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SERMONS OF MARTIN LUTHER -
SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
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Text. Matthew 5:20-26. For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire. If therefore thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art with him in the way; lest haply the adversary deliver thee to the fudge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou have paid the last farthing.
THE EXPLANATION OF THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT.
Works by no means make a person pious. 1-3.
I. THE OCCASION GIVEN TO CHRIST FOR THIS EXPLANATION.
II. THE EXPLANATION ITSELF.
A. The first part. 5-7.
B. The second part. 8.
C. The third part. 9.
There is no person who can keep the fifth commandment. 5-10. How and why no one can be saved by his works. 11.
D. The fourth and fifth parts.
1. The sense and understanding of these parts. 12-14.
2. How and why God desires these parts to be observed. 14-15.
3. How the Papacy cared very little about them.
4. The motives why this part was added. 17f.
Works develop hypocrites, and the law develops despair.
18. How the conscience should act when terrified by the law. 19.
III. AN OBJECTION RAISED BY THIS INTERPRETATION AND THE ANSWER.
Concerning the civil sword.
1. Among what persons should the civil sword be exercised, and where not.
2. The way It is to be used is indicated: a . By examples. b. On the coat of arms and shield of the Elector of Saxony. (1) The first part of this coat of arms and shield. 23-24. (2) The second part. 25-27.
THE SUMMARY OF THIS GOSPEL:
1. The righteousness of God is through faith and that is the righteousness of the heart. The outward righteousness, however holy and beautiful it may appear, is hypocritical, deceptive righteousness.
2. The Lord wants a good tree, without Which the fruit can not be good.
3. It is a hypocritical, deceptive righteousness, if one does not commit murder with the hand, and yet at the same time cherishes anger in his heart; but the Christian righteousness requires that we be not angry. To do this we must constantly obtain from God grace and forgiveness, and confess ourselves to be sinners, which belongs to Christian righteousness.
4. It is not pleasing to God, if we be not reconciled to our brother. Here we all can learn, what the good works are that God esteems as great.
1. This Gospel teaches us the difference between true piety and dissimulation, or hypocrisy. And it is one of the best Gospels for teaching how our works cannot render us pious; something higher than anything we can do is re-required. For the Pharisees also led a pious life; they did what they should, externally; they did not break any of the commandments of God, abstained from property not their own, went about in fine showy clothes, and hence derived their name, being called Pharisees, meaning those set apart, or the select.
2. In like manner he also attacks the scribes, the flower of the Jews, who were so well versed in the law of God and the Scriptures as to teach other people, lay down rules for the community and render decisions in all matters. To sum up, we here have the best, the most learned and the most pious of the Jews. These Christ attacks, whom of all men he should least have attacked. But he says of them to his disciples: “Unless your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
3. As though he would say, Behold the Pharisees and scribes lead such a good life that both they and other people believe they will possess the kingdom; but they are wide of the mark. Therefore he reproves them and says: Verily, I say unto you, if you will not be more pious than the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter heaven. Here the question of those is disposed of who ask, What shall we do in order that we may be pious? For here all works that man can do are overthrown and disposed of, and the most holy of the sanctimonious are cast to the’ ground. Hence you cannot do any deed by means of which one may be saved and rescued from sin. If a man now says that, he surely is a heretic.
PART 1 THE OCCASION FOR THIS EXPLANATION.
4. They at that time might have said, Well, you are a heretic; ate you going to reject good deeds? He pays no attention to that, however, but freely concluded that their works are nought. They might now have said, Pray, if works do not make us holy, why have we the law through which we hope to be saved, if we live up to it? This now gives Christ an occasion to introduce the commandments, explaining them, telling us how they are to be understood. He says: “Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not kill and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shalt say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire.”
PART 2. THE EXPLANATION.
5. These words are too high and too deep for any one fully to put into practice. To this our Lord not only here testifies, but every man’s experience and his very emotions. Four points are here presented, to-wit:
Thoughts, demeanor, words and deeds; which no one can avoid; he must be guilty. As though he would say, You might find persons that do not kill with their hands; but to be without hatred, not to be angry, be of smiling countenance, not to snub persons — of such a nature none is to be found.
Now, experience teaches this.
6. For take a godly man or a godly woman; as long as everybody keeps his distance, peace and harmony prevail, but if one comes along that speaks harshly and possibly intrudes, even to the extent of the smallest word, he cannot keep from becoming angry; and follows this up by irritating and enraging the offender. Our reason can never come to the conclusion that we are to be considerate to the wicked. Peruse all your heathen books, enter into your own experience, and you will find it so, we cannot refrain from becoming angry, if not against our friends, then against our enemies.
Now God is not satisfied with this, nor can my flesh and blood evade the question, for mark the wording closely when he says, “Thou shalt not kill.”
Who is “thou?” Your hand? No. Your tongue? No; but thou, thou and all that is in thee and with thee; thine hand, heart, and thoughts shall not kill.
7. Thus Christ interprets the law saying with authority, “Every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment. “This sentence pertains to the whole world, for I ask, Who is there on this earth that is not a debtor to this commandment? Seeing that we are to comply with it and cannot, what are we to do? For we can never remove the filth. Then despair must be ours, depend on that. So the commandments of God are but a mirror, wherein we behold our filth and wickedness; for they conclude us all under sin, we being unable to work our way out by our own efforts and free will; unless something else comes to our assistance.
This is the first point.
8. The Lord continues: “Whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca,” which indicates various manifestations of wrath and hatred. But no one is free from this. For if I am told to be friendly to the person I hate, they can tell it on me that my heart is not in it. For you cannot confine the heart; it will out, and show its presence by signs or words. It does not hide itself, and it cannot be hidden. Hence we conclude that we are found guilty of saying Raca, that is, of not being kind to both friend and foe. Now go to past experiences and see this in other people and in yourselves, namely, that no one can deliver himself out of this condition, from this wicked heart, which is planted so deeply in the nature of man. You may act friendly toward your brother; but for you to give him your heart, this you cannot do though you should rend yourself to pieces. Therefore no man can here help himself.
9. Following this he says, “Whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire.” This too makes you appear as nought, without the grace of God, for nobody is so fraught with loving-kindness as never to utter an unseemly word, if not to his friends then to his enemies. Even when you are compelled to speak kindly to your neighbor, your heart is not in it, and whenever you with seeming propriety can do so, you will say, “Thou fool.” That already is contrary to this commandment, embracing, as it does, both friend and foe, since it reads, “Thy brother. “We all, you know, are brethren, descended from one common father, and Scripture brings us so closely together as to call us all one flesh. Isaiah says, 58:7, “When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh. “Here the prophet is speaking of your neighbor; and the word “fool” is to embrace all manner of infamy, cursing, slandering, abuse, judging, maligning and all reviling.
10. It clearly follows that we all are guilty of the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill,” and whoever is not born again of God cannot abstain from murder. Though he desist from the act itself, he cannot banish thoughts and inclinations, for if our enemy meet with death, we will be ready to say, This served him right! And soldiers compose a song on the enemy they have slain or put to flight. But that again conflicts with this commandment, for God does not look at the outward act, but at the heart. Hence much is contained in the words: “Thou shalt not kill,” as much as to say: You must be born again and become a new creature.
11. So the Gospel always reverts to this question, What shall a man do that he may become pious? For, pray as long as you will; fast as long as you will; give alms as long as you will; pay for masses and build churches as many as you will; you are, nevertheless, still a murderer, for you hate your brother; you cannot give him a kind look nor a kind word. It follows that your righteousness is nought; it is of and pertains to perdition.
And now we have two more points that are about as severe as the preceding. We read: “If therefore thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there remeberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art with him in the way; lest haply the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and thou be cast into prison.
Verily, I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou have paid the last farthing.”
12. Here are two things that go against our nature. The first: When I am angry, my brother is to conciliate me. The other: My feelings being hurt, I am to forgive my brother, though he offer no apology; I am to have a kind heart toward him, so he does not deliver me to the judge, as you have just heard. This last part they formerly severed from this Gospel, and I hold that Augustine did so in writing, as appears from his book, “De spiritu et litera. “ The sense of the passage is as follows: 13. Here are two persons: the one offending is to ask pardon. The other being offended, is to forgive kindly and willingly, even though he be not asked to do so. By nature we can do neither. Our nature may prompt us to go and say, My dear friend, forgive me! but doing this under compulsion, in fear of hell and God’s wrath, hatred still remains in our heart. On the other hand, the one offended cannot forgive from his heart; and as the one acts the hypocrite in asking forgiveness, so does the other in granting it.
But that certainly is of no avail before God, for thus says our text: “If therefore thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. And this reconciliation must proceed from the heart; mark well the words of the text.
14. The passage conveys the meaning that God does not want you to come and serve him without having previously been reconciled with your brother; “then come and offer thy gift.” As though he said: “Behold, man, I have created and redeemed thee; recognize this, and shape thine whole life toward serving thy neighbor. If not, do not serve me either. If thou wilt not do the one (serve thy neighbor), seeing that is needed, you had better not do the other (serve me), since that is not needed. “So God would much rather be deprived of his service than of the service you owe your neighbor, and would sooner see you less stringent in your service toward himself, if you are pious at the expense of serving your neighbor. Summing up, God wishes you to see first to your neighbor’s service and interests.
15. Now, there are many ways of harming our neighbor, as for instance, when I do not protect his reputation, being well able to do so; when I am not kind to him, or fail to aid him; I am already his antagonist. So, if I want to be agreeable to God, I must, in the first place, be reconciled to my brother; if not, I cannot be pleasing to him. For God rejects the service rendered him, if the service due our neighbor is not performed.
16. Now look at the kind of life we have led hitherto. We have been going to St. James, to Aix-la-Chapelle, to Rome, to Jerusalem, have built churches, paid for masses, and withal have forgotten our neighbor; this now is the wrong side up. The Lord, however, here says, Go and take the money with which you were about to build a church and give it to thy neighbor. Look to your neighbor how you may serve him. It is not a matter of moment to God if you never build him a church, as long as you are of service to your neighbor. But all this is now being neglected, and only the contrary is observed. Oh, the miserable, perverted life that we have learned from the Papists! This is why no one wants to enter the married state, for nobody lends him a helping hand, nobody offers him any aid, so that he might support himself and get along. Hence it comes to pass that the one turns monk, the other nun, the third a priest, a thing we could indeed obviate if we would but show works of love. Thus they go along, forgetful of maidservants and manservants, and finally bequeath a legacy and go to perdition with their legacy.
17. It follows that God simply wants you to serve your neighbor, doing your duty to him, so that matters are righted first of all between yourself and him and you be first reconciled to him; or God will neither see nor hear you. Furthermore, if my adversary come to me, I am to forgive him willingly; if he does not come, I am still to be conciliatory and kind to him, while I am on the way with him, in this life, so that he does not deliver me to the judge.
18. How does that come about? He does not take me by the hand and conduct me to the judge; but when I face judgment my conscience realizes that it had been unwilling to forgive the neighbor, entertaining secret but inveterate hate even then. My conscience over against my neighbor delivers me to the judge; he delivers me to the officer; and he, in turn, casts me into prison, that is to say, into hellfire, until I pay the uttermost farthing, which means forever; for there the liquidation of the debt and deliverance are impossible. Here you see the exalted works that no one can attain, neither by work righteousness nor by the law. For works, if alone, will make hypocrites and dissemblers; the law, if alone, brings forth despair.
19. But what am I to do? Do I hear correctly: am I to be damned? Do as follows: Flee to Christ when thus conscious of iniquity, saying: Oh, my God, thy law is now a mirror to me, whence I see how perverted and lost a being I am! Oh God, now save me for thine only begotten Son’s sake.
Thus, by faith God gives you the Spirit, who changes your heart, so that you will be very kind to your neighbor and will argue thus: Behold, if God has acted thus toward me, forgiving me more than I can ever hope to forgive, why should I not be willing to forgive my neighbor a little?
PART 3. AN OBJECTION AND THE ANSWER.
20. Now the sword of the government seems to conflict with this, and the question arises: If I am to forgive, not to hate, not to kill, how then am I to correct and chastise? If I am to wield the sword and with it execute, how can I help being angry? This question is in order, for the Gospel here seemingly subverts the sword of the government. But we are to bear this in mind: Christ is here a spiritual teacher, solely guiding the consciences, showing them how much hatred, envy and wrath they contain, and how to get rid of it. That is his office in which he is engaged; with the worldly sword he has nothing to do, he lets those see to it whose duty it is.
21. Well, this doctrine does not enter all hearts; most of it remains on the surface. But those, into whose heart it falls, prostrate themselves before God and cry to him for help, are at once pious and have no need of the worldly sword, for they are being ruled by words. Now those who do not grasp this but lead an outwardly wicked life, there the worldly sword must be used. Thus you are now to understand that a secular prince or whoever he be that wields the worldly sword, must conform to what is here taught, namely, not to be angry and not to kill.
22. How then are they to conduct themselves who wield the sword in God’s stead? Thus: the fact that they wield the sword is a part of their office. In a sense, the Gospel has claims on them’, and then they are to be very kind in heart; meek and compassionate; then again, when duty calls, they are to be grave, punishing with alacrity, without regard to friend, foe, beauty, riches or learning. We see this in the case of Moses. He was the meekest man that has ever lived, so much so as to fall down and ask to be blotted out of the Book of Life, Exodus 32:32, if only the multitude be saved. Behold, was he not a mild, sweet and kind man, being willing to go to perdition and be condemned in body and soul that the people might be spared? But, when placed as chief in command, he, in questions of government, took energetic measures, executing three and twenty thousand, by which he might appease the wrath of God.
St. Paul acted in like manner. He too was ready to surrender his soul’s salvation for the Jews, as shown by Romans 9:3. But on learning that a man at Corinth “had his father’s wife,” he wrote so stern and severe an epistle as he had never done before, ordering that such a one be delivered unto Satan, “that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus,” 1 Corinthians 5:5. Likewise David and others acted. In fact, we find a number of such in the Old Testament as would, externally, use the sword in full rigor, executing the people as they would kill chickens, and at the same time be very tender and kind at heart.
23. Let us take a bold illustration, that you may see how a person in authority is to conduct himself. Take the coat of arms of the Elector of Saxony. It shows, two swords in a white and black field, so arranged as to have the hilt below on a white background, and the blade above on a black background. These indicate how you are to conduct yourself when in authority: below, holding the sword by the hilt, you are to be clean, white, tender-hearted and gracious, having the best of intentions; above, when on duty, you have the blade in a black field, that is to say, a determined and strict enforcement is called for, in order outwardly to stay transgressors.
And the red color of the swords indicate that blood is to be shed. Moses, David and others have thus beautifully handled the sword by the hilt in the white field, being sober, mild and kind at heart; and have wielded the blade in the black field, being grave and austere in their official duties.
24. Just so should a citizen or civil judge also do. When dealing with a wicked person that will not be controlled by words, his thoughts are to be: “Oh, my God, how gladly I would die for this man, if it could be done! He has a soul that I cannot succor; besides, he leads a wicked life, not being able to bring his flesh and blood under subjection to the spirit. “And then when comparing the two and seeing which outweighs the other, he will find that it is an easy thing for the man to die, but a grave matter for the soul to die, for the soul’s dying is eternal. Hence his thoughts and words should be: “Ah, see how your soul might enter into judgment; see, how you might enter into perdition. For that reason, in order that sin may make no further inroads, I must divest you of your body, and see to the saving of your soul, since I cannot save your body. “And then we must strike hard, resolutely take to the sword, so that we may prevent wrath and stern judgment, as did Moses with the children of Israel. In that event you are carrying your swords in a white and a black field.
25. The design of the two swords crossing each other, as though one would stay the other, is well conceived. This is to teach that a judge should be wise and prudent, and see, where he must temper and modify a harsh sentence, where it is just and right. It is like two sentences clashing when one will annul the other. You are not always to proceed secundum strictum jus, strictly according to law, but see what is just and right, and where a case can be adjusted, there he should also give his attention.
26. Take an example. The disciples of the Lord plucked ears of corn and ate, when passing through the fields. Now the Sabbath was by divine command to be observed under pain of death, Numbers 15:35; but the disciples were hungry, so one law cancelled the other. For that reason the Lord excuses them over against the Pharisees, saying: “The Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day,” Matthew 12:8. Although the observance of the Sabbath was a matter of divine command, the disciples nevertheless were excused, inasmuch as the Sabbath was not to be so strictly observed as to prevent them from eating and thus to cause them to perish because of this very observance. The same holds true of David, who partook of the consecrated bread which no layman was allowed to eat, 1 Samuel 21:6. This was a case of the two swords clashing, it being necessary for one law to give room to the other. For this reason David and also the disciples were excused. For no law has been established by God for the ruin of man, but for his bodily and spiritual welfare.
27. Hence, to sum up all, civil authorities should be severe externally, staying transgressions; but internally, they should harbor a tender, gentle, Christian, amiable spirit; withal they are to be wise and prudent, so that they may know how to temper stern justice, in accord with what is right and proper. This may suffice on this Gospel. Let us pray God for grace.
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