TRANSLATED BY WILLIAM HAZLITT, Esq.
The Lutheran Publication Society
Typed by: Kathy Sewell firstname.lastname@example.org
June 1, 1997
This book is in the public domain
That the Bible is God's Word and book I prove thus: All things that have been, and are, in the world, and the manner of their being, are described in the first book of Moses on the creation; even as God made and shaped the world, so does it stand to this day. Infinite potentates have raged against this book, and sought to destroy and uproot it - king Alexander the Great, the princes of Egypt and of Babylon, the monarchs of Persia, of Greece, and of Rome, the emperors Julius and Augustus - but they nothing prevailed; they are all gone and vanished, while the book remains, and will remain for ever and ever, perfect and entire, as it was declared at first. Who has thus helped it - who has thus protected it against such mighty forces? No one, surely, but God himself, who is the master of all things. And `tis no small miracle how God has so long preserved and protected this book; for the devil and the world are sore foes to it. I believe that the devil has destroyed many good books of the church, as, aforetime, he killed and crushed many holy persons, the memory of whom has now passed away; but the Bible he was fain to leave subsisting. In like manner have baptism, the sacrament of the altar, of the true body and blood of Christ, and the office of preaching remained unto us, despite the infinitude of tyrants and heretic persecutors. God, with singular strength, has upheld these things; let us, then, baptize, administer the sacrament, and preach, fearless of impediment. Homer, Virgil, and other noble, fine, and profitable writers, have left us books of great antiquity, but they are naught to the Bible. While the Romish church stood, the Bible was never given to the people in such a shape that they could clearly, understandingly, surely, and easily read it, as they now can in the German translation, which, thank God, we have prepared here at Wittenberg.
The Holy Scriptures are full of divine gifts and virtues. The books of the heathen taught nothing of faith, hope, or charity; they present no idea of these things; they contemplate only the present, and that which man, with the use of his material reason, can grasp and comprehend. Look not therein for aught of hope or trust in God. But see how the Psalms and the Book of Job treat of faith, hope, resignation, and prayer; in a word, the Holy Scripture is the highest and best of books, abounding in comfort under all afflictions and trials. It teaches us to see, to feel, to grasp, and to comprehend faith, hope, and charity, far otherwise than mere human reason can; and when evil oppresses us, it teaches how these virtues throw light upon the darkness, and how, after this poor miserable existence of ours on earth, there is another and an eternal life.
St Jerome, after he had revised and corrected the Septuagint, translated the Bible from Hebrew into Latin; His version is still used in our church. Truly, for one man, this was work enough and to spare. Nulla enim privata persona tantum efficere potuisset. `Twould have been quite as well had he called to his aid one or two learned men, for the Holy Ghost would then have more powerfully manifested itself unto him, according to the words of Christ: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Interpreters and translators should not work alone; for good et propria verba do not always occur to one mind.
We ought not to criticize, explain, or judge the Scriptures by our mere reason, but diligently, with prayer, meditate thereon, and seek their meaning. The devil and temptations also afford us occasion to learn and understand the Scriptures, by experience and practice. Without these we should never understand them, however diligently we read and listened to them. The Holy Ghost must here be our only master and tutor; and let youth have no shame to learn of that preceptor. When I find myself assailed by temptation, I forthwith lay hold of some text of the Bible, which Jesus extends to me; as this: that he died for me, whence I derive infinite comfort.
He who has made himself master of the principles and text of the word runs little risk of committing errors. A theologian should be thoroughly in possession of the basis and source of faith - that is to say, the Holy Scriptures. Armed with this knowledge it was that I confounded and silenced all my adversaries; for they seek not to fathom and understand the Scriptures; they run them over negligently and drowsily; they speak, they write, they teach, according to the suggestion of their heedless imaginations. My counsel is, that we draw water from the true source and fountain, that is, that we diligently search the Scriptures. He who wholly possesses the text of the Bible, is a consummate divine. One single verse, one sentence of the text, is of far more instruction than a whole host of glosses and commentaries, which are neither strongly penetrating nor armor of proof. As, when I have that text before me of St Paul: "All the creatures of God are good, if they be received with thanksgiving," this text shows, that what God has made is good. Now eating, drinking, marrying, etc., are of God's making, therefore they are good. Yet the glosses of the primitive fathers are against this text: for Bernard, Basil, Jerome, and others, have written to far other purpose. But I prefer the text to them all, though, in popedom, the glosses were deemed of higher value than the bright and clear text.
Let us not lose the Bible, but with diligence, in fear and invocation of God, read and preach it. While that remains and flourishes, all prospers with the state; `tis head and empress of all arts and faculties. Let but divinity fall, and I would not give a straw for the rest.
The school divines, with their speculations in holy writ, deal in pure vanities, in mere imaginings derived from human reason. Bonaventura, who is full of them, made me almost deaf. I sought to learn in his book, how God and my soul had become reconciled, but got no information from him. They talk much of the union of the will and the understanding, but `tis all idle fantasy. The right, practical divinity is this: Believe in Christ, and do thy duty in that state of life to which God has called thee. In like manner, the Mystical divinity of Dionysius is a mere fable and lie. With Plato he chatters: Omnia sunt non ens, et omnia sunt ens - (all is something, and all is nothing) - and so leaves things hanging.
Dr. Jonas Justus remarked at Luther's table: There is in the Holy Scripture a wisdom so profound, that no man may thoroughly study it or comprehend it. "Ay," said Luther, "we must ever remain scholars here; we cannot sound the depth of one single verse in Scripture; we get hold but of the A, B, C, and that imperfectly. Who can so exalt himself as to comprehend this one line of St Peter: `Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings.' Here St Peter would have us rejoice in our deepest misery and trouble, like as a child kisses the rod.
The Holy Scriptures surpass in efficaciousness all the arts and all the sciences of the philosophers and jurists; these, though good and necessary to life here below, are vain and of no effect as to what concerns the life eternal. The Bible should be regarded with wholly different eyes from those with which we view other productions. He who wholly renounces himself, and relies not on mere human reason, will make good progress in the Scriptures; but the world comprehends them not, from ignorance of that mortification which is the gift of God's Word. Can he who understands not God's Word, understand God's works? This is manifest in Adam; he called his first-born son, Cain - that is, possessor, houselord; this son, Adam and Eve thought, would be the man of God, the blessed seed that would crush the serpent's head. Afterwards, when Eve was with child again, they hoped to have a daughter, that their beloved son, Cain, might have a wife; but Eve bearing again a son, called him Abel - that is, vanity and nothingness; as much as to say, my hope is gone, and I am deceived. This was an image of the world and of God's church, showing how things have ever gone. The ungodly Cain was a great lord in the world, while Abel, that upright and pious man, was an outcast, subject and oppressed. But before God, the case was quite contrary: Cain was rejected of God, Abel accepted and received as God's beloved child. The like is daily seen here on earth, therefore let us not heed its doings. Ishmael's was also a fair name - hearer of God - while Isaac's was naught. Esau's name means actor, the man that shall do the work - Jacob's was naught. The name Absalom, signifies father of peace. Such fair and glorious colors do the ungodly ever bear in this world, while in truth and deed they are condemners, scoffers, and rebels to the Word of God. But by that Word, we, God be praised, are able to discern and know all such; therefore let us hold the Bible in precious esteem, and diligently read it.
To world wisdom, there seems no lighter or more easy art than divinity, and the understanding of God's Word, so that the children of the world will be reputed fully versed in the Scriptures and catechism, but they shoot far from the mark. I would give all my fingers, save three to write with, could I find divinity so easy and light as they take it to be. The reason why men deem it so is, that they become soon wearied, and think they know enough of it. So we found it in the world, and so we must leave it; but in fine videbitur, cujus toni.
I have many times essayed thoroughly to investigate the ten commandments, but at the very outset, "I am the Lord thy God," I stuck fast; that very one word, I, put me to the non-plus. He that has but one word of God before him, and out of that word cannot make a sermon, can never be a preacher. I am well content that I know, however little, of what God's Word is, and take good heed not to murmur at my small knowledge.
I have grounded my preaching upon the literal word; he that pleases may follow me; he that will not may stay. I call upon St Peter, St Paul, Moses, and all the Saints, to say whether they ever fundamentally comprehended one single word of God, without studying it over and over and over again. The Psalm says; His understanding is infinite. The saints, indeed, know God's Word, and can discourse of it, but the practice is another matter; therein we shall ever remain scholars.
The school theologians have a fine similitude hereupon, that it is as with a sphere or globe, which, lying on a table, touches it only with one point, yet it is the whole table which supports the globe. Though I am an old doctor of divinity, to this day I have not got beyond the children's learning - the Ten Commandments, the Belief, and the Lord's Prayer; and these I understand not so well as I should, though I study them daily, praying, with my son John and my daughter Magdalene. If I thoroughly appreciated these first words of the Lord's Prayer, Our Father, which art in Heaven, and really believed that God, who made heaven and earth, and all creatures, and has all things in his hand, was my Father, then should I certainly conclude with myself, that I also am a lord of heaven and earth, that Christ is my brother, Gabriel my servant, Raphael my coachman, and all the angels my attendants at need, given unto me by my heavenly Father, to keep me in the path, that unawares I knock not my foot against a stone. But that our faith may be exercised and confirmed, our heavenly Father suffers us to be cast into dungeons, or plunged in water. So we may see how finely we understand these words, and how belief shakes, and how great our weakness is, so that we begin to think - Ah, who knows how far that is true which is set forth in the scriptures?
No greater mischief can happen to a Christian people, than to have God's Word taken from them, or falsified, so that they no longer have it pure and clear. God grant we and our descendants be not witnesses of such a calamity.
When we have God's Word pure and clear, then we think ourselves all right; we become negligent, and repose in a vain security; we no longer pay due heed, thinking it will always so remain; we do not watch and pray against the devil, who is ready to tear the Divine Word out of our hearts. It is with us as with travelers, who, so long as they are on the highway, are tranquil and heedless, but if they go astray into the woods or cross paths, uneasily seek which way to take, this or that.
The great men and the doctors understand not the word of God, but it is revealed to the humble and to children, as it testified by the Saviour in the Gospel according to St Matthew, xi. 25: "O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." Gregory says, well and rightly, that the Holy Scripture is a stream of running water, where alike the elephant may swim, and the lamb walk without losing its feet.
The great unthankfulness, contempt of God's Word, and willfulness of the world, make me fear that the divine light will soon cease to shine on man, for God's Word has ever had its certain course.
In the time of kings of Judah, Baal obscured the brightness of God's Word, and it became hard labor to destroy his empire over the hearts of men. Even in the time of the apostles, there were heresies, errors, and evil doctrines spread abroad by false brethren. Next came Arius, and the Word of God was hidden behind dark clouds, but the holy fathers, Ambrose, Hilary, Augustine, Athanasius, and others, dispersed the obscurity. Greece and many other countries have heard the Word of God, but have since abandoned it, and it is to be feared even now it may quit Germany, and go into other lands. I hope the last day will not be long delayed. The darkness grows thicker around us, and godly servants of the Most High become rarer and more rare. Impiety and licentiousness are rampant throughout the world, and live like pigs, like wild beasts, devoid of all reason. But a voice will soon be heard thundering forth: Behold, the bridegroom cometh. God will not be able to bear this wicked world much longer, but will come, with the dreadful day, and chastise the scorners of his word.
Kings, princes, lords, any one will needs understand the gospel far better than I, Martin Luther, ay, or even than St Paul; for they deem themselves wise and full of policy. But herein they scorn and condemn, not us, poor preachers and ministers, but the Lord and Governor of all preachers and ministers, who has sent us to preach and teach, and who will scorn and condemn them in such sort, that they shall smart again; even He that says: "Whoso heareth you, heareth me; and whoso toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye." The great ones would govern, but they know not how.
Dr. Justus Jonas told Dr. Martin Luther of a noble and powerful Misnian, who above all things occupied himself in amassing gold and silver, and was so buried in darkness, that he gave no heed to the five books of Moses, and had even said to Dr. John Frederic, who was discoursing with him upon the Gospel: "Sir, the Gospel pays no interest." "Have you no grains?" interposed Luther; and then told this fable: - "A lion making a great feast, invited all the beasts, and with them some swine. When all manner of dainties were set before the guests, the swine asked: `Have you no grains?'" "Even so," continued the doctor, "even so, in these days, it is with our epicureans: we preachers set before them, in our churches, the most dainty and costly dishes, as everlasting salvation, the remission of sins, and God's grace; but they, like swine, turn up their snouts, and ask for guilders: offer a cow nutmeg, and she will reject for old hay. This reminds me of the answer of certain parishioners to their minister, Ambrose R. He had been earnestly exhorting them to come and listen to the Word of God: `Well,' said they, `if you will tap a good barrel of beer for us, we'll come with all our hearts and hear you.' The gospel at Wittenberg is like unto the rain which, falling upon a river, produces little effect; but descending upon a dry, thirsty soil, renders it fertile."
Some one asked Luther for his psalter, which was old and ragged, promising to give him a new one in exchange; but the doctor refused, because he was used to his own old copy, adding: "A local memory is very useful, and I have weakened mine in translating the Bible."
Our case will go on, so long as its living advocates, Melancthon, and other pious and learned persons, who apply themselves zealously to the work, shall be alive; but after their death, `twill be a sad falling off. We have an example before us, in Judges ii. 10: "And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers; and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel." So, after the death of the apostles, there were fearful fallings off; nay, even while they yet lived, as St Paul complains, there was falling off among the Galatians, the Corinthians, and in Asia. We shall be occasioned much suffering and loss by the Sacramentarians, the Anabaptists, the Antinomians, and other sectaries.
Oh! how great and glorious a thing it is to have before one the Word of God! With that we may at all times feel joyous and secure; we need never be in want of consolation, for we see before us, in all its brightness, the pure and right way. He who loses sight of the Word of God, falls into despair; the voice of heaven no longer sustains him; he follows only the disorderly tendency of his heart, and of world vanity, which lead him on to his destruction.
Christ, in Matthew, v., vi., vii., teaches briefly these points: first, as to the eight happinesses or blessings, how every Christian ought particularly to live as it concerns himself; secondly, of the office of teaching, what and how a man ought to teach in the church, how to season with salt and enlighten, reprove, and comfort, and exercise the faith; thirdly, he confutes and opposes the false expounding of the law; fourthly, he condemns the wicked hypocritical kind of living; fifthly, he teaches what are upright and good works; sixthly, he warns men of false doctrine; seventhly, he clears and solves what might be found doubtful and confused; eightly, he condemns the hypocrites and false saints, who abuse the precious word of grace.
St Luke describes Christ's passion better than the rest; John is more complete as to Christ's works; he describes the audience, and how the cause was handled, and how they proceeded before the seat of judgment, and how Christ was questioned, and for what cause he was slain.
When Pilate asked him: "Art thou the king of the Jews?" "Yea," said Christ, "I am; but not such a king as the emperor is, for then my servants and armies would fight and strive to deliver and defend me; but I am a king sent to preach the gospel, and give record of the truth which I must speak." "What!" said Pilate, "art thou such a king, and hast thou a kingdom that consists in word and truth?" then surely thou canst be no prejudice to me." Doubtless, Pilate took our Saviour Christ to be a simple, honest, ignorant man, one perchance come out of a wilderness, a simple, honest fellow, a hermit, who knew or understood nothing of the world, or of government.
In the writings of St Paul and St John is a surpassing certainty, knowledge, and plerophoria. They write as if all they narrate had been already done before their eyes.
Christ rightly says of St Paul, he shall be a chosen instrument and vessel unto me; therefore he was made a doctor, and therefore he spake so certainly of the cause. Whoso reads Paul may, with a safe conscience, build upon his words; for my part, I never read more serious writings.
St John, in his gospel, describes Christ, that he is a true and natural man, a priori, from former time: "In the beginning was the word;" and "Whoso honoreth me, the same honoreth also the Father." But Paul describes Christ, a posteriori et effectu from that which follows, and according to the actions or works, as, "They tempted Christ in the wilderness;" "Take heed, therefore, to yourselves." etc.
The book of Solomon's Proverbs is a fine book, which rulers and governors should diligently read, for it contains lessons touching God's anger, wherein governors and rulers should exercise themselves.
The author of the book of Ecclesiasticus preaches the law well, but he is no prophet. It is not the work of Solomon, any more than is the book of Solomon's Proverbs. They are both collections made by other people.
The third book of Esdras I throw into the Elbe; there are, in the fourth, pretty knacks enough; as, "The wine is strong, the king is stronger, women strongest of all; but the truth is stronger than all these."
The book of Judith is not a history. It accords not with geography. I believe it is a poem, like the legends of the saints, composed by some good man, to the end he might show how Judith, a personification of the Jews, as God-fearing people, by whom God is known and confessed, overcame and vanquished Holofernes - that is, all the kingdoms of the world. `Tis a figurative work, like that of Homer about Troy, and that of Virgil about Aeneas, wherein is shown how a great prince ought to be adorned with surpassing valor, like a brave champion, with wisdom and understanding, great courage and alacrity, fortune, honor, and justice. It is a tragedy, setting forth what the end of tyrants is. I take the book of Tobit to be a comedy concerning women, an example for house-government. I am so great an enemy to the second book of the Maccabees, and to Esther, that I wish they had not come to us at all, for they have too many heathen unnaturalities. The Jews much more esteemed the book of Esther than any of the prophets; though they were forbidden to read it before they had attained the age of thirty, by reason of the mystic matters it contains. They utterly condemn Daniel and Isaiah, those two holy and glorious prophets, of whom the former, in the clearest manner, preaches Christ, while the other describes and portrays the kingdom of Christ, and the monarchies and empires of the world preceeding it. Jeremiah comes but after them.
The discourses of the prophets were none of them regularly committed to writing at the time; their disciples and hearers collected them subsequently, one, one piece, another, another, and thus was the complete collection formed.
When Doctor Justus Jonas had translated the book of Tobit, he attended Luther therewith, and said: "Many ridiculous things are contained in this book, especially about the three nights, and the liver of the broiled fish, wherewith the devil was scared and driven away." Whereupon Luther said: "'Tis a Jewish conceit; the devil, a fierce and powerful enemy, will not be hunted away in such sort, for he has the spear of Goliah; but God gives him such weapons, that, when he is overcome by the godly, it may be the greater terror and vexation unto him. Daniel and Isaiah are most excellent prophets. I am Isaiah - be it spoken with humility - to the advancement of God's honor, whose work alone it is, and to spite the devil. Philip Melancthon is Jeremiah; that prophet stood always in fear; even so it is with Melancthon."
In the book of the Judges, the valiant champions and deliverers are described, who were sent by God, believing and trusting wholly in him, according to the first commandment: they committed themselves, their actions, and enterprises to God, and gave him thanks: they relied only upon the God of heaven and said: Lord God, thou hast done these things, and not we; to thee only be the glory. The book of the Kings is excellent - a hundred times better than the Chronicles, which constantly pass over the most important facts, without any details whatever.
The book of Job is admirable; it is not written only touching himself, but also for the comfort and consolation of all sorrowful, troubled and perplexed hearts who resist the devil. When he conceived that God began to be angry with him, he became impatient, and was much offended; it vexed and grieved him that the ungodly prospered so well. Therefore it should be a comfort to poor Christians that are persecuted and forced to suffer, that in the life to come, God will give unto them exceeding great and glorious benefits, and everlasting wealth and honor.
We need not wonder that Moses so briefly described the history of the ancient patriarchs, when we see that the Evangelists, in the shortest measure, describe the sermons in the New Testament, running briefly through them, and giving but a touch of the preachings of John the Baptist, which, doubtless, were the most beautiful.
Saint John the Evangelist speaks majestically, yet with very plain and simple words; as where he says: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not."
See how he describes God the Creator, and also his creatures, in plain, clear language, as with a sunbeam. If one of our philosophers or high learned men had described them, what wonderful swelling and high-trotting words would he have paraded, de ente et es senti, so that no man could have understood what he meant. `Tis a great lesson, how mighty divine truth is, which presses through, though she be hemmed in ever so closely; the more she is read, the more she moves and takes possession of the heart.
The Psalms of David are of various kinds - didactic, prophetic, eucharistic, catechetic. Among the prophetic, we should particularly distinguish the 110th, Dixit Dominus; and among the didactic, the Miserere Mei, De profundis, and Domine, exaudi orationem. The 110th is very fine. It describes the kingdom and priesthood of Jesus Christ, and declares him to be the King of all things, and the intercessor for all men; to whom all things have been remitted by his Father, and who has compassion on us all. `Tis a noble Psalm; if I were well, I would endeavor to make a commentary on it.
Dr. Luther was asked whether the history of the rich man and Lazarus was a parable or a natural fact? He replied: The earlier part of the story is evidently historical; the persons, the circumstances, the existence of the five brothers, all this is given in detail. The reference to Abraham is allegorical, and highly worthy of observation. We learn from it that there are abodes unknown to us, where the souls of men are; secrets into which we must not inquire. No mention is made of Lazarus' grave; whence we may judge, that in God's eyes, the soul occupies far more place than the body. Abraham's bosom is the promise and assurance of salvation, and the expectation of Jesus Christ; not heaven itself, but the expectation of heaven.
Before the Gospel came among us, men used to undergo endless labor and cost, and make dangerous journeys to St James of Compostella, and where not, in order to seek the favor of God. But now that God, in his Word, brings his favor unto us gratis, confirming it with his sacraments, saying, Unless ye believe, ye shall surely perish, we will have none of it.
I have lived to see the greatest plague on earth - the condemning of God's Word, a fearful thing, surpassing all other plagues in the world; for thereupon most surely follow all manner of punishment, eternal and corporal. Did I desire for a man all bitter plagues and curses, I would wish him the condemning of God's Word,for he would then have them all at once come upon him, both inward and outward misfortunes. The condemning of God's Word is the forerunner of God's punishments; as the examples witness in the times of Lot, of Noah, and of our Saviour.
Whoso acknowledges that the writings of the Evangelists are God's Word, with him we are willing to dispute; but whoso denies this, with him we will not exchange a word; we may not converse with those who reject the first principles.
In all sciences, the ablest professors are they who have thoroughly mastered the texts. A man, to be a good jurisconsult, should have every text of the law at his fingers' ends; but in our time, the attention is applied rather to glosses and commentaries. When I was young, I read the Bible over and over and over again, and was so perfectly acquainted with it, that I could, in an instant, have pointed to any verse that might have been mentioned. I then read the commentators, but I soon threw them aside, for I found therein many things my conscience could not approve, as being contrary to the sacred text. `Tis always better to see with one's own eyes than with those of other people.
The words of the Hebrew tongue have a peculiar energy. It is impossible to convey so much so briefly in any other language. To render them intelligibly, we must not attempt to give word for word, but only aim at the sense and idea. In translating Moses, I made it my effort to avoid Hebraism; `twis an arduous business. The wise ones, who affect greater knowledge than myself on the subject, take me to task for a word here and there. Did they attempt the labor I have accomplished, I would find a thousand blunders in them for my one.
Bullinger said to me, he was earnest against the sectaries, as condemners of God's Word, and also against those who dwelt too much on the literal Word, who, he said, sinned against God and his almighty power, as the Jews did in naming the ark, God. But he who holds a mean between both, apprehends the right use of the sacraments. To which I answered: "By this error, you separate the Word from the spirit; those who preach and teach the Word, from God who commands baptism. You hold that the Holy Ghost is given and works without the Word, which Word, you say, is an eternal sign and mark to find the spirit that already possesses the heart; so that, according to you, if the Word find not the spirit, but an ungodly person, then it is not God's Word; thus defining and fixing the Word, not according to God, who speaks it, but according as people entertain and receive it. You grant that to be God's Word, which purifies and brings peace and life; but when it works not in the ungodly, it is not God's Word. You teach that the outward Word is as an object or picture, signifying and representing something; you measure its use only according to the matter, as a human creature speaks for himself; you will not grant that God's Word is an instrument through which the Holy Ghost works and accomplishes his work, and prepares a beginning to righteousness or justification.
"A true Christian must hold for certain that the Word which is delivered and preached to the wicked, the dissemblers, and the ungodly, is as much God's Word, as that which is preached to godly, upright Christians, and that the true Christian church is among sinners, where good and bad are mingled together. And that the Word, whether it produce fruit or no, is, nevertheless, God's strength, which saves all that believe therein. Clearly, it will also judge the ungodly, (St John, c.v.) otherwise, these might plead a good excuse before God, that they ought not to be condemned, since they had not had God's Word, and consequently could not have received it. But I teach that the preacher's words, absolution, and sacraments, are not his words or works, but God's, cleansing, absolving, binding, etc.; we are but the instruments or assistants, by whom God works. You say, it is the man that preaches, reproves, absolves, comforts, etc., though it is God that cleanses the hearts and forgives; but I say, God himself preaches, threatens, reproves, affrights, comforts, absolves, administers the sacraments, etc. As our Saviour Christ says: "Whoso heareth you, heareth me; and what ye loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven,' etc. And again: `It is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.'
"I am sure and certain, when I go up to the pulpit to preach or read, that it is not my Word I speak, but that my tongue is the pen of a ready writer, as the Psalmist has it. God speaks in the prophets and men of God, as St Peter in his epistle says: `The holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.' Therefore we must not separate or part God and man, according to our natural reason and understanding. In like manner, every hearer must say: I hear not St Paul, St Peter, or a man speak, but God himself.
"If I were addicted to God's Word at all times alike, and always had such love and desire thereunto as sometimes I have, then should I account myself the most blessed man on earth. But the loving apostle, St Paul, failed also herein, as he complains, with sighs, saying: `I see another law in my members warring against the law in my mind.' Should the Word be false, because it bears not always fruit? The search after the Word has been, from the beginning of the world, the source of great danger; few people can hit it, unless God, through his Holy Spirit, teach it them in their hearts."
Bullinger, having attentively listened to this discourse, knelt down and uttered these words, "O, happy hour that brought me to hear this man of God, the chosen vessel of the Lord, declaring his truth! I abjure and utterly renounce my former errors, thus beaten down by God's infallible Word." He then arose and threw his arms around Luther's neck, both shedding joyful tears.
Forsheim said that the first of the five books of Moses was not written by Moses himself. Dr. Luther replied: What matters it, even though Moses did not write it? It is, nevertheless, Moses's book, wherein is exactly related the creation of the world. Such futile objections as these should not be listened to.
In cases of religion and that concern God's Word, we must be sure and certain, without wavering, so that in time of trial and temptation their acknowledgment may be distinct, and we may not afterwards say, Non putarem; a course which in temporal matters often involves much danger, but in divinity is doubly mischievous. Thus the canonists, the popish dissemblers, and other heretics, are right chimeras; in the face resembling a fair virgin, the body being like a lion, and the tail like a snake. Even so it is with their doctrine; it glitters, and has a fair aspect, and what they teach is agreeable to mortal wisdom and appreciation, and acquires repute. Afterwards, lion-like, it breaks through by force, for all false teachers commonly make use of the secular arm; but in the end, it shows itself a slippery doctrine, having, like a snake, a smooth skin, sliding through the hand.
Once sure that the doctrine we teach is God's Word, once certain of this, we may build thereupon, and know that this cause shall and must remain; the devil shall not be able to overthrow it, much less the world be able to uproot it, how fiercely soever it rage. I, God be praised, surely know that the doctrine I teach is God's Word, and have now hunted from my heart all other doctrines and faiths, of what name soever, that do not concur with God's Word. Thus have I overcome the heavy temptations that sometimes tormented me, thus: Art thou, asked the devilish thought within, the only man that has God's Word, pure and clear, all others failing therein? For thus does Satan vex and assault us, under the name and title of God's church; what, says he, that doctrine which the Christian church has so many years held, and established as right, wilt thou presume to reject and overthrow it with thy new doctrine, as though it were false and erroneous, thereby producing trouble, alteration, and confusion, both in spiritual and temporal government?
I find this argument of the devil in all the prophets, whom the rulers, both in church and state, have ever upbraided, saying: We are God's people, placed and ordained by God in an established government; what we settle and acknowledge as right, that must and shall be observed. What fools are ye that presume to teach us, the best and largest part, there being of you but a handful? Truly, in this case, we must not only be well armed with God's Word, and versed therein, but must have also certainty of the doctrine, or we shall not endure the combat. A man must be able to affirm, I know for certain, that what I teach is the only Word of the high Majesty of God in heaven, his final conclusion and everlasting, unchangeable truth, and whatsoever concurs and agrees not with this doctrine, is altogether false, and spun by the devil. I have before me God's Word which cannot fail, nor can the gates of hell prevail against it; thereby will I remain, though the whole world be against me. And withal, I have this comfort, that God says: I will give thee people and hearers that shall receive it; cast thy care upon me; I will defend thee, only remain thou stout and steadfast by my Word.
We must not regard what or how the world esteems us, so we have the Word pure, and are certain of our doctrine. Hence Christ, in John viii. "Which of you convinceth me of sin:?" All the apostles were most certain of their doctrine; and St Paul, in special manner, insists on the Plerophoria, where he says to Timothy: "It is a dear and precious word, that Jesus Christ is come into the world to save sinners." The faith toward God in Christ must be sure and steadfast, that it may solace and make glad the conscience, and put it to rest. When a man has this certainty, he has overcome the serpent; but if he be doubtful of the doctrine, it is for him very dangerous to dispute with the devil.
A fiery shield is God's Word; of more substance and purer than gold, which, tried in the fire, loses naught of its substance, but resists and overcomes all the fury of the fiery heat; even so, he that believes God's Word overcomes all, and remains secure everlastingly, against all misfortunes; for this shield fears nothing, neither hell nor the devil.
I never thought the world had been so wicked, when the Gospel began, as now I see it is; I rather hoped that every one would have leaped for joy to have found himself freed from the filth of the pope, from his lamentable molestations of poor troubled consciences, and that through Christ they would by faith obtain the celestial treasure they sought after before with such vast cost and labor, though in vain. And especially I thought the bishops and universities would with joy of heart have received the true doctrines, but I have been lamentably deceived. Moses and Jeremiah, too, complained they had been deceived.
The thanks the world now gives to the doctrine of the gospel, is the same it gave to Christ, namely, the cross; `tis what we must expect. This year is the year of man's ingratitude: the next will be the year of God's chastisement; for God must needs chastise, though `tis against his nature: we will have it so.
Ah, how impious and ungrateful is the world, thus to condemn and persecute God's ineffable grace! And we - we ourselves - who boast of the gospel, and know it to be God's Word, and recognize it for such, yet hold it in no more esteem and respect than we do Virgil or Terence. Truly, I am less afraid of the pope and his tyrants, than I am of our own ingratitude towards the Word of God: `tis this will place the pope in his saddle again. But, first, I hope the day of judgment will come.
God has his measuring lines and his canons, called the Ten Commandments; they are written in our flesh and blood: the sum of them is this: "What thou wouldest have done to thyself, the same do thou to another." God presses upon this point, saying: "Such measure as thou metest, the same shall be measured to thee again." With this measuring line has God marked the whole world. They that live and do thereafter, well it is with them, for God richly rewards them in this life.
Is it true that God speaks himself with us in the Holy Scriptures? thou that doubtest this, must needs think in thy heart that God is a liar, one that says a thing, and performs it not; but thou mayest be sure when he opens his mouth, it is as much as three worlds. God, with one sole word, moulded the whole world. In Psalm xxxiii. it is said: "When he speaketh, it is done; when he commandeth, it standeth fast."
We must make a great difference between God's Word and the word of man. A man's word is a little sound, that flies into the air, and soon vanishes; but the Word of God is greater than heaven and earth, yea, greater than death and hell, for it forms part of the power of God, and endures everlastingly; we should, therefore, diligently study God's Word, and know and assuredly believe that God himself speaks unto us. This was what David saw and believed, who said: "God spake in his holiness, thereof I am glad." We should also be glad; but this gladness is oftentimes mixed up with sorrow and pain, of which, again, David is an example, who underwent manifold trials and tribulations in connection with the murder and adultery he had committed. It was no honeymoon for him, when he was hunted from one place to another, to the end he might after remain in God's fear. In the second Psalm he says: "Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling."
The student of theology has now far greater advantages than students ever before had; first, he has the Bible, which I have translated from Hebrew into German, so clearly and distinctly, that any one may readily comprehend it; next, he has Melancthon's Common-place Book (Loci Communes), which he should read over and over again, until he has it by heart. Once master of these two volumes, he may be regarded as a theologian whom neither devil nor heretic can overcome; for he has all divinity at his fingers' ends, and may read, understandingly, whatsoever else he pleases. Afterwards, he may study Melancthon's Commentary on Romans, and mine on Deuteronomy and on the Galatians, and practice eloquence.
We possess no work wherein the whole body of theology, wherein religion, is more completely summed up, than in Melancthon's Common-place Book; all the Fathers, all the compilers of sentences, put together, are not to be compared with this book. `Tis, after the Scriptures, the most perfect of works. Melancthon is a better logician than myself; he argues better. My superiority lies rather in the rhetorical way. If the printers would take my advice, they would print those of my books which set forth doctrine, - as my commentaries on Deuteronomy, on Galatians, and the sermons on the four books of St John. My other writings scarce serve better purpose than to mark the progress of the revelation of the gospel.
Christ (Luke viii.) says, "Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God." Here a man might ask, What mystery is that? If a mystery, why do you preach it? Whereunto I answer: A mystery is a thing hidden and secret; the mysteries of the kingdom of God are such things as lie hidden in the kingdom of God; but he that knows Christ aright, knows what God's kingdom is, and what therein is to be found. They are mysteries, because secret and hidden from human sense and reason, when the Holy Ghost does not reveal them; for though many hear of them, they neither conceive nor understand them. There are now many among us who preach of Christ, and hear much spoken of him, as that he gave himself to death for us, but this lies only upon the tongue, and not in the heart; for they neither believe it, nor are sensible of it; as St Paul says: "The natural man perceiveth not the things of the Spirit of God."
Those on whom the Spirit of God falls, not only hear and see it, but also receive it within their hearts and believe, and therefore it is no mystery or secret to them.
`Twas a special gift of God that speech was given to mankind; for through the Word, and not by force, wisdom governs. Through the Word people are taught and comforted, and thereby all sorrow is made light, especially in cases of the conscience. Therefore God gave to his Church an eternal Word to hear, and the sacraments to use. But this holy function of preaching the Word is, by Satan, fiercely resisted; he would willingly have it utterly suppressed, for thereby his kingdom is destroyed.
Truly speech has wonderful strength and power, that through a mere word, proceeding out of the mouth of a poor human creature, the devil, that so proud and powerful spirit, should be driven away, shamed and confounded.
The sectaries are so impudent, that they dare to reject the word of the mouth; and to smooth their damnable opinions, say: No external thing makes one to be saved; the word of the mouth and the sacraments are external things: therefore they make us not to be saved. But I answer: We must discriminate wholly between the external things of God and the outward things of man. The external things of God are powerful and saving; it is not so with the outward things of man.
God alone, through his Word, instructs the heart, so that it may come to the serious knowledge how wicked it is, and corrupt and hostile to God. Afterwards God brings man to the knowledge of God, and how he may be freed from sin, and how, after this miserable, evanescent world, he may obtain life everlasting. Human reason, with all its wisdom, can bring it no further than to instruct people how to live honestly and decently in the world, how to keep house, build, etc., things learned from philosophy and heathenish books. But how they should learn to know God and his dear Son, Christ Jesus, and to be saved, this the Holy Ghost alone teaches through God's Word; for philosophy understands naught of divine matters. I don't say that men may not teach and learn philosophy; I approve thereof, so that it be within reason and moderation. Let philosophy remain within her bounds, as God has appointed, and let us make use of her as of a character in a comedy; but to mix her up with divinity may not be endured; nor is it tolerable to make faith an accidens or quality, happening by chance; for such words are merely philosophical - used in schools and in temporal affairs, which human sense and reason may comprehend. But faith is a thing in the heart, having its being and substance by itself, given of God as his proper work, not a corporal thing, that may be seen, felt, or touched.
We must know how to teach God's Word aright, discerningly, for there are divers sorts of hearers; some are struck with fear in the conscience, are perplexed, and awed by their sins, and, in apprehension of God's anger, are penitent; these must be comforted with the consolations of the gospel. Others are hardened, obstinate, stiff-necked, rebel-hearted; these must be affrighted by the law, by examples of God's wrath: as the fires of Elijah, the deluge, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the downfall of Jerusalem. These hard heads need sound knocks.
The gospel of the remission of sins through faith in Christ, is received of few people; most men little regard the sweet and comfortable tidings of the gospel; some hear it, but only even so as they hear mass in popedom; the majority attend God's Word out of custom, and, when they have done that, think all is well. The case is, the sick, needing a physician, welcome him; but he that is well, cares not for him, as we see by the Canaanitish woman in Matthew xv., who felt her own and her daughter's necessities, and therefore ran after Christ, and in nowise would suffer herself to be denied or sent away from him. In like manner, Moses was fain to go before, and learn to feel sins, that so grace might taste the sweeter. Therefore, it is but labor lost (how familiar and loving soever Christ be figured unto us), except we first be humbled through the acknowledgment of our sins, and so yearn after Christ, as the Magnificat says: "He filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away," words spoken for the comfort of all, and for instruction of miserable, poor, needful sinners, and condemned people, to the end that in all their deepest sorrows and necessities they may know with whom to take refuge and seek aid and consolation.
But we must take fast hold on God's Word, and believe all true which that says of God, though God and all his creatures should seem unto us other than as the Word speaks, as we see the Canaanitish woman did. The Word is sure, and fails not, though heaven and earth must pass away. Yet, oh! how hard is this to natural sense and reason, that it must strip itself naked, and abandon all it comprehends and feels, depending only upon the bare Word. The Lord of his mercy help us with faith in our necessities, and at our last end, when we strive with death.
Heaven and earth, all the emperors, kings, and princes of the world, could not raise a fit dwelling-place for God; yet, in a week human soul, that keeps his Word, he willingly resides. Isaiah calls heaven the Lord's seat, and earth his footstool; he does not call them his dwelling-place; when we seek after God, we shall find him with them that keep his Word. Christ says: "If a man love me, he will keep my words, and my father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." Nothing could be simpler or clearer than these words of the Saviour, and yet he confounds herewith all the wisdom of the worldly-wise. He sought to speak non in sublimi sed humili genere. If I had to teach a child, I would teach him in the same way.
Great is the strength of the Divine Word. In the epistle to the Hebrews, it is called "a two-edged sword." But we have neglected and condemned the pure and clear Word, and have drunk not of the fresh and cool spring; we are gone from the clear fountain to the foul puddle, and drunk its filthy water; that is, we have sedulously read old writers and teachers, who went about with speculative reasonings, like the monks and friars.
The words of our Saviour Christ are exceeding powerful; they have hands and feet; they outdo the utmost subtleties of the worldly-wise, as we see in the gospel, where Christ confounds the wisdom of the Pharisees with plain and simple words, so that they knew not which way to turn and wind themselves. It was a sharp syllogism of his: "Give unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's;" wherewith he neither commanded nor prohibited, but snared them in their own casuistry.
Where God's Word is taught pure and unfalsified, there is also poverty, as Christ says: "I am sent to preach the Gospel to the poor." More than enough has been given to unprofitable, lazy, ungodly people in monasteries and cells, who lead us into danger of body and soul; but not one farthing is given, willingly, to a Christian teacher. Superstition, idolatry, and hypocrisy, have ample wages, but truth goes a begging.
When God preaches his Word, then presently follows the cross to godly Christians; as St Paul testifies: "All that will live a godly life in Christ Jesus, must suffer persecution." And our Saviour: "The disciple is not greater than the master: have they persecuted me? they will persecute you also." the work rightly expounds and declares the Word, as the prophet Isaiah: Grief and sorrow teach how to mark the Word. No man understands the Scriptures, unless he be acquainted with the cross.
In the time of Christ and the apostles, God's Word was a word of doctrine, which was preached everywhere in the world; afterwards in popedom it was a Word of reading, which they only read, but understood not. In this our time, it is made a Word of strife, which fights and strives; it will endure its enemies no longer, but remove them out of the way.
Like as in the world a child is an heir only because it is born to inherit, even so, faith only makes such to be God's children as are born of the Word, which is the womb wherein we are conceived, born, and nourished, as the prophet Isaiah says. Now, as through such a birth we become God's children, (wrought by God without our help or doing,) even so, we are also heirs, and being heirs, are freed from sin, death, and the devil, and shall inherit everlasting life.
I admonish every pious Christian that he take not offence at the plain, unvarnished manner of speech of the Bible. Let him reflect that what may seem trivial and vulgar to him, emanates from the high majesty, power, and wisdom of God. The Bible is the book that makes fools of the wise of this world; it is only understood by the plain and simple hearted. Esteem this book as the precious fountain that can never be exhausted. In it thou findest the swaddling-clothes and the manger whither the angels directed the poor, simple shepherds; they seem poor and mean, but dear and precious is the treasure that lies therein.
The ungodly papists prefer the authority of the church far above God's Word; a blasphemy abominable and not to be endured; wherewith, void of all shame and piety, they spit in God's face. Truly, God's patience is exceeding great, in that they be not destroyed; but so it always has been.
In times past, as in part of our own, `twas dangerous work to study, when divinity and all good arts were condemned, and fine, expert, and prompt wits were plagued with sophistry. Aristotle, the heathen, was held in such repute and honor, that whoso undervalued or contradicted him, was held, at Cologne, for an heretic; whereas they themselves understood not Aristotle.
In the apostles' time, and in our own, the gospel was and is preached more powerfully and spread further than it was in the time of Christ; for Christ had not such repute, nor so many hearers as the apostles had, and as now we have. Christ himself says to his disciples; Ye shall do greater works than I; I am but a little grain of mustard-seed; but ye shall be like the vine-tree, and as the arms and boughs wherein the birds shall build their nests.
All men now presume to criticize the gospel. Almost every old doting fool or prating sophist must, forsooth, be a doctor in divinity. All other arts and sciences have masters, of whom people must learn, and rules and regulations which must be observed and obeyed; the Holy Scripture only, God's Word, must be subject to each man's pride and presumption; hence; so many sects, seducers, and offences.
I did not learn my divinity at once, but was constrained by my temptations to search deeper and deeper; for no man, without trials and temptations, can attain a true understanding of the Holy Scriptures. St Paul had a devil that beat him with fists, and with temptations drove him diligently to study the Holy Scripture. I had hanging on my neck the pope, the universities, all the deep-learned, and the devil; these hunted me into the Bible, wherein I sedulously read, and thereby, God be praised, at length attained a true understanding of it. Without such a devil, we are but only speculators of divinity, and according to our vain reasoning, dream that so and so it must be, as the monks and friars in monasteries do. The Holy Scripture of itself is certain and true; God grant me grace to catch hold of its just use.
All the works of God are unsearchable and unspeakable, no human sense can find them out; faith only takes hold of them without human power or aid. No mortal creature can comprehend God in his majesty, and therefore did he come before us in the simplest manner, and was made man, ay, sin, death, and weakness. In all things, in the least creatures, and their members, God's almighty power and wonderful works clearly shine. For what man, how powerful, wise, and holy soever, can make out of one fig, a fig-tree, or another fig? or, out of one cherry-stone, a cherry, or a cherry-tree? or what man can know how God creates and preserves all things, and makes them grow.
Neither can we conceive how the eye sees, or how intelligible words are spoken plainly, when only the tongue moves and stirs in the mouth; all which are natural things, daily seen and acted. How then should we be able to comprehend or understand the secret counsels of God's majesty, or search them out with our human sense, reason, or understanding. Should we then admire our own wisdom? I, for my part, admit myself a fool, and yield myself captive.
In the beginning, God made Adam out of a piece of clay, and Eve out of Adam's rib: he blessed them and said: "Be fruitful and increase" - words that will stand and remain powerful to the world's end. Though many people die daily, yet others are ever being born, as David says in his Psalm: "Thou sufferest men to die and go away like a shadow, and sayest, Come again ye children of men." These and other things which he daily creates, the ungodly blind world see not, nor acknowledge for God's wonders, but think all is done by chance or haphazard, whereas, the godly, wheresoever they cast their eyes, beholding heaven and earth, the air and water, see and acknowledge all for God's wonders; and, full of astonishment and delight, laud the Creator, knowing that God is well pleased therewith.
For the blind children of the world the articles of faith are too high. That three persons are one only God; that the true Son of God was made man; that in Christ are two natures, divine and human, etc., all this offends them, as fiction and fable. For just as unlikely as it is to say, a man and a stone are one person, so it is unlikely to human sense and reason that God was made man, or that divine and human natures, united in Christ, are one person. St Paul showed his understanding of this matter, though he took not hold of all, in Colossians: "In Christ dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." Also: "In him lies hid all treasure of wisdom and knowledge."
If a man ask, Why God permits that men be hardened, and fall into everlasting perdition? let him ask again: Why God did not spare his only Son, but gave him for us all, to die the ignominious death of the cross, a more certain sign of his love towards us poor people, than of his wrath against us. Such questions cannot be better solved and answered than by converse questions. True, the malicious devil deceived and seduced Adam; but we ought to consider that, soon after the fall, Adam received the promise of the woman's seed that should crush the serpent's head, and should bless the people on earth. Therefore, we must acknowledge that the goodness and mercy of the Father, who sent his Son to be our Saviour, is immeasurably great towards the wicked ungovernable world. Let, therefore, his good will be acceptable unto thee, oh, man, and speculate not with thy devilish queries, thy whys and thy wherefores, touching God's words and works. For God, who is creator of all creatures, and orders all things according to his unsearchable will and wisdom, is not pleased with such questioning.
Why God sometimes, out of his divine counsels, wonderfully wise, unsearchable to human reason and understanding, has mercy on this man, and hardens that, it beseems not us to inquire. We should know, undoubtingly, that he does nothing without certain cause and counsel. Truly, if God were to give an account to every one of his works and actions, he were but a poor, simple God.
Our Saviour said to Peter, "What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter." Hereafter, then, we shall know how graciously our loving God and Father has been affected unto us. In the meantime, though misfortune, misery, and trouble be upon us, we must have this sure confidence in him, that he will not suffer us to be destroyed either in body or soul, but will so deal with us, that all things, be they good or evil, shall redound to our advantage.
When one asked, where God was before heaven was created? St Augustine answered: He was in himself. When another asked me the same question, I said: He was building hell for such idle, presumptuous, fluttering and inquisitive spirits as you. After he had created all things, he was everywhere, and yet he was nowhere, for I cannot take hold of him without the Word. But he will be found there where he has engaged to be. The Jews found him at Jerusalem by the throne of grace, (Exod.xxv.) We find him in the Word and faith, in baptism and the sacraments; but in his majesty, he is nowhere to be found.
It was a special grace when God bound himself to a certain place where he would be found, namely, in that place where the tabernacle was, towards which they prayed; as first, in Shilo and Sichem, afterwards at Gibeon, and lastly at Jerusalem, in the temple.
The Greeks and heathens in after times imitated this, and build temples for their idols in certain places, as at Ephesus for Diana, at Delphos for Apollo, etc. For, where God build a church there the devil would also build a chapel. They imitated the Jews also in this, namely, that as the Most Holiest was dark, and had no light, even so and after the same manner, did they make their shrines dark where the devil made answer. Thus is the devil ever God's ape.
God is upright,faithful, and true, as he has shown, not only in his promises, through Christ, of forgiveness of sins, and deliverance from everlasting death, but also, in that he has laid before us, in the Scriptures, many gracious and comforting examples of great and holy saints who of God were highly enlightened and favored, and who, notwithstanding, fell into great and heavy sins.
Adam, by his disobedience, hereditarily conveyed sin and death upon all his posterity. Aaron brought a great sin upon Israel, insomuch that God would have destroyed her. David also fell very heavily. Job and Jeremiah cursed the day in which they were born. Jonas was sorely vexed because Nineveh was not destroyed. Peter denied, Paul persecuted Christ.
These, and such like innumerable examples, does Holy Writ relate to us; not that we should live securely, and sin, relying upon the mercy of God, but that, when we feel his anger, "which will surely follow upon the sins," we should not despair, but remember these comfortable examples, and thence conclude, that, as God was merciful unto them, so likewise he will be gracious unto us, out of his mere goodness and mercy shown in Christ, and will not impute our sins unto us.
We may also see by such examples of great holy men falling so grievously, what a wicked, crafty, and envious spirit the devil is, a very prince and good of the world.
These high, divine people, who committed such heavy sins, fell, through God's counsel and permission, to the end they should not be proud or boast themselves of their gifts and qualities, but should rather fear. For, when David had slain Uriah, had taken from him his wife, and thereby given cause to God's enemies to blaspheme, he could not boast he had governed well, or shown goodness; but he said: "I have sinned against the Lord," and with tears prayed for mercy. Job also acknowledgingly says: "I have spoken foolishly, and therefore do I accuse myself, and repent."
When God contemplates some great work, he begins it by the hand of some poor, weak, human creature, to whom he afterwards gives aid, so that the enemies who seek to obstruct it, are overcome. As when he delivered the children of Israel out of the long, wearisome, and heavy captivity in Egypt, and led them into the land of promise, he called Moses, to whom he afterwards gave his brother Aaron as an assistant. And though Pharaoh at first set himself hard against them, and plagued the people worse than before, yet he was forced in the end to let Israel go. And when he hunted after them with all his host, the Lord drowned Pharaoh with all his power in the Red Sea, and so delivered his people.
Again, in the time of Eli the priest, when matters stood very evil in Israel, the Philistines pressing hard upon them, and taking away the Ark of God into their land, and when Eli, in great sorrow of heart, fell backwards from his chair and broke his neck, and it seemed as if Israel were utterly undone, God raised up Samuel the prophet, and through him restored Israel, and the Philistines were overthrown.
Afterwards, when Saul was sore pressed by the Philistines, so that for anguish of heart he despaired and thrust himself through, three of his sons and many people dying with him, every man thought that now there was an end of Israel. But shortly after, when David was chosen king over all Israel, then came the golden time. For David, the chosen of God, not only saved Israel out of the enemies hands, but also forced to obedience all kings and people that set themselves against him, and helped the kingdom up again in such manner, that in his and Solomon's time it was in full flourish, power, and glory.
Even so, when Judah was carried captive to Babylon, then God selected the prophets Ezekiel, Haggai, and Zachariah, who comforted men in their distress and captivity; making not only promise of their return into the land of Judah, but also that Christ should come in his due time.
Hence we may see that God never forsakes his people, nor even the wicked; though, by reason of their sins, he suffer them a long time to be severely punished and plagued. As also, in this our time, he has graciously delivered us from the long, wearisome, heavy, and horrible captivity of the wicked pope. God of his mercy grant we may thankfully acknowledge this.
God could be rich readily enough, if he were more provident, and denied us the use of his creatures; let him, for ever so short a while, keep back the sun, so that it shine not, or lock up air, water, or fire, ah! how willingly would we give all our wealth to have the use of these creatures again.
But seeing God so liberally heaps his gifts upon us, we claim them as of right; let him deny them if he dare. The unspeakable multitude of his benefits obscures the faith of believers, and much more so, that of the ungodly.
When God wills to punish a people or a kingdom, he takes away from it the good and godly teachers and preachers, and bereaves it of wise, godly, and honest rulers and counsellors, and of brave, upright and experienced soldiers, and of other good men. Then are the common people secure and merry; they go on in all willfulness, they care no longer for the truth and for the divine doctrine; nay, they despise it, and fall into blindness; they have no fear or honesty; they give way to all manner of shameful sins, whence arises a wild, dissolute, and devilish kind of living, as that we now, alas! see and are too well cognizant of, and which cannot long endure. I fear the axe is laid to the root of the tree, soon to cut it down. God of his infinite mercy take us graciously away, that we may not be present at such calamities.
God gives us sun and moon and stars, fire and water, air and earth, all creatures, body and soul, all manner of maintenance, fruits, grain, corn, wine, whatever is good for the preservation and comfort of this temporal life; moreover he gives unto us his all-saving Word, yea, himself.
Yet what gets he thereby? Truly, nothing, but that he is wickedly blasphemed, and that his only Son is condemned and crucified, his servants plagued, banished, persecuted, and slain. Such a godly child is the world; woe be to it.
God very wonderfully entrusts his highest office to preachers that are themselves poor sinners who, while teaching it, very weakly follow it. Thus goes it ever with God's power in our weakness; for when he is weakest in us, then is he strongest.
How should God deal with us? Good days we cannot bear, evil we cannot endure. Gives he riches unto us? then are we proud, so that no man can live by us in peace; nay, we will be carried upon heads and shoulders, and will be adored as gods. Gives he poverty unto us? then are we dismayed, impatient, and murmur against him. Therefore, nothing were better for us, than forthwith to be covered over with the shovel.
"Since God," said some one, "Knew that man would not continue in the state of innocence, why did he create him at all?" Dr. Luther laughed, and replied: The Lord, all-powerful and magnificent, saw that he should need in his house, sewers and cesspools; be assured he knows quite well what he is about. Let us keep clear of these abstract questions, and consider the will of God such as it has been revealed unto us.
Dr. Henning asked: "Is reason to hold no authority at all with Christians, since it is to be set aside in matters of faith?" The Doctor replied: Before faith and the knowledge of God, reason is mere darkness; but in the hands of those who believe, `tis an excellent instrument. All facilities and gifts are pernicious, exercised by the impious; but most salutary when possessed by godly persons.
God deals strangely with his saints, contrary to all human wisdom and understanding, to the end, that those who fear God and are good Christians, may learn to depend on invisible things, and through mortification may be made alive again; for God's Word is a light that shines in a dark place, as all examples of faith show. Esau was accursed, yet it went well with him; he was lord in the land, and priest in the church; but Jacob had to fly, and dwell in poverty, in another country.
God deals with godly Christians much as with the ungodly, yea, and sometimes far worse. He deals with them even as a house-father with a son and a servant; he whips and beats the son much more and oftener than the servant, yet, nevertheless, he gathers for the son a treasure to inherit, while a stubborn and a disobedient servant he beats not with the rod, but thrusts out of doors, and gives him nothing of the inheritance.
God is a good and gracious Lord; he will be held for God only and alone, according to the first commandment: "Thou shalt have none other Gods but me." He desires nothing of us, no taxes, subsidies, money, or goods; he only requires that he may be our God and Father, and therefore he bestows upon us, richly, with an overflowing cup, all manner of spiritual and temporal gifts; but we look not so much as once towards him, nor will have him to be our God.
God is not an angry God; if he were so, we were all utterly lost and undone. God does not willingly strike mankind, except, as a just God, he be constrained thereunto; but, having no pleasure in unrighteousness and ungodliness, he must therefore suffer the punishment to go on. As I sometimes look through the fingers, when the tutor whips my son John, so it is with God; when we are unthankful and disobedient to his Word, and commandments, he suffers us, through the devil, to be soundly lashed with pestilence, famine, and such like whips; not that he is our enemy, and to destroy us, but that through such scourgings, he may call us to repentance and amendment, and so allure us to seek him, run to him, and call upon him for help. Of this we have a fine example in the book of Judges, where the angel, in God's person, speaks thus: "I have stricken you so often, and ye are nothing the better for it;" and the people of Israel said: "Save thou us but now; we have sinned and done amiss: punish thou us, O Lord and do with us what thou wilt, only save us now," etc. Whereupon he struck not all the people to death. In like manner did David, when he had sinned (in causing the people to be numbered, for which God punished the people with pestilence, so that 70,000 died), humble himself, saying: "Beloved, Lord, I have sinned, I have done this misdeed, and have deserved this punishment: What have these sheep done? Let thy hand be upon me, and upon my father's house," etc. Then the Lord "repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough, stay thy hand."
He that can humble himself earnestly before God in Christ, has already won; otherwise, the Lord God would lose his deity, whose own work it is, that he have mercy on the poor and sorrowful, and spare them that humble themselves before him. Were it not so, no human creature would come unto him, or call upon him; no man would be heard, no man saved, nor thank him: "For in hell no man praiseth thee," says the Psalm. The devil can affright, murder, and steal; but God revives and comforts.
This little word, God, is, in the Scripture, a word with manifold significations, and is oftentimes understood of a thing after the nature of its operation and essence: as the devil is called a god; namely, a god of sin, of death, of despair, and damnation.
We must make due difference between this god and the upright and true God, who is a God of life, comfort, salvation, justification, and all goodness; for there are many words that bear no certain meanings, and equivocation is always the mother of error.
The wicked and ungodly enjoy the most part of God's creatures; the tyrants have the greatest power, lands, and people; the usurers the money; the farmers eggs, butter, corn, barley, oats, apples, pears, etc.; while godly Christians must suffer, be persecuted, sit in dungeons, where they can see neither sun nor moon, be thrust out into poverty, be banished, plagued, etc. But things will be better one day; they cannot always remain as now; let us have patience, and steadfastly remain by the pure doctrine, and not fall away from it, notwithstanding all this misery.
Our Lord God and the devil have two modes of policy which agree not together, but are quite opposite the one to the other. God at the first affrights, and afterwards lifts up and comforts again; so that the flesh and the old man should be killed, and the spirit, or new man, live. Whereas the devil makes, at first, people secure and bold, that they, void of all fear, may commit sin and wickedness, and not only remain in sin, but take delight and pleasure therein, and think they have done all well; but at last, when Mr. Stretch-leg comes, then he affrights and scares them without measure, so that they either die of great grief, or else, in the end, are left without all comfort, and despair of God's grace and mercy.
God only, and not wealth, maintains the world; riches merely make people proud and lazy. At Venice, where the richest people are, a horrible dearth fell among them in our time, so that they were driven to call upon the Turks for help, who sent twenty-four galleys laden with corn; - all of which, well nigh in port, sunk before their eyes. Great wealth and money cannot still hunger, but rather occasion more dearth; for where rich people are, there things are always dear. Moreover, money makes no man right merry, but much rather pensive and full of sorrow; for riches, says Christ, are thorns that prick people. Yet is the world so mad that it sets therein all its joys and felicity.
There is no greater anger than when God is silent, and talks not with us, but suffers us to go on in our sinful works, and to do all things according to our own passions and pleasure; as it has been with the Jews for the last fifteen hundred years.
Ah, God, punish, we pray thee, with pestilence and famine, and with what evil and sickness may be else on earth; but be not silent, Lord, towards us. God said to the Jews: "I have stretched forth my hand, and have cried, come hither and hear," etc. "But ye said, We will not hear."
Even so likewise do we now; we are weary of God's Word; we will not have upright, good, and godly preachers and teachers that threaten us, and bring God's Word pure and unfalsified before us, and condemn false doctrine, and truly warn us. No, such cannot we endure; we will not hear them, nay, we persecute and banish them; Therefore will God also punish us. Thus it goes with wicked and lost children, that will not hearken to their parents, nor be obedient unto them; they will afterwards be rejected of them again.
Nothing displeases Almighty God more than when we defend and clock our sins, and will not acknowledge that we have done wrong as did Saul; for the sins that be not acknowledged, are against the first table of the Ten Commandments. Saul sinned against the first table, David against the second. Those are sinners against the second table, that look on the sermon of Repentance, suffer themselves to be threatened and reproved, acknowledge their sins, and better themselves. Those that sin against the first table, as idolaters, unbelievers, condemners, and blasphemers of God, falsifiers of God's Word, etc., attribute to themselves wisdom and power; they will be wise and mighty, both which qualities God reserves to himself as peculiarly his own.
`Tis inexpressible how ungodly and wicked the world is. We may easily perceive it from this, that God has not only suffered punishments to increase, but also has appointed so many executioners and hangmen to punish his subjects; as evil spirits, tyrants, disobedient children, knaves, and wicked women, wild beasts, vermin, sickness, etc.; yet all this can make us neither bend nor bow.
Better it were that God should be angry with us, than that we be angry with God, for he can soon be at an union with us again, because he is merciful; but when we are angry with him, then the case is not to be helped.
God could be exceedingly rich in temporal wealth, if he so pleased, but he will not. If he would but come to the pope, the emperor, a king, a prince, a bishop, a rich merchant, a citizen, a farmer, and say: Unless you give me a hundred thousand crowns, you shall die on the spot; every one would say: I will give it, with all my heart, if I may but live. But now we are such unthankful slovens, that we give him not so much as a Deo gratias, though we receive of him, to rich overflowing, such great benefits, merely out of his goodness and mercy. Is not this a shame? Yet, notwithstanding such unthankfulness, our Lord God and merciful Father suffers not himself to be scared away, but continually shows us all manner of goodness. If in his gifts and benefits he were more sparing and close-handed, we should learn to be thankful. If he caused every human creature to be born with but one leg or foot, and seven years afterwards gave him the other; or in the fourteenth year gave one hand, and afterwards, in the twentieth year, the other, then we should better acknowledge God's gifts and benefits, and value them at a higher rate, and be thankful. He has given unto us a whole sea-full of his Word, all manner of languages, and liberal arts. We buy at this time, cheaply, all manner of good books. He gives us learned people, that teach well and regularly, so that a youth, if he be not altogether a dunce, may learn more in one year now, than formerly in many years. Arts are now so cheap, that almost they go about begging for bread; woe be to us that we are so lazy, improvident, negligent, and unthankful.
We are nothing worth with all our gifts and qualities, how great soever they be, unless God continually hold his hand over us: if he forsake us, then are our wisdom, art, sense, and understanding futile. If he do not constantly aid us, then our highest knowledge and experience in divinity, or what else we attain unto, will nothing serve; for when the hour of temptation and trial comes, we shall be dispatched in a moment, the devil, thought his craft and subtility, tearing away from us even those texts in Holy Scripture wherewith we should comfort ourselves, and setting before our eyes, instead, only sentences of fearful threatening.
Wherefore, let no man proudly boast and brag of his own righteousness, wisdom, or other gifts and qualities, but humble himself and pray with the holy apostles, and say: "Ah, Lord! strengthen and increase the faith in us!
The greater God's gifts and works, the less are they regarded. The highest and most precious treasure we receive of God is, that we can speak, hear, see, etc.; but how few acknowledge these as God's special gifts, much less give God thanks for them. The world highly esteems riches, honor, power, and other things of less value, which soon vanish away, but a blind man, if in his right wits, would willingly exchange all these for sight. The reason why the corporal gifts of God are so much undervalued is, that they are so common, that God bestows them also upon brute beasts, which as well as we, and better, hear and see. Nay, when Christ made the blind to see, drove out devils, raised the dead, etc., he was upbraided by the ungodly hypocrites, who gave themselves out for God's people, and was told that he was a Samaritan, and had a devil. Ah! the world is the devil's, whether it goes or stands still; how, then, can men acknowledge God's gifts and benefits? It is with us as with young children, who regard not so much their daily bread, as an apple, a pear, or other toys. Look at the cattle going into the fields to pasture, and behold in them our preachers, our milk-bearers, butter-bearers, cheese and wool bearers, which daily preach unto us faith in God, and that we should trust in him, as in our loving Father, who cares for us, and will maintain and nourish us.
No man can estimate the great charge God is at only in maintaining birds and such creatures, comparatively nothing worth. I am persuaded that it costs him, yearly, more to maintain only the sparrows, than the revenue of the French king amounts to. What then, shall we say of all the rest of his creatures?
God delights in our temptations, and yet hates them; he delights in them when they drive us to prayer; he hates them when they drive us to despair. The Psalm says: "An humble and contrite heart is an acceptable sacrifice to God," etc. Therefore, when it goes well with you, sing and praise God with a hymn: goes it evil, that is, does temptation come, then pray: "For the Lord has pleasure in those that fear him;" and that which follows is better: "and in them that hope in his goodness," for God helps the lowly and humble, seeing he says: "Thinkest thou my hand is shortened that I cannot help?" He that feels himself weak in faith, let him always have a desire to be strong therein, for that is a nourishment which God relishes in us.
God, in this world, has scarce the tenth part of the people; the smallest number only will be saved. The world is exceeding ungodly and wicked; who would believe our people should be so unthankful toward the gospel?
`Tis wonderful how God has put such excellent physic in mere muck; we know by experience that swine's dung stints the blood; horse's serves for the pleurisy; man's heals wounds and black blotches; asses' is used for the bloody flux, and cow's with preserved roses, for epilepsy, or for convulsions of children.
God seems as though he had dealt inconsiderately in commanding the world to be governed by the Word of Truth, especially since he has clothed and hooded it with a poor, weak, and condemned Word of the Cross. For, the world will not have the truth, but lies: neither willingly do they aught that is upright and good, unless compelled thereto by main force. The world has a loathing of the cross, and will rather follow the pleasures of the devil, and have pleasant days, than carry the cross of our blessed Saviour Christ Jesus. He that best governs the world, as most worthy of it, is Satan, by his lieutenant the pope; he can please the world well, and knows how to make it give ear unto him; for his kingdom has a mighty show and repute, which is acceptable to the world, and befits it. Like unto like.
Pythagoras, the heathen philosopher, said, that the motion of the stars creates a very sweet harmony and celestial concord; but that people, through continual custom, have become cloyed therewith. Even so it is with us, we have surpassing fair creatures to our use, but by reason they are too common, we regard them not.
Scarcely a small proportion of the earth bears corn, and yet we are all maintained and nourished. I verily believe that there grow not as many sheaves of corn as there people in the world, and yet we are all fed; yea, and there remains a good surplus of corn at the year's end. This is a wonderful thing, which should make us see and perceive God's blessing.
The apparent cause why God passed so sharp a sentence upon Adam, was, that he had eaten of the forbidden tree, and was disobedient unto God, wherefore, for his sake, the earth was cursed, and mankind made subject to all manner of miseries, fears, wants, sicknesses, plagues, and death. The reason of the worldly-wise, regarding only the biting of the apple, holds that for so slight and trivial a thing it was too cruel and hard a proceeding upon poor Adam, and takes snuff in the nose, and says, or at least thinks: O, is it then so heinous a matter and sin for one to eat an apple? As people say of many sins that God expressly in his Word has forbidden, such as drunkenness, etc.: What harm for one to be merry, and take a cup with good fellows? - concluding, according to their blindness, that God is too sharp and exacting.
Again, these worldlings are offended that Christ, as they think, rejects, good, honest, and holy people; that he will not know them, is harsh to them, sends them away from him, and calls them malefactors, though some in his name have prophesied, cast out devils, done miracles, etc., while, on the other hand, he receives public sinners, as strumpets, knaves, publicans, murderers, whom, if they hear his Word, and believe in him, he forgives, be their sins ever so great and many, yea, makes them righteous and holy, God's children, and heirs of everlasting life and salvation, out of mere grace and mercy, without any deserts, good works, and worthiness of theirs. This they conceive to be altogether unjust.
Who can be here an arbitrator, the two things being as contrary to each other as fire and water. Herein man's wisdom, his sense, reason, understanding, is made a fool. The Scripture says: "Except ye be converted, and become like little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of God." They who would investigate these things with human wit and wisdom, give themselves much futile labor and disquiet; they will never learn how God is inclined towards them. In those, also, who so vainly trouble themselves, whether they be predestinated or fore-chosen, there goes up a fire in the heart, which they cannot quench; so that their consciences are never at peace, but in the end they must despair. He, therefore, that will shun this enduring evil must hold fast the Word, where he will find that our gracious God has laid a sure and strong foundation, on which we may with certainty take footing - namely, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom only we must enter into the kingdom of heaven; for he, and no other, "is the way, the truth, and the life."
We can understand the heavy temptations of that everlasting predestination, which terrifies many people, nowhere better than from the wounds of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, of whom the Father commanded, saying: "Him shall ye hear." But the wise of the world, the mighty, the high-learned, and the great, by no means heed these things, so that God remains unknown to them, notwithstanding they have much learning, and dispute and talk much of God; for it is a short conclusion. Without Christ, God will not be found, known, or comprehended.
If now thou wilt know, why so few are saved, and so infinitely many damned, this is the cause: the world will not hear Christ; they care nothing for him, yea, condemn that which the Father testifies of him: "This is my well-beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
Whereas all people that seek and labor to come to God, through any other means than only through Christ (as Jews, Turks, Papists, false saints, heretics, etc.), walk in horrible darkness and error; and it helps them nothing that they lead an honest, sober kind of life, affect great devotion, suffer much, love and honor God, as they boast, etc. For seeing they will not hear Christ, or believe in him (without whom no man knows God, no man obtains forgiveness of sins, no man comes to the Father), they remain always in doubt and unbelief, know not how they stand with God, and so at last must die, and be lost in their sins. For, "He that honoreth not the Son, honoreth not the Father," (1 John ii.), "He that believeth not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him," (John iii.)
It is often asked: Why desperate wretches have such good days, and live a long time in jollity and pleasure, to their heart's desire, with health of body, fine children, etc., while God allows the godly to remain in calamity, danger, anguish and want all their lives; yea, and some to die also in misery, as St John the Baptist did, who was the greatest saint on earth, to say nothing of our only Saviour Jesus Christ.
The prophets have all written much hereof, and shown how the godly should overcome such doubts, and comfort themselves against them. Jeremiah says, "Why goeth it so well with the ungodly, and wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?" But further on, "Thou sufferest them to go at liberty like sheep that are to be slain, and thou preparest them for the day of slaughter." Read also Psalms xxxvii., xlix., lxxiii.
God is not therefore angry with his children, though he scourge and punish them; but he is angry with the ungodly that do not acknowledge Christ to be the Son of God, and the Saviour of the world, but blaspheme and condemn the Word; such are to expect no grace and help of him. And, indeed, he does not himself scourge and beat his small and poor flock that depend on Christ; but suffers them to be chastened and beaten, when they become ever secure and unthankful unto him for his unspeakable graces and benefits shown unto them in Christ, and are disobedient to his Word; then permits he that the devil bruise our heels, and send pestilence and other plagues unto us; and that tyrants persecute us, and this for our good, that thereby we may be moved, and in a manner forced to turn ourselves unto him, to call upon him, to seek help and comfort from him, through Christ.
"God is a God of the living, and not of the dead." This text shows the resurrection; for if there were no hope of the resurrection, or of another and better world, after this short and miserable life, wherefore should God offer himself to be our God, and say he will give us all that is necessary and healthful for us, and, in the end, deliver us out of all trouble, both temporal and spiritual? To what purpose should we hear his Word, and believe in him? What were we the better when we cry and sigh to him in our anguish and need, that we wait with patience upon his comfort and salvation, upon his grace and benefits, shown in Christ? Why praise and thank him for them? Why be daily in danger, and suffer ourselves to be persecuted and slain for the sake of Christ's Word?
Forasmuch as the everlasting, merciful God, through his Word and Sacraments, talks, and deals with us, all other creatures excluded, not of temporal things which pertain to this vanishing life, and which in the beginning he provided richly for us, but as to where we shall go when we depart hence, and gives unto us his Son for a Saviour, delivering us from sin and death, and purchasing for us everlasting righteousness, life, and salvation, therefore it is most certain, that we do not die away like the beasts that have no understanding; but so many of us as sleep in Christ, shall through him be raised again to life everlasting at the last day, and the ungodly to everlasting destruction. (John, v., Dan. xii.)
The most acceptable service we can do and show unto God, and which alone he desires of us, is, that he be praised of us; but he is not praised, unless he be first loved; he is not loved, unless he be first bountiful and does well; he does well when he is gracious; gracious he is when he forgives sins. Now who are those that love him? They are that small flock of the faithful, who acknowledge such graces, and know that through Christ they have forgiveness of their sins. But the children of this world do not trouble themselves herewith; they serve their idol, that wicked and cursed Mammon: in the end he will reward them.
Our loving Lord God wills that we eat, drink, and be merry, making use of his creatures, for therefore he created them. He will not that we complain, as if he had not given sufficient, or that he could not maintain our poor carcasses; he asks only that we acknowledge him for our God, and thank him for his gifts.
He that has not God, let him have else what he will, is more miserable than Lazarus, who lay at the rich man's gate, and was starved to death. It will go with such, as it went with the glutton, that they must everlastingly hunger and want, and shall not have in their power so much as one drop of water.
Of Abraham came Isaac and Ishmael; of the patriarchs and holy fathers, came the Jews that crucified Christ; of the apostles came Jusas the traitor; of the city Alexandria (where a fair, illustrious, and famous school was, and whence proceeded many upright and godly learned men) came Arius and Origen; of the Roman church, that yielded many holy martyrs, came the blasphemous Antichrist, the pope of Rome; of the holy men in Arabia, came Mohammed; of Constantinople, where many excellent emperors were, comes the Turk; of married women come adulteresses; of virgins, strumpets; of brethren, sons, and friends, come the cruelest enemies; of angels come devils; of kings come tyrants; of the gospel and godly truth come horrible lies; of the true church come heretics; of Luther come fanatics, rebels, and enthusiasts. What wonder is it then that evil is among us, comes from us, and goes out of us; they must, indeed, be very evil things that cannot stay by such goodness; and they must also be very good, that can endure such evil things.
Though by reason of original sin many wild beasts hurt mankind, as lions, wolves, bears, snakes, adders, etc., yet the merciful God has in such manner mitigated our well-deserved punishments, that there are many more beasts that serve us for our good and profit, than of those which do us hurt: many more sheep than wolves, oxen than lions, cows than bears, deer than foxes, lobsters than scorpions, ducks, geese, and hens, than ravens and kites, etc.: in all creatures more good than evil, more benefits than hurts and hindrances.
God will have his servants to be repenting sinners, standing in fear of his anger, of the devil, death and hell, and believing in Christ. David says, "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, and helpeth them that be of an humble spirit." And Isaiah "Where shall my Spirit rest, and where shall I dwell? By them that are of humble spirit, and that stand in fear of my Word." So with the poor sinner on the cross. So with St Peter, when he had denied Christ; with Mary Magdalene; with Paul the persecutor, etc. All these were sorrowful for their sins, and such shall have forgiveness of their sins, and be God's servants.
The great prelates, the puffed up saints, the rich usurers, the ox drovers that seek unconscionable gain, etc., these are not God's servants, neither were it good they should be; for then no poor people could have access to God for them; neither were it for God's honor that such should be his servants, for they would ascribe the honor and praise to themselves.
In the Old Testament, all the first-born were consecrated to God, both of mankind and of beasts. The first-born son had an advantage over his brethren; he was their Lord, as the chief in offerings and riches, that is, in spiritual and temporal government; for he had a right to the priesthood and dominion, etc. But there are many examples in Holy Scriptures, where God rejected the first-born, and chose the younger brethren, as Cain, Ishmael, Esau, Reuben, etc., who were first-born; from them God took their right, and gave it to their younger brethren, as to Abel, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David, etc. And for this cause: That they were haughty, proud, and presuming on their first-birth, and despised their brethren, that were more goodly and godly than they; this God could not endure, and therefore they were bereaved of their honors, so that they could not boast themselves of their prior birth, although they were highly esteemed in the world, and were possessed of lands and people.
The Scriptures show two manner of sacrifices acceptable to God. The first is called a sacrifice of thanks or praise, and is when we teach and preach God's Word purely, when we hear and receive it with faith, when we acknowledge it, and do everything that tends to the spreading of it abroad, and thank God from our hearts for the unspeakable benefits which through it are laid before us, and bestowed upon us in Christ, when we praise and glorify him, etc. "Offer unto God thanksgiving." "He that offereth thanks praiseth me." "Thank the Lord, for he is gracious, because his mercy endureth for ever." "Praise the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits." - Psalms.
Secondly, when a sorrowful and troubled heart in all manner of temptations has his refuge in God, calls upon him in a true and upright faith, seeks help of him, and waits patiently upon him. Hereof the Psalms, "In my trouble I called upon the Lord, and he heard me at large." "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a contrite heart, and will save such as be of an humble spirit." "The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt thou not despise." And again: "Call upon me in the time of need, so will I deliver thee, and thou shalt praise me."
If Adam had remained in his innocence, and had not transgressed God's command, yet had begotten children, he should not have lived and remained continually in that state in Paradise, but would have been taken into the everlasting glory of heaven, not through death, but through being translated into another life.
God scorns and mocks the devil, in setting under his very nose a poor, weak, human creature, mere dust and ashes, yet endowed with the first-fruits of the Spirit, against whom the devil can do nothing, though he is so proud, subtile, and powerful a spirit. We read in histories that a powerful king of Persia, besieging the city of Edessa, the bishop, seeing that all human aid was ineffectual, and that the city could not of itself hold out, ascending to the ramparts and prayed to God, making, at the same time, the sign of the cross, whereupon there was a wonderful host sent from God of great flies and gnats, which filled the horses eyes, and dispersed the whole army. Even so God takes pleasure to triumph and overcome, not through power, but by weakness.
False teachers and sectaries are punishments for evil times, God's greatest anger and displeasure; while godly teachers are glorious witnesses, God's graces and mercies. Hence St Paul names apostles, evangelists, prophets, shepherds, teachers, etc., gifts and presents of our Saviour Christ, sitting at the right hand of the Father. And the prophet Micah compares teachers of the gospel to a fruitful rain.
Melancthon asked Luther if this word, hardened, "hardeneth whom he will," were to be understood directly as it sounded, or in a figurative sense? Luther answered: We must understand it specially and not operatively: for God works no evil. Through his almighty power he works all in all; and as he finds a man, so he works in him, as he did in Pharaoh, who was evil by nature, which was not God's, but his own fault; he continually went on in his wickedness, doing evil; he was hardened, because God with his spirit and grace hindered not his ungodly proceedings, but suffered him to go on, and to have his way. Why God did not hinder or restrain him, we ought not to inquire.
God styles himself, in all the Holy Scriptures, a God of life, of peace, of comfort, and joy, for the sake of Christ. I hate myself, that I cannot believe it so constantly and surely as I should; but no human creature can rightly know how mercifully God is inclined toward those that steadfastly believe in Christ.
The second Psalm is one of the best Psalms. I love that Psalm with my heart. It strikes and flashes valiantly amongst kings, princes, counsellors, judges, etc. If what this Psalm says be true, then are the allegations and aims of the papists stark lies and folly. If I were as our Lord God, and had committed the government to my son, as he to his Son, and these vile people were as disobedient as they now be, I would knock the world in pieces.
If a man serve not God only, then surely he serves the devil; because no man can serve God, unless he have his Word and command. Therefore, if his Word and command be not in thy heart, thou servest not God, but thine own will; for that is upright serving of God, when a man does that which in his Word God has commanded to be done, every one in his vocation, not that which he thinks good of his own judgment.
It troubles the hearts of people not a little, that God seems as though he were mutable or fickle-minded; for he gave to Adam the promises and ceremonies, which afterwards he altered with the rainbow and the ark of Noah. He gave to Abraham the circumcision, to Moses he gave miraculous signs, to his people, the law. But to Christ, and through Christ, he gave the Gospel; which amounts to the abolition of all the former. Hence the Turks take advantage of these proceedings of God, saying: The laws of the Christians may be established, and endure for a time, but at last they will be altered.
I was once sharply reprimanded by a popish priest, because, with such passion and vehemence, I reproved the people. I answered him: Our Lord God must first send a sharp, pouring shower, with thunder and lightning, and afterwards cause it mildly to rain, as then it wets finely through. I can easily cut a willow or a hazel wand with my trencher knife, but for a hard oak, a man must use the axe; and little enough, to fell and cleave it.
Plato, the heathen, said of God: God is nothing and yet everything; him followed Eck and the sophists, who understood nothing thereof, as their words show. But we must understand and spake of it in this manner: God is incomprehendible and invisible; that, therefore, which may be seen and comprehended, is not God. And thus, in another manner, God is visible and invisible: visible in his Word and works; and where his Word and works are not, there a man should not desire to have him; or he will, instead of God, take hold of the devil. Let us not flutter too high, but remain by the manger and the swaddling clothes of Christ, "in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." There a man cannot fail of God, but finds him most certainly. Human comfort and divine comfort are of different natures: human comfort consists in external, visible help, which a man may see, hold, and feel; divine comfort only in words and promises, where there is neither seeing, hearing, nor feeling.
When we see no way or means, by advice or aid, through which we may be helped in our miseries, we at once conclude, according to our human reason: now our condition is desperate; but when we believe trustingly in God, our deliverance begins. The physician says: Where philosophy ends, physic begins; so we say: Where human help is at an end, God's help begins, or faith in God's Word. Trials and temptations appear before deliverance, after deliverance comes joy. To be suppressed and troubled, is to arise, to grow and to increase.
The devil, too, has his amusement and pleasure, which consists in suppressing God's work, and tormenting those that love God's Word, and hold fast thereby; so the true Christians, being God's kingdom, must be tormented and oppressed.
A true Christian must have evil days, and suffer much; our Adam's flesh and blood must have good and easy days, and suffer nothing. How may these agree together? Our flesh is given over to death and hell: if our flesh is to be delivered from death, hell and the devil, it must keep and hold to God's commandments - i.e., must believe in Christ Jesus, that he is the Son of God and our Redeemer, and must cleave fast to his Word, believing that he will not suffer us to be plagued everlastingly, but will deliver and remove us out of this life into life eternal; giving us at the same time, patience under the cross, and to bear with the weakness of another, who is also under the cross, and holds with Christ.
Therefore, he that will boast himself to be Christ's disciple, a true Christian, and saved, must not expect good days; but all his faith, hope, and love must be directed to God, and to his neighbor, that so his whole life be nothing else than the cross, persecution, adversity, and tribulation.
What is it we poor wretched people aim at? We who cannot, as yet, comprehend with our faith the merest sparks of God's promises, the bare glimmering of his commandments and works, - both of which, notwithstanding he himself has confirmed with words and miracles, - weak, impure, corrupt as we are, - presumptuously seek to understand the incomprehensible light of God's wonders.
We must know that he dwells in a light to which human creatures cannot come, and yet we go on, and essay to reach it. We know it. We know that his judgments are incomprehensive, and his ways past finding out, (Rom. xi.,) yet we undertake to find them out. We look, with blind eyes like a mole, on the majesty of God, and after that light which is shown neither in words nor miracles, but is only signified; out of curiosity and willfulness we would behold the highest and greatest light of the celestial sun ere we see the morning star. Let the morning star, as St Peter says, go first up in our hearts, and we shall then see the sun in his noon-tide splendor.
True, we must teach, as we may, of God's incomprehensible and unsearchable will; but to aim at its perfect comprehension is dangerous work, wherein we stumble, fall, and break our necks. I bridle myself with these words of our Saviour Christ to St peter: "Follow thou me: what is it to thee?" etc., for Peter busied himself also about God's works; namely, how he would do with another, how he would do with John? And as he answered Philip, that said, "Show us the Father" - "What," said Christ; "believest thou not that the Father is in me, and I in the Father? He that seeth me, seeth the Father also," etc. For Philip would also willingly have seen the majesty and fellowship of the Father. Solomon, the wise king, says: "What is too high for thee, thereafter inquire thou not." And even did we know all the secret judgments of God, what good and profit would it bring unto us, more than God's promises and commandments?
Let us abstain from such cogitations, seeing we know for certain that they are incomprehensible. Let us not permit ourselves to be so plagued by the devil with that which is impossible. A man might as well busy himself how the kingdom of the earth shall endure upon the waters, and go not down beneath them. Above all things, let us exercise the faith of God's promises, and the works of his commandments; when we have done this, we may well consider whether it is expedient to trouble oneself about impossible things, though it is a very difficult thing to expel such thoughts, so fiercely drives the devil. A man must as vehemently strive against such cogitations as against unbelief, despair, heresies, and such like temptations. For most of us are deceived herewith, not believing they proceed from the devil, who yet himself fell through those very cogitations, assuming to be equal with the Most Highest, and to know all that God knows, and scorning to know what he ought to know, and what was needful for him.
High mysteries in the Scriptures being hard to be understood, confound unlearned and light spirits so as to produce many errors and heresies, to their own and others condemnation. `Twis therefore Moses described the creation so briefly, whereas he spends a whole chapter in narrating the purchase of the field and cave over against Hebron, that Abraham bought of Ephron the Hittite, for a sepulchre to bury Sara in. He describes, likewise, through many chapters, divers sorts of sacrifices, and other customs and ceremonies, for he well knew that such like produce no heresies. Many things were written and described ere Moses was born. Doubtless, Adam briefly noted the history of the creation, of his fall, of the promised seed, etc. The other patriarchs afterwards, no doubt, each set down what was done in his time, especially Noah. Afterwards Moses, as I conceive, took and brought all into a right method and order, diminishing therefrom, and adding thereunto, such things as God commanded: as, especially, touching the seed that should crush the serpent's head, the history of the creation, etc.; all which, doubtless, he had out of the sermons of the patriarchs, that always one inherited from another. For I verily believe, that the sermon of the woman's seed promised to Adam and Eve, after which they had so hearty a longing and yearning, was preached more powerfully before the deluge, than now in these dangerous times the sermons of Christ are preached with us.
I would give a world to have the acts and legends of the patriarchs who lived before the deluge; for therein a man might see how they lived, preached, and what they suffered. But it pleased our Lord God to overwhelm all their acts and legends in the deluge, because he knew that those which should come after, would not regard, much less understand them; therefore God would keep and preserve them until they met again together in the life to come. But then, I am sure, the loving patriarchs who lived after the deluge, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc.; the prophets, the apostles, their posterity, and other holy people, whom in this life the devil would not leave untempted, will yield unto the patriarchs, that lived before the deluge, and give to them pre-eminence in divine and spiritual honor, saying: Ye loving and most venerable patriarchs! I preached but a few years, spreading God's Word abroad, and therefore suffered the cross; but what is that in comparison with the great, tedious, intolerable labor and pains, anguish, torments, and plagues, which ye, holy fathers, endured before the deluge, some of you, seven hundred, some eight hundred years, some longer, of the devil and the wicked world.
As lately I lay very sick, so sick that I thought I should have left this world, many cogitations and musings had I in my weakness. Ah! thought I, what may eternity be? What joys may it have? However, I know for certain, that this eternity is ours; through Christ it is given and prepared for us, if we can but believe. There it shall be opened and revealed; here we shall not know when a second creation of the world will be, seeing we understand not the first. If I had been with God almighty before he created the world, I could not have advised him how out of nothing to make this globe, the firmament, and that glorious sun, which in its swift course gives light to the whole earth; how, in such manner, to create man and woman, etc., all which he did for us, without our counsel. Therefore ought we justly to give him the honor, and leave to his divine power and goodness the new creation of the life to come, and not presume to speculate thereon.
I hold that the name Paradise applies to the whole world. Moses describes more particularly what fell within Adam's sight before his fall, - a sweet and pleasant place, water by four rivers. After he had sinned, he directed his steps towards Syria, and the earth lost its fertility. Samaria and Judaea were once fruitful lands, worthy to be Paradise, but they are now arid sands, for God has cursed them.
Even so, in our time, has God cursed fruitful lands, and caused them to be barren and unfruitful by reason of our sins; for where God gives not his blessing, there grows nothing that is good and profitable, but where he blesses, there all things grow plentifully, and are fruitful.
Dr. Jonas, inviting Luther to dinner, caused a bunch of ripe cherries to be hung over the table where they dined, in remembrance of the creation, and as a suggestion to his guests to praise God for creating such fruits. But Luther said: Why not rather remember this in one's children, that are the fruit of one's body? For these are far more excelling creatures of God than all the fruits of trees. In them we see God's power, wisdom and art, who made them all out of nothing, gave them life and limbs, exquisitely constructed, and will maintain and preserve them. Yet how little do we regard this. When people have children, all the effect is to make them grasping - raking together all they an to leave behind them. They do not know, that before a child comes into the world, it has its lot assigned already, and that it is ordained and determined what and how much it shall have. In the married state we find that the conception of children depends not on our will and pleasure; we never know whether we will be fruitful or no, or whether God will give us a son or a daughter. All this goes on without our counsel. My father and mother did not imagine they should have brought a spiritual overseer into the world. `Tis God's work only, and this we cannot enter into. I believe that, in the life to come, we shall have nothing to do, but to meditate on and marvel at our Creator and his creatures.
A comet is a star that runs, not being fixed like a planet, but a bastard among planets. It is a haughty and proud star, engrossing the whole element, and carrying itself as if it were there alone. `Tis of the nature of heretics who also will be singular and alone, bragging and boasting above others and thinking they are the only people endued with understanding.
Whereto serve or profit such superfluity, such show, such ostentation, such extraordinary luxurious kind of life as is now come upon us. If Adam were to return to earth, and see our mode of living, our food, drink and dress, how would he marvel. He would say: Surely, this is not the world I was in; it was, doubtless, another Adam than I, who appeared among men heretofore. For Adam drank water, ate fruit from the trees, and if he had any house at all, `twas a hut, supported by four wooden forks; he had no knife, or iron; and he wore simply a coat of s kin. Now we spend immense sums in eating and drinking; now we raise sumptuous palaces, and decorate them with a luxury beyond all comparison. The ancient Israelites lived in great moderation and quiet; Boaz says: "Dip thy bread in vinegar, and refresh thyself therewith." Judaea was full of people, as we read in the book of Joshua; and a great multitude of people gives a lesson to live sparingly.
Adam, our father, was, doubtless, a most miserable, plagued man. `Twas a mighty solitariness for him to be alone in so wide and vast a world; but when he, with Eve, his only companion and loving consort, obtained Cain their son, then there was great joy; and so, when Abel was born: but soon after followed great trouble, misery, and sorrow of heart, when one brother slew another, and Adam thereby lost one son, and the other was banished and proscribed from his sight. This surely was a great cross and sorrow, so that the murder caused him more grief than his own fall; but he, with his loving Eve, were reduced again to a solitary kind of life. Afterwards, when he was one hundred and thirty years old, he had Seth. Miserable and lamentable was his fall, for during nine hundred years he saw God's anger in the death of every human creature. Ah! no human creature can conceive his perplexities: our sufferings, in comparison with his, are altogether children's toys; but he was afterwards comforted and refreshed again with the promise, through faith, of the woman's seed.
All wild beasts are beasts of the law, for they live in fear and quaking; they have all swarthy and black flesh, by reason of their fear, but tame beasts have white flesh, for they are beasts of grace; they live securely with mankind.
After Adam had lost the righteousness in which God had created him, he was, without doubt, much decayed in bodily strength, by reason of his anguish and sorrow of heart. I believe that before the fall he could have seen objects a hundred miles off better than we can see them at half a mile, and so in proportion with all the other senses. No doubt, after the fall, he said: "Ah, God! what has befallen me? I am both blind and deaf." It was a horrible fall; for, before, all creatures were obedient unto him, so that he could play even with the serpent.
Twenty years is but a short time, yet in that short time the world were empty, if there was no marrying and production of children. God assembles unto himself a Christian Church out of little children. For I believe, when a little child dies of one years old, that always one, yea, two thousand die with it, of that age or younger; but when I, Luther, die, that am sixty-three, I believe that not three-score, or one hundred at the most, will die with me of that age, or older; for people now grow not old; not many people live to my years. Mankind is nothing else but a sheep-shambles, where we are slain and slaughtered by the devil. How many sorts of deaths are in our bodies? Nothing is therein but death.
It is in the father's power to disinherit a disobedient child; God commanded, by Moses, that disobedient children should be stoned to death, so that a father may clearly disinherit a son, yet with this proviso, that, upon bettering and amendment, he reinstate him.
What need had our early ancestors of other food than fruits and herbs, seeing these tasted so well and gave such strength? The pomegranates and oranges, without doubt yielded such a sweet and pleasant smell, that one might have been satisfied with the scent thereof; and I am sure Adam, before his fall, never wanted to eat a partridge; but the deluge spoiled all. It follows not, that because God created all things, we must eat of all things. Fruits were created chiefly as food for people and for beasts; the latter were created to the end we should laud and praise God. Whereunto serve the stars, but only to praise their Creator? Whereunto serve the raven and crows, but to call upon the Lord who nourishes them.
There's no doubt that all created things have degenerated by reason of original sin. The serpent was at first a lofty, noble animal, eating without fear from Eve's hand, but after it was cursed, it lost its feet, and was fain to crawl and eat on the ground. It was precisely because the serpent, at that time, was the most beautiful of creatures, that Satan selected it for his work, for the devil likes beauty, knowing that beauty attracts men unto evil. A fool serves not as a provocative to heresy, nor a deformed maid-servant to libertinism, nor water to drunkenness, nor rags to vanity. Consider the bodies of children, how much sweeter and purer and more beautiful they are than those of grown persons; `tis because childhood approaches nearer to the state of innocence wherein Adam lived before his fall. In our sad condition, our only consolation is the expectation of another life. Here below all is incomprehensible.
Dr. Luther, holding a rose in his hand, said: `Tis a magnificent work of God: could a man make but one such rose as this, he would be thought worthy of all honor, but the gifts of God lose their value in our eyes, from their very infinity. How wonderful is the resemblance between children and their parents. A man shall have a half-dozen sons, all like him as so many peas are like another, and these sons again their sons, with equal exactness of resemblance, and so it goes on. The heathen noticed these likenesses. Dido says to Aeneas:
"Si mihi parvulus Aeneas luderet in aula, Qui te tantum ore referret."
`Twas a form of malediction among the Greeks, for a man to wish that his enemy's son might be unlike him in face.
`Tis wonderful how completely the earth is fertilized by currents of water running in all directions and constantly replenished by snow, rain, and dew.