Friday, July 30, 2010


Matthew 7:15. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

So far the Lord has been serving up both doctrine and life correctly, and warning against whatever opposes it or harms it or hinders it. To this He now appends a warning. Even when everything is going all right in doctrine and in life we should be on the lookout for teachers who secretly arise in our midst with the title of genuine preachers and under the pretext of the Gospel but who introduce another Gospel and thus distort and destroy both doctrine and life. It is inevitable that the devil will use every device, both outward and inward, to attack the true and pure teaching of the Gospel on every side. Since the beginning of this sermon Christ has been saying that whoever intends to be a Christian has to consider this. In the first place, he will have to bear the brunt of enemies outside Christendom. They will oppose him, hate him, and harm him. They will strike and strangle him. At least, they will slander, curse, and condemn him. It has been decided that anyone who has no haters, slanderers, and persecutors is not yet a Christian, or at least that he has not yet proved his Christianity with an outward act and confession. As soon as he wants to confess his faith, the world becomes hostile to him; and if it can, it will certainly kill him for it.
Now these are overt enemies, those outside Christendom, whom everyone can see and feel right away. “But over and above these,” Christ intends to say here, “you will have enemies of another kind. They are not the ones who are on the outside and who deny the doctrine. They are the ones who grow up in your own midst, who bear your name and boast of it. They are the ones who do the greatest harm.” Though the others may stir up quite a tumult, all they can do is to take away my body and my goods; but with all their violence they cannot take away from me my heart and my faith. The enemies on the inside do not disturb my body and my goods but let me keep what I have. Craftily they reach out for the doctrine, to remove the treasure itself from my heart, the dear Word, for whose sake we endure persecution from those other enemies. This is really a miserable business! Those who are called our brethren and who lay claim to Christian teaching rise up against us. Under the cover of the same name, they abolish the true teaching and introduce a different one, as St. Paul predicts in his warning to his Ephesians (Acts 20:30): “From among your own selves will arise men teaching and preaching perverse things.” It is, I say, particularly deplorable that those who do it should be from and in our own group, people whom we consider to be upright and against whom we cannot defend ourselves until they have started to do their damage.
This is the persecution within Christendom which was foretold to us throughout Scripture and which has been going on since the beginning of the world. Moses experienced it with his people. Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham experienced it with their families. And though Adam had only two sons, one of them had to start a sect. It seems to me that we have experienced enough of this ourselves. There were so many who originally supported us and joined the cause of the Gospel against the pope that it might have seemed for a while that we were going to have the whole world on our side. Just when everything seemed to be in full swing, our own people went ahead to cause us more anguish than all the princes, kings, and emperors could have done. What shall we do about it? They do great harm to us. In addition they strengthen the case of our enemies, who can now cry out against us:21 “There you can see what their teaching is, because they are not even unified among themselves. The Holy Spirit cannot be with them, because they themselves persecute, attack, and slander one another.” We have to put up with seeing the case of our enemy strengthened by this offense, and our own case weakened and slandered. Thus we are opposed both by our enemies and by our brethren. This is actually the greatest outward tribulation in Christendom that our teaching has to endure.
We must expect this sort of thing all the time, and we cannot escape it. With this sermon, therefore, Christ gives us a comfort and a warning against it. The comfort is that we should not be frightened or worry ourselves to death over this miserable offense, when we see and feel that we who lay claim to the Word of God are not unified among ourselves. As we have been instructed by His Word, we should reply this way: “I knew beforehand, when I made up my mind to be a Christian, that it would be the way that Christ, my Lord, predicted. I would have two kinds of enemies—those from the outside and those from the inside, from my own dearest friends and brethren. This will not scare me off, however, nor persuade me to apostatize from my teaching, as if the fact that my former brethren oppose me made the teaching wrong. Christ Himself had His betrayer Judas with Him. The fact that His precious disciple forsook Him and caused this trouble does not make what He taught false and what He did wrong. Therefore we must not mind our Judases either.”
The warning is that we should expect this with certainty and that we should carefully watch and protect ourselves so that these sects do not deceive us. We have to arm ourselves against them and learn to know them. When He says, “Beware,” He wants to teach us not to be patient22 with such people, but to be open-eyed, watchful, careful, and wise. All we need in opposition to those outward enemies is patience, to endure what they lay upon us and to stand firm. But here suffering or yielding to them is not in order. I must be watchful and careful. I must not even confide a word to my brother privately but only look at the Word with sharp and alert eyes, trusting no man who is on my side now; for today he can preach with me, but perhaps tomorrow against me. No one should think that he is secure and not in need of this admonition. This temptation is so dangerous and sly that even the most spiritual have their hands full to avoid being deceived by it. The rest of the crowd, who are smug and careless, just cannot keep from being seduced. It is, therefore, not in vain that He says, “Beware.” The outward appearance and the name are so beautiful that no one can recognize it, as we shall hear, unless he has the correct understanding of the Word of God, then gives it his diligent attention, and makes it his highest concern to keep it pure and unadulterated.
Look how He describes the outward appearance and impression of the false teachers. In the first place, He gives them the name “prophets”; that is what they are called, and that is what they are, teachers and preachers. They boast of the fact that they have no other title or reputation than this, that they have the very same office of the ministry, the same Scriptures, and the same God as the others. Nevertheless they are false prophets. Here He is discussing those who have the commission to preach. The others, who go ahead without any office or commission, do not deserve to be called “false prophets” but tramps and rascals; and they should be given over to the police.23 Even if they taught correctly, they would be intolerable. They try to meddle into other people’s office and commission, in defiance of the ordinances of the government. Like thieves, they sneak secretly into corners, where no unauthorized person has a right to set up a preaching-meeting of his own or to obtrude himself, though he may hear and know that there is false preaching going on in public; for he does not have the commission or the responsibility to do so. God has instituted this office, as He has others; therefore we should not act in opposition to it. Whoever administers it wrongly, will be responsible for himself and will certainly find his Judge.
In the second place, He says that they come in sheep’s clothing, that they are irreproachable and outwardly indistinguishable from genuine preachers. These are the two things that do the damage: They have the valid office, and in addition they give such a beautiful impression and appearance that no one can say anything except that they are true, pious preachers, interested in everyone’s salvation. Such is their own precious claim, to which they can even swear, that they use nothing but the name and the Word of God. This makes such a powerful impression that the people are swept away like a flood, and no one can stop it. Who is there among the common people that can oppose these men or dare to denounce them? Who even knows how to protect himself against them, since they claim to come with the name and the Word of God?
Here Christ is warning us about both characteristics of these false prophets. We should not be swayed by the fact that they occupy the office of the ministry, though this is necessary and proper for a preacher. But this does not give anyone a guarantee that people have to believe him, as though he could not be a scoundrel in the ministry. It is not unusual in the world for villains and rascals to occupy every office and station in society and to abuse it. “I concede that they may be called prophets,” Christ says, “but beware and be sure that they are not false prophets.” Similarly, do not look only at sheep’s clothing and the precious name and appearance under which they come, for here you are told that hidden underneath there might be a ravenous wolf. So beware that the sheep’s clothing does not deceive you, for if they are to deceive the people, they all have to put on this lovely camouflage and appearance. Precisely that is the difference between these secret enemies and those other overt enemies, who invade us openly and whom everyone recognizes. But these enemies walk around in our midst with the same office that we have, and they make an impression by using the same Scriptures and words. Nevertheless they are coming, Christ says, “on their own”; that is, though they do have the office, still they bring a kind of word and teaching that God has not committed to them and that He did not send them to preach, their own dreams and “doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1), decorated with the name of God. Take special warning, therefore, against the sheep’s clothing. Trust no man, however fine an impression he may make, but look only at the Word. See whether he is properly using it or whether he is using it as a pretext to peddle his own stuff.
You see, if we took up this warning and guided ourselves by the words of Christ, we could easily defend ourselves against all the false prophets and preachers. They are breaking in all over the place. This is due to the fact that we who hear the genuine Gospel do not take it seriously and are not concerned about really having it and keeping it. We act so sleepy and slothful, as if we could never lose it. As a consequence we are taken in by this lovely outward appearance and show before we have a chance to look around. As soon as a different new teacher comes along and goes to work, the word “Beware!” is forgotten. Yet it is with this word that we should be armed, listening to each individual as though we did not hear him, looking and paying attention only to the doctrine. Some frivolous and fickle spirits only look into the preachers’ mouths and chase after them, impelled by a curiosity that makes them think: “Oh, I have listened to this one already. Now I have to listen to that one, too. He is such a fine, learned, and saintly man.” There the devil already has a foothold, and he has taken them in before they realize what is going on. Now he drives and directs them at will from one schism to another. Paul says of such people that they are like a reed (Matt. 11:7), “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). If a different one arises today or tomorrow, they quickly rush over to listen to him. The cause of this is the fact that in their heart they do not have a sure understanding of the Word of God and that they depreciate the Gospel. They imagine that if they have heard it once or twice, they know it all and have it all. They quickly become bored with it, so that as soon as someone else comes along bringing something new, they open up their eyes and ears wide. The same thing happens to them that happened to Adam and Eve when they were seduced by the serpent, who made them open up their eyes to see the forbidden tree and who insinuated such beautiful thoughts as these, contrary to the Word of God (Gen. 3:1): “Why should we not eat from this tree, too?” Thus their desires and curiosity were aroused, and they became bored with all the trees in all of Paradise, staring only at this one.
If we took the Gospel seriously and if, in our lives, we were concerned to keep this treasure pure and clean, we would not be deceived so easily. I hope that no schismatic spirit could overturn me very easily, since I know that the Gospel is true and I would not want to lose it. If someone comes along in his beautiful sheep’s clothing, I will not pay attention to his mask, as though I wanted to hear something different or new, but to whether or not he agrees with my Gospel. If not, then, thank God, I am well grounded and certain enough to know that he is a false prophet and a ravenous wolf under his sheep’s clothing.
So the demonic spirits have a double advantage: the fact that we are such careless, smug, and frivolous people; and the fact that they can deck themselves out in the beautiful wool of a sheep. By “sheep’s clothing” He does not mean wickedness and coarse sins, like those of heathen and non-Christians. He means the excellent name and reputation of true Christians, who have Holy Baptism, the Sacrament, Christ, and everything that is Christ’s. They have to bring all this along. None of them dares to come along with the statement: “This is what I say.” They come along instead with the statement: “Dear friends, this is what Christ says. There you have the Word of God and the Scriptures. If you want to be saved, you must believe this. Anyone who teaches otherwise, is deceiving you.” They make use of the glorious name of Christ and God, and of awesome and grand words like “the glory of God,” “truth,” “eternal salvation,” and other words like these. When someone hears himself being admonished by these glorious words, with the salvation or damnation of his soul at stake, he becomes frightened and makes a commitment immediately, unless he is well armed and well grounded against this. For it cuts like a sharp razor and penetrates body and soul.
This is one part of the sheep’s clothing. In addition they deck themselves out in special works and ways. They walk around in gray coats, with a sour look on their faces. They give the impression of being strict ascetics, with their fasts, chastisements, hard beds, and the like. They simply do not live like ordinary people. This, too, is very impressive and really bewitches the people so that whole crowds fall into line. With a single sermon such a criminal can seduce an entire city which has had the Word of God for a long time. In one hour he can make them forget24 what they have been listening to for ten years. If I wanted to, I could easily manage in two or three sermons to preach my people right back into the papacy, and put on such an appearance of special sanctity that I could create new pilgrimages and Masses. As has been said, the common people are easy to talk into something, besides being curious and eager to hear something new.
You see, that is how they have to deck themselves out in both doctrine and life. They make use of the same Word that we hear, and in addition they lead a beautiful and glittering life. Our Anabaptist schismatics seduce many people by yelling that the Gospel we have is not the right one, since they claim that it does not produce any fruit and that the people remain wicked, proud, and greedy. Or they say that you have to have something more than the mere Word and letter; you have to have the Spirit working, and an honest resolution to improve your life. If what we have really were the Word of God, it would certainly produce fruit. Then they proceed to say that they have the right understanding and the right fruit in their life. When a simple and inexperienced man hears this, he says: “That is really true!” Thus he lets himself be overwhelmed by the glorious words “Spirit” and “fruits of the Spirit.” Then they take the next step and say: “Whoever wants to be a Christian must not participate in secular government or wield the sword or own private property (the way we do). Only he is a genuine Christian who proves it with his works by forsaking everything, by refusing secular power or authority, by wearing a gray coat, and by enduring hunger and trouble.” This is what they call “the fruits of the Spirit.” You see, these ate nothing but sheep’s clothing, by which they mislead whole crowds of the poor people.
Now, who can recognize the wolf under the sheep’s clothing and defend himself against him? I reply that the only advice I know is what I have already mentioned. Everyone should see to it, above all, that he is sure of his cause and of the doctrine. In his heart he should be so well grounded in it that he can stick to the doctrine even though he sees everyone on earth teaching and living contrary to it. Anyone who wants to move along in safety simply dare not pay attention to any of the outward masks in Christendom and guide himself by them. He must pay attention only to the Word, which shows us the right way of life that avails before God. For example, you must hold on to the chief part, the summary, of Christian teaching and accept nothing else: That God has sent and given Christ, His Son, and that only through Him does He forgive us all our sins, justify and save us. Then if you open your eyes, you will see all sorts of differing situations and ways of life—men and women, masters and servants, princes and subjects, rich and poor, and whatever stations and offices there may be in the world, all so intertwined that nothing about them makes any special impression on me. But since I am so well grounded and know the chief part, which includes everything, my heart draws this conclusion: “Whether, please God, I see a married person or a single person, a master or a servant, a learned man or a layman, gray clothes or red, fasting or eating, a sour face or a smiling one, what do I care about that? In other words, the differences that I see among them are all identical to me. For I have come to the insight that a girl in her red coat or a prince in his golden spangles can be no less a Christian than a beggar in his gray coat or a monk in his shirt of wool or hair. With this insight I am safe against all kinds of outward masks.”
Anyone who does not have this chief part, or who does not know how to guide himself according to it, cannot defend himself against being taken in by these masks. He sees one person carrying on with his wife and children or decked out so gloriously and expensively, while the other person has a sour expression on his face, fasts, goes around barefooted and in a gray coat. Immediately he draws this conclusion: “This is really a holy man! But those others amount to nothing.” So he is unrestrained in his admiration for the masks, and he does not have the sense to ask: “Could a villain be lying hidden under that gray coat?” A Christian can draw this conclusion and ask: “Dear monk, are you wearing your gray coat out of necessity? Or do you have the special idea that you want people to think of you as something special? You are simply doubling your desperate wickedness when you make people stare open-mouthed at your disguise. Otherwise you have to say: ‘If a farmer plowing or spreading manure on his field is no less a Christian and no less entitled to get to heaven than I, what am I accomplishing by my special way of life?’ ”
As I have said, the great common crowd cling to these masks, which give them an eyeful and provide something special to see. Therefore it does not help to preach a long sermon against them. By nature we are inclined to such a teaching and to such works anyway, since it appeals to our reason, which would always prefer to deal with God on the basis of its own works. So the devil stirs up the fire and blows on it through these teachers, till he has taken us in completely. But if we want to get through safely, we must be careful, above all, as I have always taught, to be correct in the chief doctrine about Christ. Then we can make the right judgments about all the outward masks and ways of life, and the Spirit will teach us and lead us well. Thus any individual who wants to be pious will find enough genuine good works to do in his own station, and he will not have to go looking for anything special.
If you are a prince or a judge, a servant or a maid, and you are expected to practice and prove your faith, to administer your office and station correctly, and to act properly, then you will surely get such a task and assignment that no Carthusian will have a more stringent routine than yours. Why is it such great trouble and hard work for him to wear a gray coat or a cowl or wooden shoes, or to cause his body a little trouble—if he is a strict one—and meanwhile to live without concern or worry and have plenty for his gluttony and guzzling? This other person has to eat his daily bread in the sweat of his face (Gen. 3:19) with bitter toil. Not only his body but also his heart has to be tormented by the wicked world and his neighbors. And he has to expect and suffer every kind of trouble, discord, and sorrow. Thus real citizenship, when carried on in a Christian manner, is ten times as hard as a Carthusian routine, except that it does not shine the way a monk does when he wears a cowl and lives in isolation from society. If you open your eyes and really compare the two, even your reason will have to draw this same conclusion.
Thus a prince may wear golden chains and a mantle of sable. But if he is pious, he is such a tormented and miserable man under that mantle of sable that you could not find his equal in any monastery. In this way you can go through all the offices and stations. Wherever you find a pious man or woman, you do not have to go looking for a monk or a nun. For such a person is already enough of a monk and is following a harder routine than the whole hooded and tonsured crowd. Before God all the monks and hermits are foolishness in comparison with one pious child, servant, or maid who is obedient and faithful in the performance of his duty. Just do what a pious man or woman should do, and you will have a rule more stringent than the rules, the cowls, and the tonsures of Francis and all the monks, which are more likely to cover a villain than a pious Christian.
Our crazy reason refuses to pay attention to this. It decries it and thinks to itself: “Why, that is an ordinary thing that anyone could do in his own home!” It yearns for something else that is strange and special, stares at it, and lets itself be led by all the clatter. Yet this is all just a pretense. They come along and rebuke us with their worthless way of life, in order to make every other way, though it may be God’s ordinance and station, seem contemptible and worthless. Our inadequacy comes from our failure to hold on to the Word of God seriously enough; otherwise we would soon say: “Bring on the Carthusians, the Anabaptists, the devil himself, or his mother!25 None of them could make a better station or way of life than God has made.” Every pious husband, servant, maid or faithful worker, therefore, must be said to have a station that is excellent, high, and godly. If we could evaluate all occupations and stations correctly on the basis of the Word, then everyone could teach and live correctly, and everything would go along just fine. The proper stations then would be those which God has created and ordained and with which He is pleased. And if God made it possible for us to get to the point that one city would have many such pious citizens—men, women, and children; masters, servants, and maids—we would have the kingdom of heaven on earth. We would not need any monasteries. People would not have to fast or pray and sing all day long in church but simply do no more than what their various stations and occupations required.
Now you see what the sheep’s clothing is with which they make the people stare. But what are they inwardly and at heart? Nothing else, Christ says, than ravenous wolves. The aim of these desperate scoundrels with the beautiful appearance of their doctrine and life is to destroy souls and to tear them up. They will not do it outwardly, like the tyrants and persecutors who tear up life and property, or like the preachers who preach against us publicly and condemn our doctrine. They will do it inwardly, by secretly tearing away the treasure in our heart, which has now become the throne and kingdom and dwelling place of God. In other words, the aim of their villainy, which they decorate with their doctrine and life, is to tear up the faith and chief doctrine about Christ. Right now the Anabaptists are bearing our name outwardly.26 They even acknowledge that we have the Gospel in our word and proclamation; but they say, “The fruit does not follow.” With this phrase, “no fruit,” they divert people from faith to works, and they remove the chief item, which is faith in Christ, leading us away to look only at the fruit. When this is present, then the Gospel is the correct one, and vice versa. Their whole teaching is nothing else than that you have to take hold and prove your faith by your fruit, by owning no private property, and by forsaking everything. Thus they fall back on their works again and put their trust in them for their salvation.
The worst part of it is that they do not even teach the real fruit, which the Gospel teaches and demands after faith, but their own dreams and imaginations. They do not say anything about the fact that everyone should carry out his station correctly and faithfully and should remain in it. On the contrary, they lead the people away from these stations. They teach them to desert them and run away from them as something secular and to take up something special—to wear a sour expression, to live strictly, not to eat and drink and dress like other people, to let themselves be tortured and killed voluntarily and unnecessarily. “Otherwise,” they say, “the Gospel is not bringing any fruit in you, and you are still not a Christian, though you may have been believing for a long time.”
They decorate these dreams of theirs with Scripture and with statements from the Gospel. Never, either by precept or example, did Christ teach or command that we should run away from human society, forsake everything, and own no private property, except in case of necessity, when we must either forsake this or forsake His Word. You must not, therefore, forsake all this until He commands you to and you are forced to. If it comes to that, then you must say: “Before I forsake Christ and the Gospel, let my wife and children, ray body and goods, sun and moon and all the creatures be gone.” Except in the case of such a necessity, you have God’s commandment: love your neighbor, serve him and help him with your body and goods; love and rule your wife, children, and servants; do not run away and leave them sitting there. Yet that is what these people do, in opposition to the Word and ordinance of God, and without any necessity. And they claim to be special saints and brag about the great fruit of the Gospel!
Learn to recognize how, under the sheep’s clothing, these spirits inwardly tear up and take away your faith. They lead you away from Christ back upon yourself, and this they call the fruit of the Gospel, something they themselves have thought up to destroy the genuine fruit. These are the ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing who have corrupted Christianity in every age. Until recently they were called monks; now they are the Anabaptists, the new monks. In previous ages it was the Pelagians, Ishmaelites, Esauites, and Cainites.27 This faith28 has lasted since the beginning of the world; and though these Anabaptists may be on the way out, others are on their way in. In other words, monkery must remain as long as the world stands, although it may assume other names and new activities. Anyone who takes it upon himself to start something special that goes beyond faith and the common occupations is and remains a monk, though he may not affect the same manner or habit or bearing. Of course, it is easy to beware of those who go around with cowl and tonsure; they have been described often enough for everyone to recognize them. But beware of the new monks. They do not wear cowls, but they are setting up other special ways. They make a pretense of great devotion and sanctity, with their sour expressions, gray coats, and ascetic life. They say that it is wrong to wear satin or silk, red or colored clothing—just what the other monks taught. Thus it is still the same old monkery, only with a different mask. Therefore the artists have hit it exactly right when they portrayed the devil in a monk’s cowl, with his devilish claws protruding underneath.29 Since the beginning of the world, all he has been doing is seducing the world by monkery.
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 (21:247). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Matthew 7:13. Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.
14. For the gate is narrow, and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Our dear Lord has now finished preaching. Finally He closes this sermon with several warnings, to arm us against all kinds of hindrances and offenses of both doctrine and life that we confront in the world. Truly the teaching has been beautiful and precious. It is extensive, and at the same time it is brief and compact, contained in a single word, to make it easy to say and understand. Now comes the toil and trouble of applying it in life. It is really a hard and tough life to be a Christian or a pious man, and it will not taste sweet to us. As that good girl said: “It takes a lot to be honorable.” Indeed it does, and it takes a great deal more to lead a Christian life. Our dear Lord has in mind here that people may find it appealing and think to themselves: “I would like to live that way, but it takes a great deal.” Christ says: “That is what I am saying, too. Therefore I am warning you to be on the lookout and not to let yourself be turned aside if it is a little sour and difficult, for it cannot be and will not be any other way in the world.” A Christian has to know this and be armed against it, so that he does not let it trouble him or hinder him if the whole world lives otherwise. On no account dare he imitate the great mob, something Moses forbade already in Exodus 23:2: “You shall not follow the multitude to do evil”; as though he were saying: “You will always see the continuous activity of offense in the world.” As Christ says here: “The way to destruction is broad, and those who walk upon it are many; the gate is very wide, to let the crowd pass through it.”
That is the great offense that disconcerts a great many people and causes them to fall away from us. In fact, it gave headaches to the prophets and the saints, as David often complains in the Psalter. He does so in great detail in Psalm 73:3–5: “It vexed me when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they are not in danger of death, but they stand adorned like a palace. They are not in trouble as other men; they are not stricken like other men.” In other words, he says: “They are successful on earth; they get rich, they have their house and home full, they live riotously, and they do whatever they please or whatever comes to their mind. But what do I do, by contrast?” “I must be pious and suffer, and I am stricken all the day long, I am chastened every morning” (Ps. 73:14). That is: “If I transgress the least little bit, He is immediately behind me with the rod. That is all I get for being pious. Over there, they have nothing but honor and joy. That is why the whole world sides with them and everybody praises and exalts them.” We saw that under the papacy. A person had only to put on clerical garb for the whole world to stage a celebration in his honor. Everyone lent a helping hand, and blessed was the mother who bore him (Luke 11:27). It is the same way now. As long as someone is an enemy to us, they hold him in high honor and esteem, let him live as he pleases. It troubled the dear fathers that they had to see the world having success with its wickedness, with everyone praising it and running after it. Meanwhile they were supposed to be pious and to have nothing in exchange except trouble, and to suffer contempt and persecution from everyone.
Christ wants to point this out and to warn His followers that in the world everyone should live as though he were alone and should consider His Word and preaching as the very greatest thing on earth, thinking this way to himself: “I see my neighbor and the whole city, yes, the whole world, living differently. All those who are great or noble or rich, the princes and the lords, are allied with it. Nevertheless I have an ally who is greater than all of them, namely, Christ and His Word. When I am all alone, therefore, I am still not alone. Because I have the Word of God, I have Christ with me, together with all the dear angels and all the saints since the beginning of the world. Actually there is a bigger crowd and a more glorious procession surrounding me than there could be in the whole world now. Only I cannot see it with my eyes, and I have to watch and bear the offense of having so many people forsake me or live and act in opposition to me.” You must hold on to this if you want to endure. Otherwise this offense will overwhelm you when you see how other people live and believe. This is the strongest argument that the Turks employ: “Do you suppose that God is so terrible that He would condemn a whole wide world?” The papists argue the same way: “Do you suppose that only what you drag out of your corner is right and that the whole world is damned? Were so many popes, bishops, holy fathers, kings, and princes completely mistaken?” They stress this so insistently that no one can tear them loose from it. They draw the certain conclusion that our doctrine is not correct, and yet the only basis they have is this: “There are many of us and few of them. We are pious and learned and wise; we are the people of God; and we sit in the apostles’ seat. Therefore we cannot err. Christ has not forsaken His church, nor God His people. It is impossible for God to damn so many outstanding people for the sake of a few. After all, He did not create heaven for nothing!”
Against all this Christ teaches as follows: “Put out your eyes, or at least turn them away. On no account must you look at the great mob, but only at the Word of God. You must know that it should and must be this way. The way to destruction is broad, and the gate is wide, and many enter by it. On the other hand, the gate to life is narrow, and the way is hard, and those who travel it are very few.” Therefore the argument does not hold when the Turk and the pope boast about their faith: “There are many of us, and we have believed this for a long time. Therefore it must be right.” Christ bluntly declares the opposite. He calls the road that is broad and well traveled “the way to destruction,” and He warns that it should not be a source of offense to us that there are so few of us and the other mob is so large. This little morsel is quite hard to digest if you really feel it. I myself have often choked on it and thought: “We are such a tiny and poor little flock, despised and condemned by everything high and great on earth. Do we have a right to defy the whole world, to boast that only our cause is right, and to pronounce the judgment on all of them that the pope and the bishops and all their supporters belong to the devil?” But we must overcome this and conclude: “I know that my cause is right, though the whole world may say otherwise.”
How the dear Virgin Mary must have felt when the angel came and brought her the message that she was to be the mother of the Highest (Luke 1:26 ff.)! Who was standing near her and believed this or that supported her? Should she have considered the fact that there were available the daughters of so many rich, noble, and great lords and princes? Could not God have found any other one for this high work? Yet the only virgin He called to it was she, a poor, unknown, and despised maiden. What should the patriarch Abraham have done when he had to move out of Chaldea (Gen. 12:1 ff.) and travel alone, as if he were the only Christian and the whole world were damned? But he could not let this divert him, nor could he pay attention to other people. Instead he had to say: “How God deals with the whole world I will leave in His care. I will cling to His Word and follow that, regardless of whether I see the whole world going differently.” So also Mary must have thought: “I shall let God worry about what He is to do with others. I will abide by the Word that I hear, telling me what He plans to do with me.” So we, too, must argue: “I see the pope, the bishops, the princes, the sects, the townspeople, and the peasants acting as they please, smugly despising and mocking us; and I might say: ‘Do you imagine that only you are right against all of these?’ But be gone, pope and princes, scholars and the whole world! I know that the doctrine is correct and that it is the Word of God. I will stick to that, please God, come what may.”
Now Christ intends to say: “I have taught you this to make you see how very few people are on your side and how many will teach and live in opposition to you. This will give you a headache, but hold tight, and do not let it get you angry. You should know that this is how it should and must be, and you should remember that I told you beforehand: ‘The gate to life is narrow, and the way is hard, but the other way is wide and easy.’ Therefore do not let that divert you. Listen to what I am saying to you, and follow Me. I have traveled over the narrow way, and so have all the saints. You must travel that way, too, if you want to come to Me. Let the others travel their wide way. Wait and see how narrow the pit will be into which they will have to enter. But you, who now have to travel through the narrow gate on the hard way, will come into a beautiful room, as large and as wide as heaven and earth.”
What is it that makes the way so narrow and hard? None other than the devil himself, the world, and our own lazy flesh. It is resistant and defensive, and it refuses to go on trusting God and clinging to His Word. It cannot stand poverty, danger, and the contempt of the world. In other words, it would like to travel on the wide road. Therefore it makes this road distasteful and hard for us. Next comes the world, with its persecution, hanging, murder, fire, and drowning, all because we refuse to travel on the wide way with it. If there is nothing else it can do, it venomously slanders and disgraces us, hounding us with sword, fire, and water. Thus it is a hard-enough fight to stand there and battle against our own flesh, trusting God, loving our neighbor, living chastely, and remaining in our calling.19 If we manage to do all this by hard labor, then the world has to add to it by persecuting and slandering us as the worst criminals on earth, to make our life even harder. And then comes the devil himself. He tortures the heart with evil thoughts of unbelief, fear, dread, and despair. Everything good that we do he turns into sin and shame. Surrounded by such enemies, we are still supposed to stand firm and to keep our goal in mind. It would be easy to get disgusted, to fall back, and to say: “I see them resting and having a good time. They move along quietly and peacefully, and they have the reputation, the glory, and the honor of being the true servants of God. Why should I be the only one to let myself be tormented, vexed, and disgraced so terribly? I want to stay where all of them stay.”
The ancients portrayed this well in the legend of the knight Tondalo.20 Only they did not interpret it correctly, because they applied it to purgatory or the pain of souls after this life. With a burden on his back, he had to cross a narrow bridge, barely wider than a hand. Beneath him was a pool of sulphur, full of dragons, and approaching him was someone to whom he had to yield. That harmonizes beautifully with this statement. The life of a Christian is as hard as if he were walking on a narrow path, in fact, on nothing but razors. Beneath us in the world is the devil, who is continually snapping at us with his jaws in order to bring on impatience, despair, and murmuring against God. In addition, the world is advancing on us, and it refuses either to yield to us or to let us pass. And around our neck lies our own flesh. Thus we are hemmed in on every side. The way itself is so narrow that it would be difficult enough even if there were no dangers or obstacles in the way. Nevertheless we have to go through or become the property of the world and the devil.
Think about this, and guide yourself accordingly. If you want to be a Christian, then be one. It will never be any different. You will never make the way any wider, and you have to watch how few travel on it, while the great mob travels over there. But let this be your comfort: first, that God is standing next to you; and second, that after you have gone through, you will enter a beautiful and wide room. If you just cling to the Word, guiding yourself by it, and not by what your eyes see, He will certainly be next to you. He will be so strong that your spirit will overcome the flesh, the world, and the devil, who will be unable to do anything with your flesh or with the world or with himself. The Word to which you cling by faith is too strong for him, though it seems tiny and we do not see it. But he knows very well what it is capable of doing, since he has often tried it out and felt what a power and military force it can be when you believe in it. That is why the prophet can be so defiant in Psalm 118:6, 12, 13: “With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can man do to me? They surrounded me like bees, they blazed like a fire of thorns; in the name of the Lord I cut them off! I was pushed hard so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me.” You see, he does not have anything either except the Word and the faith that the Lord is alongside him, though he still does not see Him. He does feel the world and the flesh, making his way narrow and embittering his life. Still he stands firm. It is enough for him that the Lord is next to him and allied with him, and he is sure that He will continue to be his Ally and will conquer, though the whole world were to oppose him.
We, too, have to become accustomed to this comfort by learning to make the narrow gate and the hard way into a wide room and the little flock into a large crowd. Then we shall not go on staring with our eyes wide open, but by faith and the Word we shall guide ourselves by what is invisible. Christ Himself and the whole heavenly host are at my side and have traveled this very same way, preceding me to heaven in a beautiful and long procession. Until the Last Day all Christendom will be traveling on the same road. Where He goes and stays, there all of them must go and stay. Thus our way becomes light and easy, and we go on through with good cheer. To this Christ invites us when He says (Matt. 11:28–30): “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” It is as if He wanted to say: “Do not be vexed by what I lay upon you in the world. It is a yoke and a burden for the flesh, and it is called a hard way and a narrow gate. But just cling to Me, and I will make it nice for you, pleasant and easy, giving you enough strength to travel the road with ease. What is more, you will experience how it becomes pleasant and sweet for you.”
It is certainly true, if we accurately total up both sides, that the believers have the advantage. Therefore they should not want to trade places with the wicked. The wicked live riotously, while the believers have to suffer a great deal. Nevertheless the wicked torment and trouble themselves ten times as much as they do us with their venomous and restless hatred, with their unsuccessful efforts to do us harm, and with all kinds of wicked actions and tricks. Thus they make themselves guilty. They cannot have a good conscience or a single joyful hour, and they are their own devils here on earth. And with all this they do not do anything to us except to soil us and weigh us down a little, as much as God permits.
But those who believe in Christ do not need such anxieties and trouble. We can have a joyful heart and conscience in spite of the fact that we are weighed down a little and pinched by the devil. He has to let up, and meanwhile we are refreshed by the Word. Thus our burden and weight becomes sweet, and all we have is half a torment, on the outside in the outward man. They are the devil’s victims twice; they have their hell both here and hereafter, with eternal torment and a restless conscience because of their bloodshed and murder. Thus they cannot get any cheerful or kind thoughts toward God, even though outwardly they may have a little fun and pleasure. It serves them right, as the Scriptures say (Jer. 17:18): “Lord, destroy them with double destruction.” You see, this way the Lord in His faithfulness wants us to be warned and then also comforted, so that we do not mind when our life is embittered and we have to see and feel so much offense in the world. For if we look at it correctly, it is only half embittered for us. Through Christ, in whom we believe, everything in our heart becomes sweet and brings life and eternal joy. What does it matter, then, if the old Adam is weighed down a little in the process?
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 (21:241). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Matthew 7:12. So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the Law and the Prophets.

With these words He concludes the teaching He has been giving in these three chapters, and wraps it all up in a little package where it can all be found. Thus everyone can put it in his bosom and keep it; it is as if He were saying: “Would you like to know what I have been preaching, and what Moses and all the Prophets teach you? I shall tell it to you so briefly and put it in such a way that you dare not complain about its being too long or too hard to remember.” This is the kind of sermon that can be expanded or contracted; from it all teaching and preaching go forth and are broadcast, and here they come back together. How could it be put more succinctly and clearly than in these words? The trouble is that the world and our old Adam refuse to let us ponder what He says and measure our lives against the standard of this teaching. We let it go in one ear and out the other. If we always measured our lives and actions against this standard, we would not be so coarse and heedless in what we do, but we would always have enough to do. We could become our own teachers, teaching ourselves what we ought to do; and we would not have to chase after holy lives and holy works, nor would we need many lawyers and law books. This is stated briefly and learned easily, if we only were diligent and serious in acting and living according to it.
Let me illustrate it with a somewhat crude example. Surely there is no one who would enjoy being robbed; if he asks his own heart about this, he has to say that he really would not enjoy it at all. Now, why does he fail to draw the conclusion that he should treat others the way he wants to be treated? At a market, you see everyone marking up his prices as high as he pleases, asking 30 pfennigs for something that is not worth 10. If you ask him, “Friend, would you want to be treated that way?” he must be honest and reasonable enough to say: “I would be willing to pay for it what its market value is and what would be reasonable and proper, so that I am not overcharged.” There, you see, your heart is telling you honestly how you would like to be treated. And your conscience is arguing that you should treat others the same way; it can teach you well about your relations with your neighbor in buying and selling and all kinds of business, all things belonging to the Seventh Commandment (Ex. 20:15): “You shall not steal.”
It is the same with the other Commandments. If you have a wife, a daughter, or a maid, you would not want her to be corrupted or to acquire a bad reputation. You want everyone to respect her, to treat her well, and to speak the best about her. Then why are you so perverse that you yearn for someone else’s wife and want to corrupt her yourself? Why do you not help to improve her reputation, instead of finding pleasure in talking behind her back and slandering her? Similarly, you would not want anyone to do you injury or harm, to malign you, or to do anything like that. Then why do you yourself violate the rule and standard that you demand of others and want them to keep? How can you judge, criticize, and condemn someone else if he does not treat you that way? Why do you refuse to obey your own rule? Go through all the commandments of the Second Table this way, and you will find that this is really the summary of all possible sermons, as He Himself says here. Thus this is properly termed a short sermon. But on the other hand, if it were expanded through all the details it implies, it is such a long sermon that it would be endless, since the things that will be done on earth until the Last Day are innumerable. It takes a good teacher to condense and summarize such a long-drawn-out sermon in such a way that everyone can carry it home with him, be reminded of it daily, and see what is missing in his whole life; for he has it written in his own heart, in fact, in his whole life and activity, as we shall hear in more detail.
I am convinced, moreover, that it would be influential and productive of fruit if we only got into the habit of remembering it and were not so lazy and inattentive. I do not regard anyone as so coarse or so evil that he would shirk this or be offended at it if he really kept it in mind. It was certainly clever of Christ to state it this way. The only example He sets up is ourselves, and He makes this as intimate as possible by applying it to our heart, our body and life, and all our members. No one has to travel far to get it, or devote much trouble or expense to it. The book is laid into your own bosom, and it is so clear that you do not need glasses to understand Moses and the Law. Thus you are your own Bible, your own teacher, your own theologian, and your own preacher. The way He directs you, you only need one look at them to find out how the book pervades all your works and words and thoughts, your heart and body and soul. Just guide yourself by this, and you will be more wise and learned than all the skill and all the books of the lawyers.
To take a crude example again: If you are a manual laborer, you find that the Bible has been put into your workshop, into your hand, into your heart. It teaches and preaches how you should treat your neighbor. Just look at your tools—at your needle or thimble, your beer barrel, your goods, your scales or yardstick or measure—and you will read this statement inscribed on them. Everywhere you look, it stares at you. Nothing that you handle every day is so tiny that it does not continually tell you this, if you will only listen. Indeed, there is no shortage of preaching. You have as many preachers as you have transactions, goods, tools, and other equipment in your house and home. All this is eontinually crying out to you: “Friend, use me in your relations with your neighbor just as you would want your neighbor to use his property in his relations with you.” In this way, you see, this teaching would be inscribed everywhere we look, and engraved upon our entire life, if we only had ears willing to hear it and eyes willing to see it. It is being presented to us in such abundance that no one can give the excuse that he did not know it or that it was not announced and preached to him often enough. But we are like the vipers, which stop up their ears and become deaf when someone tries to trap them.16 We refuse to see or hear what is inscribed on our own heart and thoughts, and we plunge in recklessly: “Ha! What do I care about somebody else? I may do business with my own possessions as I please, and sell them for as much as I can get for them. Who is going to stop me?” That is what Squire Skinflint and Squire Squeeze17 do at the market. If someone rebukes and threatens them from the Word of God, they simply laugh and mock and become firmer in their wickedness. But we are not preaching to such people, and neither is Christ. He wants to have nothing to do with them and despises them as much as they do Him. He will let them go to the devil, so that He and they will have nothing further to do with each other.
Those who want to be pious, who fear God, and who think about how to live and behave, must know that they simply have no right to do business with their property and manage it as they please, as though they themselves were the lords of all. They have the obligation to carry on their business in a proper and orderly way; this is why there is territorial and civil law. That is how everyone would want his neighbor to treat him; therefore he should also treat his neighbor that way, taking and offering only good merchandise. Christ means this commandment seriously, and He will not let it be made free or optional, as though one could obey it or disobey it with impunity. He will enforce it, too, however much the world may take it as an insult and despise it. If you do not obey it, He will deal with you according to your own standard and judgment, and it will strike you in your house and home. You will have no blessing from what you have acquired in disobedience to this teaching, but you and your children will have only trouble and sorrow. He wants His commandment to be kept; otherwise you will have neither property nor good fortune.
In the second place, Christ not only makes this so intimate, as we have said, that we have to see it in everything we look at, He also portrays it in such a way that everyone has to blush in shame over himself. There is no one who enjoys doing something wrong when other people can see it. No one dares to sin publicly, in the presence of people, with the same freedom as he does privately, where no one can see him. So Christ intends here to appoint us as our own witnesses and to make us afraid of ourselves. Then if we do something wrong, our conscience will stand up against us with this commandment, as an eternal witness, and say: “Look here, what are you doing? According to the usual fair-business practice, you ought to put such and such a price on this. But you are putting on a much higher price. Or the way you are debasing and misrepresenting this merchandise, you would not want to have someone else sell you something like that.” How it would annoy you if someone charged you a gulden for something barely worth ten groschen! If you had one drop of honest blood in your body, you would have to be ashamed of yourself. If someone else acted this way, you would call him a thief and a villain. Then why are you not ashamed of yourself, since it is not someone else but yourself who has to make this accusation, and you are condemned by your own conscience? This may be all right for a brazen hardhead, who has no sense of shame before the people or before himself, much less before God. But when someone else treats you that way you can quickly exclaim: “Is it not a sin and a shame and a clever18 way of robbing my wallet?” You can quickly recognize a thief and a villain in someone else; but you refuse to see the one working in your own breast, whom you can easily catch and feel.
Oh, how many fellows like this there are in all the businesses and trades! They go along, smugly deceiving and cheating the people wherever they can; still they refuse to be called thieves and villains, so long as they do it secretly and adroitly. If everyone had to give back what he has stolen and robbed in his business or job, very few people would be able to keep anything. Yet they go along like pious people, because no one dares to accuse and denounce them publicly. They suppose that they are sinless; yet if they look around, every corner of their house and home is full of theft and, by God, they do not have a single gulden or two in the house that was not stolen. Yet none of this is supposed to be called theft. If it were merely theft, and not murder in addition! Shoddy merchandise or unwholesome food and drink can make people weak and sick. Thus you deprive them not only of their money but also of their health. Many a person eats and drinks and then gets sick and often dies as a result. My friend, except for the name, is this not as bad as breaking into his house or rifling his treasure chest or striking him dead?
Now, if you were not such a heinous and brazen person, you would be ashamed when your conscience says this to you and reminds you of this saying. It would give you pause. In fact, it would make you so afraid that you would be unable to remain at rest anywhere on account of it. This burden continually oppresses us and drives us. It is an eternal witness against us, always condemning us, so that it becomes unbearable. It would soon teach you that you have to stop this robbing and stealing and whatever else you would not like to have someone else do to you. Get used to looking at this saying once in a while and practicing it on yourself. Thus in your whole existence, in every task in which you have contact and dealings with your neighbor, you have a daily sermon in your heart. From it you can easily learn to understand all the commandments and the whole Law, how to control and conduct yourself personally and socially. On this basis you can easily decide what is right and wrong in the world.
But you may say: “How can He say that the Law and the Prophets consist in this? Do not the Scriptures of the Law and the Prophets contain much more than this? They contain the doctrine of faith and promises, which are not mentioned here.” The answer is that here Christ names the Law and the Prophets in direct contrast to the Gospel or the promise. He is not preaching here about the sublime doctrine of faith in Christ but only about good works. These are two distinctive proclamations; both must be preached, but each at its appropriate time. You can tell that plainly from the words in the text where He says: “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.” By this He indicates that His preaching here does not go beyond the relation that people have with us and we with them, and that it is not talking about the grace of Christ which we receive from God. What He intends to say now is this: “When the time comes to preach about the good life and about the works which we should perform in our relations with our neighbor, you will find nothing in all the Law and the Prophets except what this saying teaches.” He uses the words “men” and “do so to them” to specify that He is discussing only the commandments of the Second Table.
The best thing in the saying is that He does not say, “Other people shall do so to you,” but, “You shall do so to other people.” Everyone would like to have others do good to him. There are many villains and rascals who have no objection if other people are pious and do good to them, but they refuse to treat anyone else that way. So our peasants nowadays suppose that it is an injustice and a great burden that they are required to give fair measure, and yet they can yell and complain that their taxes are robbery. Such people are simply snakes. Now, some are a little better when they say: “I would be willing to take my turn and to do what I should if other people did it to me first.” This saying declares: “You should do what you expect from another.” If you want others to do it to you, you begin and be the first. And if they refuse, you do it anyway. If you will not be pious and do good until you see it in someone else, nothing will ever come of it. If others refuse, you are still obliged to do it, on the basis of the Law and of what this ordinance declares to be right, since that is how you would like to be treated. Whoever wants to be pious must not let himself be diverted by the example of other people. It is not right for you to say: “He cheated me, and so I have to do him dirt in turn.” Because you do not like it, do not do it to him; begin with the way you would like to be treated. By your example you may prompt other people to do good to you in turn, even those who used to do you damage before. When you do not do good yourself, your reward is that no one does good to you either. And it serves you right, before God and the people.
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 (21:235). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Matthew 7:7. Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
8. For every one who asks, receives, and he who seeks, finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
9. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for a loaf, will give him a stone?
10. Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?
11. If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?

After teaching His disciples and instituting the office of the ministry, telling them what they are expected to preach and how they are to live, Christ, the Lord, now adds an admonition to prayer. By this He intends to teach them that, second only to the office of preaching, prayer is the chief work of a Christian and an inseparable part of the sermon. He also wants to indicate that because of all the temptations and hindrances we face, nothing is more necessary in Christendom than continual and unceasing prayer that God would give His grace and His Spirit to make the doctrine powerful and efficacious among us and among others. That is why, in the words we quoted from the prophet Zechariah (Zech. 12:10),13 God promised that He would pour out upon the Christians a Spirit of grace and of supplication. In these two items He summarizes all Christian existence.
Now, what He intends to say is this: “I have given you instructions about how you ought to live and what you ought to watch out for. In addition, it is necessary that you ask and that you have the confidence to go right on seeking and knocking without becoming lazy or lax in it. You will have need of asking, seeking, and knocking. Though doctrine and life may both have begun all right, we shall have to suffer14 from all sorts of transgressions and offenses that hinder us daily and keep us from progressing. We battle against these continually with all our might, but the strongest shield we have is prayer. If we do not use that, it is impossible for us to hold our own and to go on being Christians. We can plainly see now not only the sort of obstacles that oppose the Gospel every day, but also our own neglect of prayer and our attitude, as though this warning and admonition did not refer to us and we did not need prayer any more, now that the useless chattering and muttering of the rosaries and the other idolatrous prayers have stopped. All this is not a good sign, and it makes me afraid that some great misfortune which we could have prevented will overtake us.
Therefore every Christian should pay attention to this admonition. It is, in the first place, a commandment, as much as the previous statement, “Judge not” is a commandment. He should know that he is obliged to practice this Christian work. He should not be like that peasant who said: “I give grain to my minister, and he prays for me”; or like the people who think: “What is the use of my praying? If I do not pray, others do.” We must not suppose that it is no concern of ours or that it is left up to our free choice; but I have given more detailed admonition on this elsewhere.15 In the second place, you have here the comforting promise and rich assurance that He attaches to prayer, to make it evident that He cares about it and to teach us to think about prayer as something dear and precious before God, because His admonition is so serious and His invitation so friendly, and He promises that we shall not ask in vain. Even if we had no other reason or attraction than this rich and friendly word, it should be enough to prompt us to pray. I shall not even talk about how dear His exhortation is or how sublime His command or how desperate our need.
Our own desperate need should be enough to make us pray. But in addition, as though that were not enough, He seeks to draw us to it by means of the beautiful analogy of every father’s relation to his son. Though the son may be a good-for-nothing scamp, still he will not give him a serpent when he asks him for a fish. From that he draws these consoling words: “If you can do this, though you do not have a good nature or a single good trait in comparison with God, will not God, your heavenly Father, whose nature is completely good, give you good things if you ask Him for them?” This is the most sublime attraction by which anyone can be persuaded to pray, if we just looked at these words and took them to heart.
We have already spoken of the need that prompts Him to give this admonition and should prompt us to ask. Once you have the Word of God right and have made a good start in both doctrine and life, then inevitably temptation and opposition arise, not one kind but thousands of kinds. In the first place, there is our own flesh, that rotten old bag. It quickly becomes bored, inattentive, and indifferent to the Word of God and the good life. Thus we always have less of wisdom and of the Word of God, of faith and love and patience, than we should. This is the first enemy hanging around our neck so heavily every day that he keeps dragging us that way. Next comes the second enemy, the world. It begrudges us the dear Word and faith and refuses to put up with anything in us, no matter how weak we may be. It goes ahead and condemns us, it tries to take away what we have, and it gives us no peace.
Those are two great temptations that hinder us inwardly in our prayer, and outwardly try to chase us away from it. Therefore all we can do is to go on crying to God, asking Him to strengthen and advance His Word in us and to restrain the persecutors and the sects so that it is not extinguished. Now, the third enemy is the strongest of all, the devil himself. He has us at a great disadvantage for two reasons: by nature we are not good; and in addition we are weak in faith and in spirit. Thus he invades my own castle and baffles against me. He also has the world on his side, and he incites all the sects against me. Through them he shoots his flaming, poisonous darts (Eph. 6:16) at me, to wear me down, to extinguish the Word in me again and to smother it, and to establish his control as he once had it, without any danger of being expelled. There, you see, are three troubles that press us down hard and will not get off our neck as long as we have life and breath. Hence we have continual reason for prayer and invocation. This is why He adds the words “ask,” “seek,” and “knock,” to indicate that we do not have everything yet but that our situation is one of shortcomings and needs everywhere. If we had everything, we would not need to ask or seek; if we were already in heaven, we would not need to knock.
Thus the highest temptations involve the service of God and the Word of God. We also have the common and temporal need of this life on earth. We should pray God to grant us the blessing of peace and a good government and to protect us from all kinds of trouble, from sickness and pestilence, from famine and bloodshed and bad weather. You are not beyond the reach of death yet, nor have you eaten up all your daily bread; hence you dare not stop praying for Him to give it to you daily. Similarly, because daily you have to watch so much shameful behavior everywhere, you have to go on praying in support of the government and in opposition to vices of every sort and the tendency of people to rob and steal from one another. Over and above all this you have your wife and children and servants to control at home. Thus you have your hands full; for whoever intends to keep and observe both Christian and imperial righteousness throughout his life has taken on more than one man’s task and assignment.
What shall we do? We face so many great needs and obstacles that we could not escape them even by slamming the door in their face. I am so lazy and lax in my attention to the Word of God and to everything good. How can I prevent my own death, or the riots and rumpus that the world causes, or the raging of the devil, or the trouble and misfortune everywhere? Now, because Christ, our Lord, knows this well, He wants to be a good and faithful physician and to show us a precious and powerful medicine. He wants to teach us what to do, as though He were saying: “The world is insane. It tries to get rid of its insanity by the use of wisdom and reason; and it looks for many ways and means, for all sorts of help and advice on how to escape this distress. But the shortest and surest way is to go into a little room (Matt. 6:6) or a corner and there to open up your heart and to pour it out before God, filled with complaints and sighs, but also with confidence and trust that as your faithful heavenly Father He wants to give you His help and advice in this distress.” In Isaiah 37 we read the story of King Hezekiah. The enemy was besieging the city with a great army and was so oppressing him and overwhelming him that, by human standards, the situation was utterly hopeless. Then the enemy ridiculed him mercilessly and made fun of his misfortune by writing him a letter full of blasphemy. The pious king might well have despaired; but all he did was to go up into the temple, spread the letter before God on the altar, and fall down and pray from his heart. Soon he was heard and helped.
But getting ourselves to the point of praying causes us distress and anguish, and this requires the greatest skill. With our own concerns and thoughts we torture ourselves and stew over trying to pull this off our neck and to get rid of it. There is an evil and clever devil riding me and other people and frequently playing these tricks on me in my temptation or anxiety, whether it has to do with spiritual or with secular affairs. He immediately butts in and makes you start stewing over it. In this way he snatches us from our prayer and makes us so dizzy that we do not even think of praying. By the time you begin praying you have already tortured yourself half to death. He is well aware of what prayer achieves and can do. That is why he creates so many obstacles and disturbances, to keep you from getting around to it at all. Hence we ought to learn to take these words to heart. We should develop the habit, whenever we see anguish or need, to fall on our knees immediately and to spread the need before God, on the basis of this admonition and promise. Then we would find help and would not have to torture ourselves with our own ideas about looking for help. This is a very precious medicine, one that certainly helps and never fails, if you will only use it.
The right way of praying has been adequately discussed above, and also elsewhere. Here we are discussing only the power of prayer and the motivation for it. The principal thing to do is, first of all, to look at the Word of God. It will teach you what you should believe from your heart, to make you certain that your faith, Gospel, and Christ are correct and that your station in life is pleasing to God. Soon you will see the devil opposing you, and you will sense all sorts of inadequacies, inwardly in your faith and outwardly in your station. The whole world will seem to be turning topsy-turvy and swarming with temptations. When you feel this way, be wise enough to force your heart to start praying immediately and to say: “Dear Lord, I have Thy Word, and I am in the station that pleases Thee. This much I know. Thou seest all my inadequacies, and I know no help except in Thee. Help Thou, therefore, because Thou hast commanded that we should ask, seek, and knock, and hast said that then we shall surely receive, find, and have what we want.” If you form this resolution and habit of confident prayer and you do not receive, come around and accuse me of lying to you. Though He may not give it to you that very instant, still He will give you enough so that your heart will receive comfort and strength until the time when He gives more abundantly (Eph. 3:20) than you could have hoped. This is another good thing about prayer. If you use it and practice it and thus ponder the Word of His promise, your heart keeps getting stronger and firmer in its confidence, and finally gets much more than it would have otherwise.
I could prove this easily from my own example and from that of other pious people. I have tried it, and so have many people with me. Thus at the Diet of Augsburg the devil was trying to devour us. The situation was so desperate and intense that the whole world expected violence to break out, as some spiteful people had been threatening. The swords were already drawn, and the guns loaded. But through our prayers God came to our aid and made it possible for those screamers, with their scratching and threatening, to get what was coming to them. He gave us a good peace and a year of grace, the likes of which there have not been for a long time, better than we could have hoped for. Now if danger and distress arise again, we will ask Him again, and He will help and deliver us again. Of course, He may let us suffer oppression for a little while in order to strengthen us and to drive us to pray that much harder. What sort of prayer would there be if there were no distress oppressing us until we felt it? Feeling your distress helps to make your prayer stronger. Let everyone, therefore, learn not to despise his prayer, nor to doubt that it will surely be heard and that in God’s good time he will receive what he wants.
Why does Christ use so many words? He lists three items: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” One would have been enough. It is evident, as has been said, that by this He intends to admonish us even more strongly to pray. He knows that we are timid and shy, that we feel unworthy and unfit to present our needs to God. We feel the needs, but we cannot express them. We think that God is so great and we are so tiny that we do not dare to pray. This, too, is a great hindrance from the devil, and it does great damage to prayer. That is why Christ wants to lure us away from such timid thoughts, to remove our doubts, and to have us go ahead confidently and boldly. Though I am unworthy, I am still His creature; and since He has made me worthy of being His creature, I am also worthy of receiving what He has promised and so generously offered to me. In other words, if I am unworthy, He and His promise are not unworthy. You can venture on this vigorously and trustfully, you can put it in His lap joyfully and confidently. But above all, be sure that you really believe in Christ and that you have a proper occupation, one that pleases God, so that you are not like the world, which does not care about its occupation but only about the vices and the villainy that it goes right on planning day and night.
It would be possible to interpret the three statements to mean that He is repeating the same thing in different words to point to that constancy in prayer about which St. Paul admonishes in Romans 12:12: “Constant in prayer.” Then it would be equivalent to His saying: “It is not enough just to begin and to sigh once, to recite a prayer and then to go away. As your need is, so should your prayer be. Your need does not attack you once and then let you go. It hangs on, it falls around your neck again, and it refuses to let go. You act the same way! Pray continually, and seek and knock, too, and do not let go.” This is the lesson of the parable in Luke 18:1–8 about the widow. She was so persistent and importunate in her refusal to let go of the judge that he was overpowered and had to help her in spite of himself. How much more, Christ argues there (Luke 18:7), will God give us if He sees that we do not stop praying but go right on knocking so that He has to hear it? This is all the more so because He has promised to do so and shows that such persistence is pleasing to Him. Since your need goes right on knocking, therefore, you go right on knocking, too, and do not relent. For you have His Word, and He will have to say: “All right, then, you may have what you want.” St. James speaks of this in his Epistle when he says (James 5:16): “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” if it is serious and persistent; and in support of this he cites the example from the Scriptures of the prophet Elijah (James 5:16, 17). By urging you not only to ask but also to knock, God intends to test you to see whether you can hold on tight, and to teach you that your prayer is not displeasing to Him or unheard, simply because His answer is delayed and you are permitted to go on seeking and knocking.
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 (21:228). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Matthew 7:6. Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

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