As I was reading the sermons in Luther’s Church Postils for my book, Praying the Gospels with Martin Luther, I came across some eye-opening messages that impacted my theology. They have given me freedom to think for myself when discerning God’s will in my life. For a list of Luther’s more famous short quotes, go to this page .
I often wonder why I was never taught the following things in my religious training, formal or informal. That’s why I lay them out here for you to use or to discard as you are led to do so. (All underlinings are mine and help you to identify the point of the passage more readily. When Luther refers to the Pope and councils, I interpret it as the “institutional church,” not as an indictment against Roman Catholicism.)
Quotes on Love as the filter by which we bind and loose former teachings:
Matthew 22:34-46 from volume V:170-195 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI, 1983).
11. We are also to notice here that all the works of the law are not commanded merely for the purpose that we simply just perform them; no, no; for if God had given even more commandments, he would not want us to keep them to the injury and destruction of love. Yea, if these commandments oppose the love of our neighbor, he wants us to renounce and annul them. (pp. 174-5)
13. Therefore, when the law impels one against love, it ceases and should no longer be a law; but where no obstacle is in the way, the keeping of the law is a proof of love, which lies hidden in the heart. Therefore ye have need of the law, that love may be manifested; but if it cannot be kept without injury to our neighbor, God wants us to suspend and ignore the law. (p. 175)
17. … From this you are to conclude, all works are nothing that do not originate in love or are against love. No commandments should be in force, except those in which the law of love can be exercised. (p. 176)
20. [Christ] teaches them what the law is, namely: that love is the law. (p. 177)
Luke 14:1-11 from volume V:159-168 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI, 1983).
8. Therefore we conclude that all law, divine and human, treating of outward conduct, should not bind any further than love goes. Love is to be the interpreter of law. Where there is no love, these things are meaningless, and law begins to do harm… This is in brief spoken of divine and human laws. The reason for enacting all laws and ordinances is only to establish love, as Paul says, Rom. 13:10: “Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.” (p. 161)
9. Since then all law exists to promote love, law must soon cease where it is in conflict with love. Therefore, everything depends upon a good leader or ruler to direct and interpret the law in accordance with love. (p. 161)
10. And thus we should apply every law, even as love suggests, that it be executed where it is helpful to a fellow-man, and dispensed with where it does harm. (p. 162)
17. As Christ here treats of the law relating to the Sabbath and makes it subserve the needs of man, so we should treat laws of that kind and keep them only so far as they accord with love. If laws do not serve love, they may be annulled at once, be they God’s or man’s commands. (p. 164-5)
20. If you are a Christian you have power to dispense with all commandments so far as they hinder you in the practice of love. (p. 165)
28. The sum of this Gospel then is: Love and necessity control all law; and there should be no law that cannot be enforced and applied in love. If it cannot, then let it be done away with, even though an angel from heaven had promulgated it. (p. 165)
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“All other laws must and ought to be measured by faith and love. That is to say, the other laws are to be kept where their observance does not conflict with faith and love; but where they conflict with faith and love, they should be done away entirely… Faith and love are always to be mistresses of the law and to have all laws in their power. For since all laws aim at faith and love, none of them can be valid, or be a law, if it conflicts with faith and love.” Martin Luther (Preface to the Old Testament)
John 14:23-31, volume III:273–287 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids,MI).
14. … You see very clearly that the Holy Spirit’s office is not to write books nor to make laws, but freely to abrogate them; and that he is a God who writes only in the heart, who makes it burn, and creates new courage, so that man grows happy before God, filled with love toward him, and with a happy heart serves the people. When the office of the Holy Spirit is thus represented, it is rightly preached … when he comes in this manner he abolishes the letter of the Law and desires to liberate the people from their sins and from the Law; the latter is no more needed, for he, himself, rules inwardly in the heart. (p. 278)
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Matthew 7:15-23, volume IV:234-290 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI, 1983).
1. As the Lord in the three previous chapters, the 5th, 6th, and 7th, explains the commandments of God, he finally concludes with these words, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should to you, do ye even so to them,” v. 12. This is a Christian doctrine, and the sum and total of Christianity. Immediately follows this Gospel lesson, in which the Lord exercises the office of a good shepherd and teacher, and warns us to beware of false prophets. As though he would say, Now you have heard the truth, from henceforth therefore beware of other doctrines. For it is certain that false teachers and false prophets will arise wherever this Word is preached. (second sermon, p. 238)
3. We should well consider this passage, for Christ our Lord here commands and gives all Christians the power to be judges of all doctrine, and he gives them power to judge what is right and what is not right. It is now well on a thousand years that this passage has been perverted by false Christians, so that we have had no power to judge, but had to accept what the Pope and the councils determined, without any judgment of our own. (second sermon, p. 238)
8. Then they began to say: Yes, but how can we know what is God’s Word, and what is right or wrong? This [they say] we must learn from the Pope and the councils. Very well then, let them conclude and say what they please, yet I will reply, you cannot put your confidence in that nor thus satisfy your conscience, for you must determine this matter yourself, for your very life depends upon it. Therefore God must speak to your heart: This is God’s Word; otherwise you are undecided. (p. 239)
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Matthew 22:15-22, volume V:294-306 and V:307-325 of The Sermons of Martin Luther,
published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI, 1983).
12. I have often said that God acts toward man even as man is disposed; as thou thinkest and believeth concerning him, such he is to thee…If our hearts picture him as gracious or angry, pleasant or harsh, we have him that way. God is not to be mocked. Those who regard him as angry toward them will find him so; but whoever can say: I know that he will be a gracious father to me and forgive my sins, they will have that experience with him. There must, however, be no hypocrisy, no dissembling, as if the lips should say one thing and the heart thinks the opposite. (second sermon, p. 313)
20. … If, for example, Herod, Pilate, Caiaphas and Hanes preached the Gospel, I should have to accept it. And, on the other hand, if those who are considered saints arose and preached lies, about regulations, hoods and gowns, tonsures, ceremonies and other inventions of man, I ought not to accept them. For in such cases not the persons are to be considered, but that which they preach. (first sermon, p. 303)
23… we teach that Christians must suffer wrong, if needs be, and leave vengeance to God. They are to be what the Scriptures call them in Ps. 4:22, “sheep for the slaughter,” who may expect death every hour of the day. (second sermon, p. 318) and #38… Christ does not do, as the Pope teaches that one should hit back, nor does he allow anyone to avenge himself, neither the employer nor his employee; the infliction of punishment and judgment he reserves for himself as the highest Lord and God. “Vengeance is mine,” saith God, Deut. 32:35. (second sermon, p. 323)
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From Matthew 22:34-46, volume V:170-195 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI, 1983).
4. Therefore it is wrong and not to be allowed, as some in ancient times said and as some stupid spirits now say: Although you do not keep the commandment, and do not love God and your neighbor, yea, although you are even an adulterer, that makes no difference, if you only believe, then you will be saved. No, dear mortal, that amounts to
nothing; you will never thus gain heaven; it must come to the point that you keep the commandments, and abide in love toward God and your neighbor. (second sermon, p.
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56. But know that to serve God is nothing else than to serve your neighbor and do good to him in love, be it a child, wife, servant, enemy, friend … O, Lord God, how do we fools live in this world, neglecting to do such works, though in all parts of the world we find the needy, on whom we could bestow our good works; but no one looks after them nor cares for them. But look to your own life. If you do not find yourself among the needy and the poor, where the Gospel shows us Christ, then you may know that your faith is not right, and that you have not yet tasted of Christ’s benevolence and work for you. Vol. 1:111
83. And love, which naturally follows faith, is divided into two parts: it loves God, who does so much for her through Christ in faith; it loves its neighbor, and does to him as God does to her. Therefore, all the works of such a man go to his neighbor for God’s sake who loved him, and he does no work relating to God except to love and to praise, and he confesses this freely before the world. For God does not need other works. Vol. 5:101.
19. Christians are now free from the curse and the tyranny of the Law, and may keep the Law or not, according as they see that the love and need of their neighbor requires. Vol. 3:381
35. So we are to give heed to do everything in behalf of our neighbor, and ever to be mindful, that Christ has done this and that for me; why should I not also for his sake freely do all for my neighbor? And see to it that all the works you do, are directed not to God, but to your neighbor. Whoever is a ruler, a prince, a mayor, a judge, let him not think that he is a ruler to gain heaven thereby or to seek his own advantage; but to serve the public. And so with other works, I assume to do for the good of my neighbor…
36. Thus then you have finely portrayed in this Gospel, as in almost all the Gospel lessons these two thoughts, faith and love. Through faith we belong above to God: through love below to our neighbor. Vol. 2:377
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