[The following sermon is taken from volume II:269-281 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI). It appeared in the “Rules and Instructions for those going to the Lord’s Supper,” and was issued in separate form under the titles:
1. “A sermon on the chief article of our faith, 1524, Dr. Martin Luther, Wittenberg,” and 2. “A sermon for second Easter day and relating to the chief article of our faith, first published by Dr. Martin Luther, very wholesome and profitable to read.”
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.]
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I. THE PREPARATION FOR PARTAKING OF THE LORD’S SUPPER.
1. This Gospel, in one part, teaches and urges us to take pleasure in speaking and working for our Lord Jesus Christ. It does so by showing what fruit follows from such a course, although that fruit is not understood and grasped so clearly as it ought to be. You see here that the two disciples are still full of unbelief; yet, as they are speaking about Jesus, and seemingly in vain, he can not remain absent from them; but draws near, opens their eyes and interprets to them the Scriptures. You ought to faithfully lay hold of this and retain it, for it is a precious thing. However, before I treat further of the Gospel, which is easy as to its: history, I must first, for the sake of the simple and plain people, say a few things about the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
2. Beloved, you have heard that we preached who are worthy to receive the Lord’s Supper, namely, those who by the Word of God are moved in their hearts to believe, and that those who are not thus prepared ought to refrain from it. And it is right to deter everyone from rushing to it or going in one’s own preparation, as was formerly common. That is the right way to preach, and I would to God that many might be thus terrified. But again I notice in many, and in myself also, that the devil spirit presses the other side also too much, so as to cause hearts to be weary
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and backward in partaking of the communion, so that they never approach it unless they feel for a certainty that they are fervid in faith. This is also dangerous, since thereby we would do away with the preparation which was formerly customary, but would establish a new preparation that would also not be right.
3. We have rejected those who prepare to receive the sacrament by their own works, a thing that God abhors. But by so doing we may easily cause people to become slow, so as always to wait until God comes and gives us perfect faith, so that they may go. Hence we can never preach enough about faith, even if we preach long and earnestly about it, for our reason can never understand it. Hence, to meet this evil, we will treat it more at length and must divide it into two parts, or rather, into the two classes of persons who prepare to go to the Lord’s Supper.
4. In the first place we have taught that it did not profit anyone to prepare for the sacrament by his own strength, as those did who endeavored by their confession and other works to make themselves worthy to receive it. This is a terrible error and abuse, and the only true advice we can give those who undertake such things is to refrain from them and to keep far from the sacrament.
5. The other preparation, that is made in faith, and of which we have said enough before, is right, as it comes and proceeds from God. It is not done in such a way that one always feels confident he is worthy. Where would faith be if that were the case? But it takes place thus: Without any of my preparing and doing, God’s Word comes to me. I may indeed go and hear it, or read and preach it, so that it thus enters my heart. And that is the right preparation, which is not made by the power and cunning of man, but by the strength of God. Hence there is no better preparation for all the sacraments than to permit and suffer God to prepare us. This is a brief talk about the preparation. And now we will consider the communicants.
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PERSONS FOR WHOM THE HOLY SUPPER IS NOT, AND FOR WHOM IT IS.
6. The Gospel and Word of God, which is a speech or discourse about Christ, sometimes falls upon the ears of those who do not accept it or even despise it; and, as Christ says in Lk 8, 5, it falls by the wayside, that is, into hard, unprepared hearts.
7. Then there are others who are vile rascals and live in open vice. Mt 13,22. Even though they hear the Gospel and never really oppose it, they are not much concerned about it. As you see our fanatics do now, who can greatly talk and spit about it, especially when they are full, and make light of it. They have grasped nothing of it, except a glibness in talking about it. They are all wicked hearts. Of this class are also those who live in deep avarice, so materialistic that they feel it. And thus they live in other gross sins and have little reverence for the holy Gospel, even if they are able to talk glibly about it. But we never care to preach to them, for all is lost on them and the Gospel makes them neither humble nor hungry.
8. Thirdly, the very worst are those who besides persecute the Gospel. Of them Christ says in Mt 7,6: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before the swine.” These three sects do not belong to the Gospel Church, and we are not preaching to them. And I wish the law were enforced and they were punished, these rude swine, who talk so foolishly about the Gospel as if it were a story of Theodocius of Bern, or some other tale. If anyone will be a pig let him know what is becoming a pig. I really wish I could exclude them from my preaching, that they might never hear it, and be far away from it. They can do nothing but misuse the Gospel to their own injury, and disgrace us, so that for their own sake the Word of God must suffer dishonor and abuse. Out with the dirty swine!
9. Finally, there are some who are like the people here in this Gospel. Behold, how they still lack in faith,
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for they speak in this wise: “We hoped he would redeem Israel.” As if they meant to say: We do not know what the result will be. It is clearly evident that it will amount to nothing. He is dead now and even if he came to life again and arose from the dead, he surely cannot redeem the people and become a king. And so they thought redemption was a failure. Therefore the two disciples here are the multitude that taste the Gospel in their hearts and dislike to have it despised and disobeyed; but still they are so timid that they hesitate to draw near because they feel they are neither strong nor fervid enough. They draw back and do not want to approach near until they feel and experience that they are strong in faith. These are persons to whom the Gospel belongs, even though they stumble at times, so that they become disgusted with themselves, feel their disease and wish to get rid of it, and are not hard of heart. These should be urged and drawn to Christ. We have never yet preached to any but such people.
10. For it is the nature of faith that a man knows his faults and earnestly desires to be free from them. No one dare wait until God performs a miraculous sign for him, and treats him differently from other people to whom he gives the signs in the Gospel and in the sacraments. God gave us the treasure and revealed it for the purpose alone that we should go and get it. Hence, when you feel your weakness, you ought to go and say: My Lord, I have fallen. I want to be strong. Now thou hast instituted the Lord’s Supper for us to kindle and strengthen our faith thereby and that we might be thus helped. So here I am and wish to receive it. This should be our comfort and we ought joyfully to use the Word and the sacraments when we feel our lack of faith, and rejoice to receive aid to seek help and strength. There our souls find it within us.
11. For you must not make Christ a tyrant, but accept him for what he in truth is and let him be unto you nothing but rich, abounding grace. However, if you feel in your
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heart you have not reached this point and do not believe, and yet would like to believe, you must after all not despair and shun the communion, but seek your help right there, a that your faith may be kindled and increased. For, though some have been terribly punished for partaking of the sacrament unworthily and without faith, they are only those whom we described above, namely, the hardened, wicked hearts. You must do and think thus: Lord, see, that is thy Word and this is my sickness and railing. Thou thyself hast said, “Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Mt 11, 28. Do you think he said that to those who are already fervid and strong in faith? His kingdom is not established to the end of furthering the righteous, Mt 9, 13, but of helping sinners and making them righteous. 1 Tim 1, 15. Hence, whoever is weak and experiences it should go to the communion and let God help him.
12. But there is another herd not on the right track. We have prophets abroad in the land who teach the people too freely to be bold and defiant, who speak with the divine Majesty as they would with a cobbler’s apprentice. These impudent and proud spirits are by no means to be followed. It is well for you to be backward and timid, and to fear and tremble. I like such fear. You just abide in it and go and have your conscience calmed. But such proud minds and unbroken hearts that act so defiantly and deal with God as if he must be afraid of them, he cannot tolerate.
13. Therefore you must humble yourself, and abide in fear so as to feel your struggles and weaknesses, and desire faith. If you experience that, then thank God, for that is a sure sign the Word has struck and moved you, and exercises, constrains and impels you. What sort of faith would that be if I went and had no fear and anguish of heart to exercise my faith? For it is the very nature of faith, that it proves its strength in fear, in death and sins, and in all things that make a
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human being afraid and timid. Therefore if you feel thus, it is the proper time for you to go, for then your faith will find something to do. And to this end private confession is helpful. It is well to go to a pious man, and point out your need to him and ask advice, whether he thinks you are worthy to go to the Lord’s Supper, and then follow his advice. That is the real purpose of confession and of the sacrament. They are of no other use and are instituted for the purpose of assisting weak consciences that are burdened by their sins.
14. But you say: How then, if I am so inert and cold that I have no desire for it, still I feel that I need it; yet the Gospel and the sacrament do not satisfy me so that almost every spark in my heart is extinguished? Answer: You must not desist. For as long as you feel that you are not yet lost and not yet so wicked as those described above; for you always wish to burn with zeal. Therefore you must do as follows: Take to yourself the Word of God, go and hear it preached, read it, write it or even sing it, only so you live it and keep busy with it, then you will experience something. Then go to the Lord’s Supper and say: Lord, I am a lazy character; but I come that thou shouldst help me and kindle my heart. Add to it whatever words and thought you can think and say. You must not stop to think how to prepare yourself to be worthy for the communion; you are already prepared if you feel that you would gladly be helped, and your need constrains you to go.
15. It has often happened to me that I hesitated and thus departed farther from it, until I saw nothing helped me and I had to go. Thus you also, will find that it is the devil’s spectre that draws people away so that the more they are afraid and wait until they xperience faith in their hearts, the farther they drift from it. And at last, if they continue in this state, all desire and impulse, both toward the Word and the sacrament, dies out in them, and they never come. Hence you must put aside
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such thoughts and fear, and go and ask God to help you. If you do so often, you will experience that you will gain more and more desire for it, a thing you would not have gained otherwise. Therefore I wish you would do this, and that there were many to go to the sacrament in such a frame of mind and would gain more and more pleasure in it, and became stranger and stronger. But if you do not go, you will always remain cold and will ever grow colder and colder.
16. This ought to comfort you, and you will experience it if you try it. For it is impossible for God’s Word not to produce fruit and be a blessing. God spake as follows : “For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven and returneth not thither but watereth the earth and maketh it bring forth and bud, and giveth seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my Word be that goeth forth out of my mouth ; it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” Is 55, 10-11. This Scripture aught to make us very bold and happy, if we have already grown cold. By the grace of God we have God’s Word and we ought to raise our hands and thank him for it. How many are there in the world who do not possess it? How could you otherwise have obtained it? There you have the whole supply and the preparation that serves it, and yet you have knavery enough to contend with it. Therefore, as God says that his Word will not return without fruit and if you use it not to make a mockery of it, but are in earnest about it, you will undoubtedly feel and experience something, and the more you use it, the more you will have this experience. You cannot have evil thoughts in your heart if you take a portion of the Scriptures before you and read it, or you meet another person and converse with him about it. If you do this, evil lusts will succumb and the flesh will be subdued. I have often tried it, and if you try it you will also find the fruits and experience that it is
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as God says. What more do you wish prepared for you?
17. Is it not enough that you possess God’s Word that draws you, and besides that you fed your distress driving you to it? And then Christ is there and waits to help you. What
more shall he do? And there is nobody excluded but proud, insolent persons and the castaways that are not in earnest. Therefore you must go and remember that Christ looks more deeply into your heart than you do yourself, as you see in this Gospel. These two poor men would not have dared to wish for what meets them. Yet such grace is bestowed upon them that Christ himself comes to them, while speaking of him, and reveals himself so that they know him. This tills their hearts with joy that they could not tarry there but ran and told the other disciples how the Lord manifested himself to them. Then they are full of joy, as they would not have dared to wish; but still it was so deep in their hearts that they themselves did not perceive that they desired it, although their hearts were so set upon it that they would have loved to see nothing better than for the Lord Jesus Christ to rise from the dead and be king. Therefore God looks more deeply into the depths of the heart than we ourselves, and he also gives us more than we desire. Thus he does also here. If you feel that you are not so fervent as you would like to be, he looks more deeply into your heart than you do, since you are anxious to be fully set on fire and become a burning light. Therefore you ought not to flee from him, but approach boldly.
18. To this end many passages in Paul’s writings serve. For example, he says to the Ephesians: “The Lord is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Eph 3, 20. Now we clearly see what he gives us when we receive it and we feel that we receive it with joy. Therefore St. Paul says that we do not see nor even think of it while
we desire it; but the Lord, who searcheth the hearts, sees and understands our desire, and
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therefore he bestows upon us his grace abundantly. Thus we read of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, that she wept for her son during nine long years. It was her heart’s desire for him to become a Christian, and she devised many plans by which to bring him to Christ. She wanted him to marry a Christian woman who should make a plain Christian husband of him. But she did not dare to hope or expect him to become the man he did later, although she would have gladly seen it.
19. Then look at the examples all through the Gospel. St. Peter was too timid when the Lord wished to wash his feet and said, “Shouldest thou wash my feet?” and did not understand that his need compelled him, and his heart urged him, to see the necessity of Christ’s washing him, as he said soon after, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” Jn 13, 9. And our heart is in the same condition, that we wish to see the Lord Jesus present, to help us, and yet we are so timid that we are afraid of him and do not think as much of his loving kindness as we freely profess to do. For, if we considered hill).to be what he is, we would say as Peter did, “Wash not my feet only, but also my hands and my head,” and think, now I will gladly go to him, even if I had a greater burden of sin. There is likewise another example of St. Peter in Luke 5, 6-8, when they sat in the ship and caught so many fishes that their nets broke. Then Peter was amazed, fell down at Jesus’ knees and said, “Depart from me, I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Notice he was frightened and bids him to go away at the very time he ought to pray him to come. Thus our timid nature is ever afraid of Christ, in whom there is nothing but good, and who has come to help everybody. That is why I said, we must not make a tyrant of Christ, but suffer him to be a dear Lord and Saviour, who has no other desire but to help sinners, and to invite and attract everybody by his words and example.
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20. This exposition of the nature of faith is clear enough, for our great trouble is that we do not really understand the nature of faith. Therefore do this: Begin and try it and you will experience it; and the more you practice it, the more comfort and strength you will experience; and the more unworthy you feel you are, the more you must appropriate God’s Word to yourself and practice it, hear or read it and speak about it, and you will always find and prove something that pleases and moves you. You should besides pray to God and say as the apostles did in Lk 17, 5: “Lord, increase my faith.” Thus go and you win be strengthened. But if you dwell too much on your timidity you will never go; for then you will persist to feel and not to believe. You must experience your misery and struggles of conscience. Then is the time for you to go to the Lord’s Supper. Even if you are weak in faith you must not on that account step back, for he will not reject you since he has come for the sole purpose of strengthening the weak and comforting the despondent.
21. But I do not wish to have all this preached to hardened insolent characters and the fanatics, but only to consciences that are faint and weak, and occasionally fall, so that they do not despond, but know where to find help and comfort. On this point a father in the desert uttered a wise saying. When he saw that a brother was weak and faint, he said: No, my brother, thou must not withdraw thus and go back, for thou mightest go back so far that thou couldest not return. For it is to be feared that the longer we stay away, the colder and lazier we become. They ought to stay away, as we have said at length, who lead a wicked and immoral life and do not intend to amend their ways. But those who know their weaknesses and want to be rid of them and see that they cannot help themselves, they should Come to the communion for help.
22. From this you see why God instituted and ordained that his Word should be preached; and therefore it ought
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not to be despised. It is true that the Word without the Spirit is of no use; but since God Almighty himself said, as we have heard, “My Word that goeth forth out of my mouth,
shall not return unto me void,” it must not be despised. For through his Word he gives the Holy Spirit into your hearts and will not suffer you to gape and wait for a miraculous sign from heaven, to be done on you, and thus to ignore his Word and sacrament. He himself highly esteems and praises the Word, for he has decreed to give his grace through it, as Christ says, “No man can come to me, except the Father that sent me, draw him.” In 6, 44. How does the Father draw us? Through Christ. How through Christ? By the Word. Thus he invites and calls you. If your need impels you, go then joyfully, tell your trouble bravely; but always bring the Word with you.
23. But leave it to God, how you may remain steadfast, and go now, while you have the Word and feel your misery. Then the Word itself will teach you how to prepare yourself aright. For then you must accuse yourself before God and say: Lord, I am a sinner and cannot help myself by my own strength, so I come to thee for help. If I have sufficient grace only to delight in the Word of God with my whole heart and I have joy and pleasure in it, I can surely remain steadfast. For it must be something great for God to give me his Word and cause it to be pleasing and attractive to me. Even if I am not so strong now as I ought to be, I shall grow stronger in time and at last reach the point when I can confess his grace without fear and devote my life to it. Therefore Christ says: “Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you, for everyone that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth, and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.” Mt 7, 7-8.
24. Therefore I would faithfully admonish you to act wisely in this matter. We have justly condemned those
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who undertake to prepare themselves by their own works; but we have invited those who feel their need and see they can do nothing by their own power, and can find neither counsel nor help, for these use the Lord’s Supper unto their personal salvation. Therefore, if you feel thus, go first to a pious man and tell him your distress and say, Lo, I have fallen and would like to obtain help and I ask for counsel what to do. Then he should comfort him and welcome him to the sacrament, so that he may exercise his faith and be strengthened. For it is instituted for this very purpose of ministering comfort and strength. Therefore let nothing keep you from the communion. If you feel bashful, it is well, for you must feel your unworthiness. If you however do not feel your guilt, you are not in a fit frame of mind to go, and it will be better for you to refrain from going.
25. Take the Gospel and the Holy Scriptures before you, the more the better, even if you already know them and have often read them. For it is certainly a suggestion of the devil who tries to tear from you your delight in the Word. He hates to have you come to it, for he knows very well what fruit it bears in you. If you are thus busy with the Word and strive to live it the best you can, you will see that Christ is with you and a fire is kindled in your heart. But the best is, for two or three earnestly to speak among themselves about it, so that the living voice is heard. Then you will be much stronger and the devil must yield. Thus all evil lust and thoughts disappear and thus will ensue such a light and knowledge, you have never before experienced. The only trouble is that we fools have such a great treasure lying before our doors and do not know how to use it. And the devil deceives us in order to draw us away from it and make us indifferent, because he can not overcome it. Therefore we must prepare to resist the devil’s suggestions and influence. In like manner Christ will come and reveal himself even though at first you are not aware of it; the
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more you speak about it and discuss it the more clearly you will recognize Christ and feel that he kindles your heart within you, as you heard in this Gospel of the two disciples journeying to, the village of Emmaus.
III. THE CONCLUSION.
26. This I had to preach now concerning the Lord’s Supper and the Gospel, as God gave us the light, and I admonish you, my friends, to grasp and faithfully use it. If there be fanatics, who disgrace the Gospel, they ought to be punished by the civil authorities. But we must let them also hear, for the sake of the righteous, for we are to preach God’s Word publicly to everybody, since we do not know whom it may strike.
[The following sermon is taken from volume II:283-300 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI). It was originally published in 1906 in English by Lutherans in All Lands Press (Minneapolis, MN), as The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 11. 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. THREE THOUGHTS TAUGHT BY THIS GOSPEL.
1. This Gospel brings out and enforces especially three thoughts on the article of faith concerning Christ’s resurrection. First, that this narrative transpired and was written along with others as a sure witness and proof of our faith in this article of our Creed. First, in that we see these two disciples leave the company of the others, full of unbelief in the resurrection. They commune together about the things that transpired as if they despair of Christ, and he is now dead and forever buried in their hearts, who does nothing more and is unable to do anything. This appears from their own confession where they say: “We hoped that it was he who should redeem Israel. Yea, and besides this, it is now the third day since he is dead.” And though they had heard from the women that these had seen a vision of angels who told them that Christ had risen and was alive, yet they urged that he had not been seen or found by anyone. In the second place–and this is the most important fact–we here see Christ not only showing himself alive to the unbelieving disciples, so that they might become assured of his resurrection and return at once to announce it to the others, and to hear the same truth from them, the testimony on both sides agreeing and being thereby established; but also that Christ, before they knew him, proved fully and clearly from the Scriptures that it behooved Christ both to die and to rise again from the dead. For this reason he upbraided them for their unbelief because they ought to have known the Scriptures concerning Christ, since he himself had taught them that his sufferings were foretold in the Scriptures.
2. The second thought this Gospel presents is an example of the power and fruit of the resurrection as manifested in these two disciples while they are talking of him and listening to his preaching. This also is nothing less than a portion of the proof of his resurrection. For Christ here proves by word and deed that he is not dead, as they believed before, but works in them and exercises his
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power through the Word, even before they know him, and makes believers of them who have another mind, reason, heart, and will. This they also recognize and confess, saying: “Was not our heart burning within us while he spake to us, etc?” After this manner he still works in the whole Christian church; though unseen, he yet carries on his work and shows his dominion in that, as the living Lord, he enlightens them through his Word, comforts and strengthens them, defends them with his power and keeps them against the wrath of the devil and the world.
3. As a third truth, we are here shown in what manner Christ reveals his resurrection, and how it may be be known and apprehended, namely, above all first through the Word and faith, rather than through bodily vision or sensation. Therefore he is unknown to them at first when he comes to them and walks with them, though he is with them in very truth, the selfsame Christ whom they had so often seen and heard and known full well. Yet now they do not know him at all, because they know that he had died and had been buried the third day before; and hence can think of him only as a dead man. So strange and unknowable had he become to them that they would not have known him, had he stayed with them ever so long, until he announced to them his resurrection and preached about it. The text says: “Their eyes were holden, that they should not know him.” It was not he who had been changed, nor was it his will to remain unknown to them, but their hearts and thoughts had become estranged and far removed from his. In the same way neither Magdalene nor the other disciples recognized him until they had heard the Word of his resurrection.
4. His purpose is to show and teach us that the power of his resurrection and dominion will be exercised here on earth, and manifest itself in this life only through the Word, and through faith which holds fast to Christ, though it does not see him, and thus conquers sin and death in him, lays hold of righteousness and life, etc. This is a brief
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summary of the story contained in this Gospel, in so far as it pertains to the article of faith on the resurrection in general; of which we lately heard more.
5. But the special purpose of this Gospel is to show us how weak in faith the disciples were, and how Christ in his kingdom manifests himself to such persons of weak faith, and how he deals with them. For we see from the whole story of Christ’s resurrection, as recorded in the Gospels, how the Apostles, and all the other disciples after them, were so weak in their faith in this doctrine, even to the time of his ascension, that he had to upbraid them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them that had seen him after he was risen, Mk 16, 14. They manifested this weakness, though he had often told them from the Scriptures that he must be crucified and rise again on the third day, etc.
6. From this we learn, in the first place, that even in those who have become true Christians, weakness and frailties remain, especially in the deeper matters of doctrine and faith, they being unable to understand them or to grasp them as firmly and strongly as they ought. For faith is not so light or easy a matter as ignorant and inexperienced people fancy, and as our coarse blockheads, the popish dunces, pretend, who believe that faith is no more than to have heard the history and to know it. Having heard or read just once what the Gospel tells of Christ, these people fancy that they have fully understood and believed it, and henceforth need no longer to learn and believe it.
7. That this is naught but an idle, vain fancy, is proved by their own confession that this knowledge of the Bible story rests in their hearts as a cold, lifeless thing, a mere empty husk, lacking all life-giving power, of no use or help to them, neither giving strength nor making them better; whereas this great, exalted miracle of Christ’s resurrection was peformed and is to be preached, learned, and known, to the end that it may be fruitful in us, quicken and kindle our hearts, and work in us new thoughts, new knowledge,
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new forces, life, joy, comfort and strength. If this does not take place, the story has been heard in vain, and is dead within you, being of nor more value to you than to Turks and heathen who have never heard it, or have not believed it to be true. You dare not boast of faith, though froth on your tongue, or a sound in your ears, or a dream in your memory give witness that you have heard the story, of which your heart has neither experienced nor tasted aught.
The papists show plainly, in all their doctrine and life, that they do not from their hearts believe and hold fast to this article of faith, because they seek the power and effect which ought to come from the resurrection of Christ in themselves and outside of Christ, teaching that it must be sought and obtained through their own works and merits, while they condemn, blaspheme, and persecute the saving doctrine that tells us to turn from these foolish lies to Christ and to the power of his resurrection.
8. Christians, however, and true believers know by sad experience in others as well as in themselves how weak they are, and they deplore the fact that they are unable to grasp this doctrine, or to hold it fast in their hearts with as strong a faith as they ought. Their entire life is spent in combating this weakness, as even Paul says in Phil 3, 12, that he had not grasped it, nor was already made perfect, but that he was pressing on, if so be that he might lay hold of it, and obtain a knowledge of the power of Christ’s resurrection, etc.
9. For though this doctrine is most delightful and comforting in itself, full of joy and blessedness, and ought to find its way gently and easily into the heart, yet it is hindered by two great obstacles which make it difficult to believe. In the first place, this work of God is much too exalted and too great in itself for us ever to understand thoroughly in this life, even if our faith were perfectly strong and without weakness; for not until we are in the life beyond will we ever truly see and feel its full force and power. In the second place, our own flesh and blood, and the hearts
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of all men, are by nature much too weak and too fearful to believe God’s Word; and must be filled with fear and terror when they contrast the greatness of this work with themselves and their own unworthiness.
10. God cannot overlook the first cause and obstacle nor have patience with it; for this work must and shall remain as great as it is, and it dare not be belittled; yea, it must be the power to which all creatures, men, angels, the devil, and hell, must yield and be subjected, because it is necessary for our salvation. For if this were not so, we would continue in sin, death and the eternal wrath of God. The other obstacle, namely, that we are too weak to grasp this great work and power by our faith, God may overlook and have patience with; as we here see Christ doing with his disciples, who had certainly heard he had risen, and yet were full of such great and heavy doubts that they almost despaired of Christ entirely saying, “We hoped that it was he who should redeem Israel.”
11. Behold, how earnestly he looks after these two of weak faith, and cares for them, doing everything to lift them out of their weakness, and to strengthen their faith. Because he sees and knows that in great sorrow and sadness they had departed from the other Apostles and do not know what to think or hope, he is determined not to leave them in such doubt and temptation. In order to help them out of it, he becomes their companion on the way, leaving behind all the other Apostles, though they too were assembled in great sorrow and very weak faith. But because these two are in great danger of total unbelief, he at once comes to them, as if he had nothing else to do now that he was risen; he speaks to them in the friendliest way, and reasons with them from the Scriptures, gives them occasion to retain him and to ask him to abide with them, to eat and to drink in their company, until their faith is quickened once more, and they are relieved of all doubts. Their faith grows so strong that they recognize him as the same Christ
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who had been with them before in life, and whom they had seen crucified three days ago, but had been unable to recognize on the way by reason of doubt and the weakness of their faith.
12. It is, therefore, his purpose to teach us by this narrative, given for our instruction and consolation, how his work is to be done in the Christian church after his resurrection, namely, that he will not reject nor cast out those who are weak in their faith, yea, not even those who are held in error or ignorance, or who are otherwise weak, fearful, and despairing. They are rather the very persons in whom he will exercise and manifest the power of his resurrection, not only by inviting them to come to him, but also by coming to them, and treating them in the gentlest and kindest way, talking with them, teaching and instructing them, yea, even eating with them, until at length they grow strong and secure in their faith; while their hearts, so sad and sorrowful for a time, are again filled with joy. Thus we also should know and have this comforting assurance that he is our Lord who is able to bear with our infirmities and to overlook them; that he will not reject and condemn those unable to believe and live at once as they should, if only they do not in their hearts despise and deny Christ and his Word, but delight in him and love him, and truly desire to become strong and perfect in faith and life.
13. Looking at these disciples, weak and unreasonable as they are, one sees that their hearts nevertheless were in a state that they felt kindly toward Christ, delighted both to speak of him and to hear him spoken of, and had no greater desire than that what they had heard concerning his resurrection might be true. But the thing was much too great for them to believe, so that they were as yet quite unable to accept it as true–just as it is also too high and too great for us. This our dear Lord knows and sees full well, and so he is better able to have patience with us, is satisfied and pleased if only we listen to him as his pupils and are willing to be taught and directed by him.
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14.. Furthermore, he thereby wishes to teach us how to conduct ourselves in his kingdom, particularly towards those who are weak and infirm in faith. We also ought not hastily to reject and condemn those whom we see erring or stumbling; but also have patience with them, even as Christ had with us and still must have every day. For though in his own person by virtue of his resurrection he is in divine might and power Lord of heaven and earth, yet he rules his Church in a way to exercise and manifest the power of his resurrection in his poor, weak band by serving them with this power and might for their consolation and growth.
15. In harmony with this example, though we be strong we ought not to take pleasure in ourselves nor boast, but rather let our gifts and powers serve the weak, striving to uphold and reform them by instruction, consolation, encouragement, friendly admonition and reproof, etc., just as one must act kindly and considerately toward weak, frail children and invalids, nursing, lifting and carrying them until they are grown and can stand on their own feet.
16. This is one of the chief points of knowledge to be gained from the Gospel, in regard to the kingdom of Christ, how it is arranged and governed, namely that it is a government under which Christians, who have begun to believe and are holy, are nevertheless beset with frailty, ignorance, and other sinful infirmities. He bears and overlooks these shortcomings, but with the expectation that improvement shall ensue. Hence we must not dream of a church on earth in which there is neither frailty nor error in faith, as the papists boast that their church and church councils cannot err, etc. For here we are told that not only these two disciples, but all the other apostles erred in the leading and most necessary article of faith, abiding in their unbelief until Christ himself drew them out by means of many and various sermons and revelations. During the three days after Christ’s crucifixion, faith in his resurrection had completely died in all hearts; indeed, that light was kept
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burning nowhere except with Mary, his mother, who preserved within her heart all that she had heard from him and others, and was comforted and sustained thereby in her great grief over the sufferings and death of her son.
17. For faith in Christ must always continue and be preserved somewhere in the Church; there must always be some who have the truth and confess it, though their number be small, and the most fall into error, as they did here. If there are not more, there must be a Mary to keep the faith. He permits it to happen that many great saints err and stumble, in order that we may not trust in men, though they be many, great, and holy. We must be led to rely upon the Word that is sure and cannot deceive, as here these two men, and all the others afterward, were directed to the Scriptures.
18. Aside from this, let us not overlook the example contained in this Gospel which urges and admonishes us to speak and hear of Christ gladly, and to study the Scriptures and God’s Word, though it may not always be understood and affect us as it ought. The Gospel also shows us the power, blessing and effect of the Word, if approached with a sincere heart.
19. For, in the first place, although these two disciples were still filled with unbelief, yet he will not and cannot be separated from them, because they went their way communing sorrowfully with one another about Christ, and questioning together almost without result. He at once drew near and went with them and soon touched their hearts and minds. He began a beautiful, masterly sermon, such as they had never heard before, concerning the very article of faith which caused them trouble and doubt. Then, in the second place, they immediately feel its power; their hearts are no longer heavy, slow, and cold to believe as before, but are moved and kindled, and enlightened and receive a new understanding, so that now they begin to know the Scriptures aright, and what they had never understood before, becomes clear and manifest to their souls. Finally
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the mask and cover are taken away from their hearts and eyes, so that they no longer look upon him as a guest and a stranger, but truly know him and feel that he is no longer far from them, but at their side, and works certainty in their faith. Henceforth they no longer need bodily, visible revelations, but go forth at once to preach to others, and to strengthen and aid them against doubt and unbelief.
20. Therefore we should follow their example, and gladly hear the Word of God, without growing weary. For this is not only a needful practice for the strong and for the weak, for the wise and for the unwise, by which a knowledge of everything we need unto salvation is given– such study can never exhaust it–but it is also the punishment through which God wishes to work within our hearts, to give faith and the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says in Rom 10, 17: “Belief cometh by hearing the Word of God.” If man studies earnestly, even though the heart be cold and unwilling at first, if he only continues in the work, it will not be in vain, and the effect will be produced that the unwise and erring will be brought in and made better, the weak will be strengthened, and at last the heart will be kindled and enlightened, so that Christ is better understood and known from the Scriptures.
21. And even though there were no other benefit to be derived from this study, we ought to be urged to it by the fact that it pleases God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and renders him a service. We know that he will surely not be far from us when we do so, as he himself has promised, Mt 18, 20: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” If he is with us, the angels certainly are near also and take pleasure in our work, while the devil is driven away and has to retreat as he left Christ when he conquered him with the Word of God. Mt 4, 11.
22. There is a legend, telling us that an old patriarch living in the desert received peculiar visions and revelations
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from God. When he happened to be among young people, listening to their conversation, he saw that whenever they spoke of the Scriptures and things divine, beautiful young men consorted with them and joyfully smiled upon them; but on the other hand, whenever their conversation became wanton and silly, the same young men turned away displeased and sad, and dirty black hogs came and wollowed at their feet etc.
II. THE SERMON THE RISEN CHRIST PREACHED TO HIS DISCIPLES.
23. Let this be enough concerning the chief points of the story of this Gospel. There remains one other important part, the sermon Christ preached to the disciples from the Scriptures, in which he briefly showed them that it behooved Christ to suffer and thus to enter into his glory etc. Of this, sermon the Evangelist speaks as follows:
“And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.”
24. Without doubt this was a very beautiful and a model sermon. Now it is true we all would gladly know just the passages the Lord quoted referring to himself, by which he thereby enlightened, strengthened and convinced these disciples, since Moses contains so little, or nothing, as it would seem, of a plain statement on that of which Christ here speaks, that it behooved him to suffer, and to rise on the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name etc. For the Jews, who have had Moses so long and read him diligently enough even until the present day, have never yet discovered this rare truth in Moses.
25. But the Evangelist answers this and analyzes this argument by stating their heart burned within them while he opened to them the Scriptures, and in the Gospel following says Christ opened their mind to understand the Scriptures. Here is the point: Moses certainly writes con-
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cerning Christ and Christ is found in the books of Moses; but it is necessary not only to read, but also to understand what is said. Hence Paul says in 2 Cor 3,14-15 that the veil of Moses remains before the face of the Jews when they read the Old Testament, which only Christ alone can take away. And to his apostles Christ says, in Mt 13, 11: “Unto you is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; the others, however, though they see and hear, yet they do not understand.”
26. Therefore the Bible is a book that must not only be read and preached, but it also requires the true interpreter, that is, the revelation of the Holy Spirit; as we learn from our own experience now-a-days that it is of no avail to prove most clearly from Scripture the articles of the true doctrine to our opponents and to point out their errors. Not a single article of faith has ever been preached that was not more than once attacked and denied by heretics, though they read the same Scriptures that we have.
27. But this revelation also requires pupils of the right kind, who are willing to learn and to be instructed, like these pious and simple-minded disciples, not wise and puffed up minds and self-made masters who reach beyond the very heavens with their knowledge. For this is a doctrine that makes our wisdom foolishness and blinds our own reason, before it can be believed and understood; for it is not born of man’s wisdom, like other sciences and arts on earth, which have sprung from reason and can be grasped by means of reason. Hence it is impossible to attain to it by reason, and if you undertake to measure and reckon how far it agrees with reason, you will not succeed. All heresies from the beginning have had their origin here, and both Jews and Gentiles, and the Turks at present, grow foolishly violent in regard to our doctrine because it does not agree with reason and human wisdom. Only the pious, simple-minded people can grasp and understand it, who are true to this rule, and say: “God hath
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said it, therefore will I believe it;” as Christ himself declares in Mt 11, 25 and thanks the Father with a joyful heart that he hides these things from the wise and understanding and reveals them unto babes.
28. There is no way out of it, wise people and proud reason cannot be taught these wonderful things, concerning Christ, that true man is God’s Son from eternity, and yet he died and rose again, that in his human nature he has become Lord of heaven and earth, that he rules all creatures with divine power though no one sees him, and that we are saved by his merits alone, if we believe in him etc. Therefore God must needs establish the order that no one shall understand unless he is willing to be a fool, become a child, and believe in the simplicity of the heart.
29. Behold, what kind of people did he employ to be his first messengers, to proclaim and to witness his grandest work, the resurrection? Poor, ignorant women came to the sepulchre after useless expense and trouble in purchasing costly ointment and without considering that the tomb was covered with a heavy stone, yea, even sealed and guarded by soldiers. Yet these foolish persons are the first to whom Christ reveals his resurrection, and calls to be its preachers and witnesses. So also does he give these disciples a knowledge of the Scriptures which all the learned scribes did not possess, so that now they view Moses with different eyes and are forced to say: Behold, how often have I read and heard this before, but never understood it.
30. God would seem to say by this act: Very well, I see plainly that it is of no avail though everything be spoken and written in the very clearest manner; for in truth, all articles of faith are set forth clearly and tersely enough in the Scriptures. Take only the article on God and the creation, which certainly is told and given in the very plainest way; yet see the rabble of heretics it has made, Manichaeans, Valentinians, Marcionites, etc. Again, what did it avail that Christ himself, among his own
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people, confirmed his doctrine clearly and publicly by great miracles? Nothing more than that they began to twist both his words and his deeds, and called them the words and deeds of the devil and Beelzebub. Hence God must continue and say: Since they will not have and receive this Word as I give it to them, it shall remain hidden and unknown to them. I shall indeed have it written and preached in clear language; but reveal it to some few, simple-minded people who seek my Word. To the others it shall be mere darkness which may be felt, as among the Egyptians (though it shines and is preached most clearly), yea, it shall be naught but an offense and poison, against which they must stumble and fall in their blasphemies and contradictions, until they break to pieces.
31. Thus the Jews have had and have read Moses unto this day; yet all of them know nothing of what he speaks concerning Christ, yea, not even in minor articles of faith, just as their forefathers knew nothing of it, save some few who believed, as the prophets and the apostles after them, who elaborated their whole books from a single Bible passage. This enabled them to preach what everyone was compelled to acknowledge as true.
32. How did Christ stop the mouth of the Sadducees (who did not believe the resurrection of the dead and accepted no other Scripture but Moses), and convince them of the resurrection of the dead? He took the commonest saying in their religion, which all Jews knew and quoted every day, when God says, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob etc.” With these words he revealed Moses and drew the following conclusion: If you believe God to be God of those that are dead, how can he be God of those who have altogether ceased to be? Therefore, if he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as he himself declares, these men must be alive, though they have died as far as this life is concerned, and lie in their graves; for he cannot be God of that which does not exist. Hence Abraham, who now lies under the earth,
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and all the saints, must be alive before God, though they are dead before you; for this is, and will be, his name forever that he is the God of Abraham and of all who believe as he had promised him and all believers, saying: “I shall be thy God” etc.
33. Now who would have thought that these short, simple words are so full of meaning and furnish such an excellent, rich sermon, yea, that a big book might be written upon them? Though they know the books of Moses well enough, they yet declared that not a word concerning the resurrection of the dead was to be found in them. This was also the reason why they accepted Moses alone and rejected the prophets who nevertheless based all their preaching of the important articles of the faith in Christ upon Moses.
34. But let us look more closely at Christ’s sermon and consider one of the passages from Moses which he quoted. Genesis 3, 15 is the first word which promises grace, and was given to Adam and Eve, when he spoke to the serpent, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; he shall bruise thy head, and thou shall bruise his heel.” These words are read by Jews, Turks and heathens, and by human reason, but they all find them to be only hard pebbles, yea, dead and useless words, from which they cannot take anything even by their best efforts. But as soon as revelation comes to our aid, we understand them to mean: Through sin the serpent, that is the devil, has brought upon Adam and Eve sin and the eternal wrath of God. But in order to help them out of this dreadful fall and misery, into which they were led by Satan, God in his unfathomable mercy has found within himself this remedy that by the woman’s seed, that is, by the natural offspring of a woman, that very head of the serpent, that is, sin, death, and everlasting wrath, shall be crushed and robbed of his power, so that he may no longer be lord of death, nor be able to keep man either in sin, or in God’s wrath and condemnation.
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35. From this an entire New Testament springs forth, all the discourses of St. Paul and the apostles, who do not tell a great deal of the life and miracles of Christ, but, where it is possible, use such a passage as a flower, so to say, with which to cover a great meadow, doing so by the aid of revelation and the Holy Ghost who knows how to grind and press the words thoroughly, so that they give forth the juice and power they possess. For these words show, in the first place, that this seed must be a natural child, born of a woman, but without sin; for the Scriptures testify that whatever is born into this world of man and woman, is born in sin and is under the wrath of God, as David says, Ps. 51, 5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity” etc. For this flesh and blood is completely permeated and corrupted with evil lusts and disobedience against God, and as this substance is corrupted in father and mother, it must remain so in the child; hence no man can be born from man and woman without a sinful nature. God, therefore, hath ordained to take a woman alone for the conception and birth of Christ, the promised seed without a man, she becomes the little child’s mother, by the Holy Ghost, who causes this conception and birth in her, in order that he may be a natural man, having our flesh and blood, but without sin and power of Satan, whose head he was to bruise.
36. In the second place, if he was to be lord over sin and death, to subdue the devil and pluck us out of his hand, he had to have divine, almighty power. For though a man were altogether pure and without blemish of body or soul, as Adam was first created, yet were it not in his power and strength to take away this eternal misery and corruption, and to obtain and give in their stead unchangeable blessings and eternal life. Thus it follows that his power must be greater than that of all creatures, even all angels. Such power is found nowhere except in God himself, the Lord of all creation.
37. From this follows further that if he is born of a
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woman he is also mortal and must die in the body as others. And since he became man for our sake, and was sent by God to deliver us from sin and death, he had to take our place, to become a sacrifice for us, to bear and atone for that wrath and curse under which we had fallen and lay. But it was not possible for him to remain in death; since he was an eternal being he could not be held by it, as St. Peter says in Acts 2, 31, and in like passages; but even his body ere it had seen corruption and decay. must needs pass through death unscathed and by his resurrection and eternal life begin to rule in everlasting power and eternal glory, in order to bring his own out of sin and death, and the power of Satan unto everlasting righteousness and life.
38. Note that this is but a simple passage, which Christ surely did not overlook but interpreted from his own wealth of knowledge, as being the first and chief passage, from which later on all the others flow. Here we see that these are words, or miracles, rather, which reason can never grasp or fathom. They can only be understood when the Holy Ghost accompanies them, and preaches and reveals them unto those who believe with singleness of heart and abide in them. Then they begin to taste the sweet savor, and receive spiritual nourishment, so that they must say: This will do it, this will enlighten the heart and set it aflame.
39. Thus the prophets viewed the saying of Moses and drew therefrom their glorious prophecies concerning Christ, as Isaiah (7, 14) bases his prophecy of Christ’s birth upon this passage with the plain statement, “Behold, a virgin shall receive and bear a son” etc., also the whole 53 chapter concerning his suffering and resurrection, how that he would offer himself as a sacrifice for our sins etc. All these words Christ doubtless quoted in his sermon.
40. The apostles likewise, being ignorant fishermen, learned to know the Scriptures, not in the schools of the great scribes, but through the revelation by which Christ
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led them into the Scriptures. Thus they were enabled to understand and to write on the basis of a single passage a book or a sermon the world cannot understand. And if I had the same Spirit Isaiah or Paul had, I could take this passage and develop from it a New Testament, if that were not already written.
41. How did St. Peter know, or where is written in Moses that which he says in 1 Pet 1:10-11: “Concerning which salvation the prophets sought and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you, searching what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto?” Who told him that the Spirit of Christ existed and prophesied of Christ, before there were prophets and, above all, before Christ and the Holy Ghost were present? Are these the words of a fisherman, or of a learned, wise scribe? Nay, it is the revelation of the Holy Spirit who had also revealed it to the prophets before. Again, where is written in Moses what the Epistle to the Hebrews says in 1, 3-4, that Christ sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high, to be Lord over all, having become much better and higher than the angels? etc. He certainly took it from the Old Testament, but he found it not by his own reason, but by revelation, hence he argues: thus: If Christ is a Son of God and Lord of the angels, he must certainly be more and of a better nature than the angels. Now every angel is more powerful than all the world and combined human nature; yet if this true child of a virgin is to be Lord, not alone of the evil spirits, but also of the good and holy angels, he must be of one power and essence with God. This nobody will say or believe, except by revelation. Therefore I would agree to take Moses, the Psalms, Isaiah, together with the Spirit whom these men had, and make a New Testament every whit as good as that which the apostles wrote; but because we have not the same wealth and power of the Spirit, we must be
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taught by them and drink from the fountain which they gave us.
42. Let this be enough concerning a single portion or a single passage of the sermon Christ spoke to these disciples, and wherewith he well and fully earned, yea, paid for the entertainment they furnished him at the inn. But to set forth all the other words of Moses and the prophets which they spoke of Christ, and which he explained, would be by far too great a task for one sermon; for it would in itself amount to a book as large as the Bible. But without doubt they were the same passages the apostles quoted afterwards as they heard them from his own mouth on this occasion, and learned to understand them better on the following day of Pentecost. A goodly number of these passages were quoted by them in their sermons, in the Acts of the Apostles, and in the Epistles; and they are recommended for close study to every Christian, as he reads and ponders the Holy Scriptures. Then the Holy Ghost will be present with his power to give the right understanding, as we have heard, since he is the true interpreter, if only we treat them seriously and in the simplicity of the heart. The fruit thereof will be that we shall find Christ therein and learn to know him aright. This will quicken and kindle the heart, and fill it with comfort and joy.