A Sermon by Martin Luther; taken from his Church Postil, 1523
[The following sermon is taken from volume III:341-349 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.]
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I. HOW CHRIST PRESENTS HIMSELF IN THIS SERMON AS MEDIATOR AND SAVIOUR.
1. This is another of the true Gospel lessons, such as John is accustomed to write; for he writes in a way to make him alone worthy the name of an evangelist. Now, as you have often heard, the Gospel teaches nothing but that one must learn to know Christ alone, and so the Holy Spirit teaches nothing
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more. Therefore, examine only the words themselves; they are weighty, precious and comforting beyond measure. First Christ says:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
2. Now, notice that Christ represents the Father to us as none else than the all-loving and magnetic one, and he brings us through himself to the Father. Everything Christ does tends to help us to acquire a loving confidence in the Father. To simply fear the Father confers no benefit; but to bear to him a companionable love of rare quality makes us blessed. Now, Christ says here, the Father so loved the world that he gave his beloved child for the world, and instituted for us a way to come to him; that way is Christ. I have often said that faith alone is not sufficient before God, but the price of redemption must also be in evidence. The Turk and Jew, too, believe in God, but without means and mediator.
3. What is now the cost of redemption? Today’s Gospel points this out. The Holy Spirit teaches everywhere that we do not possess the Father except through a mediator, and he will not allow us to approach the Father without one. Now, the schools teach us to approach the Father without a mediator, through our own good works. That means to reject Christ as a mediator, as Jeremiah tells us did the godless, who thought and said: Let us send wood to him as his food, and we will root him out of the land, and there will be no remembrance of his name. But their plans did not result as they intended they should. Therefore, let us never join them. It would be at the peril of our lives, for we should be despising the priceless sacrifice which the Father made for us. But let us thank the Father for ordering it as he has, and placing between us one who is God and equal with God, and also man, on a level with man; for we are human and he is God. Where God and man oppose each other, man meets with instant destruction, for he cannot stand against God. God has intervened by placing as mediator one who is alike true God and
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true man. Through him we are to come to the Father; with the price we can pay nothing is accomplished.
4. Now, the schools teach that man is to be saved by his own works; they say: Whosoever becomes a monk or nun, or repeats every day the little prayer of St. Bridget, shall be eternally saved; and all the books are full of like teachings. This is no less than saying: I will work enough
to escape perdition; I will turn my sins into vapor, to disappear and open a way into heaven. They wish to discover the sacrifice or price of salvation in themselves and to ignore Christ as mediator. But they must perish, since they fain would come to the Father without a mediator, without Christ, whom the Father holds up before us out of his gracious goodness. Christ teaches here that we are not lost, but have eternal life; that is, that God has so loved us that he allowed the ransom to cost him his only beloved child. Him he placed in our stead to suffer misery, hell and death, and let him drink our cup to the dregs. This is the way we are to be saved.
5. Now, if there were another way to heaven doubtless he would have made it known to us. There is no other. Therefore, let us cling to the words, firmly pilot our hearts along this way and keep within it, and let us close our eyes and say: If I had the merits of all the saints, the sanctity and purity of all virgins, and the piety of St. Peter besides, still I would not give a fig for all I call my own. I must have another foundation on which to build, namely, the words: God has given his Son, that whosoever believeth on him, whom the Father sent out of love, shall be saved. And let us defiantly boast that we must be sustained. Let us fearlessly establish ourselves upon his words, which neither Satan, hell nor death can overthrow, for the Father mightily writes his Word over these terrors and all that clings to them. Come what will, let us say: Here is God’s Word; that is my rock and anchor; to that I cling and that abides; and where that abides, there I abide also. For God cannot lie; sooner would the heavens and earth perish than the smallest letter or tittle of his Word would fail.
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6. Notice carefully now that man must have a mediator, and that mediator is Christ. Ascend upon him to the Father, and say: Although I cannot exist before thy majesty nor that of any angel – all must shake and tremble – yet I have here one, Christ, whom thou canst not fail to regard. I am under his protection and rely upon thy Word that thou wilt receive me through him. Thou wilt not reject me, for thou must reject him before thou dost reject me. In this way one must come to the Father through Christ, thereby gaining a beautiful and loving refuge in him.
7. This lifts up and cheers a timid, despairing conscience and gives it peace. Aside from God’s Word nothing helps, neither cowls nor tonsures, neither the priesthood nor monkery. No human work, be it called ever so holy, is able to silence God’s judgment and give peace to our hearts. God has, out of love, given us his Son, through whom we shall be saved; therefore, let no one make another way than this. Guard yourself against adding to it, for so you would but render it valueless. He who adds to it, leads from the right road upon a branch road that goes into the wilderness. Hence, let not your conscience trust in any work, in any merit of saints, but alone in the Word of God. That will not lie to you, but its promise will be sufficient. Then you will lay hold upon God with his own words; upon them you can build; to them you can anchor your heart and confidence. Now follows, further, in this Gospel:
“For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him.”
8. With these words one can apprehend God as he is to be apprehended. You do not seek him; rather he seeks you, and pictures his Son before you as a Saviour and not as a judge. Thus there is developed for you a refuge in the Father.
9. It is a common practice to represent the gracious Saviour as a judge, and from this practice has sprung a dependence upon the merits of saints, causing us to turn away from Christ and take refuge in the saint; We fancy that the saints are more gracious and more kindly disposed to us than even God himself. Therefore, one says, St. Peter is my apostle;
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another says, St. Paul is my patron; and so on with St. Barbara, St. Erasmus and others. But God cannot permit this; the glory must belong to him. My conscience must rest upon the foundation, the eternal, all-knowing truth, else it is a failure. Now, God alone is the truth, and the conscience must rest upon him and nothing else.
10. If I picture Christ as only a judge, I shall fear him. The result will be that soon I am constrained before him, grow afraid of him and then hate him, and my heart becomes corrupt and blasphemous. But when I know him as the Gospel pictures him, and long for him as the best friend that my heart can choose, then it is well; love soon follows. No friend can do as much for us as he has. I forget father and mother and love him; then I have a strong confidence in him. But if one simply fears him, then that one falls back on his good works and makes no recognition of Christ as mediator, thinking to run into the presence of God without him. In this way he works his own ruin. It is with him as the psalmist says of the fools and godless, Ps 53, 5: “There were they in great fear, where no fear was.” And in Prov 28, 1 Solomon says: “The wicked flee when no man pursueth.” For their stubborn hearts are afraid before Christ, though he is still their best friend, and they run when no one pursues, solely because of their stubborn and false conception of Christ.
11. Then learn from this lesson to know Christ aright and to hold him between yourself and the Father; let him alone be the sacrifice which shall secure heaven and salvation. Oh, when this passage comes to mind in the hour of death, when the test comes, what comfort to meditate on its message – how the Lord came not to condemn the world, but to save it. He who believes, cannot be lost, but will be saved, since it is true that naught accomplishes our salvation except Christ alone, who came to be our Saviour. Then believe on him. In the words we are studying, he calls everybody, and even threatens as well as calls, concluding thus:
“He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
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II. THE JUDGMENT CHRIST PASSES UPON THE WORLD AND BELIEVERS.
12. When the learned schools would make people godly, they hold before them the judgment, making it as hot as they possibly can; in this way they lead men into terror, where they abandon them, never pointing out a way of escape. Here Christ also presents the judgment and threatens men, but at the same time he tells them how they may flee from wrath. This is his teaching: There will be a judgment, which no one can escape except those who believe without any ifs or ands. If you add anything thereto, you have entered upon the byway into the woods and are lost; for he that believeth not, is lost already. I am the only door that opens into heaven. The way is narrow; you must become small if you wish to pass through the rock. Those who are decorated with good works, like a workrighteous person with shells, can never force their way through. They must divest themselves and become small. One can meet the conditions only when he despairs of himself. If you come hampered with great burdens of good works, you will never be able to forge a way into heaven; you must lay them aside before you can enter.
13. From this it follows that where faith is, there sin does no harm; for faith makes us Christ’s. But where faith is not, there is either fear and hatred of God, or a profligate, sinful life. We met with this same truth when we learned that the Holy Spirit will convict the world in respect of sin because, as Christ says, they believed not on him. The only sin is unbelief. Faith roots out all sins. Unbelief is the only reason why man does not know God. Because of it he is in fear in the presence of God. When a man is in fear, he hates and blasphemes God, heaping up his sins and keeping none of the commandments. Now, Christ gives a reason for this judgment; he says:
“And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil.”
14. The light is Christ the Lord, manifest in the knowl-
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edge of him, as he is here pictured in this Gospel. As a glance into the sun, we may look into this Gospel and see what God is. This light is come into the world through the preaching of the apostles and has shone through the whole world. Man is its enemy only because of his evil works; the whole world is fast therein. Why do not the pope and bishops, the priests and monks, permit their deeds to be exposed and their manner of life brought to light? For the reason that their works are evil. Now, the light reveals to us that all our works amount to nothing and we must have Christ alone. When we apply the test of that light, they say: Nay, should I have fasted and prayed so long for nothing? Get out, you heretics! If men no longer believed in the efficacy of works, no one would attend vigils and the mass; then the monks’ kitchens would become small and their cellars empty. Since they cannot tolerate such a possibility, they must hate the light.
15. God has blinded them so that they build on stone and wood, overlooking the foundation of truth and failing to build upon Christ. The Gospel aims, however, to establish the heart upon the eternal foundation truth. Now, if one would overthrow their manner of building, the light must be brought and their works be made manifest, that they may be put to shame. They will never tolerate such inspection, however, but must protect their doings, with the consequence that they become enemies to this light. That is just what the Lord says:
“For every one that doeth evil, hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest their works should be reproved.”
16. They hate the light, says Christ; because they do evil; they lead a shameful life, at the same time believing it to be a godly life. The devil, also, would be a fine fellow. He is anxious to sit in a clean place, and not lie before the door; he would come within the heart, but never to the light; he would wear the cloak of respectability, so that his injustice be not seen. Now, let us take the light of day as an illustration. The sun will not refuse to rise because I am lazy and would gladly sleep an hour or two longer. No, it goes forth in its course and does not hide its light, although it is not agreeable to me. Likewise will the Sun of righteousness arise; the evil-doers are
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unwilling to come into the light, but they cover and guard their sins and evil deeds. Thereby they merit the judgment; for they have not only done wickedly, but they wish to defend their action, which is a double sin.
17. But the righteous gladly approach the light, willing that all may pass judgment upon their works, and they even let the devil examine them. They have cultivated in good soil, because they possess faith, and they go forth in their faith to help the poor. These works are wrought in them by God, hence they cannot be evil. Thus a righteous person gladly permits all the world to act as judge upon his works. It is a beautiful thing when a believer, finding his work is rejected, says: Yes, there is no good at all in the works of my own doing, but the works that are wrought in me by Christ, my Lord, they are good. He desires no honor, but will ascribe all honor to God; will possess all in God that he should possess, and can, with a good conscience, go to the light and not be put to shame. That is what Christ means in his closing words:
“But he that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, that they have been wrought in God.”
18. Now we have heard what our consolation and our final and only refuge is, upon which we should lay our foundation and build. No person who professes to be a Christian dare undertake to do any work, imagining thereby to be saved; he is not saved except through Christ alone, whom it cost his all. We must come to salvation through him and his work, with nothing else added to it. If we build upon human works, we are reckoning directly against God’s grace.
19. On the other hand, we must not abandon works, saying as do the impudent: Aye, then I will do good works no longer in order to be saved. True, you dare do nothing with the intent of its being meritorious for salvation, for the forgiveness of sin and for the pacifying of the conscience; you have sufficient for these in your faith. But your neighbor has not sufficient; you must extend a helping hand to him. That you may perform such service, God permits you to live; if not so, your execution would soon be called for. You live for the
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purpose of serving by your life, not yourself, but your neighbor.
20. Christ the Lord had also sufficient; what the world had was his. He might have passed us by, but it is not the nature of true life to do so. Nay, cursed be that life into perdition that lives for self; for to so live is heathenish and not Christian. Then those who have at present their sufficiency from Christ, must follow the example of Christ and with utter sincerity do good to their neighbors, as Christ did to us; freely, without the least thought of obtaining anything thereby, only with the desire that it be pleasing to God.
21. We Christians are like a child born in the father’s house. It brings the title to the inheritance with it, in its flesh and blood; the title to the heritage belongs to it by virtue of its birth. A servant, however, acquires his merit, not in the family, but outside of it. When the child of the house is grown, it must, nevertheless, help to increase and improve the inheritance, making It more valuable; but it does not, first of all, gain the inheritance by works, for that is acquired already by virtue of its birth. Just so, if we believe on God, then we are already heirs and need not to acquire inheritance by our works; yet we must be co-laborers with the Father to increase it. Paul speaks in like manner to the Philippians: “Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.” Phil 2, 5ff. That is: Lead such an outward life that it may be like the example of Christ, and help your neighbor with your life and property, thinking not of winning the birthright by your works. Guard your sonship, not by your own foolhardiness, but by faith, and be a co-laborer in extending the kingdom.
pp. 350-371. This e-text was scanned and edited by Paul W. Meier. The pagination from the Baker edition has been maintained for referencing. It is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without restriction.
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Second Sermon. John 3, 16-21.
I THE GLORIOUS GRACE AND GIFT IN CHRIST.
CONTENTS: CHRIST’S GRACE AND JUDGMENT.
1. This is one of the best and most glorious Gospel lessons: such as John particularly wrote. It is worthy to be written in golden letters, not upon paper, but if possible upon the heart: it ought to be made the daily lesson and meditation of Christians, who should repeat it to strengthen their faith and awaken their hearts to prayer. The words make the sad joyful and the dead alive, if the heart only firmly believes them.
2. It also gives instruction on the chief article of Christian faith, on the glory and liberty of Christians, whereby sin, the Law, God’s wrath, death and hell are banished from believers and abolished, besides all human wisdom, righteousness and holiness are made futile in that which belongs to Cod’s kingdom. He says: “Whosoever believeth on the Son of God should not perish, but have eternal life,” death, the devil, the terror of the Law, must be banished forever, our merit and worthiness doing nothing to that end. The excellent, great, eternal and divine treasure is thus portrayed here, which we should possess so as to be without fear ‘before the judgment and condemnation or human nature through Adam’s fall, and instead have salvation and victory, and every blessing besides. All this is offered and bestowed out of pure grace, and thus represented only as a gift that can be secured solely through faith.
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I. This Glorious Grace and Gift in General.
3. In vivid and significant words the evangelist briefly sketches this grace and gift in Christ, that he may magnify it and portray minutely all concerned-the giver, the recipient, the gift, its fruits and benefits. All is so eloquently great that it is indescribable, and it is difficult to believe only because of its very greatness.
4. Before considering this, however, let us hear why and for what purpose Christ so speaks. He expresses it in the following words: “That whosoever believeth on him should not perish” etc. Here he would show the world the misery and helplessness in which it lies; that it is entirely lost, and would have had to remain lost eternally, had Christ not come with this proclamation; for all its wisdom, art, doctrine, law and free-will would not avail in this respect; and in spite of all its teaching and endeavors, it is and will remain lost forever. For, from its very birth, it lies in sin, under the wrath of God, in the devil’s kingdom, and under the ·power of death, unable to help or free itself from this condition. Indeed it is so dazed and torpid that it would never have known nor realized its misery had this not been revealed to it through the Word.
5. Christ teaches the same truth at greater length in the declaration made to Nicodemus, just preceding this text, where he tells him plainly and clearly, that neither he nor any of the Jews of his kind, though they had the Law, and diligently performed works and outward divine services (which were at that time, indeed; the most commendable in the world), could thereby ever get to heaven or see the kingdom of God) For such life and woks are still but the works of man, who, in his natural descent from Adam, is but flesh without spirit, that is without true understanding and knowledge of the divine will, and without genuine and heartfelt obedience to God; in short, it cannot convert itself to God, since it has wholly and fully turned away from God. Therefore, through the Law, man could never liberate himself from sin, the wrath of God and eternal death. Accordingly, if he would see the kingdom of God, he must be born anew, and have an entirely different
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nature, one that does not proceed from the flesh, as the old one did, but from the Spirit, and which is spiritual; and to this end another word and declaration must be received than that which they have in the Law, and a power beyond man’s ability.
6. That we may become new men, he says, we must first be delivered from the curse of the old birth, that is, freed from sin and death. Hut since we still have flesh and blood, and live on earth, the old birth continues. Of itself, it must remain what it is by nature. Under its thrall, man, at death, must be damned, for no man is able to appease and remove the wrath and condemnation passed upon him; therefore, no one would ever see God, nor enter heaven. As Christ says: “And no one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven” etc. Hence another way had to be found. It could be only through some heavenly being, righteous and innocent in the fullest sense, pleasing and acceptable to God, who would adapt his perfections to our human nature, so that the sin and condemnation that was its by birth might be taken away, it might be reconciled to God and rescued from eternal death and might turn to God and begin again rightly to know, love and obey him, and thus experience the beginning of the new birth, and eventually, through death, be thoroughly purified of remaining uncleanness of the old man, forever free from sin.
7. Now, the wrath of God against sin is so intense that no creature could have devised means to appease him or effect a reconciliation; the condemnation was so enormous that no angel was mighty enough to remove it, and reinstate life. Therefore, that one Person, even God’s Son, had to take upon himself sin, God’s wrath, and death, under which humanity helplessly lay, and make the sacrifice for them. Of this, Christ himself says, immediately before this text, that the Son of Man must be lifted up, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, “that whosoever believeth on him should not perish”. Here he adds the cause which moved God to accomplish this great work, when he says:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
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8. With these words he leads us directly into the Father’s heart, that we may see and know that it was the great and wonderful counsel of God, resolved from eternity, that we should receive help through this Son. All had to be fulfilled, that God’s truth might stand, even as he had promised aforetime in the Scriptures. It is thus apparent that God does not intend to cast us out, and to condemn us on account of our sins; but that he wills that, for the sake of this Saviour and Mediator, if we fear his wrath on account of our sins, and Keep in mind and firmly believe this eternal divine will, we should attain to the eternal grace of God and to eternal life.
II. This Glorious Grace and Gift in Particular.
9. Now, let us consider what significant and comforting words these are which depict in their every relation, and in manifold ways, this marvelous work of God, with its inexpressible treasure which is here freely offered us. In the first place, the Giver is not a man, an emperor or a king, nor even an angel; but is the exalted, eternal Majesty, God himself, compared with whom, all men, however rich, powerful and great they may be, are nothing but dust and ashes, Is 40. How shall we describe him? He is incomprehensible, immeasurable, inexhaustible.
10. He is, then, no more a taskmaster, who simply makes demands upon us-as Moses calls him (Deut 4, 24), a devouring and consuming fire-but a rich, overflowing, eternal fountain of grace and of all gifts, who justly deserves to be called Gebhard (a prince or champion of givers). In comparison with him, what are all emperors and kings, with their gifts, gold, silver, land and people? Here the heart should expand and increase with desiring, wishing and expecting that which the Lord God intends to give; for it indeed must needs be something great and valuable that could well become this exalted Majesty and rich God. Compared to such a Giver and gift, everything in heaven and on earth must be very small and insignificant.
11. In the second place, why does he give, and what incited him to it? Nothing but pure, inexpressible love. He does
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not give because it is a debt or duty, nor because anyone has asked or pleaded, but he is moved to do so by his own goodness. as the Lord who willingly gives, and delights in giving gratuitously and without solicitation.
12. As there is no greater Giver than Go£ so there is no greater virtue, either in God or men, than love. One will sacrifice everything for what he loves, even his life. Patience, humility and all other virtues are nothing compared with it, or else are included in its essence. For whom I love, with him I will certainly never be angry, nor injure nor annoy him, nor make myself intolerable to him, but I will be ready to serve, counsel and help him whenever I see that he needs me. In short, I am his fully, as to my body, goods and all my possessions.
13. Accordingly, here, again, the heart shall grow and become strong against all sorrow, because such wealth of unfathomable divine love is set before us, flowing from a fatherly heart and having its source in the highest virtue, which is the fountain of all good, and which, therefore, makes the gift valuable and precious; just as the proverb deems a small gift valuable, when it says: It comes from a loving hand. For where there is love and friendship, one does not look upon the gift so much as upon the heart; it is love which adds great value to the gift. If God had given me only an eye, a hand or a foot, and I knew that he did it out of fatherly love, it would be much dearer to me than a thousand worlds. Now, since he gave us precious baptism, his Word, absolution and the Lord’s Supper, they should be regarded as our daily paradise and heaven; not on account of the appearance of such gifts, which are not great in the eyes of the world, but on account of the great love from which they are given.
14. In the third place, consider the gift itself. It must, without doubt, be something excellent and inexpressibly great that such a rich Giver gives us, with such sincere and generous love. What does he give? Not great kingdoms, not one or more worlds full of silver and gold, not heaven and earth with all they contain, not the entire creation, but his Son, who is as great as he himself. That is an eternal, incomprehensible
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gift, even as the Giver and his love are incomprehensibly great. He is the fountain and source of all grace goodness and kindness; yes, the very essence of the eternal blessings and treasures of God. That is love, not with words, but indeed, in the highest degree, proven with the most precious goodness and wonderful work of which God himself is capable.
15. What more can he do and give? Since he gives his Son, what does he yet withhold, that he does not give? Yes, he gives himself wholly and entirely, as Paul says, Rom 8, 32: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him freely give us all things?” Certainly, everything must have been given with him, who is his only begotten, beloved Son, the Heir and Lord of all creation; therefore, all creatures, angels, devils, death, life, heaven and earth, sin, righteousness, everything present and future, are subject to us. Paul says in I Cor 3, 22-23: “All are yours: and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s”; for this Son is all in all.
16. In the fourth place, how and in what manner is the Son given? Look upon him, in what he has done and suffered! For us he becomes man, is put under the Law, that is, under the wrath of God (on account of our sins). He is put to death, even the most ignominious death-lifted upon the cross and suspended in the air. He was condemned (even as Christ shortly before this had said), taking upon himself the wrath and fury of the devil and hell, and contending with them to such extent that it must be said that he was wholly abandoned. Yet he trampled the devil, sin, death and hell under foot, and obtained the victory over them through his resurrection and ascension. All this he gave us that it might be our own, that we might possess both him and all that he accomplished. And this he does in such a way that the gift may not be said to have been conferred upon us, either as wages or on account of merit, nor is it loaned, borrowed or for recompense, but freely given and bestowed out of purely benign grace. The receiver shall and can do no more in this case than to open his hand and take what God so graciously gives him, and what he truly needs, with love and thanksgiving.
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17. In the fifth place he portrays the recipient, who is, in a word, the world. This is indeed a wonderful and peculiar case of loving and giving. Here the one loved is in strange contrast to the one loving. How can this love of God for the world be explained? What does he see in the world, that he is so ready to unbosom himself toward her? If it had been that he loved the angels, they are at least glorious and noble creatures, worthy of his love. But what, on the contrary, is the world but a great mass of people who neither fear nor love nor praise nor thank God, who misuse every creature, blaspheme God’s name and despise his Word, and are, furthermore, disobedient, murderers, adulterers, thieves, knaves, liars, betrayers, full of treachery and all malice; in short, transgressors of every commandment, and in every particular refractory and obstinate, adhering to God’s arch-enemy, the abominable devil? Behold, this delicious and gracious fruit! He bestows as if upon a beautiful and beloved bride and daughter, his dear Son, and with him all things, whereas he would have had more than sufficient reason, at the very mention of the world, instantly to crush her with thunder and lightning to powder, and cast her into the abyss of hell. The word “world” is a sound hateful to God beyond expression; and this is a most strange paradox: God loves the world. Here two things that are in the highest degree antagonistic are combined. It is almost like saying: God loves death and hell, and is the friend of his most bitter eternal enemy, the accursed devil.
18. That is indeed a boundless proof of love, and makes the gift inexpressibly great, when the Giver and he to whom it is given are placed side by side, and God is represented as pouring out his whole heart to his hateful, hostile image, whereas he should have visited him only with anger, vengeance and damnation, and when he pays no attention to the fact that the world is full of contempt, blasphemy, disobedience toward God, and stupendous ingratitude for all the gifts he bestowed upon it heretofore, but swallows up all its vices and sins. Though the Giver be ever so great and beneficent, the wickedness and viciousness of the world, which is excessive and immeasurably great, ought to deter and repel him. For
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what man can even mark and sufficiently realize his own sin and disobedience? And yet this great love so overcomes God that he take away from the world all and every sin and transgression, and remembers them no more against it forever, so that they are dead and gone, and instead he gives his Son, and with him all things.
19. By this, the truths for which Paul and the articles of faith contend, have now been sufficiently and irrefutably demonstrated and proven; namely: That we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life, without merit or worthiness on our part, out of pure grace (gratis), and alone for the sake of his beloved Son, in whom God so loved us that this love has taken away and blotted out all our sins and the sins of the whole world; for there was nothing but sin in us, instead of which he has bestowed his love and forgiveness upon us, even as the prophet Isaiah (40, 2) says concerning Jerusalem, and as we ought to preach in the Gospel: “Her iniquity is pardoned that she hath received of Jehovah’s hand double for all her sins.”
20. Therefore, this gift-all of grace-is much greater, transcends and is mightier, than all the sins on earth, so that the unworthiness of any man, yes of all men together, aye the eternal wrath and condemnation which they have deserved, cannot be so great that the greatness of this love and grace, or forgiveness, does not in every particular outweigh, yes, engulf them; as Paul says, Rom 5, 20: “But where sin abounded, grace abounded more exceedingly;” and Ps 103, II, 12 : “For as the heavens are high above the earth…” so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” For what else can that be than forgiveness of sin, when he loves the world while it yet lies in sin, abomination and blasphemy? If he could so love the world, his enemy and blasphemer, as to give so much, even himself, for it, how could he be angry with you and not be willing to forgive your sins, if you desire and seek his grace?
21. What heart would not cheerfully render all good things to him who has shown such love as to bestow his dear Son upon wicked and despairing people, that is, upon the
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whole world, which means all people, who never did anything good, but at all times have done that which was contrary to his commandments? How can people like these expect such great love and such inexpressible riches as a reward? To think of what I have done and what has been my experience in my monastic life, when I crucified Christ daily for fifteen years, and practiced all kinds of idolatry! and yet, not withstanding the fact that I so sorely provoked him, he loves me so that he no more remembers all my wickedness but reveals to me his Son, and himself, with all grace. This, indeed, may be called incomprehensible riches of unfathomable love,
22. O Lord God, how little the world takes such great and sublime things to heart! Should we not all rejoice and be glad of heart that we have lived to see the time that we can hear such things, and love and praise our God therefor, and in gratitude, not only willingly serve him, but gladly suffer all things and even smile if we should have to die for the sake of his Word and obedience and to allow these bodies-worms of the dust-to be consumed by fire or sword, or suffer any other form of martyrdom? So little thankful is shameful, abominable unbelief, in its great and blind darkness, of which Christ himself later complains, that there are hearts so possessed, rigid and dead that they can hear such things and yet not believe!
23. In the sixth place, we have the final cause why and for what purpose he does all this, and what his intention is. Of course he has not bestowed it that I may have meat and drink from it, or inferior temporal benefit, riches, honor, power; nor has he given it that it may harm and poison; he has not given his Word, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper as poison, but that they might be of the greatest benefit to us. As he says, they are given that man may not be lost, but may have everlasting life. It is not for the purpose of giving me many golden crowns and kingdoms, for then I would still remain in sin and death; but that I might be free from hell and eternal death, and not be lost eternally. That is what this gift is to effect; for me hell is wiped out, and the devil cast under my feet, and out of a fearful, sad and humiliated heart a joyful
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and living one comes forth. In short, God has done all this that I might have an eternal, imperishable life in exchange for eternal destruction and death.
24. It must follow upon the reception of such a great and imperishable gift that, when the Son of God is rightly known and embraced with the whole heart, we have the victory over and are rescued from all evil, and enjoy eternal freedom, glory and happiness; for where he is, there everything must be good. Not that we have earned this, but in his great and eternal love God took pity on us in our misery and helplessness, and gave us his Son that we might be helped; otherwise we would have been lost and would have had to remain eternally lost, and notwithstanding all our work-righteousness and divine services, and never attained to eternal life.
25. He who would now puff up his heart, on account of these facts, has reason enough so to do. For what more glorious and better could heart desire, than that it should be told that eternal life shall be bestowed upon it; that it shall never see death; that it shall never experience want, distress, sadness and temptation, but have pure joy, and a perfect wealth of everything good, and have the assurance that we have a gracious God, and that all creatures will joyously smile upon us? From this it is very evident that it is not God’s purpose and intention to deceive and destroy people, as the devil would make timid hearts believe, holding up to them the Law and their unworthiness; but that he would bestow life, and such life as is eternal and blissful. As a pledge and veritable testimony of this, he gives us his only Son, which he would never have done had he not loved us but was still angry and intended to condemn us.
26. This and similar glorious and comforting passages should be rightly treasured and valued by every Christian, above all else in the world, for they are words which no one can exhaust or fathom; and when they are rightly believed, they ought to make one a good theologian, or more-a strong, joyful Christian, who can speak and teach of Christ aright, judge all other doctrines, advise and comfort anyone, and patiently bear all things that he may experience.
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27. But here we must pray for the Holy Spirit to impress this upon our hearts, and must daily exercise ourselves in these things, so that we retire and rise with these words in our minds. But now, just as we regard them, so is their effect upon us. If the): do not enter our hearts they cannot produce the fruit they ought to; they must bewail the ingratitude of the world, which makes them pass by our ears and hearts without affecting them, while it runs after perishable goods, honor and fame, thus losing this everlasting treasure; for this it will condemn and curse itself in hell eternally.
28. In the seventh place, and lastly, in what manner may we lay hold of such a treasure and gift, or what is the purse safe in which it may be kept? It is faith alone, as Christ here says: “That whosoever believeth on him, should not perish” etc. Faith holds out its hands and opens the sack and allows itself to be presented with good things. As God, the Giver, in love bestows this gift, so we are the recipients by faith, which faith does nothing more than receive the gift. For it is not our doing, and it cannot be merited through our work. It has already been bestowed and presented. All you need to do is to open your mouth, or rather your heart, hold still, and allow it to be entirely filled. Ps 81, 10. This can be done in no other way than by believing these words; for you observe that he here requires faith, and faith fully and perfectly appropriates this treasure.
29. Here you may see, also, what faith is and is called, Not simply an empty thought concerning Christ, that he was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered, was crucified, arose, ascended into heaven, but a heart that grasps and embraces the Son of God, as expressed in these words, and positively holds that God gave his only begotten Son for us into death, and loved us so that, for his sake, we should not be lost, but have eternal life. Therefore, he plainly says: “That whosoever believeth on him.” It must be a faith which does not 1ook upon its own works, nor upon its own strength and worthiness, that is, its own quality or the inwrought and infused virtue of the heart, of which the blind sophists dream and imagine, but without dependence on itself, holds to Christ,
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embracing him as its own bestowed treasure, being assured, that on account of him God was moved to love us, but not on account of one’s own work, worthiness and merit; for these things are not the treasure that God gave, that is, Christ, God’s Son, in whom we must believe.
30. Of what benefit is the gift of faith if it is nothing more than such an empty vessel? Of what value unless one looks upon and comforts one’s self in the thought of what is comprehended in it, and what alone makes it precious, so that one may say: Faith may be but a little and insignificant monstrance or pyx or box, but in it, nevertheless, there is so precious a gem that heaven and earth cannot ‘contain it.
31. Therefore we so teach from the Scriptures concerning faith–that through it alone we are justified and acceptable before God; because it is faith alone that grasps and retains this treasure, the Son of God. If I weigh this gift and my works in the same balance, the contrast and preponderance is so overwhelmingly great that the holiness of all men is nothing compared with the smallest drop of blood Christ gave and shed for us, to say nothing of all he did and suffered; therefore I can, in no respect, depend upon my virtue and worthiness.
32. And why should we boast so much about our efforts when we learn that we are so situated that we would all be lost forever had not this treasure been given for us? Thereby the glory is taken, not only from all human works, but from the entire Law of God; for, though one possessed it all, and according to his ability complied with all its demands, he still has not attained what is necessary to save himself from eternal destruction. What other purpose have these words: That whosoever believeth on him should not perish” etc? They are a continual testimony that neither Moses (the Law) nor yet the holiness of all men, could redeem from death or give eternal life. Therefore, everything depends entirely upon this only Son of God.
33. Now, you may see what a sublime and significant matter is embraced in this passage, since the Giver, so great and mighty, the Creator of every creature, does not simply say:
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Good morning! and bestow a friendly smile; but he loves, yes loves, so sincerely that he does not simply give a beggarly gift of perishable goods, but his greatest and most precious treasure, his Son, who is also Lord of heaven and earth. This love he does not show his friends only, but his enemies, and no creature but the devil himself is less worthy this love than his enemies. For no other purpose did he give himself for them than that he might snatch them from death and hell, and render them certain of eternal life. Of what wonder could one speak or think, that is more marvelous in every particular?
34. However great and unutterable all this is, that is still greater and more wonderful in comparison, that the human heart has been enabled to believe it all. That must indeed be a great heart which can embrace more than heaven and earth can hold. Hence it must be evident what a great, sublime and divine power and work faith is, which can do that which it is impossible for nature and all the world to do, and it is therefore no less a wonder than all the other miracles and works of God. It is even more wonderful than that God became man, born of a virgin, as St. Bernhard says. These things, as we have heard, namely the love of the Giver and of him who was given, and the unworthiness of the recipient, placed side by side, are incomparable as to greatness. On the one hand everything is so great, and on the other, man’s heart is so small and narrow and weak that the infiniteness of difference is startling and amazing.
35. Should I be told that God has granted to me, above all other men, the gift that I should live on earth several thousand years, in the enjoyment of peace and happiness, and all that my heart desired, I would answer: Nay, that cannot be God’s word, it is too much to believe. Who am I, that God should give me such things? How much less can the heart of man realize that God gave him such a treasure, his Son, and with him eternal life and salvation! Who can express this amazing fact? How precious and excellent even this temporal life is! And who would give it for all the kingdoms, all the gold and possessions of this world? But the extent of this life
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compared to eternal life and its blessings is much less than a single moment. In short, eternal-1ife is inconceivable; we can only try to conceive by subtracting from it, or contrasting it with the loss and misery that is called eternal loss.
36. Now, the Christian must eventually acknowledge that the honor belongs to God, and to Christ the Lord; that God’s Word is the truth, and it must denounce man’s own unbelief as a lie. Where this acknowledgement is made, the Holy Spirit has already begun with his power and work of faith, and the heart is opened, so that it can lay hold of this treasure, which is greater than heaven and earth; true, the heart proceeds in great weakness, and on earth it can never attain such faith as it should, and does not get beyond the longings and groanings of the spirit, for salvation is inexplicable to man, and the heart must cry out: Oh, that it were true! or: Oh, that one could believe it!
37. Nevertheless such sighs and little sparks of faith are of so much account that God recognizes them as complete faith and says: As thou believest, even so be it unto thee, and since thou hast believed it, thou shalt surely be saved. For this word is a power and strength that is mightier than all the terrors of sin and damnation, and this gift is so great that sin and death and hell are swallowed up by it as is a little drop of water in a glowing furnace, or as a little spark on a straw is extinguished when it falls into the great ocean. If only the heart, in temptation, could recall these words, neither devil nor hell could affright it, and it would joyfully say: Of what should I be afraid? Have I not the Son of God given to me by the Father, in testimony of which he gives me the Word, which I know is his Word? That cannot lie to me any more than he could lie and deceive me, even though I, alas! cannot believe it as firmly as-I should:
38. You say: Yes, I would gladly believe it if I were like St. Peter and St. Paul and others who are pious and holy; but I am too great a sinner, and who knows whether I am predestinated? Answer: Look at these words! What do they say. and of whom do they speak? “For God so loved the world”; and “that whosoever believeth on him.” Now, the
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world is not simply St. Peter and St. Paul, but the entire human race taken collectively, and here no one is excluded: God’s Son was given for all, all are asked to believe, and all who believe shall not be lost etc. Take hold of your nose, search in your bosom, whether you are not also a man (that is, a piece of the world) and belong to the number which the word “whosoever” embraces, as well as others? If you and I are not to take this comfort to ourselves, then these words must have been spoken falsely and in vain.
39. And surely, this has not been preached to any other than to humanity. Therefore, beware lest you exclude yourself and give place to the thought: Who knows whether it has been given to me? For that would be accusing God of falsely speaking in his Word. But, on the contrary, make a cross for yourself with these words, and say: If I am not St. Peter or St. Paul, I am, nevertheless, a part of the world. Had he intended to give it to the worthy only, then he would have had it preached to the angels alone, for they, are pure and without sin. He could then not have given it to St. Peter, to David, or to Paul, for they were sinners as well as I. No matter what I am, I know that God’s Word is true; and if I do not accept it, then I am committing, above all other sins, this sin also, that I blaspheme the Word of God and the truth, and charge God with lying.
“For God sent not his Son into the world to judge the world,’ but that the world should be saved through him.”
40. In these words you hear even more forcibly and clearly what are the will and intent of God concerning the world, that is, concerning those who are in sin, and who, therefore, are already under judgment and sentence of condemnation. He takes away everything that would terrify us on account of our sins. He says plainly and clearly that Christ was sent and his kingdom established, not for the purpose of judging and condemning. Such judgment and sentence have already come upon all men through the Law, because all are born in sin, and are, therefore, consigned to death and to the executioner, and there is nothing-lacking-but for the sword to be drawn. Now Christ steps between, according to God’s com-
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mand, and orders both judge and jailer to halt, rescues the condemned and sets him free. This is the reason why he comes to help the world, which he found already under condemnation. This is also proved by the words he spoke: But that the world should be saved through him.” These words show very clearly that the world was under condemnation, for why, otherwise, was salvation necessary?
41. But at this time salvation was preached to the Jews, and had not yet been heard by the world generally; but they did not believe that they were in such a condition that Christ had to come and save them, a lost and condemned people; they looked for a Christ who should commend and honor them on account of their Law and their holiness, therefore they could neither believe nor accept his proclamation. In Jn 8, 33, when he told them that the Son of God should make them free, they retorted: “We are Abraham’s seed, and have never yet been in bondage to any man ;” as though they would thereby object: “How dare you say that you have been sent to save us? We are not a condemned people, as the heathen are.
42. But now we hear that Christ has been sent to save those who are judged and condemned; that we should know that he has come to save us who acknowledge and realize this. For there must some be saved, so that he shall not have come in vain. These are none other than those who are oppressed and terrified on account of their misery and condemnation; to them the friendly words are addressed: “For God so loved the world”, that is, those who feel not love, but only wrath and condemnation. And God sent his Son, not to judge, but to save those who are already judged, etc. To those who do not believe that they are sinners and condemned, the Gospel is preached in vain: “for much less will they believe that: they are saved through Christ alone.
II. JUDGMENT UPON BELIEVERS AND THE WORLD.
“He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth
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not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
I. Judgment Upon Believers.
43. Here is the verdict which makes the distinction between the saved and the damned. It does no! depend upon how worthy or unworthy you are, for it has already been determined that all are sinners and deserve to be condemned; but it depends upon-whether you believe in this Jesus Christ or not. If you believe, then you are acquitted, and the judgment and condemnation taken away: if you will not believe, the judgment will remain upon you; yes it will only become greater and heavier than before, because you simply augment sin by not accepting Christ, who is to free you from judgment and condemnation.
44. And this, again, is a comforting passage with which to oppose the temptation and terrors of timid consciences which sigh for consolation and long to know how they stand in the sight of God. Such should hear and take these passages to heart; to them they are addressed, that they should know that God sent his Son not to judge but to save, and that God has already decreed that whosoever believeth in his Son shall not be judged, and shall have no reason to fear any judgment and condemnation, but is freed. The Law’s judgment and condemnation are taken away from him, and God’s grace and eternal life are promised and bestowed upon him through Christ, if he only believes these words.
45. On the contrary, a fearful judgment is passed upon those who do not believe this proclamation, but undertake to appear before God and be saved on the basis of their own holiness and merits; for they are at once denied and cut off from all grace, and included in condemnation, from which they shall find no relief so long as they do not believe, even though they may have done many great and important works and walked apparently in eminent holiness. Christ’s condemnation is not waiting them, simply, but they have already been judged through the Law of God, because they did not acknowledge their sins and that, by nature, they were under
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God’s wrath. What is still worse, they try to make themselves appear beautiful and pious before God; moreover, they oppose him with the sin of despising the Son of God, who was given for their reconciliation and redemption. Hence, the eternal wrath and curse must come upon them, because they do not seek forgiveness of their sins in Christ, but increase and confirm them by their contempt. This is what John the Baptist also says, Jn 3, 36: “He that believeth 011 the Son hath eternal life; but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” 46. Christ gives the reason for this: “Because he hath not believed,” he says, “on the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Because everyone is already guilty, being under sin and condemnation, therefore God will not liberate anyone, nor receive him, except through this Son, whom he gave and set apart for reconciliation; and that means, therefore: Believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God, that is, in the Word which the Son preached of him. For faith cannot see what he here gives, neither ‘can it be grasped and realized with the senses; it apprehends no more than the name which has been given him, and the oral Word heard with the ears. To this he would hold and bind us, that by faith in it we should escape judgment, and be saved. The rest are justly damned, not because they have sin, but because they despise the Son and will not believe in the name that has been proclaimed to them for their salvation and eternal bliss. For to this name, wherever it is preached and believed, all creation and sin and death must yield, and by it the devil and all the gates of hell shall be frightened and flee away.
II. The Judgment upon the World.
“And this is the judgment, that the light is me into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil.”
47. Here the contention begins about this name and proclamation of Christ, and the verdict of condemnation against the unbelieving is manifest, because they do not receive this saying, but, on the contrary, oppose God, and wickedly ad-
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here to their own conceit and arrogance in direct opposition to the clear Word of God and the revelation of his will. This can be nothing but darkness, because it is contrary to the light of his Word, which shines publicly before all the world bringing believers to the knowledge of God and salvation, but uncovering and revealing the thoughts of others, as the aged Simeon prophesied concerning Christ, Lk 2, 35, showing that they are not what they make themselves appear to be before the world when they deck themselves with a false appearance of holiness, but they are contemptible, poisonous worms, pernicious and accursed people.
48. From this contrast which Christ makes above in verse 16, you may see what the world is; I mean the tender, pious, holy hypocrites and eminent servants of God. They are people who are not only in darkness, that is, in error and ignorance (which could be pardoned), but they at the same time love these things; that is, they uphold and defend and adhere to them, to the displeasure of God and his Word. And so perverse and steeped in wickedness are they that they bitterly hate both God the Giver and the great and precious Gift, beloved Son, rejecting this divine love and Gift, notwithstanding their unworthiness, These are, forsooth, loving, pious children, who cannot bear and endure the truth, but hate and reject their own salvation.
49. What shall we say of such wickedness of the world? Who could believe that people on earth could be so wicked and possessed of devils, that even when they hear and see the light of such inexpressible divine love and benefaction, which would bestow upon them eternal life through his Son, nevertheless will not endure this proclamation, but look upon it as the most harmful poison and heresy, against which everybody should close his ears? Yea, though this light is so plain that. they can say nothing against it, but must confess that it is the truth, yet they are so bitterly angry that they neither can nor will accept it, but knowingly oppose it. That, I say, no human heart ‘could believe if Christ had not said so; yea, no one would understand these words if facts and experience had not taught and proved them. It should ever be
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regarded an accursed, hellish wickedness not only never to inquire in the least about. God’s Word, to despise his love and grace, and not to honor the truth, but, in addition, knowingly to love and seek his own damnation; as Paul says in Acts 13, 46, concerning the Jews, that they judged themselves unworthy of eternal life.
50. That is what they do who call themselves God’s people, and are the most holy and pious before the world full of so-called good works and services before God; They will not suffer in the least that their life and works should be called wicked, as Christ does here. Since the Holy Spirit would show them their sins, and lead them to Christ, that they might be redeemed from their sins and condemnation and be saved, they accuse this doctrine of forbidding and condemning good works, and say that it ought not, therefore, to be tolerated. And so God and his Word must bear the blame of their wickedness, although he would correct them and very willingly help them to lead a godly and blessed life. He has done enough for the world, everything that is necessary to do, in that he has permitted his light to shine for it and offered and certified to it his love and eternal life in Christ. What reason can it now offer why it should not be justly condemned according to its own judgment, and on account of its own guilt?
“For everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his works should be revealed. But he that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works may be manifest, that they have been wrought in God.”
51. Thus it is proved that their works are evil, because they hate the light and will not suffer themselves to be placed openly in the light, that they may be tried, and that it may be manifest whether they are upright or not, but they seek only to appear well and to shine before men. Just so the world acts in its affairs, even as Christ says, and everyone does as he pleases and desires, and yet does not want to be regarded as having done wrong, but would be considered faultless and pious by all. Although a man in his acts is exceedingly rude in the presence of people, yet he seeks to screen and cover his deeds. That is why no one can be condemned unless he be
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publicly convicted and confuted. Everyone comes before the court to prove himself to be right and his opponent to be wrong; therefore, in order to get at the truth, his conduct must be exposed through public testimony and proof.
52. Indeed, it is in itself sufficient evidence of the fact that there is something wrong, when one will not allow himself to be taken to task, and is afraid of and resists being brought publicly before the light, or will not suffer information to be given and justice to be done. Even as he who lies nude in bed resists and rages before he will allow the covers to be removed; yes, squirms, wriggles and resorts to whatever expedient he can devise that his nakedness may not be exposed; so every wretch, murderer and adulterer, however wicked he may be, even though his own conscience condemns him, wants to be called a man of honor. Much less will the world submit to be judged in the things which reason does not condemn or censure, and when the devil adorns and veils himself with a most beautiful demeanor and. appearance. And so everyone who does that which is wicked wants to be considered pious, pure and holy, and therefore persecutes the Gospel, because it chastises him; wherefore, God must continue with his light until it may finally become manifest whose fruit they are who persecute Christ, who would help them and all the world. God’s Word, which brings them all grace and blessedness, they blaspheme and reject; pious, innocent people, who confess his Word and love Christ, they exile and murder.
53. This, also, is one of the fruits of the Gospel, that it rebukes and convicts evil, and exposes the devil, who formerly reigned in pomp, unhindered, and in the, appearance of God himself. Now, however, he raves and rages because he is so exposed that his presence is apparent to all. Now, it must become manifest which is the true and which the false Church, and who are the true, pious children of God, and who are the devil’s children and hypocrites, liars and murderers.
54· “But he that doeth the truth,” says Christ, “cometh to the light” etc.; that is, he who through the Word of God is brought to a knowledge of his sins, seeks grace and loves Christ, and is also made manifest. Yea, he, himself, comes
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to the light, holds fast to God’s Word, honors the truth, and is willing that all his doctrines, deeds and his disposition may be made manifest; he defies all devils and men, and openly and fearlessly lets himself be seen and heard, proved and persecuted. Even so, God be praised! through our Gospel, pious Christians do, in their confession and in their lives; whilst others, on the contrary, cover their doings and try to justify themselves with lies ‘and deceit, and all kinds of knavery, that they might, notwithstanding that they have been put to shame by the light of our doctrines and teachings, give their doings some coloring. Therefore, by their works and manifestations it may he known who is upright, and who in truth performs such works as are done in God, according to his Word and will, and are pleasing in his sight.