to add anything to it; for the apostles themselves had to prove the Gospel and the proclamation about Christ on the basis of the Old Testament. Therefore no one, not even Christ Himself, can improve upon the Law. What can you make up or teach that is higher than what the First Commandment teaches (Deut. 6:5): “You shall love God with all your heart”? He does indeed go beyond Law and doctrine when He gives His grace and Spirit to enable us to do and keep the Law’s demands, but that is not “supplementing” the Law. And so He is not talking about that here, but about that fulfilling which takes place through teaching; similarly, by “abolishing” He does not mean acting contrary to the Law, but teaching in such a way as to subtract from it.

What is said here, therefore, is not different from what St. Paul says (Rom. 3:31): “Do we, then, overthrow the Law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the Law.” He does not intend to bring another doctrine, as though the former one were no longer in force. He intends, rather, to preach it, to emphasize it, to show its real kernel and meaning, and to teach them what the Law is and what it requires, in antithesis to the glosses which the Pharisees have introduced, the shells and husks which they have been preaching. Similarly we can say to our papists: “We have no intention of abolishing your Gospel or of preaching any other way. All we want to do is to clean it off and polish it, as a mirror that has been so darkened and spotted by your filth that only the name ‘Gospel’ is left, but nothing by which anyone can see.” Thus the Jewish teachers retained the text of the Law, but they so corrupted it with their additions that neither its proper understanding nor its proper use was left.

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 (21:67). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Matthew 5:16 (Luther)

Matthew 5:16. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

See the earnestness with which He puts the exhortation. He would not have to do this if there were not great urgency and need. It is as though He were saying: “They will try to darken your light because they cannot stand it. But be bold and courageous against them. If you just keep yourselves from crawling under a bushel and if you discharge your ministry faithfully, I will see to it that they do not succeed in putting it out.” For this much is sure: So long as a Christian preacher holds on and sticks to his business, despising the world’s abuse and persecution, the ministry will abide and the Gospel cannot fail; for some will always stand firm and abide, as indeed there must always be some that abide, until Judgment Day.
The statement “that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” is in accordance with St. Matthew’s way of speaking; he usually talks this way about works. Neither in his Gospel nor in those of the other two evangelists, Mark and Luke, do we find such a great emphasis upon the profound doctrine of Christ as we do in St. John and St. Paul; instead, we find them talking and exhorting about good works. Of course, it is appropriate that in Christendom both should be preached, yet each in keeping with its nature and value. First and highest is the proclamation about faith and Christ, then comes the emphasis upon works. The evangelist John discussed the chief article thoroughly and powerfully, and hence he is properly regarded as the highest and foremost evangelist. For this reason, Matthew, Luke, and Mark considered and emphasized the other issue, to make sure that it was not forgotten. On this issue, then, they are better than John, while he is better than they on the other one.

But you dare not look at the statements and instructions about works in a manner that separates faith from them, the way our blind theologians mutilate them. You must always connect them with faith and incorporate them in it, making them a result and a concomitant of faith, praised and called “good” for its sake, as I have often taught. Here, too, when He says, “that they may see your good works,” you must not merely think of the sort of faith-less works that the good works of our clergy have been until now, but of the sort of works that faith performs and that are impossible apart from faith. What He calls “good works” here is the exercise, expression, and confession of the teaching about Christ and faith, and the suffering for its sake. He is talking about works by which we “shine”; but shining is the real job of believing or teaching, by which we also help others to believe.

What He means, therefore, is the highest and best kind of works, works whose necessary consequence it must be, as He says here, “that the heavenly Father is honored and praised.” For this teaching or preaching deprives us of every claim to holiness, and it says that we have nothing good in us to brag about. In addition, it instructs the conscience about its relation to God, showing it His grace and mercy and the whole Christ. That is the real revelation and praise of God and at the same time the real sacrifice and worship. These are the works that should be first and foremost. They should be followed by those pertaining to our relations with our neighbor in what are called “works of love,” which shine, too, but only insofar as they are ignited and sustained by faith.

Now you can draw the conclusion for yourself that Matthew does not have in mind the ordinary works that people should do for one another out of love, which he talks about in Matthew 25:35 ff. Rather is he thinking principally about the distinctly Christian work of teaching correctly, of stressing faith, and of showing how to strengthen and preserve it; this is how we testify that we really are Christians. The other works are not such a reliable criterion, since even sham Christians can put on the adornment and cover of big, beautiful works of love. But the true teaching and confession of Christ is impossible without faith; as St. Paul says (1 Cor. 12:3): “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” No sham Christian or schismatic spirit can understand this teaching. How much less can he truly preach it and confess it! Even though he might perceive the words and imitate them, still he does not hold to them or keep them pure. His preaching always betrays the fact that he does not have it straight. He slobbers all over it by stealing the honor from Christ and claiming it for himself.

Thus the most reliable index to a true Christian is this: if from the way he praises and preaches Christ the people learn that they are nothing and that Christ is everything. In short, it is the kind of work that cannot be clone in relation to one or two people, remaining hidden like other works. It has to shine and let itself be seen publicly, in front of the whole world. That is always why it alone is persecuted, for the world can tolerate other works. This also entitles it to be called a work through which our Father is recognized and praised. The other and less important works are not entitled to this, since they remain purely on the human level and belong to the Second Table of the Decalog.24 The works we are talking about now deal with the first three great commandments, which pertain to God’s honor, name, and Word. In addition, if they are to endure, they have to be verified and purified through persecution and suffering. They also have to be slandered before the world to keep them pure of any self-esteem or presumptuousness and to make them all the more praiseworthy before God, since this is really a slander of His honor and praise. That is also why they stand so firmly and why God defends them so powerfully, leading them through despite the raging and persecution of the world. Therefore we should also give these works a position of pre-eminence as the most important, followed by the others, which involve our relations with people. Thus both will have their due. First we should constantly teach and emphasize faith, and then we should live according to faith. In this way everything we do will be done in faith and from faith, as I have always taught.

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 (21:64). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Matthew 5:14,15 (Luther)

Matthew 5:14. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.
15. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.

Here is the second part of the ministry which He entrusts to His dear apostles. They are to be called a “light of the world” and are to be one; that is, they are to instruct souls and guide them to eternal life. Thus He subjects the whole world to the apostles, through whom alone it should and must be enlightened; and He concludes that it, together with everything it can do, is all sheer darkness and blindness. Or if it had a light to enlighten it without this, as it supposes, why would He need the apostles for this? You see, is this not a superb and splendid ministry, an honor above every honor? All the people in the world—kings, princes, lords, learned men, wise men, holy men—have to sit down while the apostles stand up, have to let themselves be accused and condemned in their wisdom and sanctity as men who know neither doctrine nor life nor the right relation to God.

Now along comes Master Pope with his masks, the bishops. They lay claim to the title “vicegerents of Christ and of the apostles.” They have the audacity to lord it over Christ’s Word and to depose the apostles by slobbering that it was not enough for the apostles to preach and for the Holy Spirit to shine through them, but that we must hear and heed the decrees of the holy fathers, the councils, and the popes, who have taught much more and better. But we should know that Christ is not some sort of juggler who does not know what He is saying. Because He calls them a “light of the world,” their teaching alone must be authoritative and adequate to enlighten the whole world. Therefore no other light is necessary; indeed, anything apart from their teaching is sheer darkness. Others may shine far with their lanterns, but these are merely human regulations to govern certain outward affairs which everyone understands and could discover and make up for himself without their help. So the right name for them is not “light of the world” but “law of God,”22 since they are people who take it upon themselves to regulate God Himself and His Christendom with their laws, as though they were so much better than the apostles. They snuff out the light of the apostles with their blind doctrine, which cannot give proper criticism or instruction to any man’s conscience, as is evident in all the books put out by the pope and all the universities. Thus they cannot be called either “salt” or “light.” At their best they condemn the coarse, outward evils that have already been condemned by secular law and the light of reason. But they pay no attention to the truly hard knots and the main problems, like unbelief and false sanctity; in fact, they themselves are in them over their ears. Therefore their teaching is tasteless salt, as well as darkness and blindness. The highest things they can find to salt and enlighten are matters like eating meat or fish, dressing or behaving one way or another.

It is, therefore, exclusively the ministry of the apostles to condemn the real inward evil correctly, and then to heal, console, and comfort all the poor and distressed consciences, leaving no one without condemnation for his evil and instruction and encouragement for the good. Christ installs and ordains them as preachers who alone deserve to be heard, without competition from any schismatic spirits introduced by the devil. Such people want to be known as “salt” and “light.” They even lord it over Christ and scream: “The teaching of faith is a trifle! You must go far beyond that, torture yourself, suffer, and let yourself be crucified.” If you look it over from every side, this is merely instruction about our own actions, without ever pointing to unbelief or condemning the really proud vices that cling to the instruction, which they themselves elevate as “salt” and “light.” They do not stick to the calling and command which He gives to the apostles here when He says: “You shall be the light.” Our only aim is to create the confidence and the declaration that Christ has ordained and anointed us to do this salting and shining, on the basis of God’s command and our ministry.

This is necessary for another reason as well. Christ does not want this ministry to be performed in secret or only in one place, but publicly throughout the world, He indicates to them what they should expect from the world when He says: “A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel.” That is to say: “Anyone who is supposed to be a light must be sure that he does not sneak off into a corner, but stands up publicly and fearlessly.” As we have said before, those who are called to be apostles and to shine have this tendency. They do not like to step forward, but they let themselves be scared off by threats and danger and persecution, or fooled by friendship, acceptance, popularity, and wealth. Thus they do not step forward and open their mouth, but they sneak off into a corner, hide behind a hill, and put their whistles into their pockets.23 Take our clergy, sitting in the ministry. They have the command to stand up before Christendom and to shine publicly with their teaching. Instead, they hide it under a bench. In fact, they do even worse, for these are the very people who persecute the Word and try to extinguish the light by egging on emperors, kings, and the whole world against it. Meanwhile they sit in the house and want to be the only ones who govern the church, to control pulpit, Baptism, Sacrament, and everything that pertains to the calling and the ministry. This is what the apostles predicted: that shepherds would become wolves (Acts 20:29) and that the Antichrist would “take his seat in the temple of God and exalt himself against everything called God.” (2 Thess. 2:4).

On the other hand, there are the schismatic spirits. They have no calling to the ministry, and they would do well to stay home in the corner. Instead, they push themselves in everywhere and try to be the only ones that shine, with everyone listening to them and watching them. All they really want is to be famous, and they preach only so long as they have a following and need fear no danger. But just make them stand up like real preachers, who have been commissioned for the ministry and keep on shining in public without letting wind and weather frighten or silence or extinguish them. Then they would soon make themselves scarce, and you would not find anyone at home. So the dear office of the ministry must get it from both sides. Either those who should perform it neglect it, or those who have not been commissioned for it want to perform it. Thus it never gets the attention it deserves except when Christ grants it the kind of people whom He is describing here and whom He has already prepared, as we heard earlier.

This is what He intends to say now: “If you want, to be My preachers, you really have to be ready to take your place publicly and to stand up before the world as though you were on a high mountain. You have to be willing to be seen and heard openly, holding nothing back that you ought to preach nor hiding it under a bench. Your love for a particular person dare not cause you to keep quiet or to speak out. But since you are the light, you must shine freely and publicly without regard to honor or shame, riches or poverty, disfavor or popularity, death or life. And you must know that you are serving Me, Me who appointed you to be the light.” Those are the people He needs, people who will not let themselves be bent either to the right side or to the left. As Psalm 45:6, 7 says about the office of the ministry: “Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity; you love righteousness and hate wickedness.” That is the virtue and the glory of the Gospel and of its preachers. No other teaching is so dangerous. They all preach what people enjoy hearing and what reason can accept; they do not have to be afraid that someone will persecute them. But this teaching meets universal opposition, because its intention is to step forward and to show up the worthlessness of the world’s light and teaching. Therefore the world tries in all sorts of ways to extinguish this light or to shove it over into a corner or to put it under a bushel. It wants us to forget about our doctrine or to recant and let ourselves be twisted and turned the way it chooses. But we will not let ourselves be driven from our stand this way. We will remain as a city on a hill, a light on a candlestick in the house. Surely He who has made us the light will also preserve us as the light. Therefore He now concludes:

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 (21:61). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Matthew 5:13 (Luther)

Matthew 5:13a. You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its salthess be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown down and trodden underfoot by men.

By the word “salt,” as we have said, He points out what their office is to be. Salt is not salt for itself, it cannot salt itself. But it is used to salt meat and other things in the kitchen so that they keep their taste, stay fresh, and do not rot. “So,” He says, “you are also salt”—not the kind that belongs in the kitchen but the kind for salting this flesh, that is, the whole world. This is indeed a splendid office and a great and glorious honor, that God should call them His salt and should tell them to salt everything on earth. But for this a man must be ready, as He has already taught them, to be poor, miserable, thirsty, and meek, and to suffer all sorts of persecution, shame, and slander. Without this the man will never be the kind of preacher who knows how to salt, but will be only a salt without bite, useless.

It seems presumptuous and overambitious to say that before God poor fishermen or other poor wretches should be called “the salt of the earth” and should take it upon themselves to seize and salt everything human on earth. Reason and nature cannot do it. It gets tired of it, since it cannot endure the continuous disgrace, shame, and misfortune; and it would soon say: “Let the devil salt the world in my place.” Hence our holy fathers, the bishops, monks, and hermits have been acting shrewdly when they neglected preaching and paid attention to other things or isolated themselves from human society. They saw that it costs too much to run the constant risk of losing life, property, and reputation; and they thought to themselves: “We will turn it over to other people, and meanwhile we will sneak off into a corner and serve God with enjoyment.”

It is a hard job to be an apostle or a preacher and carry out this kind of office, yes, an impossible one, judging according to flesh and blood. But they must be people who do it gladly for the sake of God and the Lord Christ. He does not want to compel anyone or drive him with commandments. For the state of being a Christian is one that requires only willing hearts. Anyone who does not heartily want it had better leave it alone. But this is our consolation: When we are in trouble and the world and the devil are glaring at us and acting as cruelly as possible, then He says to us: “You are the salt of the earth.” When the Word shines into18 a man’s heart so that he can depend on it and lay uncontested claim to the title “God’s salt,” then let anyone who refuses to laugh be as angry and cruel as he pleases. With His single word I can be more defiant and boastful than they with all their power, swords, and guns. For since He acknowledges my right to the title and testifies to it through His Word, all the angels in heaven, even sun and moon together with all the creatures, must say “Yes” to it and stand by us, in opposition to the world and the devil. Even if this were not so, we would still have enough in His single word, in the fact that He names and baptizes us this way. They must let that stand, and we will certainly have a place of honor before them as long as Christ and His Word abide.

Now this salting process is easy to understand. One must get up and say: “Everything that is born and lives on earth is useless, it is rotten and corrupt before God.” He says bluntly and plainly: “They shall be a salt of the earth,” that is, a salt to everything that the world is. From this it must follow that everything in the world bearing the name “flesh” or “man” must be denounced and thoroughly salted. Thus we condemn the sanctity, wisdom, and worship which the whole world has thought up for itself, apart from the Word of God and without holding to Christ alone, as the devil’s invention, which belongs in the abyss of hell. This is a harsh proclamation. It makes us disagreeable to the world, and it earns for us the enmity of men and a punch in the teeth.

The world could tolerate it if we proclaimed Christ and all the articles of faith correctly. But if we want to seize it and salt it by showing that its wisdom and sanctity are worthless, indeed, blind and damned, this it cannot and will not tolerate. It accuses the preachers of doing nothing but criticizing and biting, of causing revolutions and discord, and of maligning the clergy and good works. But what can we do? Salting has to bite. Although they criticize us as biters, we know that this is how it has to be and that Christ has commanded the salt to be sharp and continually caustic, as we shall hear. St. Paul is always rebuking the whole world and criticizing everything it praises and does19 without faith in Christ. And Christ says (John 16:8): “When the Holy Spirit comes, He will convince the world.” That is to say: “He will attack everything He finds in the world, without exception or discrimination. He will not rebuke some and praise others, or punish only the thieves and criminals. He will throw everything on one pile, one with another—great, small, pious, wise, holy, or whatever—in short, everything that is not Christ.” There is need for the Holy Spirit to come and to send preachers into the world, to uncover and to punish, not the outwardly gross sins like adultery and murder, which the world can know and punish by itself, but the things it regards as the most precious and its highest asset, the claim to piety, holiness, and the service of God.

So it is a mistake when some wiseacres maintain now that it is enough for a preacher to tell everyone what is right and simply to preach the Gospel, but not to touch the pope, the bishops, the princes, and other stations or persons, since this causes unrest and discord. But what He means is this: “If you want to preach the Gospel and help people, you must be sharp and rub salt into their wounds, showing the reverse side and denouncing what is not right, like the Masses, monkery, indulgences, and all their works and ways, so that these scandals are eliminated and no longer deceive people.” Therefore we must keep up this salting, be on our guard, and leave no room for such things to come back or to sneak in secretly. This is just what will happen if the ministry of salting is neglected, as it used to be in Christendom, when the rotten doctrine of men was in complete charge and ruined everything; this would not have happened if the salt had remained. There would have been no shortage of sound doctrine; for by the grace of God the Scriptures, the Gospel, the Sacrament, and the pulpit had remained in the church, if only the bishops and preachers had done what they should to use these means for salting whatever belonged to the old Adam.

That is why Christ is exhorting and warning the disciples so diligently here, to be sure that this salting is never neglected. He says: “If the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored?” “Salt that has lost its taste” means salt that has lost its teeth and its sharpness, salt that no longer seasons or bites. This happens when the ministry is neglected in Christendom. Preachers no longer rebuke the people or show them their misery and incapacity or press for repentance and self-knowledge. They permit them to go along as if they were pious and all right. Thus they let their self-made sanctity and self-chosen worship take root so deeply that the true doctrine of faith is destroyed, Christ is lost, and everything is ruined, utterly and hopelessly.

He saw this and predicted the future danger, the injury and decay of Christendom with the neglect of this ministry of salting or denouncing. Instead of it, a swarm of factions and sects would arise, each one insisting that his favorite toy is the true teaching and worship of God, even though it is altogether worldly and carnal and the product of our own brain and reason. We use it to tickle ourselves, and so we actually decay in it, like wild, stinking, rotten meat, on which salting and denouncing would be wasted.

From this you see how important this is, and why Christ has good reason for discussing it here before everything else and commanding it so zealously. Without it, Christendom cannot stand, and proper understanding and life are no longer possible. Thus there is no greater injury or decay in Christendom than when the salt, which should season and salt everything else, has itself lost its taste. Yet this can happen so easily. For it is a poison that tastes sweet and appeals to the old Adam. He does not like to live dangerously, risking life and limb or suffering persecution, shame, and slander. This makes our bishops and clergy the smartest people on earth. Nevertheless, they are not good enough even to be called salt that has lost its taste, but they are the very devil himself. They do not pay attention to their bishoprics; they are the worst kind of persecutors themselves. They preach in a manner calculated to keep them out of trouble and to gain for them money and property, honor and power.

Anyone who is supposed to criticize the whole world—emperors, kings, princes, wise men, learned men—and say that their way of life is damned before God, has to stick his neck out. But if I am hypocritical and say that everything is all right with them, I get off scot free and keep their favor and acceptance. In the meanwhile I flatter myself that I intend to preach the Gospel, too. Still I have become salt that has lost its taste; for I am letting the people stick in the old delusion of their own flesh, till finally they go to the devil, with me in the lead.
Thus there are many temptations and hindrances for this ministry on both the right and the left side, the temptation of keeping quiet either to escape harm and persecution or to gain popularity, property, or pleasure. Besides, We are weak, lazy, and listless. Therefore we let ourselves be distracted, and we get tired when we see that things do not progress as we would like, when it all seems useless and the people despise our rebukes and even become the worse on account of them.
We must be well armed against all this, therefore, and look at nothing but the commandment of Christ. He entrusts this ministry to us and wants us to open our mouths vigorously, to denounce what must be denounced, heedless of our own danger, inconvenience, advantage, or pleasure, and of other people’s malice and contempt. Our consolation is in the fact that He makes us His salt and will sustain us in our salting. He commands us to do that salting with good cheer, regardless of whether the world refuses to tolerate it and persecutes us. Nor should we despair, even though it seems to us that we are getting nowhere. Our pleasure and satisfaction should be whatever He commands us to do. Let Him determine what and how much He wants to accomplish through us. If people refuse to hear or accept it, we are salt nonetheless and have discharged our responsibility. Then we can stand before the judgment seat of God honorably and cheerfully. We can testify that we have spoken out faithfully to every man and have hidden nothing under the bench, leaving them without the excuse that they did not know any better or had not been told.
But those who let themselves be scared off and muzzled for the sake of favor, popularity, or possessions will have to hear it said of them: “This was our preacher, and he never said anything about it.” And He will not let them off if they say: “But Lord, they refused to listen.” To this Christ will rejoin: “Do you not know that I commanded you to salt, that I warned you earnestly to do so? Should you not have feared My Word more than them?” This should really put the fear of the Lord into us. Listen to the sentence He pronounces on all the salt that has lost its taste, when He says:

Matthew 5:13b It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden underfoot by men.

That is to say: “Even here on earth their lot will not be good. Christ will utterly reject them as men who belong to Him no longer and who will never be His preachers or members of Christendom. They will be completely cast out and deprived of any fellowship with all the saints in heaven. Of course they may still keep the name and enjoy the highest esteem among people as the best preachers and holiest men on earth.” That is how it was with the papacy in the heyday of its piety and holiness, when it had not yet grown to be what it is now, a secular imperialism and a spiritual demonocracy. Then the pope himself was preaching and governing the churches. He had everything in fine working order, all organized with prescribed rules and regulations, the way St. Gregory did, as well as some before and since.20 The whole world thought of this as the finest government and the holiest worship possible. Still it was all useless, because there was no salt there to check it by the Word of God and denounce it as our own self-devised sanctity. Yet the whole world gave its praise, approval, and support to the presumptuous and false trust that this was really a blessed life and a holy class. So it praises and exalts St. Gregory himself. Though I agree that he was a holy man, still his teaching did not achieve any good results. Nevertheless it all appears so lovely that if they could now restore and reform the old situation, no one would dare to preach a word against it, lest he be called the worst heretic that ever lived.
Now, this is one element in the warning: “If the salt has lost its taste, it is no longer useful.” The other element sounds even more terrible. He pronounces the sentence upon it that we should let it be “thrown out and trodden underfoot by men.” The real salt is the true exposition of Scripture, which denounces the whole world and lets nothing stand but the simple faith in Christ. When this is gone, then it is all over, and all the rest of our teaching and rebuking is worthless. For God has already rejected and condemned both the doctrine and the life, both the teacher and the pupil. In short, without this article of faith, that we are justified and saved only through Christ and that apart from Him everything is damned, there is no defense or restraint, no boundary or limit for every heresy and error, every sect and faction, with everyone thinking up and broadcasting some peculiar idea of his own. This was the situation under the pope. No monk could have a dream without dragging it into the pulpit and making it into a special act of worship. No lie was too shameful to be accepted so long as someone had the audacity to take it into the pulpit. Finally things came to such a pass that not only Christ was lost but God, too, and they practically stopped believing any of the articles of faith. Indeed, I might say that for a hundred years there have been few popes who believed a single article. This is the situation now in the German lands. Among those who have lost the article about Christ one schism and error after another has arisen. One denies the Sacrament; another denies Baptism and other articles; many have become completely epicurean, believing nothing at all, like the popes and their cardinals in Rome. And so they finally become nothing but swine and cattle, and that is how they die.

This is why I have always admonished, as Christ is doing here, that the salt should remain salt and not lose its taste, that is, that we properly teach the chief article of faith. Where this is gone, no other part can stay right, and everything is lost. There can be no faith or understanding any more, and no one can teach or counsel correctly. In brief, a person has to let everyone’s feet trample over him. As we have said, there is no bacchanal or jackass too coarse to gain a great following of believers if he can just think up something new. What is there that the miserable monks have not brazenly dared to preach? They have duped the people with their brother-hoods, little prayers, rosaries, and with the mangy hoods which they put on the dead to promise them heaven.21 What is that but to let everyone’s feet trample over you and to be at the mercy of every preacher of lies? The reason for this is the fact that the devil has conquered the heart and utterly destroyed it with his rotten, damnable doctrines and superstition. Christ is gone, and the knowledge of Christ is lost.

If I keep the conviction that only Christ is my Righteousness and Holiness, no monk will ever delude or beguile me with his cowl, his rosary, or any of his other works or man-made baubles. Faith makes me a judge over every class and way of life that men can think up, and I can condemn anything claiming to show me something else that avails before God. If I neglect this treasure and let it slide in order to look for other ways to be pious, to reconcile God, and to atone for sin, then I am a ready victim for all the various snares and traps of the devil, and have become his obedient servant. Then someone comes along who preaches to me: “If you want to be pious and serve God, put on a cowl, pray this many rosaries every day, light this many little candles to St. Anne.” And I fall for it like a blind man, like everyone’s fool and prisoner. I do whatever I am told, and I cannot avoid even the slightest mistake.

Here Christ Himself has predicted and warned that it would be this way. There has never been a person who knew how to be on guard against this. If we do not keep watch and take care to retain this article, we, too, shall eventually retain no article properly and purely. We shall not stop erring and splitting into sects till it is all over, till preaching and teaching become completely useless and we are nothing but swine and cattle. Alas, that is how it is already among the great crowd, as a result of our contempt and ingratitude for the Gospel.

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 (21:54). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.