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Luther: Epiphany Teaches “Faith Alone”


epiphany3From Luther’s Sermon on Epiphany in the Church Postil:

…Christ says, John 6, 44: ”No man can come to me, except the Father that hath sent me draw him.” By this all boasting of human reason is condemned, since it cannot guide aright and all who follow it must go astray. So strongly does God everywhere resist our natural haughtiness and will, that we may know we are blind, despair of our own light, put ourselves into his hands and be led by him into the ways which reason cannot know nor follow.

 

Of The Faith Of The Wise Men.

93. The wise men here teach us the true faith. After they heard the sermon and the word of the prophet they were not slow to believe, in spite of obstacles and difficulties. First they came to Jerusalem, the capital, and did not find him, the star also disappearing. Do you not think they would have said within themselves, if they had followed human reason alone: Alas, we have traveled so far in vain, the star has misled us, it was a phantom. If a king were born he should of course be found in the capital and lie in the royal chamber. But when we arrived the star disappeared and no one knew anything about him. We strangers are the first to speak of him in his own country and royal city! Indeed, it must be all, false!

 

94. Besides, his own people are troubled and do not care to hear of him, and direct us from the royal city to a little village. Who knows what we shall find? The people act so coldly and strangely, no one accompanies us to show us the child; they do not believe themselves that a king is born to them, and we come from afar and expect to find him. 0 how odd and unusual everything appears at the birth of a king! If a young pup were born, there would be a little noise. A king is born here, and there is no stir. Should not the people sing and dance, light candles and torches and pave the streets with branches and roses? 0 the poor king whom we seek! Fools we are to permit ourselves to be deceived so shamefully.

 

95. Having been flesh and blood, doubtless they were not free from such thoughts and views, and they had to battle for their faith…

 

96. Reason and nature never proceed any farther than they can see and feel. When they cease to feel they at once deny God’s existence and say as Ps. 14, 1 says. ”There is no God,” therefore the devil must be here. This is the light of the universities which is to lead men to God, but rather leads to the abyss of hell. The light of nature and the light of grace cannot be friends. Nature wants to feel and be certain before she believes, grace believes before she perceives. For this reason, nature does not go further than her own light. Grace joyfully steps out into the darkness, follows the mere word of Scripture, no matter how it appears. Whether nature holds it true or false, she clings to the Word.

 

97. For the sake of this very strife and struggle, by which the wise men accepted the word of the prophet and followed it into such wild, unnatural appearance of a royal birth, God comforted and strengthened them by this star which went before them more friendly than before. Now they see it near, it is their guide, and they have an assurance which needs no further question. Before it was far from them, and they were not certain where they would find the king.

 

98. So it is always with the Christian, after affliction has been endured God becomes more dear to him and is so near and so distinctly seen that man not only forgets anxiety and affliction, but has a desire for greater affliction. He gradually becomes so strong that he does not take offense at the insignificant, unattractive life of Christ. For now he experiences and realizes that to find Christ it must appear as though he found nothing but disgrace…

100. When the wise men had overcome their temptation and were born again by the great joy they were strong and took no offense at Christ, they had overcome in the trial. For although they enter a lowly hut and find a poor young wife with a poor little child, and find less of royal appearance than the homes of their own servants presented, they are not led astray. But in a great, strong, living faith they remove from their eyes and their minds whatever might attract and influence human nature with its pretense, follow the word of the prophet and the sign of the star in all simplicity, treat the child as a king, fall down before him, worship him, and offer gifts. This was a strong faith indeed, for it casts aside many things which impress human nature. Perhaps there were some people present who thought: What great fools are these men to worship such a poor child. They must indeed be in a trance to make of him a king.

 

101. This is the kernel of the Gospel, in which the nature and character of faith is explained as an assurance of things not seen. It clings alone to the words of God and follows the things that are not seen, as alone conveyed in the word of God, and looks askance at many things which urge it to disbelieve the Word. What nature calls playing the fool faith calls the true way. Nature may be wise and clever, faith remains nature’s fool and idiot, and thus comes to Christ and finds him. St. Paul’s words, I Cor. 1, 25 apply here: ”The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” For feeling and believing do not get together.

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