[The following sermon is taken from volume III:373-382 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI). It was originally published in 1907 in English by Lutherans in All Lands Press (Minneapolis, MN), as The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 12. The pagination from the Baker edition has been maintained for referencing. This e-text was scanned and edited by Richard P. Bucher, it is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without restriction.]
Page 373 —————————
I. TRUE PREACHERS OF THE WORD MUST BE REGULARLY CALLED.
1. This Gospel treats of the office of the ministry, how it is constituted, what it accomplishes and how it is misused. It is indeed very necessary to know these things, for the office of preaching is second to none in Christendom. St. Paul highly esteemed this office, for the reason that through it the Word of God was proclaimed, which is effective to the salvation of all who believe it. He says to the Romans (1, 16): “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” We must now consider this theme, since our Gospel lesson presents and includes it. It will, however, be a stench in the nostrils of the
Page 374 —————————
pope! But how shall I deal differently with him? The text says:
“He that entereth not by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber (murderer).”
2. This verse has been explained as having reference to those who climb, by their presumption, into the best church livings through favor and wealth, recommendations or their own power, not obtaining them by regular appointment and authority. And at present the most pious jurists are punishing people for running to Rome after fees and benefices, or after ecclesiastical preferment and offices. This they call simony. The practice is truly deplorable, for much depends upon being regularly called and appointed. No one should step into the office and preach from his own presumption and without a commission from those having the authority. But under present conditions, if we should wait until we received a commission to preach and to administer the sacraments, we would never perform those offices as long as we live. For the bishops in our day press into their offices by force, and those who have the power of preferment are influenced by friendship and rank. But I pass this by, and will speak of the true office, into which no one forces his way (even though his devotion urge him) without being called by others having the authority.
3. True, we all have authority to preach, yea, we must preach God’s name; we are commanded to do so. Peter says in his first Epistle, 2, 9-10: “But ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” Nevertheless, Paul establishes order in 1 Cor 14, 40 and says: “In whatever you do among yourselves, let everything be done decently and in order.” In a family there must be order. If all the heirs strive for lordship, anarchy will reign in the family. If, however, by common consent, one of the number is selected for the heirship, the others withdrawing, harmony
Page 375 —————————
will obtain. Likewise, in the matter of preaching we must make selection that order may be preserved. But since all who are Christians have authority to preach, what will be the outcome? for women will also want to preach. Not so. St. Paul forbids women to put themselves forward as preachers in a congregation of men, and says: “They should be subject to their husbands.” For when a woman will not submit to being led and governed, the result will be anything but good. These are, however, the words of Paul in 1 Tim 2, 11-12: “Let a woman learn in quietness with all subjection. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness.” If it happened, however, that no man could be secured for the office, then a woman might step up and preach to others as best she could; but in no other instance.
II. PREACHERS OF THE WORD TO PREACH NOTHING BUT THE WORD.
4. So much for the call into the office. But Christ is not speaking of that here; for something more is required, namely, that no rival or supplementary doctrine be introduced, nor another word be taught than Christ has taught. Christ says in Mt 23, 2-4: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat: all things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe: but do not ye after their works; for they say and do not. Yea, they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.” Although these of whom Christ here speaks were regularly appointed, yet they were thieves and murderers; for they taught variations from Christ’s teaching. Christ reproves them in another place, in Matthew 15, 3, where he holds up before them their traditions and tells them how, through their own inventions, they have transgressed the commandments of God, yea, totally abolished them. We have also many prophets who were regularly appointed and still were misled, like Balaam, of whom we read in Num 22; also Nathan, described in 2 Sam 7, 3. Similarly many bishops have erred.
Page 376 —————————
5. Here Christ says: He who would enter by the door must be ready to speak the Word concerning Christ and his word must center in Christ. Let it be called “coming” when one preaches aright; the approaching is spiritual, and through the Word–upon the ears of his hearers, the preacher comes at last into the sheepfold–the heart of believers. Christ says that the shepherd must enter by the door; that is, preach nothing but Christ, for Christ is the door into the sheepfold.
6. But where there are intruders, who make their own door, their own hole to crawl through, their own addition, different from that which Christ taught, they are thieves. Of these Paul says to the Romans (16, 17-18): “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly; and by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent.” Paul does not speak of opposing or antagonistic doctrines, but of those placed beside the true doctrine; they are additions, making divisions. Paul calls it a rival doctrine, an addition, an occasion of stumbling, an offense and a byway, when one establishes the conscience upon his own goodness or deeds.
7. Now, the Gospel is sensitive, complete and pre-eminent: it must be intolerant of additions and rival teachings. The doctrine of earning entrance into heaven by virtue of fastings, prayers and penance is a branch road, which the Gospel will not tolerate. But our Church authorities endorse these things, hence they are thieves and murderers; for they do violence to our consciences, which is slaying and destroying the sheep. How is this accomplished? If only I am directed into a branch or parallel road, then my soul is turned from God upon that road, where I must perish. Thus this road is the cause of my death. The conscience and heart of man must be founded upon one single Word or they will come to grief. “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field.” Is 40, 6.
8. The doctrines of men, however admirable, fall to the ground, and with them the conscience that has built upon
Page 377 —————————
them. There is no help nor remedy. But the Word of God is eternal and must endure forever; no devil can overthrow it. The foundation is laid upon which the conscience may be established forever. The words of men must perish and everything that cleaves to them. Those who enter not by the door–that is, those who do not speak the true and pure Word of God, without any addition–do not lay the right foundation; they destroy and torture and slaughter the sheep. Therefore, Christ says further in this Gospel:
“But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice.”
III. A TRUE PREACHER SHOULD FIRST USE THE LAW ARIGHT AND THEN PREACH THE GOSPEL.
9. The porter here is the preacher who rightly teaches: the Law–shows that the Law exists and must reveal to us our helplessness; that the works of the Law do not help us, and yet they are insistent. He then opens to the shepherd, that is, to Christ the Lord, and lets him alone feed the sheep. For the office of the Law is at an end; it has accomplished its mission of revealing to the heart its sins until it is completely humbled. Then Christ comes and makes a lamb out of the sheep–feeds it with his Gospel and directs it how to regain cheer for the heart so hopelessly troubled and crushed by the Law.
10. The lamb then hears Christ’s voice and follows it. It has the choicest of pastures, and knows the voice of the shepherd. But the voice of a stranger it never hears and never follows. just as soon as one preaches to it about works, it is worried and its heart cannot receive the teaching with joy. It knows very well that nothing is accomplished by means of works; for one may do as much as he will, still he carries a heavy spirit and he thinks he has not done enough, nor done rightly. But when the Gospel comes–the voice of the shepherd–it says: God gave to the world his only Son, that all who believe on him should not perish, but have everlasting
Page 378 —————————
life. Then is the heart happy; it feeds upon these words and finds them good. The lamb has found its satisfying pasture; it wants none other. Yea, when it is given other pasture, it flees from it and will not feed therein. This pasture always attracts the sheep, and the sheep also find it. God says in the prophecy of Isaiah: “So shall my Word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish all in the things whereto I sent it.” Is 55, 11.
“And he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. When he hath put forth all his own, he goeth before them and the sheep follow him; for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him; for they know not the voice of strangers.”
IV. THE HEARERS HAVE THE RIGHT TO EXAMINE AND JUDGE A SERMON.
11. In this text there are two thoughts worthy of note: the liberty of faith, and the power to judge. You know that our soul-murderers have proposed to us that what the councils and the learned doctors decide and decree, that we should accept, and not judge for ourselves whether it is right or not. They have become so certain of the infallibility of the councils and doctors that they have now established the edict, publicly seen, that if we do not accept what they say, we are put under the ban. Now, let us take a spear in hand and make a hole in their shield; yea, their resolutions shall be a spider’s web. And you should, moreover, use upon them the spear which, until now, they have used upon us, and hold before them its point.
12. Remember well that the sheep have to pass judgment upon that which is placed before them. They should say: We have Christ as our Lord and prefer his Word to the words of any man or to those of the angels of darkness. We want to examine and judge for ourselves whether the pope, the bishops and their followers do right or not. For Christ says here that the sheep judge and know which is the right voice and which is not. Now let them come along. Have they decreed anything? We will examine whether it is right, and accord-
Page 379 —————————
ing to our own judgment interpret that which is a private affair for each individual Christian, knowing that the authority to do this is not human, but divine. Even the real sheep flee from a stranger and hold to the voice of their shepherd.
13. Upon this authority, the Gospel knocks all the councils, all the papistic laws, to the ground, granting to us that we should receive nothing without judging it, that we have besides the power to judge, and that such judgment stands until the present day. The papists have taken from us the sword, so that we have not been able to repel any false doctrine, and, moreover, they have by force introduced false teachings among us. If now we take the sword from them they will be sorry. And we must truly take it, not by force, but by means of the Word, letting go all else that we have, saying: I am God’s sheep, whose Word I wish to appropriate to myself. If you will give me that, I will acknowledge you to be a shepherd. If you, however, add another Gospel to this one, and do not give me the pure Gospel, then I will not consider you a shepherd, and will not listen to your voice; for the office of which you boast extends no farther than the Word goes. If we find one to be a shepherd, we should receive him as such: if he is not, we should remove him; for the sheep shall judge the voice of the shepherd. If he does not give us the right kind of pasture, we should bid farewell to such a shepherd, that is, to the bishop; for a hat of pearls and a staff of silver do not make a shepherd or a bishop, but rather does the office depend upon his care of the sheep and their pasture.
14. Now the papists object to judgment being passed upon any of their works; for this reason they have intruded and taken from us the sword which we might use for such a purpose. Also, they dictate that we must accept, without any right of judgment, whatever they propose. And it has almost come to such a pass that whenever the pope breathes they make an article of faith out of it, and they have proclaimed that the authorities have the right to pass such laws for their subjects as they desire, independent of the judgment of the latter. These conditions mean ruin to the Christians
Page 380 —————————
so much so that a hundred thousand swords should be desired for one pope. This they know very well, and they cling hard to their laws. If they would permit unbiased judgment, their laws would be set aside and they would have to preach the pure Word; but such a course would reduce the size of their stomachs and the number of their horses.
15. Therefore, be ye aroused by this passage of Scripture to hew to pieces and thrust through everything that is not in harmony with the Gospel, for it belongs to the sheep to judge, and not to the preachers. You have the authority and power to judge everything that is preached; that and nothing less. If we have not this power, then Christ vainly said to us in Mt 7, 15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.” We could not beware if we had not the power to judge, but were obliged to accept everything they said and preached.
V. PREACHERS ARE TO FORCE NO ONE TO BELIEVE.
16. The second thought is, no one shall be forced to believe; for the sheep follow him whom they know and flee from strangers. Now, Christ’s wish is that none be forced, but that they be permitted to follow from willing hearts and of their own desire; not out of fear, shame or strife. He would let the Word go forth and accomplish all. When their hearts are taken captive, then they will surely come of themselves. Faith does not go forth from the heart unless it has the Word of God.
17. Our noblemen are now mad and foolish in that they undertake to drive people to believe by means of force and the sword. Christ here wishes the sheep to come of themselves, from their knowledge of his voice. The body may be. forced, as the pope, for example, has by his laws coerced people to go to confession and to the Lord’s Supper, but the heart cannot be taken captive. Christ wants it to be free. Although he had power to coerce men, he wished to win them through his pleasing, loving preaching. Whoever lays hold of Christ’s word follows after him and permits nothing to
Page 381 —————————
tear him from it. The noblemen wish to drive the people to believe by means of the sword and fire; that is nonsense. Then let us see to it that we allow the pure Word of God to take its course, and afterward leave them free to follow, whom it has taken captive; yea, they will follow voluntarily.
18. By this I do not wish to abolish the civil sword; for the hand can hold it within its grasp so that it does no one any harm, but it holds it inactive. It must be retained because of wicked villains who have no regard at all for the Word; but the sword cannot force the heart and bring it to faith. In view of its inability, it must keep silent in matters of faith; here one must enter by the door, and preach the Word and make the heart free. Only in this way are men led to believe. These are the two expedients-for the pious and the wicked: the pious are to be drawn by the Word, and the wicked to be driven by the sword to observe order.
VI. THE MARKS OF FALSE PREACHERS.
19. Now, Christ interprets his own words. He says that he is the door to the sheep, but all the others who came before him, that is, those who were not sent by God as the prophets were, but came of themselves, uncommissioned, are thieves and murderers; they steal his honor from God and strangle human souls by their false doctrines. But Christ is the door, and whoever enters by him will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. Here Christ speaks of the Christian liberty, which means that Christians are now free from the curse and the tyranny of the Law, and may keep the Law or not, according as they see that the love and need of their neighbor requires. This is what Paul did. When he was among the Jews, he kept the Law with the Jews; when among the gentiles, he kept it as they kept it, which he himself says in 1 Cor 9, 19-23: “For though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, not being
Page 382 —————————
without law to God, but under law to Christ, that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak: I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the gospel’s sake, that I may be a joint partaker thereof.”
20. That the thieves and murderers, the false teachers and prophets, never do; they accomplish nothing but to steal, strangle and destroy the sheep. But Christ, the true and faithful shepherd, comes only that the sheep may have life and be fully satisfied. This is enough on today’s Gospel for the present. We will conclude and pray God for grace rightly to lay hold of it and understand it.
Second Sermon. John 10, 1-11.
The pagination from the Baker edition has been maintained for referencing. This e-text was scanned and edited by Paul W. Meier. It is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without restriction. This sermon is found only in edition c., the edition of the Church Postil by Creuziger, edited in 1543.
German text: Erlangen Edition, 12, 385; Walch Edition, II, 1117, St. Louis Walch, II, 1125.
CONTENTS: THREE CLASSES OF PREACHERS.
p. 383 – – – – – –
1. This Gospel lesson presents to us in a picture and parable that which is elsewhere taught concerning Christ’s kingdom and the office of preaching in the Church. The same topic, is continued in the Gospel of the good shepherd immediately following our text. Both portions distinguish the different kinds of teaching that claim to point to heaven; and from these words we may correctly judge which are the true teachings of the Holy Spirit. There are three distinct kinds of teaching here considered. Only one of them can save the soul. The first is the teaching of those whom Christ calls thieves and murderers; the second that of the porter of the sheepfold; the third, that of the true shepherd to whom the porter opens and whom he permits to enter. John says that the disciples did not rightly understand this parable until Christ explained that he himself, and he alone, was the door of the sheepfold and that he was likewise the shepherd. We, too, would not understand it if he had not shown us the interpretation.
I. The First Class of Preachers -Thieves and Murderers.
2. It is a fact that these three classes are always found in the Christian Church. Herein is danger, and the need that the people be warned to be on their guard and to protect themselves well against teachers who spread heresy and destruction, and whose only object, wherever they appear among the sheep, is to steal from them the true pasture of pure doctrine and God’s Word, and to destroy their souls also. Therefore the apostles diligently warned the Christians against such teachers. Paul, in Acts 20, 29-30, prophesies to them saying: “I know that after my departing grevious wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock,” etc.
3. Such are they who would lord it over souls with doctrines formulated or invented by their own wisdom, or who with good intent, would dictate to them about what they
p. 384 – – – – – – –
should do if they would be saved. As, for example, did the Pharisees and scribes among the Jews; they thought themselves saved by their own human doctrines and writings and the worship of good works. And they in the papacy expect to be saved by that utter filth–their own false and self-chosen works, worship and monkery; not to mention their public idolatry and shameful lying nonsense-praying to deceased saints, their indulgences, purgatory and the like. They indeed do not wish to be regarded as thieves and murderers; they would be respected in the world as worthy, invaluable, and safe teachers and preachers. But when they are made manifest by the Word of Christ, it is discovered that they awfully mislead and ruin the souls who follow them.
4. They are called thieves because they come stealthily sneaking, and with smooth speech, as Paul says in Romans 16, 18; and they come also with imposing airs, and in true sheep’s clothing, especially advertising their faithfulness and their love of souls, But these are the very marks by which, as Christ teaches, they are to be known; they do not enter by the door, but climb up some other way, or, as Christ himself explains, they come before him and without him, not pointing and directing to him as the only Shepherd and Saviour.
5. For the words “came before me” do not refer to those who preached before Christ; nor only to those who undertake to preach without a call and secretly sneak into the fold, who are certainly no better than thieves and murderers. But the words refer in general to all those-even to them who have a true call and are regularly installed in office-who do not begin with and adhere to the doctrine of faith in Christ as the chief article of Christianity, but mislead the people, directing to their own holiness and their own worship, which ignores faith in Christ. If it were not for this error, such teacher would never harm with their doctrine; for all doctrines concerning works would be harmless if they did not teach faith and trust in works as being sufficient to merit the forgiveness of sins. But in no case is to be tolerated the teaching that we are to place in them our confidence and faith, for it should be centered alone in Christ; nor that we esteem them to be a
p. 385 – – – – – – –
special service to God when they are without the Word of God.
6. We could also without wrong keep all the commandments of the pope and of his councils if they be not in opposition to God’s Word-when they refer only to outward order and the observance of certain times-the use of certain clothing, meats, and the like; as in other things a person may follow custom. Yes, such outward and immaterial things were without harm if they did not claim that they are necessary to salvation or serve to promote it. Just so the greater part of their priestcraft and monkery is mere unprofitable, useless jugglery and simply child’s play, appropriate to a Shrove-Tuesday carnival performance or to a puppet show. But that they should command man to do such works at the peril of being lost, and say, He who fails to do them shall fall under the wrath and displeasure of God Almighty and of all the saints, and be condemned to hell-that is the wolf-like and murderous voice of the true Antichrist in Christendom.
7. Now, these destructive thieves and murderers are the great multitude; they are always in the majority in the world. And they cannot be different since they are out of Christ. The world desires such wolf preaching, and is not worthy of anything better since it will not hear nor respect Christ. Hence it is that there are so few true Christians and faithful preachers, always outnumbered by the members of the false church. Teachers and pupils mislead one another; as Moses says, the drunkards draw the thirsty after them and lead them to ruin. Deut 29, 19. But Christ on the other hand comforts the true Church with his counsel to his dear sheep to guard against the false teachers and not to listen to, nor follow, them; as he says later, in plainer words: “My sheep hear my voice, but they hear not the voice of strangers.”
8. True, the sheep may at first and for a time be deceived by the false appearance and actions of thieves and robbers. Such has been the case hitherto under the papacy when all the pulpits and churches were filled with the false and only a few sheep heard the voice of Christ, the true shepherd; as Christ declared in Matthew 24, 24, saying, that they would
p. 386 – – – – – – –
lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Yet, at last he shall help them to hear the voice of the true shepherd and follow him. And many such have been snatched out of the errors of papacy even on their death-beds, and have laid hold of Christ and died in him.
9. Now, these are the first class of cursed teachers and preachers who directly oppose Christ and only mislead and ruin souls. These he sharply distinguishes from himself, and passes judgment, teaching that we are not to hear them at all nor tolerate them, and that they who, themselves out of Christ, point the people elsewhere, are only thieves and murderers.
II. The Second Class of Preachers – Porters of the Fold.
10. There are other preachers, who advocate God’s law and commandments, not devised of themselves, but taken from the Scriptures. Such were the teachers or scribes among the Jews, so far as they adhered to Moses and the Scriptures; of whom Christ says: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; all things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe.” Mt 23, 3.
11. These teachings in themselves do not oppose Christ, but they who make use of them to teach the people to trust in themselves and in salvation through the works of the Law, are thieves and murderers like the others; for they also hinder and restrain the sheep from coming to Christ.
12. But if these preachers are to rightly serve, faithfully and helpfully, they must not themselves climb into the sheepfold like the others, nor attempt to be shepherds; they must be simply porters and servants of the true shepherd, Christ. keeping the sheep in shelter and safety and not allowing strangers to break in upon them, and preparing for and giving place to the shepherd, who himself leads them out to pasture and in. Further, their office is appointed not to feed themselves, but to open to the shepherd; then the sheep hear the shepherd himself and are fed by him.
13. Such among the Jewish people were Moses and the prophets, likewise John the Baptist; and such are all who still preach the Law for repentance, to point the people to
p. 387 – – – – – – –
Christ, who shall save them from sin and death. So, then, such exercise both offices of the porter. They restrain strangers who come as shepherds to draw the sheep after them, taking care that the sheep be not misled by the delusion of a false confidence in their works, but learn to know their sins and danger and be ready to heed their shepherd. Paul speaks of the office of the Law, in Galatians 3, 23-24, mentioning how it was given that we might be kept in ward under it, and shut up unto the future faith in Christ. “So,” he says, “the Law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” Where the Law is so taught that man, threatened by the wrath and punishment of God, is outwardly held under good discipline, and restrained from presumption and carelessness, and is inwardly urged by fear and terror to feel his helplessness and misery and to recognize his own inability-where the Law is so taught, the fold is rightly closed and guarded, and the sheep cannot run away into error and thus become a prey to wolves.
14. But this preaching and office of the porter is not enough for the sheep. For if they should remain thus shut up, they would suffer and die from hunger. Therefore another duty of the porter is to open the door to the true shepherd, who himself comes and feeds the sheep. It is all for his sake-the preaching and teaching in the Church; otherwise one would not dare be a doorkeeper or preacher.
15. It is, however, opening the door to Christ when we thus teach the Law, as we said. God requires us to keep these commandments at the peril of our eternal condemnation. And though you have kept them as perfectly as you can, you must know that you will neither be justified nor saved thereby before God; for you can never fulfil them, as you are indebted to do, And if you were to fulfil them, still you would not thereby merit that God should give you more than he has already given you, for which you are in duty bound to obey him; as Christ says: “Even so ye also, when ye shall have done the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do.” Lk 17, I0. Therefore you must, after all
p. 388 – – – – – – –
this, have Christ, the Lord, for the true shepherd, who gives you his fullness and riches, and you must be fed, pastured and saved by him.
16. Thus you rightly fulfil both offices, and correctly distinguish the doctrine of works from the doctrine of faith—we are to keep the Law, but not trust in it; for faith alone will keep us and comfort us with Christ’s pasture. So, works rest upon the obligation of the Law, and faith upon grace in Christ.
III. The Third Class of Preachers, in Whom Alone Christ Is Found.
17. Now, where the door is opened to the shepherd and he enters, the sheep receive comfort and help; as Christ says at the close of our Gospel lesson : “I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” For as Christ rules, guides and leads them, feeds and keeps them, he works in them through his Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, and they grow daily, becoming richer in knowledge, stronger in faith in consolation, in patience, having victory in suffering and other trials, and of themselves bear fruit, teaching, serving and helping others. And thus the office and work of the shepherd, whose own the sheep are, go on continually, when he himself receives the sheep and works his will in them, which he does by his voice, that is, the external Word and preaching.
18. Therefore, Christ calls himself the door by which the sheep go in and out. For, as he is the shepherd and also the sermon through which he comes to us and by which he is made known, so faith in our hearts, by which his power and work are experienced, is simply Christ dwelling and working in us, making us in our life and work complete in him. So all goodness goes forth from him and is received through faith in him; we are pleasing to God only because of him, and are not dependent upon anything else, neither have we comfort from any other source.
19. With the same figure in which Christ speaks of his office, which he administers through the Word, he speaks also of his sheep, telling how they are to conduct themselves in his
p. 389 – – – – – – –
kingdom-when the door is opened to him, they at once hear his voice and learn to know it. It is truly a comforting, cheering voice, whereby they are released from terror and fear and brought into liberty, where they can look to God in Christ for grace and all comfort. And where they once recognize this shepherd, they confidently hold to him alone and do not listen to the doctrine of any other. For they have, as the nature of sheep is, very keen ears, that respond to a very soft voice, and are very docile, recognizing and distinguishing the voice of their shepherd from all others who pose as shepherds. For now the experience of their own consciences and the witness of the Holy Spirit in their hearts testifies that no other doctrine or word can console the heart nor bring man rightly to trust in God and call upon him, except the voice of this shepherd, Christ. Therefore they reflect upon it without any doubting or wavering whatever. They do not gaze in wonder at what others teach or do, at what the world likes or the councils decree; if there were not a single person upon earth to agree with them, they would still be assured that they hear the voice of their true shepherd.
20. Yes, and they are of admirable intelligence; if they were, without fear or danger, given the choice, each pious soul would rather follow his conscience and plant himself upon Christ and his grace than upon his own works, even if he had an abundance of the latter. For of his works he is doubtful. Yea, he knows that they cannot stand before God’s judgment; as David and all the saints say: “Lord, enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight no man living is righteous.” Ps 143, 2. But he knows that grace is assured to him; for it is God’ s Word and truth.
21. What mean Christ’s further words: “And he calleth his own sheep by name and leadeth them out”? All hear the harmonious voice of Christ-the preaching of the Gospel: faith, baptism, hope and salvation they all have in common and in equal measure. The grace that Magdalene has is the same as that of the Virgin Mary, and that of Peter the same as the dying thief experienced.
p. 390 – – – – – – –
22. But there is a difference when he begins to can by special names those who are in the same grace; as a shepherd has special marks for each sheep and calls one “Brownie,” another “Blackie,” or such names as he will. Likewise Christ produces special works in each individual when he comforts, admonishes, and helps him in his needs and cares, through his Word. Also he distributes to men his gifts: to one a stronger faith than to another, or more understanding; gifts to teach and explain the Scriptures, to preach, to rule. Again, he uses an individual for a special work, to accomplish more and greater things than another; he visits one with much suffering and another with little; he extended the Gospel farther through Paul than through the other apostles; he called Peter and led him to suffer in a different way than he did John.
23. Paul, in I Corinthians I2, 4-6, says: “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit,” etc. As in the same house there are many kinds of work, many occupations, but all the workers are members of the same family, having the same kind of food; and as there are many members in the same body and each has its special work and use, and yet all are of the same body and the same in health, deriving a “Common pleasure from the food and nourishment: so in Christ’s kingdom there are many kinds of gifts, of works and sufferings, distributed to each according to his capacity and calling; but all are sheep of the same kind, sharing all his blessings, and one is as dear to him as another. He says further: “He leadeth them out. When he has put forth all his own, he goeth before them” etc.
24. This leading them out is, as I said, Christian liberty. They are now free; no longer penned up and captive under anxious constraint and fear of the Law and of divine judgment, but happily pastured and nourished in Christ’s sweet kingdom of grace. Of this liberty St. Paul says: “Ye are not under law, but under grace.” Rom 6, 14. Again he says: “Now that faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor.” Gal 3,25.
25. This liberty does not mean that the sheep may now without a fold and without a keeper run from their shepherd
p. 391 – – – – – – –
unrestrained into error ; or that Christians can do whatever the flesh lusteth for. But it means that, now free from terror and fear of wolves, thieves and murderers, they may live with their dear shepherd, in love and pleasure following where he leads and guides; because they know that he so defends and lovingly oversees them that the Law dare no more accuse and condemn them, even though they are weak as to the flesh and have not perfectly fulfilled the Law.
26. For here the Lord, God’s Son, is the shepherd, who takes the sheep under his grace, his shelter and protection; and he who will accuse or condemn the sheep, must first accuse or condemn the Lord himself. Paul gloriously and defiantly says in Romans 8, 1: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus,” etc.; likewise in verses 33 and 34: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” This is, I say, freedom of conscience-c-freedom from the condemnation of the Law. Now that we are in Christ, the Law has no claim on us, for the material, bodily life has no place here. It has its own external government and law, unrelated to spiritual life in the kingdom of Christ.
“When he hath put forth all his own, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him.”
27. That is the Christians’ life under their shepherd. Christ ever rules, leads and guides them. They remain with him in the liberty of faith, wherein they walk, following his example in obedience and good works, of which example Peter says: Christ has “left you an example, that ye should follow his steps.” I Pet 2, 21. And Christ himself says in John 13, 15: “I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you.” Christ’s kingdom, as I said, was not instituted that we might indulge the lusts of our flesh; but that we, released from the captivity of the Law, under which we could not in sincerity do anything good, follow Christ forward cheerfully and with a good conscience in
p. 392 – – – – – – –
our lives and works. And each responds as Christ calls him, a special instrument for Christ’s use.
28. To follow the advancing Christ means that our whole lives and all our works be in the faith of Christ-a constant exercise of faith, wherein we recognize and are assured that because of this dear shepherd we have favor with God. Thus our works and lives, weak and imperfect in obedience as they are, are also under the wings of the mother hen, and are pleasing to God because of the shepherd. In this confidence we now begin to be obedient, to call upon him in our temptations and needs, to confess his Word and serve our neighbors. And thus, both in the inner and the outer life-which Christ here calls “going out and in”- we are to find pasture; that is, comfort, strength, help, the increase of faith, and everything good. To this end a Christian constantly needs the Word of Christ as his daily bread; he needs to learn from it and to exercise himself in it. Therefore, Christ says again, in concluding his words on the sheep that follow him:
“For they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him; for they know not the voice of strangers.”
29. That means, they know now how to keenly distinguish doctrine, faith and life; for they have the standard of the Word, which teaches them’ to cling alone to this shepherd, and thus be enabled to rightly judge everything offered to them and shun and condemn that which directs and leads them otherwise. Therefore, under this shepherd they abide indeed safe, undeceived and rightly led; they are excellent, intelligent, well sheltered, contented, secure and blessed sheep.
30. Notice that this parable pictures so beautifully to us Christ and his sheep that we see the inner life of his kingdom and the treasure we have from him. And it finely symbolizes how we should teach the Law and faith and works in the Church. But the Pharisees and their blind leaders and the false saints understand naught of this; as John here says: “But they understand not what things they were which he spoke unto them.”
31. Yes, although Christ even interprets and illustrates
p. 393 – – – – – – –
these things in plain words, yet his hearers do not understand them. They consider and estimate his words from the low plane of their own reason, which learns nothing beyond the doctrine of the law of works, and seeks the fulfillment of the same by its own strength; as Paul, in Romans 10, 3, says of them: They seek to establish their own righteousness, and do not subject themselves to the righteousness that avails before God. Hence, when they hear the doctrine of our salvation, how our lives must be hid in Christ alone and nothing avails without him, they begin to blaspheme; as they say of him at the end of this sermon in verse 20: “He hath a demon, and is mad; why hear ye him?” So in Our day they revile the doctrine of faith as heresy, and say that we forbid good works; but thereby they candidly reveal their own blindness-they do not understand what Christ, faith and good works are.
32. We, however, who have–God be praised !–the true knowledge, should learn from this Gospel two things: First that nothing should be taught in Christendom except that which pertains to this one shepherd, Christ–and every individual should guard against all that does not point to him for enlightenment of the conscience and for strengthening the hope of salvation; or that is not enjoined and commanded as necessary to keep. Therefore, Christ calls himself the door, through whom alone we must go out and in; and true doctrine and faith, and life proceed only from him, lead to him and are found in him.
33. The second truth is that all Christians have the power and right to pass judgment upon any doctrine, and to turn from false preachers and bishops, refusing obedience to them. For you hear in this Gospel that Christ says of his sheep: “My sheep hear my voice, and a stranger they will not follow, but will flee from him for they know not the voice of the stranger.” The reason Christians can rightly judge is because they apply the standard-as I mentioned-from this Word of Christ, that all who fail to teach Christ are thieves and murderers. These words have already passed the judgment and further knowledge than that of Christ is unnecessary. Christians, then, are in duty bound to follow this judgment, flee-
p. 394 – – – – – – –
ing and avoiding all it contains, it matters not who, how wise or how many they are.
34. Here are deposed from their office and power those who wish to rule in the Church and yet do not teach Christ’s Words but their own commands, and who require the people to obey them as bishops occupying the appointed seats of authority in the Church. So it is the duty of Christ’s sheep to follow Christ’s judgment, holding such teachers as dethroned, condemned and excommunicated from the Church of Christ, and fleeing from them as accursed. And they who wish to remain godly, and Christ’s true sheep, should never yield this power and right of judgment, nor permit themselves to indorse, accept or follow what others may decree contrary to its teaching, be they pope, bishop or councils.