It belongs in common to all Christians that they preserve the doctrine and their faith, but especially they which carry out the preaching office, that each in his particular station can stand up for it and answer useless talkers. “Do you not hear that God has applied this station to me, and commanded me faithfully to wait upon it, and threatens me with His wrath if I were to leave it undone, and do something else?” That is not only to remain firm in his own station, unhindered and undefeated, but instead also to beat, reject, and refute with the Word of God whatever hinders us and wants to draw us back. St. Paul shortly before this text teaches how this is to be done through all stations—man, woman, young, old, lords, servants, maids, etc. For it is determined that each Christian, in whatever station he is in, must always stand in the midst of struggle, where the devil attacks and storms against him with his promptings, with false, evil thoughts, or through evil, useless talkers, which would incite him to leave his station, not to mention what our own flesh does. Therefore it is not enough that we keep our own castle safe…rather also, that we drive the devil away and beat him back through God’s Word, which is our sword, as we shall hear.
- For this an Armor is Required.
PUT ON THE ARMOR OF GOD.
That we should be strong and have such power with us wherewith we can beat the foe, he now wants to interpret himself and clarify how and through what we must do this, or what our armament and weapons should be. And he first calls us to buckle on armor, as people of war who are armed for a fight, and who will put up stiff resistance. But he indicates not the kind of armor which one uses here on earth to protect the body, but instead that which is called “the armor of God.” That is a curious kind of armor. Where would we get it, or where is the armorer who can forge such armor? Well then, he will hereafter name what it is and explain, one after another, the things that belong to this armor of God.
- And indeed an Armor of God.
But here he is still talking generally. This armor must be an armor not of a man, but instead of God Himself. Here on earth one finds no armorer who can forge armor that will work against the devil. Here then there exists no human strength, power, nor wisdom and understanding that will work against this foe. He can turn everything into powder and ashes simply by blowing on you with his breath. Therefore, because you are a different kind of warrior, he wants to say, and because you have another kind of foe against you, so you must also have another kind of armor than the world has or can make.
- For the Matter over Which we Must Fight is of God.
But he also therefore calls it the armor of God, to indicate what the matter is over which we are fighting, namely, that the war belongs to God Himself. And we are His warriors. Since we fight for Him and His cause, we must also use His armor, with which He makes war. As if he should say, “You have a Lord, who is the foe of the devil. His is the crown and the Godhead. Therefore if you want to have Him for your Lord, and you want to hold with Him and become a partaker of His good things, then you must also have His foes against you, and you must go to war and struggle against them.” Everyone who wants to be under a lord must also march under his banner, and have his enemies for enemies. Since now the devil is God’s enemy, and wants to destroy His Kingdom, you should not think that you will be secure from him. Instead arm yourself for war, and indeed even with the armor with which He Himself makes war through His Christendom. So He wants with this to give us courage, because we in the world and through our whole life must stand in struggle and controversy, and suffer that all will bluster and storm against us. He wants us to know that these things do not happen on account of ourselves, but rather by God’s will. And our struggle is not ours, but rather belongs to God Himself. He wants to encourage us that we stand in His service, and much more to comfort us that He will not leave us, but instead will most faithfully stand by us and help. He wants us to be encouraged that we are not working in vain, but rather that He, powerfully working through us, will be victorious.
- Because God wants to take honor from the proud devil through weak people.
For He is man enough for the devil, and could easily fight the devil with a finger, yea, with a Word, and could restrain all his ranting and raging. Still He wants to use us for this purpose, and play a trick on the proud, wrathful spirit, that he puts against him and taunts him by one such poor, weak vessel, which stands against him as a little spark against a strong wind, that he might blow us out with a breath. Still he wants to beat him through such weak vessels, and through us to take honor from such a proud, mighty foe, that He might make known His divine power in our weakness. This [angers?] the devil, that God taunts him with such frail junk, and he attacks us wrathfully and ferociously, and would in a flash smash us like a heap of pottery. Therefore we must be armed against him, and also have an armor wherewith we can defend ourselves. This armor is not ours, but rather alien, namely God’s power and might, so that we might not glory in ourselves, nor give up within ourselves, as we would if we tried to stand with our own might against this foe.
- The Great Cunning of Satan.
THAT YOU CAN STAND AGAINST THE CRAFTY ATTEMPTS OF THE DEVIL.
Here he begins now to paint and show what kind of foe we have, and how he prepares himself to make war and to attack us. He reveals to us his works and arts wherewith he pursues us. He says this, and will say further, so that we will therefore protect ourselves and well arm ourselves with the armor of God. But he calls his conflict and war arts “crafty attempts” to show that the devil is such a foe who is not only mightier than we (as he soon hereafter will say), but rather also very tricky, and wicked. He sets up all his attacks with cunning and trickiness. He does not attack us openly and freely under our eyes, like a foe from whom we can protect ourselves, and see where he would break in. Rather he creeps up on us and looks where he may secretly and treacherously take us captive, where we least expect it. So you need not worry that he will attack you where he sees you armed, where you yourself expect him and have grasped the sword. Rather, look where you are run down and undefended. There he can find a hole, where he creep up to you, that he may suddenly and unforeseen catch and fell you.
The Gospel is spoken to those only who acknowledge their sins, and their sins they acknowledge when they repent of them. But this Gospel is of no use to the Pharisees, for they do not acknowledge their sins. To those, however, who do acknowledge them, and are about to despair, the Gospel must be brought…
Therefore, when you feel your sins gnawing at you, and feel your heart trembling and agitated, place yourself beside the publicans where they are standing. These are the very ones who shall receive the Gospel. Do so joyously, and say: “Oh God! It is thy word that says there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine righteous persons, who need no repentance, and that all the righteous and angels are to interpose and cover up sins. Now, Oh, God! I have come to this that I feel my sins. I am already judged. I need but the one Shepherd who seeketh me; and I will therefore freely venture on thy Gospel.”
It is thus that you come to God. You are already the sheep placed upon his shoulders. You have found the Shepherd. You are the piece of silver in the hand. You are the one over whom is joy in heaven in the presence of all the angels. We are not to worry, if we do not experience or feel this at once. Sin will daily decrease, and its sting will drive you to seek God. You must struggle against this feeling by faith, and say: “Oh God! I know thou hast said this, and I lean upon thy Word. I am the sheep and the piece of silver; thou the shepherd and the woman.”
You might say: Yes, this I will gladly do; but I cannot atone for my sins. I can render no satisfaction for them. Consider then the publicans and sinners. What good have they done? None. They came to God, heard his Word and believed it. Do the same.
You have often heard that it is our duty, for love’s sake, to serve our neighbor in all things. If he is poor, we are to serve him with our goods; if he is in disgrace, we are to cover him with the mantle of our honor; if he is a sinner, we are to adorn him with our righteousness and piety. That is what Christ did for us. Phil. 2. He who was so exceedingly rich did, for our sake, empty himself and become poor. He served us with his goods, that we in our poverty might become rich. He was made to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
Now, the outward works of love are very great, as when we place our goods in the service of another. But the greatest is this, that I surrender my own righteousness and make it serve for the sins of my neighbor…This means that I must love the sinner and be his friend, must be hostile to his vices and earnestly rebuke them, yet that I must love him with all my heart so as to cover his sins with my righteousness…
In short, such and enemy of my neighbor am I to be that I cannot let him suffer. So dearly must I love him that I shall even run after him, and shall become like the shepherd that seeks the lost sheep, like the woman that seeks the lost piece of silver…
A truly Christian work is it that we descend and get mixed up in the mire of the sinner as deeply as he sticks there himself, taking his sin upon ourselves and floundering out of it with him, not acting otherwise than as if his sin were our own. We should rebuke and deal with him in earnest; yet we are not to despise but sincerely to love him. If you are proud toward the sinner and despise him, you are utterly damned…
Moses acted thus when the Israelites worshipped the molten calf. He mingled freely with the people in their sins. Yet he punished them severely, and caused three thousand men to be slain from gate to gate. Ex. 32. After that he went up and bowed down before God, and prayed that he would forgive the people their sin, or blot him out of the Book of Life. Behold, here we have a man who knew that God loved him and had written his name in the book of the blessed; and yet he says: “Lord, I would rather that thou shouldest damn me and save the people.”
Paul, too, acted thus. At times he rebuked the Jews severely, calling them dogs and other names. Yet he knelt down and said: “I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren’s sake.” Rom. 9:3. It is as if he had said: “I would willingly be anathema, if only the mass of the people might be helped…”
Such should be your bearing toward sinners; inwardly the heart in service, outwardly the tongue in earnest.
Martin Luther, “Third Sunday after Trinity” in Lenker Vol. 2, pp. 57-66.
It would be very much in order were we to employ such arrogance when addressing the devil and say, I have God’s Word and I know that with it I have accomplished much good–some I have instructed, others I have admonished, here I have helped some with charitable gifts; I know these to be good works in spite of the devil’s slander. I say, we may boast before the devil, because we have received nothing from him. But toward God, from whom we have everything, we may not boast; rather we must humble ourselves.
Luther, House Postil, Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (first sermon, part 11)
[I may have posted this before, but it’s worth reading again:]
31. However, if you have in your house a spook or ghost, who pretends that the departed can be helped by saying masses, You should be fully persuaded that it is the work of Satan. No soul has yet since the beginning of the world reappeared on the earth, and it is not God’s will that it should be so. For here in this Gospel you see that Abraham declares that no one can be sent from the dead to teach the living; but he points them to the Word of God in the Scriptures, Deut. 31: ”They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” By these words Abraham turns to the command of God in Deut. 18:11, where God says: ”Thou shalt not be a consulter with a familiar spirit.” Is. 8:19. Therefore it is surely nothing but the contrivance of Satan that any spirits should let themselves be entreated and that they should require so and so many masses, such and such pilgrimages or other works, and appear afterwards in the clear light and pretend that certain persons are saved. In this way Satan has introduced error so that the people have fallen from faith into works, and think their deeds may accomplish such great things. And thus is fulfilled what St. Paul declared in 2 Thess. 2:10-11, that God would send upon them powerful error, and temptation to unrighteousness, because they have not received the love of the truth that they might be saved.
32. Therefore be prudent and know that God will not let us know how it is with the dead, so that faith may retain its place in the Word of God, which believes that God will save the believers after this life and condemn the unbelievers. If now a familiar spirit present itself before you, take no notice of it; but be assured that it is the devil, and conquer him with this Saying of Abraham, ”They have Moses and the prophets,” and likewise with the command in Moses, ”Thou shalt not be a consulter with a familiar spirit;” then he will soon be gone. If he leave you not, then let him make a noise until he is tired, and in firm faith suffer his wantonness.
33. And if it were possible that it were indeed a departed soul or a good spirit even, then you should neither learn nor inquire anything of him, since God has forbidden you to do so; because he has sent his Son himself to teach us all that is necessary for us to know. What he has not taught us, that we should gladly not wish to know, and be satisfied with the teachings of the holy Apostles, in which he is preached to us. However, I have further written on this subject in the Postils on the Gospel for Epiphany and in my booklet on the Misuse of the Mass; where you may read more along this line.
34. Likewise, to give an example, we read in the Historia Tripartita (A History in Three Parts) of a bishop, who came to Corinth where he had come to attend a Council, and as he could not find a suitable lodging for himself and his attendants, he saw a house unoccupied and condemned as uninhabitable, and he asked if he might not be allowed to occupy it. Then they told him in reply that it was infested with nightly ghosts, that no one could live in it, and often people were found dead in it in the morning. Then the bishop said but little and immediately entered and lodged there the same night, for he very well saw that the devil was the author of all these ghost stories, and as he had firm faith that Christ was Lord over Satan, therefore he was not moved by his stratagems and he entered to lodge with him. And thus that house was made free by the prayers and presence of a holy man from infesting ghosts and horrifying spectres. Behold, you see that the ghosts are Satan, and there is little use to dispute with them; but one should despise them with a cheerful spirit as nothing.
28. The fourth question is: Shall we pray for the dead; since here in the Gospel there is no intermediate state between Abraham’s bosom and hell, and those in Abraham’s bosom do not need it, and it does not help those in perdition. We have no command from God to pray for the dead; therefore no one sins by not praying for them; for what God does not bid or forbid us to do, in that no one can sin. Yet, on the other hand, since God has not permitted us to know, how it is with the souls of the departed and we must continue uninformed, as to how he deals with them, we will not and cannot restrain them, nor count it as sin, if they pray for the dead. For we are ever certain from the Gospel, that many have been raised from the dead, who, we must confess, did not receive nor did they have their final sentence; and likewise we are not assured of any other, that he has his final sentence.
29. Now since it is uncertain and no one knows, whether final judgment has been passed upon these souls, it is not sin if you pray for them; but in this way, that you let it rest in uncertainty and speak thus: Dear God, if the departed souls be in a state that they may yet be helped, then I pray that thou wouldst be gracious. And when you have thus prayed once or twice, then let it be sufficient and commend them unto God. For God has promised that when we pray to him for anything he would hear us. Therefore when you have prayed once or twice, you should believe that your prayer is answered, and there let it rest, lest you tempt God and mistrust him.
30. But that we should institute masses, vigils and prayers to be repeated forever for the dead every year, as if God had not heard us the year before, is the work of Satan and is death itself, where God is mocked by unbelief, and such prayers are nothing but blasphemy of God. Therefore take warning and turn from these practices. God is not moved by these anniversary ceremonies, but by the prayer of the heart, of devotion and of faith; that will help the departed souls if anything will. Vigils, masses, indeed help the bellies of the priests, monks and nuns, but departed souls are not helped by them and God is thus mocked.
14. Hence, people have here an example where they are to seek their comfort and help, not in the world; they are not to guard the wisdom and power of men, but Christ himself and him alone; they are to cleave to him and depend on him in every need with all faithfulness and confidence as the disciples do in our text. For had they not believed that he would help them, they would not have awakened him and called upon him. True their faith was weak and was mingled with much unbelief, so that they did not perfectly and freely surrender themselves to Christ and risk their life with him, nor did they believe he could rescue them in the midst of the sea and save them from death. Thus it is ordained that the Word of God has no master nor judge, no protector or patron can be given it besides God himself. It is his Word. Therefore, as he left it go forth without any merit or counsel of men, so will he himself without any human help and strength administer and defend it. And whoever seeks protection and comfort in these things among men, will both fall and fail, and be forsaken by both God and man.
15. That Jesus slept indicates the condition of their hearts, namely, that they had a weak, sleepy faith, but especially that at the time of persecution Christ withdraws and acts as though he were asleep, and gives neither strength nor power, neither peace nor rest, but lets us worry and labor in our weakness, and permits us to experience that we are nothing at all and that all depends upon his grace and power, as Paul confesses in 2 Cor 1, 9, that he had to suffer great affliction, so as to learn to trust not in himself but in God, who raised the dead. Such a sleeping on the part of God David often experienced and refers to it in many places, as when he says in Ps 44,23: ”Awake, why sleepest thou, 0 Lord? Arise, cast us not off forever.”
16. The summary of this Gospel is this, it gives us two comforting, defying proverbs, that when persecution for the sake of God’s Word arises, we may say: I indeed thought Christ was in the ship, therefore the sea and wind rage, and the waves dash over us and threaten to sink us; but let them rage, it is ordained that the wind and sea obey his will. The persecutions will not continue longer than is his pleasure; and although they overwhelm us, yet they must be subject to him; he is Lord over all, therefore nothing will harm us. May he only give us his help that we may not despair in unbelief. Amen.
17. That the people marveled and praised the Lord that the wind and sea were subject to him, signifies that the Gospel, God’s Word, spreads farther through persecution, it thus becomes stronger and faith increases; and this is also a paradoxical characteristic of the Gospel compared with all worldly things which decrease through every misfortune and opposition, and increase through prosperity and peace. Christ’s kingdom grows through tribulations and declines in times of peace, ease and luxury, as St. Paul says in 2 Cor 12, 9: ”My power is made perfect in weakness, etc.” To this end help us God! Amen.
from the Church Postil (Sermon on the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany)