Sermon for the Day of Christ’s Ascension; taken from his Church Postil, 1523.
[The following sermon is taken from volume III:182-194 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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1. We are to consider today the article of faith in which we say: “I believe in Jesus Christ, who ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father.” Our Gospel lesson briefly reviews the story of this ascension. But Luke treats the matter at greater length and writes, The Lord gathered all the disciples together, fully forty days after his resurrection, just as he had often shown himself to them, and spoke with them and gave them commandment what they should do; and as they were assembled together and spake with him out at Bethany, whither he had led them, some asked him, saying: “Lord, dost thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And he said unto them: “It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father hath set within his own authority. But ye shall receive power, when the
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Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” And when he had said
these things, he blessed them and bade them good night and departed from them and was taken up while they beheld him, and a cloud received him out of their sight. And as they
stood there, gazing after him, gaping at the heavens, behold, there came and stood hard by them two men in white apparel, who said: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye looking into
heaven? This Jesus, who was received up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye beheld him going into heaven.” Hereupon they returned from Bethany, from the mount of Olives, to Jerusalem and assembled in the upper room of the house where they were abiding, and continued with one accord in prayer, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus. This is the story of our Lord Jesus Christ’s ascension. Now let us consider the Gospel.
2. In the first place, there are in this Gospel two parts: one where the Lord commands the apostles to preach the Gospel in all the world; the other, treating of his ascension. We shall pass over the beginning of the text, where the Lord reproves their unbelief and hardness of heart, and take up the part where he says: “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation.” Here you have in English what the Gospel really is, to wit: “He that believeth and is baptized, is saved.” In these words all is comprehended; he that has them, has the Gospel.
I. CHRIST’S MISSIONARY COMMISSION TO HIS DISCIPLES TO PREACH THE GOSPEL.
3. We have often said heretofore that the Gospel, properly speaking, is not something written in books, but an oral proclamation, which shall be heard in all the world and shall be cried out freely before all creatures, so that all would have to hear it if they had ears; that is to say, it shall be preached so publicly that to preach it more publicly would be impossible. For the Law, which was of old, and what the prophets preached, was not cried out in all the world before
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all creatures, but it was preached by the Jews in their synagogues. But the Gospel shall not be thus confined; it shall be preached freely unto all the world.
4. There is no need, therefore, of commenting on the text as some have done, and saying that omnis creatura (every creature) means a man. For there is no indication in these words that the Gospel shall be preached to men alone, but it shall be cried out before the whole creation, so that earth shall not have a nook or corner into which it shall not penetrate before the last day. Such is the counsel of God, wherein he has decreed that even they who cannot read and have not heard Moses and the prophets shall, nevertheless, hear the Gospel.
5. What is the Gospel? It is these words which the Lord speaks: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” We have often said–and I think we ought to thoroughly understand it by this time–that the Gospel cannot suffer us to preach works, however good and great these may be; for it seeks to pluck us down from our presumption and to set and plant us solely upon God’s mercy, that his work and grace alone may be extolled. Therefore, it suffers us not to rely upon our works. For one of these two must perish: if I stand upon God’s grace and mercy, I do not stand upon my merit and works; and, vice versa, if I stand upon my works and merit, I do not stand upon God’s grace. For, “if it is by grace,” says St. Paul, Rom 11, 6, “it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.” I cannot say that God owes me a reward, but I must confess that he has given it to me entirely as a free gift.
6. Hence, he that would preach the Gospel must cast aside all works that are calculated to make men just, and suffer nothing to remain but faith, or I must believe that God, without any merit of mine and regardless of all my works, has granted me his grace and eternal life, so that I am constrained to thank him and say: I rejoice, praise and thank God that he has freely and out of pure grace given me this most excellent boon. Likewise that the Gospel is, as Scripture says, nothing more nor less than a declaration of the honor, praise and
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glory of God. As we read in Ps 19, 1-2: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.” Therefore, we must preach in a way that the glory and praise will be given to God and not to ourselves. Now, there is no greater praise and glory that we can give to God than this, that we confess that he, out of pure grace and mercy, takes away from us sin, death, and hell, and gives his beloved Son for us, and all his treasures to us. Such a confession must give glory and honor and praise to him alone.
7. And this is the trend of all those passages in the prophets where God boasts that he will establish a preaching that will show forth his praise; as when he says in Is 43, 21: “The people which I formed for myself, that they might set forth my praise.” As if to say: You hypocrites do no more than praise yourselves in your hearts and thus my praise must perish; for you make me a stern judge and an unfriendly God, so that secretly the people hate me and think within themselves: Ah, if we but had another God, one that would not require so much of us; such a one we would love. Therefore, I will form for myself another people, which shall know me and love me. When they see that I will not regard their works but will give them every good thing freely, their hearts will teem with joy and will never weary of my praise.
8. Therefore, beware of glossing the text and seeking to improve upon the words of Christ. Our doctors and colleges have tried to better them and have said these words must be understood thus: “He that believeth” (understand: and doeth good works), “shall be saved.” Who authorized them to make that insertion? Do you think the Holy Spirit was too stupid to make it? Thus they have utterly obscured, yea, perverted, this precious statement with their insertion. Therefore, take heed and let no one make an insertion for you, but abide by the text as it reads and understand it thus: “He that believeth shall be saved” without his merit, without any works. Why? For this reason: because God has caused to be preached and proclaimed unto us that he had his Son Jesus Christ
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come and take away sin and all evil. For he saw that we were not able to do it, that it was an impossibility for us to blot out sin with our works and powers. Otherwise he could have saved himself the trouble and expense of delivering up his own Son to suffer and die; and he has this preached to us in the Gospel.
9. Now what does such preaching call for? It calls for this, that I believe in it, for in no other way can I apprehend it. If you write it in a book, it will be of no use to any man, though you indulge in much thinking about it. Again, you may preach and speak about it, or hear it; it will be to no purpose. You must believe it and confidently rely upon it that the thing is as the Gospel says, that not your works but the Lord Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection takes away your sin and death. This you can not attain to except by faith.
10. Again, Christ says: “He that disbelieveth,” even though he be baptized, “shall be damned.” These words, too, you must allow to remain just as they are. For he does not say thus: He that disbelieves and does evil works besides; but, without any varnish he says: If thou hadst the chastity of all virgins, the sufferings of all martyrs, and, to be concise, if thou hadst all the works that ever were done by all the saints–if thou hadst all these in a heap, yet, if faith were lacking, all would be lost.
11. Therefore, this is the passage whereby all cloistery, priest-craft, monkery and nunnery is overthrown; for it is a lost case. Do what you will, the sentence is already passed and the decree is already gone forth: If thou disbelieve thou art condemned already. Thus heavily and mightily do these two sentences butt against all doctrine and doing that are founded upon the works and powers of man.
12. Now, place the two side by side, and you can rightly conclude: Where there is faith, there cannot be so many sins, but they will surely be swallowed up and exterminated by faith; where there is unbelief, you will never be able to do good works enough to blot out the least sin. Little, therefore as sin can stand in the presence of faith, so little can good works abide with unbelief. Therefore, nothing is needed, in
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order to do good works, but faith; and nothing more is required, in order to do sin and evil works, than unbelief. Thus it follows that he who believes has no sin and does nothing but good works; on the other hand, he who does not believe, verily, does no good work, but all he does is sin.
13. Therefore I say, however, you cannot have committed so many sins, neither is Satan such an invincible enemy of yours, but that all is taken away and forgiven as soon as you begin to believe. For through faith you have Christ as your own treasure, who was given to you for the very purpose of taking away sin; and who will be so bold as to condemn Christ? For this reason, no sins can remain, however great they may be, if you believe. Thus, you are then God’s dear child and all is well, and whatever you do is all right. If you do not believe, you are damned, all you may do to the contrary notwithstanding; for since you have not Christ, it is impossible for you to blot out a single sin.
14. Now, since there is no other means for taking away sin than Christ, you might ask: How is it then, that we are nevertheless required to do good works; if as you say, all depends upon faith? I reply: Where faith is genuine it cannot exist without good works. just as, on the other hand, where there is unbelief there can be no good work. Hence, if you believe, there must necessarily follow from your faith naught but good works. For, as faith brings you salvation and eternal life, so it also brings you good works; they cannot be restrained. Just as a living person cannot refrain from moving about, eating and drinking and laboring, it being impossible that such activities should cease while he lives, no one need command and drive him to do such works but–spare his life and he’ll do them; just as all this is true in the physical life, so nothing more is required, in order that good works may be done, than faith. Only believe, and you will do all of your own accord.
15. Thus, there is no need of your demanding good works of him who believes, for faith teaches him all that; and, being done in faith, all he does is well done and all are good and precious works, however insignificant they may seem. Faith
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is such a noble thing that it ennobles the whole man. Now, it is not possible for a man to live on earth and not have anything to do. Hence all such works as are done by faith are precious works. On the other hand, where there is unbelief, a man cannot be without works, either; therefore, such works are likewise all sin. Christ is not there, therefore all is lost. Hence, the statement of St. Paul to the Romans, 14, 23: “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” As though he would say, on the contrary: Whatsoever is of faith is all grace and righteousness; that is a foregone conclusion. Hence, there is no need of asking whether good works shall be done, for they come of themselves, unbidden. Such is also the sense of the Psalmist, Ps 25, 10: “All the paths of Jehovah are lovingkindness and truth.” That is to say, when God works and creates faith in us, all that we do is lovingkindness, and all is truth; that is, all is done sincerely and not from hypocrisy. It follows, however, on the other hand, that all the ways of men are not lovingkindness but sheerest wrath, not truth but mere sham and hypocrisy, because they spring from unbelief.
16. Beware, then, lest under any circumstances you gloss the text, and say: Faith alone is not sufficient; works, also, are necessary in order to justify. For it is sufficiently clear from what we have said that works contribute nothing to this end. Nothing does any harm but unbelief. Works are not sufficient. If faith were present, all would be well. Therefore, as works contribute nothing toward the evil in unbelief, so in faith they contribute nothing toward the good; but unbelief alone corrupts all works and faith makes all works good.
17. But there is still one more thing here, that Christ says: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Here you might say: I perceive, then, that baptism is also required. To be sure it is, but baptism is not a work that we do. It is to be coupled, however, with faith, because God would not have faith to be hidden in the heart, but would have it burst forth and manifest itself to the world. For this reason, he ordained such outward signs, by means of which everyone may show and confess his faith, to the end that we may come to the holy cross. For, if faith were to be kept as a secret,
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hidden in the heart, we would be pretty sure of not having to bear the cross or to follow Christ; if the world knew not that we believed, we would not be persecuted.
18. In the second place, we would never be the means of leading a soul to repentance and faith if we did not openly confess the Gospel and observe an external sign whereby men might know who and where the Christians are. Now, God has so ordained that our faith should be manifested before the heathen; hence, whosoever is a Christian and has received baptism, is in danger of his life among the heathen and unbelievers. It is necessary that we receive baptism if we are Christians; or, if that is beyond our reach, that we say, at least: I sincerely desire to be baptized.
19. Moreover, the sign of baptism is given us also to show that God himself will help us, and that we should be certain of his grace, and that everyone be able to say: Hereunto did God give me a sign, that I should be assured of my salvation, which he has promised me in the Gospel. For he has given us the Word, that is, the written document; and beside the Word, baptism, that is the seal. So faith, which apprehends the Word, may be strengthened by the sign and seal.
20. But you see no work of man in this transaction; for baptism is not my work but God’s. He that baptized me stands in God’s stead and does not the work of a man, but rather it is God’s hand and work. God is the real worker. Therefore, I may and should say: God, my Lord, baptized me himself, by the hand of a man. Of this I may boast, and on this I am to rely, and say: God, who will not and cannot lie, has given me this sign to assure me that he is gracious to me and willing to save me and has through his Son given me all that he has. Thus, on our side there is nothing but faith alone; and on his side, only the Word and the sign. But we have dwelt upon this matter often enough and there is no need of enlarging upon it now.
21. The following portion of our text speaks of the signs that shall accompany them that believe. We will not discuss these either at present, but pass on to the other part that we Have chosen to consider, and that treats of Christ’s ascension.
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22. In passing, be it said, however: We must not suppose that the signs here mentioned by Christ are all the signs that believers will do, neither must we imagine that all the Christians will do them; but Jesus means: All Christians can and may do the signs. Or, if I believe, then am I able to do them; I have the power. Through faith I obtain so much that nothing is impossible to me. If it were necessary and conducive to the spreading of the Gospel, we could do easily the signs; but since it is not necessary, we do not do them. For Christ does not teach that Christians practice the spectacular, but he says they have the power and can do these things. And we have many such promises throughout the Scriptures; for example, in Jo 14, 12, where Christ says: “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do.” Therefore, we must allow these words to remain and not gloss them away, as some have done who said that these signs were manifestations of the Spirit in the beginning of the Christian era and that now they have ceased. That is not right; for the same power is in the church still. And though it is not exercised, that does not matter; we still have the power to do such signs.
II. CHRIST’S ASCENSION INTO HEAVEN.
23. Now we must consider the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the first place, it is easily said and understood that the Lord ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God. But they are dead words to the understanding if they are not grasped with the heart.
24. We must, therefore, conceive of his ascension and Lordship as something active, energetic and continuous, and must not imagine that he sits above while we hold the reins of government down here. Nay, he ascended up thither for the reason that there he can best do his work and exercise dominion. Had he remained upon earth in visible form, before the people, he could not have wrought so effectually, for all the people could not have been with him and heard him. Therefore, he inaugurated an expedient which made it possible for him to be in touch with all and reign in all, to preach to all and
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be heard by all, and to be with all. Therefore, beware lest you imagine within yourself that he has gone, and now is, far away from us. The very opposite is true: While he was on earth, he was far away from us; now he is very near.
25. Reason cannot comprehend how this can be. Therefore it is an article of faith. Here one must close his eyes and not follow his reason, but lay hold of all by faith. For how can reason grasp the thought that there should be a being like ourselves, who is all-seeing and knows all hearts and gives all men faith and the Spirit; or that he sits above in heaven, and yet is present with us and in us and rules over us? Therefore, strive not to comprehend, but say: This is Scripture and this is God’s Word, which is immeasurably higher than all understanding and reason. Cease your reasoning and lay hold of the Scriptures, which testify of this being– how he ascended to heaven and sits at the right hand of God and exercises dominion. Let us examine some Scripture bearing upon this matter.
26. In the first place, Ps 8, 4-6 says of Christ: “What is man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him but little lower than God, and crownest him with glory and honor. Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.” Here the prophet speaks to God concerning a man and marvels that God humbled, for a time, that man, when he suffered him to die, humbled him to the extent that it seemed as if God were not with him. But after a little while God exalted him, so that all things must obey him, both in heaven and on earth. To these words we must hold, to these words we must cling, in these words we must believe; for reason will not submit nor adapt itself to them, but says they are lies. Now, if all things are to be subject to this being and to fall at his feet, he must sit where he can look into the whole world, into heaven and hell and every heart; where he can see all sin and all righteousness, and can not only see all things, but can rule accordingly.
27. Hence, these are majestic and powerful words. They afford the heart great comfort, so that they who believe this
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are filled with joy and courage and defiantly say: My Lord Jesus Christ is Lord over death, Satan, sin, righteousness, body, life, foes and friends. What shall I fear? For while my enemies stand before my very door and plan to slay me, my faith reasons thus: Christ is ascended into heaven and become Lord over all creatures, hence my enemies, too, must be subject to him and thus it is not in their power to do me harm. I challenge them to raise a finger against me or to injure a hair of my head against the will of my Lord Jesus Christ. When faith grasps and stands upon this article, it stands firm and waxes bold and defiant, so as even to say: If my Lord so wills that they, mine enemies, slay me, blessed am I; I gladly depart. Thus you will see that he is ascended into heaven, not to remain in indifference, but to exercise dominion; and all for our good, to afford us comfort and joy. This is one passage.
28. Furthermore, in the second Psalm, verses 7 and 8, we read that God says to Christ: “Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possessions.” Here you see again that Christ is appointed of God a Lord over all the earth. Now, if he is my friend and I am persuaded that he died for me and gave me all things and for my sake sits in heaven and watches over me, who then can do aught to me? Or if any man should do aught, what harm can come of it?
29. Furthermore, David says again in the 110th Psalm, verse 1: “Jehovah saith unto my lord, sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” And further on, in verses 5, 6, 7: “The Lord at thy right hand will strike through kings in the day of his wrath. He will judge among the nations, he will fill the places with dead bodies; he will strike through the head in many countries. He will drink of the brook in the way; therefore will he lift up the head.”
30. Again in still another Psalm, David says (Ps 68, 18): “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led away captives; thou hast received gifts among men, yea among the rebellious also, that Jehovah God might dwell with them.” And all the
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prophets took great pains to describe Christ’s ascension and his kingdom. For, as his sufferings and death are deeply founded in the Scriptures, so are also his kingdom, his resurrection and ascension. In this manner we must view the ascension of Christ. Otherwise it will afford us neither pleasure nor profit. For what good will it do you if you merely preach that he ascended up to heaven and sits there with folded hands? This is what the prophet would say in the Psalm: Christ is ascended on high and has led captivity captive. That is to say, not only does he sit up there but he is also down here. And for this purpose did he ascend up thither, that he might be down here, that he might fill all things and be everywhere present; which thing he could not do had he remained on earth, for here in the body he could not have been present with all. He ascended to heaven, where all hearts can see him, where he can deal with all men, that he might fill all creation. He is present everywhere and all things are filled with his fulness. Nothing is so great, be it in heaven or on earth, but he has power over it, and it must be in perfect obedience to him. He not only governs and fills all creation (that would not help my faith any nor take away my sins), but also has led captivity captive.
31. This captivity some have interpreted to mean that he delivered the sainted patriarchs out of the stronghold of hell; but that interpretation does not benefit our faith any either, for it is not particularly edifying to faith. Therefore, we must simply understand the matter thus: that he means that captivity which captures us and holds us captive. I am Adam’s child, full of sin and foully besmirched; therefore, the law has taken me captive, so that I am fettered in conscience and sentenced to death.
32. From this captivity no one can free himself, save only that one man Christ. What did he do? He made sin, death, and Satan his debtors. Sin fell upon him as though it would vanquish him, but it lost the day; he devoured sin. And Satan, death, and hell fared the same way. But we are unable to do this unless he be present to aid us. Alone, we must needs perish. But he, since he had done no sin and was full
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of righteousness, trod under foot Satan, death and hell, and devoured them, and took everything captive that fain would capture us, so that sin and death no longer can do harm.
33. This, then, is the power he causes to be preached, that all who believe in him are released from captivity. I believe in him by whom sin, death, and all things that afflict us, were led captive. It is a pleasing discourse, and full of comfort, when we are told that death is taken away and slain, so that it is no longer felt. However, it affords pleasure and comfort only to those who believe it. You will not find release from captivity in your works, fastings, prayers, castigations, tonsures, and gowns, and whatever more things you may do; but only in the place where Christ sits, whither he ascended and whither he led captivity with him. Hence, he who would be freed from sin and delivered from Satan and death, must come thither where Christ is. Now, where is he? He is here with us, and for this purpose did he sit down in heaven, that he might be near unto us. Thus, we are with him up there and he is with us down here. Through the word he comes down and through faith we ascend up.
34. So, we see everywhere in the Scriptures that faith is such an unspeakably great thing that we can never preach about it sufficiently nor reach it with words. It cannot be heard and seen, therefore it must be believed. Such is the nature of faith that it feels nothing at all, but merely follows the words which it hears, and clings to them. If you believe, you have; if you believe not, you have not. In this wise must we understand this article of faith, that Christ is ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God.
A Sermon by Martin Luther; taken from his Church Postil, 1522.
[The following sermon is taken from volume III:196-208 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI), 1983. It was originally published in 1907 in English by Lutherans in All Lands (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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1. In today’s Gospel there is again presented to us the essence of a Christian life, namely faith and love; just what you constantly hear in all the Gospel lessons. Since the Gospel ever holds up before you this theme, we must continually preach and discuss it; for Jesus says to his disciples: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” We will consider the thoughts of this Gospel text in order.
I. CHRIST UPBRAIDS HIS DISCIPLES WITH THEIR UNBELIEF.
2. First, Christ upbraids his disciples with their unbelief and hardness of heart, and reproves them for it, and shows them their faults. He does not reject them, nor deal too severely with them, but reproves them; just as we would say to a person: Are you not ashamed that you dared to do such a thing? Meaning thereby to bring him to a knowledge of himself and make him blush with shame, that he may desist from his wicked intent or deed, though we do not reject him, nor turn our love from him.
3. However, it is not an insignificant matter here that the Lord rebuked the disciples; for unbelief is the greatest sin that can be named. Christ tells them the cause of their unbelief when he says that their hearts are hardened, yet he deals mildly and gently with them.
4. This is given to us all for our comfort, lest we despair when, lacking in faith, we doubt, stumble and fall; it is to help us to rise again, to strengthen our faith and lift up our hearts to God, that we may grasp and hold fast the confidence of God, who does not deal with us severely, but can indeed bear with us and overlook much. And whoever believes him to be thus, shall find him so; if we hold him to be a merciful God, he allows himself to be found merciful, and shows himself thus to us; but a bad conscience and an unbelieving heart have no such trust in God, but flee from him, and deem him a harsh Judge, which he, therefore, is found to be.
5. So should we also deal with our neighbor. If we see him fall from the faith, or err and sin, we should not streng-
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then him in his wickedness, nor justify his cause, but admonish him, and in meekness reprove his faults, yet neither hold enmity, nor turn our love from him. Thus St. Paul speaks to the Galatians: Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass, ye who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Gal 6, 1. But our lord pope, the bishops, priests, monks and nuns allow no one to reprove them when they do evil; they are never willing to acknowledge that any fault is theirs, but always that of their subjects, and their policy toward subjects is one of strictness and severity.
6. To sum up all: We should expose and reprove what is wrong, and exercise truth and love toward everybody; we should be plain-spoken, not letting ourselves be silenced, for none of us, since we are flesh and blood, will so live as to be found without blame in all things. I in this, you in that. We all see, that even the apostles were lacking in the chief things yet they were corner stones, the foundations and the very best part of Christendom.
7. But let no one think that the apostles were altogether unbelieving; they believed what was written in the Law and the prophets, although their faith was not yet perfect. There was a faith there and yet no faith; they did not yet believe all things, although they believed that God created heaven and earth, and was the Maker of every creature. So the apostles were not altogether without faith, for they had faith in part. Faith is a thing that always grows. It is with faith as with a man who is ill and begins to get well – is increasing in strength. Therefore the Lord shows where they did not believe, and what they lacked; it was that they did not believe the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Although they believed the other things, they were still lacking in this. I hold that they believed that they had a gracious God. Yet this was not enough; they must believe also the resurrection of Christ. The Lord upbraided them with their unbelief, reproved them and said that in spite of all they had seen, they were not believing, they still lacked in a certain article of faith, namely the article on the resurrection. Hence Christ’s words to them
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at the Last Supper: “Ye believe in God, believe also in me.” Jn 14, 1.
8. What does it mean, then, to believe the resurrection of Christ, this thing which is so important, and concerning which the disciples were called unbelieving and faithless, and without which nothing else that they believed would help them? To believe the resurrection of Christ, is nothing else than to believe that we have a Mediator before God. Who is Christ, who makes us holy and acceptable to God the Father. For man’s possessions, by birth and nature, are but sin and corruption, by which he brings down upon himself the wrath of God. But God is eternal righteousness and purity, and therefore, from his very nature, hates sin. Hence there is always enmity between God and the natural man, and they cannot be friends and in harmony with one another.
9. For this cause, Christ became man and took upon himself our sins and also the wrath of the Father, and drowned them both in himself, thus reconciling us to God the Father. Without this faith, we are children of wrath, able to do no good work that is pleasing to God, nor can our prayers be acceptable before him. For thus it is written in Ps 18, 41: “They cried, but there was none to save; even unto Jehovah, but he answered them not.” Yea, even our noblest deeds, by which we had thought to obtain from God mercy, help and comfort, are counted to us for sin; as the prophet says, Ps 109, 7: “Let his prayer be turned into sin”; seeing God could not be reconciled by all our strength, for there is truly no strength in us.
10. Therefore Christ must come, that he might go before the Father’s face, reconcile us to him, and obtain for us everything we lacked. Through this same Christ we must ask of God all we need. You have heard in last Sunday’s Gospel that the Lord says: “If ye shall ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name.” Whatever we obtain from God, we must receive through this Christ, who has gained for us a merciful Father. For Christ is our support and refuge, where we may hide ourselves, like the young chickens hide under the wings of the mother hen. Through him alone is
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our prayer acceptable before God and through him is it answered, and we obtain the favor and mercy of the Father; for Christ has made atonement for our sins, and an angry judge he has changed into a gracious and merciful God. To believe in the resurrection of Christ means, then, to believe, as I said, that Christ has taken upon his head our sins and the sins of the whole world, also the wrath of the Father, and thus drowned them both in himself, whereby we are become reconciled with God and altogether righteous.
11. Now, observe for yourselves how few Christians there are who have this faith, by which alone man is freed from his sins and becomes entirely holy; for they believe not in the resurrection of Christ, that their sins are taken away through Christ, since they attempt to become holy through their own works, This one runs to a cloister, that one becomes a nun, one does this, another that, in order to be free from sin; and yet they always say they believe in the resurrection of Christ from the dead, notwithstanding that their works prove the contrary.
12. The apostles have insisted upon and preached this article more than any other; thus St. Paul speaks to the Corinthians: “If Christ hath not been raised, then is our preaching vain, your faith also is vain.” I Cor 15, 14. And shortly, after in verse 17 he says: “If Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” What sort of a conclusion is this? What is its logical analysis? This: If Christ be not risen from the dead, then sin and death have devoured and slain him, and we cannot get rid of our sins ourselves. Jesus Christ took them upon himself, so that he might tread under foot sin, death and hell, and become their master. But if he be not risen, then he has not overcome sin, but has been overcome by sin. Also, if he has been overcome by sin, then he is not risen: if he be not risen, then he has not redeemed you; then you are yet in your sins. Likewise Paul speaks to the Romans: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Rom 10, 9. Thereto all the Scriptures of the Old and the New Testaments agree.
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13. Now, it is not enough that we believe the historic fact of the resurrection of Christ; for this all the wicked believe, yea, even the devil believes that Christ has suffered and is risen. But we must believe also the meaning–the spiritual significance of Christ’s resurrection, realizing its fruit and benefits, that which we have received through it, namely, forgiveness and redemption from all sins; we must believe that Christ has suffered death, and thereby has overcome and trodden under foot sin and death, yea, everything that can harm us, and is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven as Almighty Lord over sin and devil, death and hell, and all that harms us, and that all this took place for our good. This the wicked do not believe.
14. You see how much depends upon this article of faith on the resurrection. We can better dispense with all the other articles than with this one What would it avail if we believed all the other articles, as that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, died and was buried, if we did not believe that he arose again? It is to this subject that God has reference in Habakkuk 1, 5, when he says: “I am working a work in your days, which ye will not believe though it be told you.”
15. The importance of this subject is also the reason that Paul has urged and preached it, and in all his epistles has treated of no work or miracle of Christ so frequently as of his resurrection. He is silent concerning the many works and wonders of Christ, and preaches and teaches emphatically the benefit and the import of the resurrection of Christ–what we have received from it. No other apostle has portrayed Christ to us in the light that Paul has. Christ did not without meaning say of him to Ananias: “He is a chosen vessel unto me to bear my name before the gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel; for I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” Acts 9, 15-16.
16. Now, no good work will help those who do not have this faith in the resurrection, let them play the hypocrite as they will. To virgins, their virginity or purity is no help; nor to monks their long prayers. Here it avails nothing to preach of works, they are not even named; but everything
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must be obtained of God through Christ, as you have heard. So David prayed in Ps 84, 9: “Behold, 0 God, our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed.” This is enough on the first part of this Gospel. Now follows in the text the words:
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to the whole creation.”
II. THE MISSIONARY COMMISSION CHRIST GIVES TO HIS DISCIPLES.
A. The Contents of This Commission.
17. What shall they preach? Nothing else, he says, than just that I am risen from the dead and have overcome and taken away sin and all misery. He that believes this, shall be saved; faith alone is sufficient for his salvation. Therefore, the Gospel is nothing else than preaching the resurrection of Christ: “He that believeth shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.” Here all works are abolished. Here you see, also, the nature and character of faith. Faith will compel no one to accept the Gospel, but leaves its acceptance free to everyone and makes it a personal matter. He that believes, believes; he that comes, comes; he that stays out, stays out.
18. Thus you see that the pope errs and does the people injustice in that he ventures to drive them to faith by force; for the Lord commanded the disciples to do nothing more than to preach the Gospel. So the disciples also did; they preached the Gospel, and left its acceptance to those who would take it, and they did not say: Believe, or I will put you to death.
19. A question arises about this passage, “Go ye into all the world,” as to how it is to be understood, since the apostles certainly did not visit all the world. No apostle came hither to us; and many a heathen island has since been discovered, where the Gospel has never been preached. Yet the Scriptures say: “Their sound went out into all the earth.” Rom 10, 18. Answer: Their preaching went out into all the world, although it has not yet come into all the world. This going out has been begun and continues, although it is not yet com-
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pleted; the Gospel, however, will be preached ever farther and wider, until the judgment day. When this preaching shall have reached all parts of the world, and shall have been everywhere heard, then will the message be complete and its mission accomplished; then will the last day also be at hand.
20. The preaching of this message may be likened to a stone thrown into the water, producing ripples which circle outward from it, the waves rolling always on and on, one driving the other, till they come to the shore. Although the center becomes quiet, the waves do not rest, but move forward. So it is with the preaching of the Word. It was begun by the apostles, and it constantly goes forward, is pushed on farther and farther by the preachers, driven hither and thither into the world, yet always being made known to those who never heard it before, although it be arrested in the midst of its course and is condemned as heresy. As we say, when one sends a message, the message has gone forth, although it has not yet arrived at its destination, but is still on its way; or as we say that the emperor’s message is sent to Nurenburg, or to the Turk, although it has not yet arrived: so we are to understand the preaching of the apostles.
B. The Promise Attached To This Commission.
21. But there arises here another question from this passage of today’s Gospel, “He that believeth, shall be saved:” whether faith is sufficient for salvation, and alone saves; or whether we must also do good works in order to be saved. Here our highly learned doctors have desired to control the Holy Spirit, to sharpen his tongue, and to place a little stick under his tongue, as if he could not speak plainly, and have forced and strained this passage, and so worn it out and rent it that no marrow nor vitality remains in it. They have said that good works are necessary to faith, and that faith is not sufficient for salvation. This is not true. Faith alone, of itself, without any works, as the Word of God here clearly says, brings us salvation, and works help nothing at all toward righteousness or salvation. We must let this passage stand bare and unadulterated, and without any addition. If the
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Holy Spirit had so desired, he could easily have said different words thus: “He that believeth and doeth works, shall be saved.” But he did not do this, therefore we should and will leave it as it is.
22. This I say to the end that you may fortify yourselves with such passages, holding to the true meaning of the words. Though there are many passages in Scripture teaching that faith alone saves, yet they have been so covered over and obscured, so shaken to pieces and stretched, by the sophists and scholars, that their right meaning has suffered. St. Paul says to the Galatians: “If righteousness is through the Law, then Christ died for naught.” Gal 2, 21. That is to say: If we can be saved in any other way or work out our salvation, then Christ has died in vain; for to presume to be justified by the Law means to think that man can become righteous through his works.
23. Therefore to conclude: The chief righteousness is faith; the chief wickedness is unbelief. There is also no sin so great that it is able to condemn man; unbelief alone condemns all who are condemned. And again, only faith saves every one; for faith alone deals with God, no works can appear before him. For works have to do only with man, and man lets his works be made use of as he has made use of Christ’s. They make no one holy; they are only the distinguishing marks of a man that has already become righteous through faith, which alone makes the heart pure.
24. I can easily assent to the saying: Works do not make you pious, but show that you are pious; or when I hear it said: He that believes, serves his neighbor, I admit that it is so. But that the explanation of this text should be, Faith is not sufficient for salvation, we must also do good–this is a liberty which the text can stand just as little as this church could stand that I should pull down its pillars. There follows further in the text:
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.”
25. God has always accompanied his Word with an outward sign to make it the more effective to us, that we might be strengthened in heart and never doubt his Word, nor waver.
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Thus he gave Noah the rainbow in the heavens as a sure sign that he would keep his promise and not destroy the world by another flood. The rainbow is, so to speak, a seal or sign to Noah and to us all, just as a seal upon a letter certifies the document. And just as a nobleman has his own coat-of-arms of a particular device or color, by which he is known, so has God evidenced his words for us with signs, as with a seal, that we should never doubt. To Abraham he gave the rite of circumcision, to show that Christ should come and bless the world. Thus has he done here, adding to this promise of his–“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved”–an outward sign, namely baptism, and also the sacrament of the bread and the wine, which was especially instituted for use in times of temptation, and when death draws near, that by it we might strengthen our faith, and remind God of his promise, and hold him to it.
26. A man can believe even though he be not baptized; for baptism is nothing more than an outward sign that is to remind us of the divine promise. If we can have it, it is well; let us receive it, for no one should despise it. If, however, we can not receive it, or it is denied us, we will not be condemned if we only believe the Gospel. For where the Gospel is, there is also baptism and all that a Christian needs. Condemnation follows no sin except the sin of unbelief. Therefore, the Lord says: “He that disbelieveth shall be condemned”; he says not: He that is not baptized. He is silent concerning baptism; for baptism is worth nothing without faith, but is like seals affixed to a letter in which nothing is written. He that has the signs that we call sacraments, and has no faith, has only seals upon a letter of blank paper.
27. Here you see also what is the office of the apostles, to which all the bishops, and those that call themselves ministers, should conform, inasmuch as they boast that they are the successors of the apostles in preaching the Gospel. For the Lord says here, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel.” Therefore, we should not listen to those who do not preach the Gospel. Now our papists come along and quote the passage in Luke 10, 16: “He that heareth you, heareth me.” This
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verse has hitherto been the pope’s sword, by which he has swayed the whole world, and none has rightly understood this passage, which means that teachers are to be obeyed only when they preach the Gospel. So the Lord here inspires the apostles to speak the Gospel, which is his Word. Christ alone is to be heard, and the apostles are but messengers and instruments for this word of Christ. Therefore, here again are condemned pope, bishops, monks and priests, and all who preach something else than the Gospel.
28. But what is meant when the Lord says: “Preach the Gospel to the whole creation”? Shall I preach also to trees and stones, mountains and waters? What would that profit? St. Gregory preached on this text and said that “all creation” means man; that man is one with all creatures–with the angels in understanding, with the animals in sensibilities, and with the trees in growth. We must, therefore, not misuse the text nor make its meaning too literal, for so we shall misconstrue it. The meaning is that the Gospel should be publicly and universally preached, given to all; it should hide in no corner, but be preached freely in all places, as is written in Ps 19, 3-4: “There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world,” The beginning and going forth has been fulfilled by the apostles, but the work is not yet finished; the Gospel has not yet reached its limit, for I know not whether Germany has ever heard the Word of God. The pope’s word we have surely heard.
29. The Lord here says to the apostles: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to the whole creation,” for the reason that this Gospel may be published to everyone, so that even trees and stones might hear if they had ears, and might bear witness that we have heard the Gospel; and that pillar there might say, I have heard the Gospel preached to you. Thus generally and publicly shall it be proclaimed, and preached in all the world, being withheld from no one, till it reaches the ends of the world, as the Psalm records. So it has now come to us, who are dwelling at the end of the world, for we live close to the sea. This Paul has in mind when he says
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to the Ephesians: “And he gave some to be apostles, and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” Eph 4, 11-13. Next, the text speaks of the signs that shall follow faith, and names five signs, one after the other, thus:
“And these signs shall accompany them that believe: in my name shall they cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.”
30. How shall we proceed here that we may preserve the truth of the passage: he that believeth shall have power also, and be able to show these signs? For the Lord says all these signs shall accompany them. Now we know that the apostles did not present all the signs, for we read of no other that drank poison than John the Evangelist, and there are no other individual instances. If the passage shall stand literally, then few believers will be cleared and few saints be entitled to heaven; for these signs, one and all, have not accompanied them, though they have had power to work signs, and have exhibited some of them.
31. Some rush on here and explain these signs as spiritual, so as to preserve the honor of the saints; but it will not do to strain the words. They do not carry such meaning, therefore they will not bear such an explanation. It puts upon the Scriptures uncertain construction for us.
32. Others, with equal heedlessness, say that though not every individual has the power and does the wonders mentioned, yet the church as a whole, the multitude of Christendom, has; one may drive out devils, another heal the sick, and so on. Therefore, they say, such signs are a manifestation of the Spirit; where the signs are, there is also the Christian Church, and so on.
33, But these words do not refer to the Church as a whole, but to each person separately. The meaning is: If there is a
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Christian who has faith, he shall have power to do these accompanying miracles, and they shall follow him, as Christ says, in John 14, 12: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do, shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do,” for a Christian has equal power with Christ, is a congregation, and sits with him in joint tenure. The Lord has given Christians power, as is written in Mt 10, 8, also against the unclean spirits, that they might cast them out and heal every disease. Thus it is written in Ps 91, 13: “Thou shalt tread upon the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent shalt thou trample under foot.”
34. We read also that this has been fulfilled. There was once a patriarch in the wilderness, who, when he met a serpent, took it in both hands and tore it in two, and thought no more about it, but said: 0 what a fine thing it is to have a clear and guiltless conscience! So, where there is a Christian, there is still the power to work these signs if it is necessary. But no one should attempt to exercise this power if it is not necessary or if need does not compel. The apostles did not always exercise it, but only made use of it to prove the Word of God, to -confirm it by the miracles; as is written here in the text: “And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the Word by the signs that followed.”
35. But since the Gospel has now been spread abroad, and made known to all the world, there is no need of working miracles as in the apostles’ times. If need should arise, and men were to denounce and antagonize the Gospel, then we verily should have to employ wonder-working rather than permit the Gospel to be derided and suppressed. But I hope such a course will not be necessary, and that such a contingency will never arise. For another example: That I should here speak in new languages is not at all necessary, since you all can well hear and understand me; but if God should send me where the people could not understand me, he could easily grant me their speech or language, that I might be understood.
36. Then, let no one, without pressing need, undertake to work wonders. For we read of the patriarchs’ children that
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they once brought a large number of serpents in their cloaks, and shook them out at their parents’ feet; whereupon their parents reproved them for tempting God unnecessarily. In like manner, we read of many signs that believers have done. It happened once upon a time that one of the fathers by chance got hold of a basilisk. He looked at it, and thereupon exclaimed: 0 Lord, I must die, or this reptile must! for the basilisk kills by its looks. At once it bursted and flew into pieces.
37. I know not what I shall say about those who venture to do signs where they are not necessary. For example, some drive out demons. But I know that it is a dangerous undertaking. The devil, indeed, lets himself be driven out, but he does not intend to suffer for it; he allows it only that he may strengthen the sign-worker in such error. I would not like to trust him. We have many such instances in our times. I know also of many that happened not long ago.
38. There was a sexton who wished to learn alchemy from the devil, that is, the art of separating gold from sand, and of making gold from other metals. The devil agreed to come to him at the hour of eleven, but the sexton should have on a gown and chasuble. See with what fool’s work the devil goes about! As though he cared much about the chasuble. The sexton went and reversed the hour-glass and noted the hour. At eleven he put on the chasuble. The devil came and knocked. The sexton was afraid and asked who was there. The devil said that the sexton should come at once to the parson and attend the Sacrament. The sexton threw off the chasuble and ran out in haste, but found no one. Then the devil the second time demanded of the sexton to come out. The third time the devil came and said that the parson was awaiting him impatiently; he should come without delay. The sexton then went out, but by this time the hour was past, and the sexton had not on the chasuble. Then the sexton saw for the first time that it was the devil, and wished to hurry back to the house and get the chasuble. The devil, however, would not allow this, but said: No, my dear fellow, the time is past. He seized the sexton, broke his neck and threw him to the ground. Such occasions the devil seeks, and acts. So much for this Gospel.
[The following sermon is taken from volume III:210-243 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI), 1983. It was originally published in 1907 in English by Lutherans in All Lands (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. THE DISCIPLES’ HARDNESS OF HEART.
1. In few words, St. Mark sums up in this Gospel all that Christ did during the forty days after his resurrection until he ascended into heaven. Not all the words of Christ, as here recorded, were spoken at the same time. Some persons have doubted the authenticity of this chapter because it does not seem to harmonize with the other Gospels. It relates the incident of the Lord’s upbraiding the disciples for their unbelief, and that of his commanding them to preach the Gospel, as though the two utterances were spoken at the same time, while the other Evangelists inform us of many things occurring between these two incidents. They tell us that he appeared to all of his disciples, not only once, but often, and that, during these forty days, he ate and drank with them that they might no longer doubt his resurrection. The upbraiding of the disciples took place shortly after his resurrection, between Easter and the eighth day following. After they had all seen the risen Saviour he took leave of them, ascending from the mountain where he had commanded them to meet him.
2. In upbraiding the disciples with their unbelief and hardness of heart Christ charges them with no small measure of weakness. He tells them that they are not only unbelieving but also stubborn to the extent that they obstinately doubt what they have heard from eye-witnesses, namely, that the Lord has risen. On the other hand, Christ shows great forbearance and kind-
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ness toward those who are not only disbelieving, but even obstinate. He does not reject or despise them for their hardness, but is patient with them. Eventually he makes them preachers of that which they, until then, did not believe themselves. He knows that, for this very reason, their testimony for him will be the stronger. They were themselves to have the experience of preaching not only to the ignorant and unbelieving, but also to the hardened, and even to their persecutors. Thus from their own experience they were to learn to bear with others, who might be likewise stubborn, though not with those who should wilfully and maliciously rage against the acknowledged truth.
3. The beloved disciples had, however, cause for their hardness of heart, which others could never have. They were Jews, and the Jewish teaching was that at Jerusalem alone should be founded that kingdom which is called the kingdom of God and of Christ. For this belief they thought they had proof and evidence from the prophets, wherein was stated, in many passages, that Christ should forever reign at Jerusalem, in the house and on the throne of David. The heathen had no promise whatever of such a kingdom.
4. Therefore, it seemed ridiculous to the Jews and incredible, yea, even offensive, that Christ should disregard Jerusalem, the priesthood and everything pertaining to the Jewish nation, and, altogether unmindful of these, send a few poor disciples who had neither a name nor fame out into the world to preach, intending thus to fulfil the glorious prophecy of nearly all the prophets, that, as Ps 68, 11 says, from Jerusalem should go forth the great message and the great hosts of messengers of the Gospel into all the world. This must surely be fulfilled and become true. As Christ himself when he bade them farewell, charged his disciples not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, as St. Luke says in Acts 1, 4-8, “until ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you.” And recently on Easter Christ said: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all
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the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Lk 24, 46-47. It was universally believed that when the time should come for Christ to proclaim his message to bring the world into his kingdom, he would surely consult the great men, the high priests, the rulers and the council at Jerusalem, and would do nothing without them; for was it not by the Law of Moses that the nation had its very existence? But Christ ignores the representative heads of the nation in calm assurance, and calls to himself a handful of strangers and beggars, brings them to Jerusalem and commissions them to do these things. That was offensive enough to the Jews in general, and even to the disciples; it seemed incredible that Christ should use such lowly means for so exalted a purpose and with such indifference to the opinions, the knowledge and the assistance of Jewish officials.
5. However, the disciples knew, or might have known from the Scriptures, that Christ should not come from the priesthood, but from the house of Judah; so that the religious leaders of Jerusalem need not have looked to the priestly ranks. Nor did the Scriptures mention a citizen either at Jerusalem or at Bethlehem of whom Christ should be the son. Therefore, the Jews should have given God the honor, and thought: we ought to look for him to come not from our own tribe or from any other tribe than the tribe of Judah, from the house of David. They knew the prophecy well enough and upon it had based their records and calculations. We read that the blind man by the wayside (Lk 18, 39), and the Canaanitish woman (Mt 15, 22) cried out, saying: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David.” How did this poor beggar and this alien woman know that Christ was the son of David, if it had not been well known among all the people that the Messiah should Come from no other house than that of David?
6. Though Christ did not belong to the house then ruling at Jerusalem, yet the Jews knew that he belonged to the house of David, and had been brought up in Nazareth, and for this reason they should have accepted him, especially since they heard his teachings and saw his miracles. For all had to confess, that no one else could preach with such power and do
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such mighty works as he did. They also knew that the time to which the prophets pointed was at hand. The prophet Zechariah had clearly stated that Christ should be lowly, that is, from the ranks of the common people, without great pomp and power, honor and wealth.
7. But as they disregard all this, and will neither hear nor know him, he proceeds to fulfill the Scripture. He gathers a little flock and establishes his kingdom through them, while neither priests nor council in Jerusalem are aware of it. They are left, as it were, gazing and thinking that when Christ should come and establish his kingdom, he would doubtless make them the chief instruments therein. This he does not do. He establishes his kingdom at Jerusalem and charges the disciples to tarry there until the sending of the Holy Spirit upon them, who should continue the same work among them, convincing and compelling them to believe that the predictions of the prophets have been fulfilled.
8. But the apostles are weak and slow to believe this; they do not realize that Christ has appeared in just the manner in which they and all the Jews had hoped and expected. The disciples wondered why, if he really were the Christ–as they considered him–he did not so convince all the people at Jerusalem and organize, prepare, establish and confirm his kingdom so that the entire nation would flock to him, and the whole world sing and proclaim the great power and glory of this king through whom all humanity would be honored, and obtain wealth and salvation. Since he proceeds in a manner so contrary to their expectations, permits himself to be crucified, and dies on the cross, and after his resurrection shows himself to only a few persons, they can never believe that through him the marvelous things of the new kingdom should be accomplished–those things which they had learned from the writings of the prophets.
9. Christ has to bear with such hardness of heart in them, though he upbraids them and instructs their ignorance. As they are gathered together and he is about to depart from them, he tells them how his kingdom is to be entered upon, and how he will accomplish its beginning through them. It shall
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not be by the help and advice of the officials at Jerusalem, nor with their knowledge. It shall not be with temporal force nor power, but shall be felt solely through the message and commission of the ministry with which he charges them, saying:
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.”
II. CHRIST’S MISSIONARY COMMISSION TO HIS DISCIPLES TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE WHOLE CREATION.
I. The Commission Itself.
10. These are words of the sovereign Ruler, words that are becoming his majesty–commissioning these poor beggars to go forth and proclaim this new message, not in one city or country only, but in all the world, in principalities and kingdoms–and to proclaim it publicly and cheerfully; to speak before all creatures, so that all humanity might hear the message. That certainly means, to stretch forth the arms and gather unto Christ a great multitude. Indeed, it is such a mighty commission, that the like of it was never issued in the world.
11. The command of a temporal ruler goes no farther than to the confines of his own kingdom; likewise that of a father to his own household: but this commission of Christ concerns all kings, princes, countries and people, great and small, young and old, simple and wise, sinners and saints. With this one message he claims all dominion and power, all wisdom, holiness, majesty and the right to rule on earth with unlimited authority. What else can the world think and say about it than this: What! this one man and his eleven poor beggars dare to assume authority over Moses and all the prophets, yes, even over all people? Even Moses was sent only to Pharaoh and his people in Egypt. Is this man, then, to have the whole world for his field? He is in relation to it no more than a common laborer!
12. It must be a master of no mean authority who dares to exercise the right to send forth messengers not only to one
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or several crowned heads, but to all rulers throughout the world. Christ does all this as though he possessed full power and authority over them as his subjects, charging his disciples that they should fear no one, no matter how great and powerful he might be, but should cheerfully go forth, continuing to the remotest parts of the world, and preach the Gospel, with the assurance that they could not fail to be heard and that no one was able to hinder them.
13. Thus was it fulfilled. “Beginning at Jerusalem,” the kingdom touched the whole world. No other kingdom ever had such power. There never yet lived a ruler who achieved supremacy over even one-half of the world. How is it then, that from Jerusalem to the remotest corners of the earth all men know of this king who is called Christ? And all this was accomplished without a single sword-thrust and without military power; simply through these poor beggars, whom Christ sent forth into so many kingdoms and principalities that resisted them with the sword, with fire and water and with their whole might. If the apostles had been dependent upon their own power, they would have miserably failed before crossing their own thresholds. They had been afraid of their own people, the Jews, and had hidden themselves behind bolted doors. But later on, upon the strength of this commission, they boldly went forth, not only among their own people, but in all kingdoms, through all principalities, and in the face of all the powers and resistance of the world and the devil.
14. Whence did they obtain such courage and strength? Surely not from any king of Persia nor emperor of Rome, Turkey or Tartary. No, it was from the Lord alone, who ascended into heaven and commanded them to go and preach to the whole creation. And as Christ began to set up his kingdom, so it will continue till the end of the world. Certainly he is not Lord in any temporal sense. He is the one to whom all authority in heaven and on earth is given, as he himself declares in Mt 28, 18. To him must be subjected both angels and men, and all creatures, as God also saith to him in Ps 2, 8: “Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine in-
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heritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” This is the reason why we know and believe in him. Only Christ could have brought the world everywhere to believe in one who was apparently a simple Jew.
15. These words of his command are marvelously powerful. Therein he shows that he is greater than all emperors, kings and rulers on earth, by his own power subjecting unto himself all creatures. He does not commission his disciples to convey his greetings or to ask favors of certain rulers on earth, but in full authority he issues to all rulers a command that they shall accept his message and obey his orders. It is evident, too, that this commander is mightier than any angel. Angels are, indeed, mighty and powerful beings, sent by God to do his bidding with reference to certain of his servants; as, for instance, we see Moses leading his people out of Egypt by an angel. But Christ issues his own command, that shall reach all the world, yea, even all creatures, intimating that all belongs to him. Such authority is given to none else but this son born of the Virgin. He must, therefore, be the one Lord over all things, over angels and men, the only God and Maker of all creatures.
III. THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL ENJOINED IN THIS COMMISSION.
A. The Preaching of the Gospel in Itself.
16. Now this is the commission: “Go ye and preach the Gospel to the whole creation.” Christ looks far into the future. He does not want his message hidden in a corner. He does not wish them to have any fear concerning it, neither to go about it secretly nor deceitfully. He wants it proclaimed so publicly that even the sun in the heavens, yea forests and stones might hear it if they had ears. And so it has been proclaimed, though the world has opposed it for so many centuries. It has steadily advanced. There never has been in the world a like force and power; nothing of equal sway and authority. This message, then, must be of divine power. It pertains not to insignificant, vain, or sinful things of the world, such as robbing, stealing, lying, deceiving, murdering,
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violence, oppression and tyranny, but to pure, heavenly and divine things. Thus it cannot be of human origin but is God’s own message. Both word and work, then, harmonize and openly testify to Christ’s authority before all creatures under heaven, on land and sea.
17. Christ thus sends forth, not a decree to stir up rebellion in the world, or to overthrow the legal power of kings, princes or other temporal authority, but he simply puts his word and command into the mouths of the disciples that they may carry into effect his own power by their speech and ministry. They shall speak not of worldly institutions, worldly authority or earthly riches, nor of the glory of the Jewish people, their laws, religious rites and priesthood–though it was the expectation of all Jews that these should be world-honored–but the import of the message shall be to teach nobler things, namely how we may be reconciled to God, how to be redeemed from sin, death and all evil, and be saved; how to obtain everlasting righteousness, life and glory.
18. This, indeed, was a new message, of which the world knew nothing. It differs greatly from all other preaching and teaching. Yes, heaven raises it above all that can be taught on earth. All other teaching must give way to it, for it alone ministers the power to be saved. When Christ says, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation,” he desires none to be excluded; but he shows that the whole world knows naught of his doctrine: In spite of all its wisdom, it is blind concerning these things, no matter how learned and holy it pretends to be. His own people, the Jews, though they have not the light and knowledge of salvation to which the prophet Zecharias refers in bis Benediction, Lk 1, 77: “To give knowledge of salvation unto his people in the remission of sins.” If the Jews had known this before, or could have discovered it for themselves, it would not have been necessary to preach it to them. Christ would not have had to descend from heaven and send forth his servants into the whole world with the message.
19. All the world is here sent to school, to hear and learn of Christ’s kingdom and confess that it did not know anything
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about it. Men may know well how to build, how to care for their property, to rule, to be outwardly pious, and how to lead a decent, honest life, and they may be able to teach others what they know; but of things pertaining to God’s kingdom, and how to escape sin and death, they know nothing. Christ sets aside all teachings, even that of Moses, and of the ten commandments. The order is given to the disciples to go forth and tell all men what they do not know–that all must hear and accept, by God’s command, this message, if they would be saved.
20. The meaning of this message Christ plainly shows. In the first place, he gives it a worthy name, calling it Gospel-preaching. No doubt be gives it this peculiar new name for a special reason, to distinguish it from all other teaching and preaching. It is something different from the Law of Moses and the teachings of men. A new name would impress itself upon the minds of the disciples. For the word “Gospel” means a new message–a good message bearing joyful tidings, proclaiming something, that one gladly and eagerly hears. Not a law or a commandment, forcing or demanding from us and threatening punishment and condemnation if we do not obey it. Such a message none like to hear. Even if we, to our utmost ability, both teach and obey the law, yet no consolation and joy will result from it; because we can never so perfectly comply with its demands that it will cease to smite and accuse us. Therefore, if we were to be rescued, God had to send us, through his Son, a different message than the Law from which to derive consolation and peace.
21. As to what the Gospel is, and the difference between the Law and the Gospel, enough has already been said. However, we here observe how Christ himself gives the definition, and shows what the Gospel teaches, saying:
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.”
22. This indeed is a kind, friendly and consoling message, and is rightly called a Gospel; here, in one word, you hear salvus erit, i. e., he shall be saved–the gates of heaven opened, hell closed, the Law and judgment set aside, sin and death de-
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stroyed, and life and salvation granted to all the world if they only believe the message. Oh, if one could thoroughly learn these words: Believe and be saved! They are spelled in few letters yet they are a sermon of such power that the world cannot grasp the glorious grace and unspeakable treasure given us through this message. And all this without any merit on our part since we have done absolutely nothing to earn it, we have not known anything about it. If the world had really believed it, they would, I am convinced, out of pure love have overwhelmed the preachers of the Gospel, particularly the apostles, and come in great multitudes and joyfully kissed their feet and borne them on their hands, praising and thanking God for their having lived to hear a Christian Gospel preacher.
23. The Gospel is faithfully taught and practiced in our day, yet it will continue to be necessary, as here, for Christ to upbraid his disciples with their unbelief and hardness of heart. Unbelief is still too strong in us, and our hearts are too narrow and too weak to grasp these wonderful words. We are controlled too much by our own desires and feelings when sin troubles us and God’s wrath startles and terrifies us, though we desire to be saved. We seek and strive to discover how we may save ourselves by our own works; we try to find within ourselves that, by which we may justify ourselves before God.
24. We must, therefore, constantly learn, preach and exhort about this message of salvation, though it cannot at once enter the hearts of men–that is impossible. But day after day, year after year, the Gospel may the more and more be grasped, to the limit of our comprehension here on earth. The promise is dependent upon the condition. We cannot separate these two things; they must remain together just as Christ joins them and says: “He that believeth shall be saved.” As to one part, namely, shall be saved, there is indeed nothing wanting, nor is it uncertain; this is surely a promise in the Word, which is God’s unchangeable truth. But as to the other part, our believing, there is indeed much lacking. We do not firmly believe; we do not accept and adhere to God’s word of promise. As I have said, the grace and the spiritual treasures
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offered are so great that the human heart is astonished and overwhelmed when it realizes that the high and eternal majesty opens the gates of heaven so wide, and that he causes his grace and mercy to shine over all the sins and misery of the whole world, and that this great store of grace and spiritual riches is given us through the Word alone.
25. However, this passage stands here and declares both what the Gospel is,–a message concerning faith in Christ, and what power it has, namely to save him that believeth. The Jews have waited until this day for the coming of their Messiah to restore the city of Jerusalem and its temple, and so exalt the Law of Moses that it may be accepted by all the world. But what happens? At the very place and at the very time when their temple services are most glorious, and their best, noblest and wisest men most strenuously observe the Law, the Son of God himself pronounces judgment upon them, commanding his disciples to go and preach throughout all Jewry and all the world that not the temple service nor the Levitical priesthood, not circumcision nor the Law and its observance, which God indeed had given them, will save, but he that believeth shall be saved, be he Jew or gentile. There is no distinction (Rom 3, 23), nor one possessing any special privileges. This Gospel shall be preached to the whole creation.
26. This, surely, was tearing a dreadful hole in the Jewish expectations and ideas–proclaiming himself as alone having authority and that to him all must submit–for neither Moses nor any of the prophets would have dared to do so. They all had to be circumcised and to observe the Law under penalty of loss of body and soul. And now this man Jesus with full authority interferes, and even indifferently sets aside the Law, as though he would know nothing about it. He commands, in few simple words, his disciples thus: You shall not tell the world, in whatever part of it you may be, that the people must go to Jerusalem, or must keep the Law of Moses etc., but you shall tell them all that if they would be saved, which everybody desires (especially the Jews at that time), then they must believe this message of mine, and thereupon be baptized etc. Commence this kind of preaching among my people who
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desire to be saved by their Law and its temple service, and go forth through the entire Roman empire, and to all the corners of the world. Those that trust in their idols, reprove and condemn, one and all, and tell them that this is the command that I, the Lord of heaven and earth, give them, that they shall believe in me. This is my message; it shall go through all the world unhindered and unmolested. No matter if the Jews disbelieve and are offended by it, and put you under the ban, consigning you to the devil, and fret not if the heathen endeavor to suppress it by force.
27. This is also a consoling message to us, because we, too, are included in these words of Christ when he says: Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to the whole creation. Herein are inclosed all who hear this message, wherever they may live, be they few or many. “All the world” does not mean one or two parts of it, but everywhere within it wherever people may dwell. Therefore, the Gospel had to be proclaimed according to the command, as it is yet being proclaimed today. Although it is not steadily triumphant in every place, yet it is destined to reach to the ends of the earth and to resound in all places and corners of the world. As it is a general command to preach the Gospel everywhere, to all men, so it is also a general injunction and the Lord’s command that all shall believe this message.
28. It was essential for Christ, in his command, to emphasize “all the world.” The Jews, who wanted thus to silence the rest of mankind, boasted that they alone were God’s people, to whom the fathers and the prophets were given, and that Christ was promised to come from their seed. This boasting Christ had to kill, otherwise they would have overcome us gentiles and compelled us to become Jews and accept circumcision. Directly opposed to their claim is the fact that Christ commanded that the Gospel be preached to all creatures. Christ says, He that believes, belongs to God’s people and is saved, be he Jew or gentile, Greek or barbarian, priest or layman, male or female etc. True, God did not give any other nation than his chosen people, the Jews, those special honors and blessings that were theirs in their God-given and mighty
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leaders and in the miracles he wrought for them, and in the fact that to them first were given the divine promises and the Scriptures.
29. But now we are made one people in the sight of God. None have any preference or privilege to boast of. Christ would have none despised nor rejected. The injunction reads, To all creatures, the disciples shall preach and proclaim it. The greatest, the most powerful, the noblest born, the most learned and the holiest person is not a whit better than the humblest, simplest, most despised on earth. All are brought into one company and fellowship. No one is preferred above another. No partiality is shown. No one is pictured or separated to special honor or advantage; but everything hinges entirely on “He that believeth.” It matters not what people, nation or rank or what station in the world they may occupy. There must, of course, be a difference in the physical life of the various inhabitants of the earth, as the creatures are and are called each according to its nature and each is different from the other; sun from moon, man from woman, master from servant.
30. Therefore, as in the world every country and people have their own special laws, rights and customs, so, like in outward temporal appointments, there must also be a difference in the preaching. Every station and office must be responsible and taught in its appointed sphere. But though duty be beautifully and faithfully performed, all Jews perfect in temple service, all temporal government faultlessly administered, all discipline and obedience observed and rendered in the matter of laws and customs–yet all of this is not sufficient to insure salvation to the doer. In this kingdom of Christ all humanity is brought to the same place–all are made into one bread (kuchen)–all must meet the one condition. Not this or that person, who lives in a certain manner, and is doing a certain thing, shall be saved, but: “He that believeth shall be saved.” Here you have it all. No matter if you are Jew or gentile, master or servant, virgin or husband, monk or layman, if you believe, says Christ, then you are in my kingdom, saved and redeemed from sin and death.
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31. By this message, Christ’s kingdom is clearly distinguished from all other kingdoms of the world. In earthly kingdoms, he who obeys the laws and precepts, does not rob, steal and kill, shall not be punished, but shall be commended, honored and protected as an obedient citizen of the kingdom. It will not do to say: He that believes shall have honor and riches in this temporal kingdom. Such honor and riches would mean temporal, visible requisition. He who is pious and good in the eyes of the world and leads a perfect life, is not, bemuse of that, in the kingdom of God. Something higher and better is necessary. He must believe in Christ, who ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God. A temporal kingdom knows nothing of the spiritual matters of faith. It does not deal in nor control these things. And yet the blind world dares to attempt that which it is not able to understand nor rightly to judge.
32. On the other hand, Christ’s kingdom has nothing to do with the kingdoms of men. He permits them to continue in their own observances. Christ commands that the disciples should preach the Gospel to all creatures. The creatures existed before the Gospel came to them. Governments are instituted, and laws formed, by men, through God-given reason and wisdom. St. Peter calls them human ordinances in I Pet 2, 13. They are also called ordinances of God in Rom 13, 2. In such things, Christ would establish no change; he permits them to remain as they are, in fact and in name. But instructs the world concerning his own eternal kingdom; how it is possible for one to be freed from sin and eternal death, how all, without difference, shall be subject unto him, and acknowledge him, through faith, as their Lord.
33. We must examine and rightly understand the words, “He that believeth,” in order not to pervert or mar them by additions and glosses. With such the papists becloud and nullify this sublime and powerful passage, attaching to it their sermons, and, saying that here must be understood “good works” with the word “faith,” so that it must read: He that believeth, and also does good works, shall be saved. These are the highly learned masters that take Christ to school,
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correct his language and teach him how to speak, babbling in their blindness whatever they please, though they know not what and whereof they speak concerning these sublime things. But we shall do Christ the honor to keep his Word pure und undefiled. He well knew how to express these things and what he would have the disciples speak when he commanded them to preach his message to all the world.
34. Christ intentionally made the statement thus plain: “He that believeth, and is baptized” etc., in order to set right the delusions and pretensions of the Jews and of all the world regarding salvation by man’s own works. On faith and baptism, not on our own but on his works, he bases all. In opposition, the Jews, and the world in general, wish to consider their own pride and glory. They boast of their own holiness, unwilling to be censured and condemned in respect of it. The Jews, because they observe circumcision, the Law and many temple services, these, in their own estimation, sufficient to secure them salvation, will, therefore, not consent that the heathen, who observe none of these, should be considered their equals, be called God’s people and be saved, until they also conform to these practices and become Jews. Just so the false apostles, and many of those who became Christians, with great pretense fought over these things and argued against the teachings of the apostles.
35. What have the heathen, who had not the Word of God nor the true knowledge of him, ever done of themselves, yet they would either hear nor accept the Gospel for the very reason that they did not wish to forsake their idolatry. They claimed that they also served the true God with their offerings and religious rites. They would not listen to condemnation of these things.
36. All who depend on good works, and teach the people salvation through the same, are alike in error. They cannot endure disregard of their works in the matter of salvation. They cannot endorse such a doctrine as Christ here states to be true: “He that believeth shall be saved” etc. Although they receive the Gospel and wish to be Christians, as do our papists, they will not accept this doctrine in its purity but must
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defile the same with their additions and glosses, claiming that it must be understood thus: He that believes, and does also good works, shall be saved. Their interpretation means that one obtains salvation, not by faith alone, but also by good works. just so the false apostles and disciples from among the Jews also made additions to this doctrine, pretending that not faith alone secures salvation, but the law of Moses must be kept also. They said: “Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” Acts 15, 1. Thus they confused the true disciples and Christians, and the apostles at Jerusalem had to reject this statement publicly.
37. But you may say: Indeed, you yourself teach that a Christian must do good works; God himself commanded to do them, enjoining the keeping of the Law, and Christ also says: “If thou wouldest enter into life, keep the commandments,” Mt 19, 17. Now, faith alone does not justify and save. This message must be understood as not excluding good works; but Christ here, in addition and beyond good works, also demands faith, which the Jews and heathen did not exercise. Our papists also hold that good works are not sufficient unto salvation for those who have no faith, but that faith and good works must go together. Nor do they mean by “works” the observance of the law of Moses, of circumcision and the Jewish temple service, which are now obsolete; but they mean the works demanded by the ten commandments, which teach the obedience all men owe to God.
And in order to prove that these words must be thus understood, the papists refer to Mt 28, 19-20: “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them,” etc. and “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you.” These last words, they say, also belong to the command Christ here gave to the disciples; therefore, this text must be interpreted to mean that it demands not faith alone, but also good works.
38. We answer: All this, as I have said before, is mere babbling, false and perverted comment of blind sophists who understand nothing of this text and of the glorious doctrine of the Gospel, They know not what they say, concerning either
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faith or good works, nor do they know how properly to distinguish between the two. We also confess, and have always, better and more forcibly than the papists, taught that good works must be done; that they must follow faith, and that faith is dead if good works be absent. Therefore, this doctrine of faith does not denounce good works; it does not teach that they should not be performed. Nor is it the question here, whether or no good works are requisite. But faith and good works differ, and it must be taught with discrimination what is the value of each for and by itself. Each must be considered in its proper relations that we may understand both what faith accomplishes and receives, and why good works are necessary. This distinction is everywhere taught in the Gospel and was preached by the apostles. It is, therefore, but blindness, if not intentional malice, that these papal sophists, without here making any distinction, in a swine-like manner misconstrue and pervert these passages so that neither of them can be clearly understood.
39. We, therefore, insist that these two passages–this one and that written in Matthew–be properly interpreted in the light of their actual wording and arrangement. In our teachings it is right that we instruct men to observe all that Christ commanded. But we cannot disregard that which Christ here says concerning faith. We must always observe the place and order which Christ gives his words. Now, we find in this text, Mt 28, 19-20, that Christ first commands the eleven to go and make disciples of all nations, and to baptize them into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That is, they are to preach to them the teaching of the Gospel, how they must be saved–which, as yet, neither the Jews nor the heathen knew–and in this knowledge to baptize them, making the people disciples or Christians. These are the first essentials and thereto the words agree: “He that believeth and is baptized” etc. Then comes the other part, which must follow the teachings of the Gospel, namely, what those who believe and are baptized shall do. These, Christ says, ye shall teach to observe all things that I commanded you, so, that all things shall be according to my Word,
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and not according to the Jewish law and ceremonies, or any man-made laws pertaining to self-chosen works or religious services.
40. Therefore these two, faith and good works, must not be confused. They must be clearly distinguished from each other. Faith and baptism, as the chief part and foundation of our salvation, must stand first. The other part follows. Both must be taught, but each in its proper relation. As I have often stated, and as is also clearly self-evident, there is a vast differrence between the efficacy of our own works and of that which Christ has accomplished for us. In our teaching, the latter must be exalted and made infinitely superior to the former. Now, in these words of Christ: “Teach all nations and baptize them” etc.; and “He that believeth and is baptized”–it is evident that he holds before us not our unworthy works and the demands of the Law, but his own merits and his gift; these we can accept in no other way than by faith. These are the treasures by which we are saved, which were neither earned nor procured by us, but were graciously presented to us by him. For we may never dare to boast that we merit the gift of Christ in whom we believe, or that the baptism which we receive in his name is of our own doing or has been instituted by any human being.
41. To prove my statements, consider this: Christ says plainly and clearly; “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved;” as though he would say: If you would know how you can be saved, then this shall be considered the chief and essential condition–to believe and be baptized. The question is not whether or no we must do good works. There is no dispute about that. But there is something more important. The point is not what we are doing ourselves, but where shall we seek with the certainty we shall find that by which we can be saved from sin and death, and can obtain life and salvation? Here Christ clearly explains what shall be the chief doctrine of the Gospel. He bases it entirely on faith and baptism, concluding that we shall be saved for the sole reason that we have Christ by faith and baptism.
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42. Believing means: To hold to be true, and with all the heart to depend on, that which the Gospel and all the articles of faith say about Christ; that he has been sent to us by God the Father, that he suffered, died and rose again and ascended into heaven for the sole reason that we may obtain from God the Father forgiveness of sin and life eternal in his name. That our faith may grasp and hold this the more firmly, he gives us holy baptism, by this visible sign to prove that God the Father will accept us and unfailingly give us that which is offered to us in the Gospel.
43. Now, if I am to believe this, then I must not adulterate my faith with belief in my own works. I must not depend upon my own merits, daring to offer them to God, as do the monks and self-righteous Jews. There are two doctrines that will not agree and can never hold combined, namely, the belief that we, for Christ’s sake and without our merits, obtain God’s grace; and the belief that we obtain God’s grace by our own works. For if we could obtain this grace by our own merits, then we should not need Christ in addition. Such confusion and detestable patchwork of the sophists cannot be tolerated–the claiming that Christ, indeed, atoned for original sins and for sins done aforetime and that he opens the door of heaven, but that we ourselves, by our own good works, must now also atone for sins and merit grace in order to fully obtain salvation. This is to rob Christ of his honor; yea, to set him, his death, resurrection and ascension aside, as if his merit were not sufficient for us, and as if his sufferings and blood are not able to atone for sins. But St. John says he is the only propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world. 1 Jn 2, 2,
44. And that the passage we are considering and similar ones must be thus understood, St. Paul teaches in his epistles, especially in that to the Romans, where he proves that we are freely justified by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood Rom 3, 24-25. Here he plainly mentions the word gratis, i. e., freely, without our merits, and
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not for the sake of our works. Thus, we may have a sure consolation, and not doubt God’s grace and salvation though we are truly unworthy and still have remnants of sin in us. If the people be taught thus: If you desire forgiveness of sins and a merciful God, you must do enough good works and possess sufficient merits to overcome and remove your sins–then faith is already nullified. Christ is then of no efficacy, conscience is robbed of all consolation, and man is driven to despair, because he seeks help by and in himself and dares to attempt to accomplish himself that for which Christ was sent and which only he could do for us. Christ came to fulfil the Law, and to earn for us, by his obedience, grace and life eternal.
45. So, our passage on faith, and others like it, must be understood in this light; not perverted and marred by misleading comments and additions, for the purpose of belittling faith and contradicting Christ’s meaning. Such error will surely result if the teaching of good works is confused with that of faith; if distinction is not made between the chief doctrine of Christ’s Gospel, appropriation by faith alone, and the teaching of the Law concerning good works. As I said above, these two doctrines cannot stand side by side; they are directly contradictory. To believe that for Christ’s sake alone grace and eternal life are granted, and yet at the same time to seek and claim to obtain them by our own merits, is absurd.
46. I repeat, Christ would, with these words, condemn the pretensions of the Jews and of all the world, their boasting of their law and works, and would declare that no one will be saved by works, but alone by faith in the Lord. It is written that Christ alone has conquered sin and death, and is now sitting at the right hand of God, etc.
47. From all this explanation you are now enabled to clearly distinguish between these two passages from Matthew and Mark–which the papists, by reason of their ignorance, confound with each other–so that both are vindicated. By the text: “He that believeth and is baptized” etc., our own works and doings, in so far as they are considered as a merit,
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are not considered with faith but are excluded when we speak of man’s justification and salvation before God. Not that good works have no place in a believer’s creed, but he must be conscious that by his own worthiness he cannot be saved, that his own works and deeds do not merit for him grace and life eternal; that this has been merited for him through Christ alone, granted him for Christ’s sake, and must be apprehended by faith. Then this text, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” is rightly understood.
48. When one understands and believes this text, then the teaching of the other text should follow, namely, that we should also do good works. Yet good works must accompany faith and depend upon faith, which always clings to Christ and pleads before God that he will graciously and for Christ’s sake accept and be pleased with the supplicant’s life and works, and not impute to him that which might be imperfect and sinful in him. Hereupon follows properly the text, Mt 28, 20: “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you.” Fail not to observe the first and essential condition; for if faith is absent, all our good works and upright life count for naught before God. Indeed, it is not possible to do truly good works without faith. Christ says in John 15, 5: “For apart from me ye can do nothing” etc.
49. Observe, by making this distinction you can rightly understand this passage. Learn how to apply it and to derive from it consolation in the struggle with a conscience, terrified by sin and death. Only in the experience of such agony can one know the power of faith. This truth is apparent even among the papists and all sectarians, for they also preach these words, although in a superficial and indifferent manner as if they were of no importance. They thus show, by their besmirching additions, that they understand nothing about the subject. Alas, exclaim the papists, that you preach nothing but faith, notwithstanding we are neither unbelievers nor Turks. Well, my good man, if it is so easy, then try it once and see how you will fare in the hour when death overtakes you, or when Satan terrifies and disheartens
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you, and when your reason and all your senses feel nothing but God’s wrath and the anguish of hell.
50. If you are a Christian, as you claim, then you must, indeed, believe and never doubt the statement that Christ died for you, and through his resurrection and ascension conquered for you sin, death and hell; yes, destroyed and swallowed them up. Why is it, then, that you still fear death, flee from God and dread his judgment? This surely is an unmistakable sign that you lack faith, inasmuch as he that has faith cannot be troubled nor terrified by death or hell. Where faith is, there it strengthens and delivers the heart from fear, so that we can cheerfully say: What do I care for sin, death and the terrors of Satan, for I have a Lord and Saviour who sits in heaven at the right hand of God the Father, and rules over all in heaven and upon earth, and who gives me his righteousness and life? Can you thoroughly learn the art to do this? Then I will say, you are a doctor of all the doctors. However, you will certainly experience, like all others, even the greatest saints, that you are woefully deficient when it comes to a real test and trial.
51. The reason the world cares naught about the preaching of faith is that it lives in false security and in carelessness, having neither knowledge nor experience of the terrors of sin and a troubled conscience. But when death and its horrors overtake it, then it knows of no help and plunges suddenly into, despair. Then it will, indeed, having waited too long, realize what it is to have faith, of which it hitherto knew nothing. It will learn that faith is not a dead letter, not mere words of the tongue, a vague idea or a mere imagination, which the papists call faith, but a fearless and strong courage that, with all boldness of heart, relies on Christ, in defiance of sin, death and hell.
52. In such times, even the best of holy men deplore their weakness, and must confess that their faith is still insufficient, because they are sad and troubled by fear and anguish. As to these words, “He that believeth shall be saved” etc., there is, indeed, no doubt whatever that by them hell is closed, heaven opened, and eternal life and joy granted. But here
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the chief thing is lacking, namely, that you are not yet the person qui credit, i. e., who believes, or that you are still weak in faith. However, though you are not strong, if you only cling to Christ you will obtain the consolation, power and strength that overcomes all terror of death and hell, which all human power, works and merit cannot accomplish.
53. Here your conscience, burdened by the demands of the Law, will say: You still have sin, and have not kept God’s commandments, which under threat of eternal condemnation, you are bound to keep. Answer: All this I know, alas, only too well, and you must not speak to me of it. Wait with your demands of the Law as to what I must do, till I first possess this chief part of my salvation, namely, Christ and his righteousness, Christ who conquers sin and death for me. This, alone, I want to hear now, and it shall transcend the other in importance as much as the heavens are higher than the earth. For at present the question is not, how I must live and what I must do, but how I may overcome sin and death, or, as Christ here says, be saved. But, after having attained all this, and being, in spite of all that is called sin, death, hell, God’s wrath, Law and works, in Christ justified and saved, and made heir of life eternal, then I want to know also how I must live here on the earth. Then you may come and teach and admonish me, like a faithful schoolmaster, as much as you tan, but never going further with your Moses than is right and necessary; not teaching me that thereby I can be saved, or can conquer sin and death.
54. Now, this is the message that Christ commands to be preached to all creatures. But that we may know that in his kingdom he would have this message supreme, so that we should never doubt it, nor expect something else, but should altogether depend upon it and know that it shall stand as an irrevocable declaration of this Lord of all creation, Christ repeats the message once more, making it still stronger in the negative form, saying:
“But he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.”
55. Here you have the final judgment against the boasting pride and self-praise of the Jews and of all the world.
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As the first part of the text with one word opens heaven, closes hell and sets aside Moses and the threats of the Law for those who believe, so Christ here with one word, closes heaven, leaves open the jaws of hell, permits death to reign and Moses to be an intolerable tyrant for all that disbelieve. For this there is and shall be no help, though you, like the Jews, torment yourself to death in keeping the Law, even torturing and burdening yourselves, saying: Did I not do many good works and even suffer much? Alas, here you have the decision: “He that disbelieveth shall be condemned.”
56. Even though man accomplishes all that he possibly can, yet without Christ, everything has already been concluded under sin and God’s wrath; as we heard in the Gospel of St. John, that the Holy Spirit will convict the world in respect of sin, because they believe not etc. Jn 16, 8. Here, in the text we are considering, the judgment of condemnation is already pronounced on the world, together with all its righteousness of the Law and religious service. No one on earth can escape this judgment, nor be rescued from condemnation, except by hearing and believing this message, which says that those who believe in this Lord and Saviour shall not be condemned because of their sins, but shall, because of him, have forgiveness of sins and life eternal.
Christ says, in John 3, 16, that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish” etc. “For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him.” Jn 3, 17. Therefore, “He that believeth on him is not judged,” but “he that believeth not,” says he, “hath been judged already.” Jn 3, 18 This judgment of condemnation remains upon him because of his disbelieving, imputing all sins to him, which cannot be forgiven. Thus he increases his sin and makes his condemnation the stronger; in addition to all other sins, he also despises Christ by not believing in him.
B. The Signs Christ Appointed To Accompany This Preaching.
57. When Christ adds baptism to the first part, “He that
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believeth,” he has in view the established rite among the Christian people. We read in Mt 28, 19, where he puts both parts together, “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them” etc. He thus shows, first, that faith, which the Gospel preaches, must not remain concealed; it is not sufficient for each one to go his own way and believe for himself, after he has heard this Gospel message, deeming it not necessary to confess his faith before others. On the contrary, in order that it may become evident, not only where this Gospel is preached, but also where it is accepted and believed, that is, where the church and kingdom of Christ may be in this world, Christ wants to unite and hold us together by virtue of this divine sign, baptism.
If Christians were without such an ordinance, if they had no common bond in the way of seal or sign, the organization would neither be expanded nor preserved. Christ wishes to bind us together by a divine communion, to further the spread of the Gospel; that others through our confession, may be brought into the fold. Therefore, baptism is a public testimony to the Gospel teaching, and to our faith, by which the world may know where and within whom the Lord rules.
58. In the second place, Christ has especially ordained this sign to the end that, through the office of the Word and of baptism, we may be conscious of God’s work and mighty power in his church; that the Christian, in accepting baptism, might know that, Christ himself being witness, he is accepted by God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That is what it means to be baptized into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, in obedience to Christ’s command. Thus, baptism is a sign and seal, in addition to the Word or promise, that we have been called and brought into the kingdom of Christ, have become God’s children and heirs of eternal life, if, by faith we cling to Christ. This we have often taught elsewhere with reference to baptism.
59. It is, indeed, wisely ordained by Christ, that in his kingdom, which shall expand into all the world and among all nations, he instituted not many ceremonies, as was the custom among the Jews, nor a diversity of forms among the
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various countries and nations, peoples and languages; but he ordained only the simplest and most ordinary sign; it is everywhere observed in the same way–just as the preaching of the Gospel is alike in all places, making all, adults and children, rich and poor, great and humble, one and all, in the world, equal before God. Hence, if a Christian from the uttermost parts of the world should come to us and observe our forms, he would have to say, They are the very same Word and sign that I have learned and received.
60. Among the various inhabitants that people our earth, each individual and each nation has its own characteristics. But Christians everywhere may be distinguished by their one doctrine, one language, one sign, even as they have one faith and one confession. Indeed, the kingdom of Christ everywhere is a kingdom of love, unity and peace. But it would be impossible for it to always withstand, steadfastly and in unity, the devils and their wiles, if Christ, by his divine power, did not preserve and protect it.
However, we see that although Satan causes many sects and factions to rise up, soon they war among themselves and disappear again. What countless cliques and fanatical tyrants Satan has produced to oppose the Gospel during these fifteen hundred years, endeavoring to rend and destroy the kingdom of Christ! And yet there remains to this day one and the same Gospel message, one faith, one baptism and all; even the world, if not wilfully blind and hardened, might see and feel the strength and power of this Lord.
61. Christ deems it sufficient to say, in the first part of our text: “He that believeth and is baptized,” and in the other part: “But he that disbelieveth” etc., not further mentioning baptism. The reason, of course, is that the first part sufficiently enjoins the ordinance and that baptism is commanded elsewhere, namely, in Mt 28, 19: “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father” etc. Hence, we have no authority in these for omitting baptism; no reason to hold that because one has faith he needs no baptism. If one becomes a Christian and truly believes, he will surely also gladly accept this sign. He will wish to
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have this divine testimony and confirmation of his salvation, for strength and consolation throughout life, and also to confess his faith publicly before the world. St. Paul makes plain the Christian’s duty when he says: “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Rom 10, 10. True, it is possible that one may believe though he is not baptized; and Again, that some may receive baptism though they do not believe.
62. This text, however, must be understood as commanding and confirming baptism: no one shall despise the ordinance but, as has been said, it is the duty of all to accept it. Yet the lines must not be drawn so closely that one should be condemned and lost for the failure to receive baptism if he could not obtain it.
63. As a summary, we derive from this text the following propositions:
1. Some believe, and are baptized, which is in accordance with the general command of Christ, the rule that is to be taught and observed.
2. Some believe, but are not baptized.
3. Some do not believe, and yet they are baptized.
4. Some do not believe, and are also not baptized.
64. This distinction is made by the text itself. (To the first two points belongs, as we have said, that part of this passage affirming and promising salvation, namely, “Shall be saved.” Ed. 1546). It has always unanimously been believed that a person dying a believer is not lost, though he be not baptized; for it may happen that a true believer is suddenly overtaken by death before he can receive the desired baptism. (It also occurs that infants sometimes die before, during or immediately after their birth. These, having already been commended to the Lord by the faith and prayers of the parents or other Christians, without doubt Christ will accept, according to bis words: “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” But as to the other two points, namely, those who do not believe, whether God grant they be baptized or not, judgment of condemnation is pronounced
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over them. Ed. 1546). Concerning this it is not necessary to speak further.
65. But the troublesome Anabaptist sects speak contemptuously of holy baptism, claiming that no one should be baptized who does not first believe. Their intent is to abolish infant baptism. But since enough has been written against this error of the Anabaptists in former postils and elsewhere. we will not now dwell on this matter. It is enough to know that Christ and the apostles make a distinction between these two points, namely, teaching and baptizing. Baptism is administered but once. We would need many to perform the ceremony if baptism had to be administered as often as we preach and teach. The teaching and preaching are of the most important and must be done constantly.
66. It is not stated here whether baptism should be administered before or after the teaching, but may God grant that the office of preaching should be exercised above everything else; then baptisms will follow. It is evident that he who receives baptism once, does not need this sign again. But the teaching of the Word, by which faith is kindled, strengthened and preserved, we need continually. For this reason, we observe, the office of baptizing was committed to people of much humbler station than was the office of preaching. Christ, himself, baptized no one, as we read in John 4, 2, but commanded his disciples to do so. St. Paul says that he was sent, not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel, 1 Cor 1, 17, and that he himself baptized but few people, though he preached the Gospel among all the heathen.
67. The sum and substance of the lesson, therefore, is, for us to give heed to the Word and teaching, and not to judge whether one truly believes or not. Where the Word is, there we shall also administer baptism, be the people young or old. For we are not commanded to accomplish the impossibility of looking into a man’s heart to judge whether he believes or not. This must be left to Christ alone. Neither is it commanded us, in our office of preaching, to seek to know how each one may believe, or who accepts the Word and who does not. It will not do for you to say that you would
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preach only to those whom you could first know to be ready to believe and accept the Word. In that case you would never dare to preach at all. The same holds in baptism. You must not wait until you are sure as to who believes and who does not, but give heed to this: Wherever the Word is preached and heard, and baptism is desired, there you are commanded to administer baptism, both to young and old. Where the Word, the all-important thing, is rightly preached, the other will naturally follow. And, again, where the teaching of the Word is in error, all else is in vain; because there is neither faith nor Christ. It is the Word that brings us everything, the sacraments with their power, peace of conscience and even Christ himself; for it is his power and strength, or, as David calls it: “The rod of his strength out of Zion,” Ps 110, 2; or, as St. Paul says, “The power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth,” Rom 1, 16.
68. Preaching is, then, the chief work that Christ and all the apostles performed and commanded us to do. Christ gives the commission: “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” etc. The other work, being inferior in importance, can, indeed, be performed by those who are not charged with the greater responsibility of preaching. It will be recalled that both Christ and the apostles sent many to lay hands on the sick. We may safely assume that, in the instance when, by the preaching of the apostles on Pentecost and afterwards, the number of believers who received the Word and were baptized increased to five thousand, not all of this multitude were baptized by the apostles alone. The apostles had to attend to their office of preaching, as commanded. Baptisms were accomplished by the assistance of others who accompanied the apostles. St. Paul, having already been called to the apostleship, was baptized by the disciple Ananias. Acts 9, 18.
69. Therefore, it depends not on the person, whoever it may be, that administers baptism or that receives it; who it is that preaches the Word or hears it. They may be saints or sinners, believers or unbelievers; if only the Word is preached and taught in its purity, then the ministry is also
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right, no matter who the minister may be. The office of preaching being first observed, then Christ speaks to you and me who hear the Word and desire to be Christians, admonishing us with this passage: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.”
70. The Christians filling this office and possessing the talent that must bear interest, are commanded to preach wherever possible, and, together with the preaching, administer also baptism. But as to who may believe or disbelieve, this you must commit to Christ himself, for it is not in the preacher’s power to save or condemn, but in the power of Christ alone. He is Lord over life and death, and may, therefore, grant it or withhold it from whomsoever he will.
71. However, Christ is not silent upon the point, to whom will he grant salvation. He says: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” And again: “He that disbelieveth shall be condemned.” Naught else can help or hinder; no difference of person or station avails; one being is as dear to him as another. Only that one believes and desires baptism, will avail to save. All who are disciples or hearers of this message must so learn.
72. Preachers and teachers must see to it that they preach and teach faithfully, and, as St. Paul says, shrink not from declaring the whole counsel of God, Acts 20, 27, that the hearers may know what God demands and has decreed concerning them. All the world has always desired, searched and sought to know this, but no one ever attained such knowledge, till it was revealed from heaven through Christ. It is embodied in this message. We should no longer seek nor expect any other revelation. Here it may be clearly perceived that the Gospel itself is witness that the Word of preaching and the sacraments are the means by which you may know God’s decree concerning yourself. If you believe the message, you shall be saved. But if you do not believe, then it is also decreed that you shall come under the judgment of condemnation, no matter how earnestly you may have sought, by your works and deeds, to obtain salvation. Though you had accomplished all the works and wonders
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of angels and men, it would be unavailing. The whole world is hereby divided into two classes, entirely separated from each other, the one for heaven and the other for hell. On the last day no other judgment shall be pronounced than that in accordance with this message, namely, the reward of belief or disbelief.
73. Therefore, we ought to thank God that we belong to those who shall be saved. For we are among those called God’s creatures, to whom he commands this message to be preached. And we are, also, thanks to God, baptized into Christ, and have preached and confessed him before the world as the Lord that is sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and is ruling over all the world. Our preaching, faith and confession is, indeed, pure and true; God grant that our lives be according to our faith and confession.
All this is said concerning the preaching of the Gospel, which Gospel Christ commanded to be proclaimed in the whole world after his ascension into heaven. Now follows the last part, namely:
“And these signs shall accompany them that believe.”
74. Here the sectarians have brooded over the question of signs, vainly asking why they do not accompany our preaching and whether they no longer can be expected. It is enough to know, that these signs followed as a testimony to, and public confirmation of, this Gospel message. They were especially necessary in the beginning, to further the spread of the Gospel. But with the preaching of the Word in all lands and tongues accomplished, their prevalence became less frequent, and their testimony less necessary.
75. Yet it is true that the same power and efficacy of Christ remains in Christendom. If it were necessary, such signs could even now be performed. It often took place, and still does, that devils were cast out in Christ’s name; likewise the sick are healed by prayer in his name, and many receive help in great distress of both body and soul. The Gospel is now being preached in new tongues, where it was unknown before. Signs are given to all Christendom, as Christ says–to those who believe. True, we do not always
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observe this gift in every Christian believer, and even the apostles did not do these wonders with equal power.
76. These signs are inferior and very insignificant in comparison with the really great wonders that Christ unceasingly works in the world through his divine omnipotence. He makes frequent allusions to them. These are truly great wonders: That Christendom is defended and preserved on earth; that God’s Word and faith, or even a single Christian believer, remains on earth in spite of the devil and his angels; that he protects us against so many tyrants and sects, so many false and unthankful people among the Christians, yea, even against our own flesh and blood–all of them raging against Christ’s kingdom. Yet the devil, with all his power and the help of all his servants, will never be able–though he has attempted to do so in his great wrath and still attempts it through the pope, the Turk and all his hosts–to remove the baptismal font from the church, the Gospel from the pulpit, to extirpate Christ’s name or destroy from out his kingdom in the world the little flock that clings to him. This great wonder, the power of Christ, is prophesied of and to it praise is given, in Ps 110, 2: “Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies,” who are indeed so wroth and bitter that, if they could, in one moment, they would pervert and overthrow all that lives and moves in Christendom. And yet, one single Christian believer, by his preaching and prayer, can be the means of salvation to uncounted multitudes. In spite of Satan’s hatred and desire to hinder, many people hear the Gospel, receive baptism and become teachers of the faith; and through the influence of the Gospel, the sacredness of home and country are preserved.
77. This good work may well be called by believing Christians, casting out devils, taking up serpents and speaking with new tongues. Those visible wonders were only signs to the ignorant unbelievers, as Paul says in 1 Cor 14, 22, and for the purpose of bringing them to Christ. But why should we, who know this and believe the Gospel, need such signs? And if they were necessary, we can easily believe they were done, We see that through Christ greater wonders are
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done among us; the power of Satan and the terrors of sin and death are overcome in our hearts, and many Christians, both young and old, cheerfully die in Christ and by their faith tread Satan under foot. The marvelous power of Christ’s kingdom is constantly the theme of St. Paul and the other apostles, and Christ himself lauds it above all other signs and wonders in Lk 10, 19-20, saying: “Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall in any wise hurt you,” etc. “Nevertheless in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” etc.
78. Thus, even in our day, are great signs and wonders upon wonders. Here is an example: In a great city a little flock of Christians is kept in the knowledge of God and in true faith, notwithstanding that more than a hundred thousand devils are turned loose upon them and the world is filled with sects, with scoundrels and tyrants. In spite of the opposition of all these, the Gospel, baptism, Lord’s Supper and confession of Christ are still preserved. We can see that, for the heathen, outward, tangible signs were necessary. Christians, however, behold spiritual signs, in comparison with which the former ones are but earthly. We need, therefore, not wonder that they are no longer in evidence now that the Gospel reigns throughout the world and among those who aforetime could not comprehend God until he had brought them into the fold by visible signs, as little children are persuaded with apples and pears.
79. Moreover, we should marvel at and extol the great and glorious miracles that Christ is daily accomplishing in his Christendom, wherein Christians conquer the power of the devil and snatch so many souls from the jaws of death and hell. Against their work the devil daily battles in the world and fumes in his awful wrath and rancor. Yet he must flee from the Christian. What though he be cast out of one poor heart, in which he has raged? The whole world still remains helpless in his power unless it is brought to the knowledge of Christ. But wherever a Christian, in spite of the
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terrors of sin, death and hell, with cheerful heart dies in Christ, there Satan has been truly cast out from his dwelling-place, and deprived of his power and kingdom.
80. The wicked world shall not see nor heed such signs and wonders, but with open eyes and hardened hearts shall pass by and blaspheme them, just as it always despises God’s works, blaspheming even the public and indisputable miracles of Christ and the apostles. The world would but the more despise such signs, were they done by us. God must withhold them, since the Gospel is now revealed everywhere, giving the world only those other signs, by which it is offended and therefore is overthrown and destroyed by the power of God. The Jews so fared when they despised the signs by which Christ manifested his proffered help and blessings. They looked for and demanded other signs. Then he refrained and would give them no other sign than the sign of Jonah, lying, after his crucifixion, for three days in the grave in weakness and death. Afterward he came forth from death and the grave, demonstrating his power by his resurrection and ascension. Now he mightily rules over all the world, and will overthrow and destroy it, together with all its power and glory.