Luther's Sermon. FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. Luke 6:36-42
This sermon appeared in separate pamphlet form in 1523 under the title: “A sermon preached by Martin Luther on the Gospel, Luke VI. Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Wittenberg.”
Text. Luke 6:36-42. Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful. And judge not, and ye shall not be judged: and condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned’ forgive; and ye shall be forgiven; give, and it shall be given unto you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall they give into your bosom, For with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again.
And he spake also a parable unto them, Can the blind guide the blind? shall they not both fall into a pit? The disciple is not above his teacher: but every one when he is perfected shall be as his teacher. And why beholdest there the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me east out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Their hypocrite, east out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.
A LESSON IN MERCY. THE MOTE AND THE BEAM.
I. FAITH AND WORKS.
II. MERCY IN GENERAL.
III. THREE PARTS OF MERCY.
A. In General. 23-24.
B. In Detail. 25-35.
1. First Part. 25-30.
2. Second Part. 31-32.
3. Third Part. 33-35.
1. This Gospel describes the works of love to our neighbor in temporal things. The Lord here describes these in few words, for he had just said, we should love our enemies, do good to them that hate us, bless them that curse us, pray for them that despitefully use us; if they smite us on one cheek, we should offer also the other; and from him that taketh away thy cloak withhold not thy coat also. All this he here condemns in a short conclusion, and in summing up all, says: “Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Here you see described as in a nutshell all the good works we are to do to one another, as our heavenly Father has done to us and still does without ceasing.
2. You have often heard that we need not do good works to God, but to our neighbor. We cannot make God stronger nor richer by our works, but we can make our neighbor stronger and richer with them; he is in need of them, and hence they should be directed to him and not to God. This you have often heard and you have it now in your ears; I would to God, that it might come also into your hands and feet.
3. Therefore observe here what a perversion it is for man to exercise himself in doing works to God, which should be done to his neighbor; and then centers his faith in men and saints, which he should center alone in God. Turn this around, and then it is right, thus: faith must belong alone to God, whoever receives the divine works, God alone does them, and the same works of God we receive alone through faith. Then we should apply ourselves to our neighbor and arrange all our affairs to the end that they serve our neighbor. Before God all should be done in pure faith alone. The reason of this is because no one can help us but God, and what we have in body and soul we have alone from God, and in him alone should we anchor our heart.
4. Now, they turn it around thus, so that they center faith, which is due to God, upon themselves and other people and they fall down before their own devised idols, and what the great masters have invented, and place their confidence in them. Is not that very satan and death? as God in Jeremiah 2:13f. says: “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” Again he says in verse 35 to the people: Thou sayest, I shall turn my anger from thee, thou hast not sinned. “Behold, I will enter into judgment with thee, because thou sayest, I have not sinned.”
5. First he says, that the bride has become a harlot and has turned from God; the living fountain from which flow life, salvation and all good, they have forsaken. Secondly, they turn to their own invention, and make their own fountain, in which there is no water. Thus also the Papists build upon their own inventions, saying mass, fasting, praying and the like; they indeed appear very much as though they were a fountain, as though they would draw from it life and salvation, yet it cannot hold any water; and they forsake God, the living fountain.
6. In this manner God says: They boldly rise up against me; I shall not be angry with them, they insist their ways and doings are right and enter into judgment with me. Behold, this is their other sin, that they are determined to defend their own doings. Therefore God says: I will enter into judgment with you and show you, how base you have become, in that you have continually gone your own way.
7. See, thus faith belongs to God alone and it should acquire for us from God alone what we need in temporal and spiritual matters; and it should acquire all in a way that it does not think it has merited it. This same faith should later again flow forth from our heart’s depths to our neighbor freely and unhindered in good works; not that we wish to rest our salvation in them; for God will not have that, but wishes the conscience to rest in himself alone. Just like a bride must cleave to the bridegroom alone, and to no one else, so does God require also from us that we confide only in him.
8. This Luke explains when he says: “Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Here my conscience must be disposed toward God as a gracious, merciful father, and in harmony with this, go out to my neighbor and be also merciful to him. I must bring faith into my heart and up to God; and works out of my heart down to my neighbor. Thus Abraham did, when he went up on Mount Moriah to God, he left his servants and ass down at the foot of the mountain and took Isaac alone with him, Genesis 22:5.
So should we also do: when we wish to ascend to God, we should come with Isaac alone, that is, with Christ through faith; the servants and ass, that is, our works, we should leave below.
9. Now this has been said of faith and works as an introduction to our Gospel lesson, namely, that the motion of faith is inward and upward, of works outward and downward. For thus are we righteous before God and men, in that we honor God and look direct to him and believe according to his Word, and in love do sufficient for our neighbor. Let us now consider the words of today’s Gospel in their order. “Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
10. Now how is God our heavenly Father merciful? Thus, in that he gives us all things, natural and spiritual, temporal and eternal, gratuitously and out of pure goodness. For should he give unto us out of and according to our merits, he would have to give us only hell-fire and eternal condemnation. Therefore what he gives us in our possessions and honor, is given out of pure mercy. He sees that we are captives of death; but he is merciful and gives us life. He sees that we are the children of hell; but he is merciful and gives us heaven. He sees that we are poor, naked and exposed, hungry and thirsty; but he is merciful, and clothes, feeds and gives us to drink, and satisfies us with all good things. Thus, whatever we have for the body or spirit, he gives us out of mercy, and pours his blessings over us and into us. Therefore Christ says here: Imitate your Father and be also merciful, as he is merciful.
11. Now this is not a common mercy, nor one that reason teaches. For that is selfish: it gives to the great and learned and those who merit it; loves those, who are beautiful; gives to those from whom it has some benefit or advantage. That is a political, beggarly, shaggy, piece-meal mercy. For if I give to him, who merited it, or if I regard beauty and friendship, then it is duty and debt and not mercy. This is also what the Lord meant, when he just before this Gospel in Luke 6:32-34 says: “And if ye love them that love you, what thank have ye? for even sinners love those that love them.
And if ye do good to them that do good to you, what thank have ye? for even sinners do the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? even sinners lend to sinners, to receive again as much.” However, Christian mercy should not seek its own; but it should be thus: it must be round, and open its eyes and look at all alike, friend and foe, as our heavenly Father does.
12. And where this mercy is not, there is also no faith. For if your heart is in the state of faith that you know your God has revealed himself to you to be so good and merciful, without thy merit, and purely gratuitously, while you were still his enemy and a child of eternal wrath; if you believe this, you cannot refrain from showing yourself so to your neighbor; and do all out of love to God and for the welfare of your neighbor. Therefore, see to it that you make no distinction between friend and foe, the worthy and the unworthy; for you see that all who were here mentioned, have merited from us something different than that we should love and do them good.
And the Lord also teaches this, when in Luke 6:35 he says: “But love your enemies, and do good unto them, and lend, never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be sons of the Most High: for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil.” Thus we have considered the first part of this Gospel.
13. Further one may say here: Have you not now taught that our works avail nothing before God in paying him for anything: how is it then that here the very contrary stands written, as Christ says: “Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful. And judge not, and ye shall not be judged: and condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” All these sayings sound as though we should appear before God with our works and merit by virtue of them God’s mercy and forgiveness; although you have nevertheless heard that faith does all.
14. Now note well, St. Paul and the holy Scriptures here and there teach this; for they emphasize that man must believe and appear before God with pure faith alone. Therefore the sayings, as they are here, are to be understood that works are only the test and confirmation of faith, so that if I believe, I must be merciful, not judge, not condemn, give and forgive my neighbor. Genesis 22:5f. is an example of this. What did Abraham, when he was called to offer his son? He was obedient to the commandment, and was about to sacrifice his son, and drew the sword to do it. What happened? The angel of Jehovah restrained him and said unto him: “Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him; for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me.”
15. Thus here also; we must first receive before we give; before we can do acts of mercy, we must receive from God mercy. We do not lay the first stone; the sheep does not seek the shepherd, but the shepherd the sheep; therefore it is also with our works, that we obtain nothing by them from God, but that we acquire all that we do acquire without any merit on our part. Thus in the prophet Isaiah 65:1, God says: “I am inquired of by them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not.” And at the end of the same chapter he says: “And it shall come to pass that, before they call, I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.”
For before we seek him, he finds us; before we ask for him, he has us. The same Paul says to the Romans 3:22-26: “There is no distinction; for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God; for the showing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season’ that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus.” And in the following chapter, Romans 4:4-5. he says: “Now to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness.” “For if it be by grace it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace,” as Paul writes later in Romans 11:6.
16. In the second place the works are a sure sign and like a seal stamped on a letter, by which I am assured that my faith is right. The reason is: Do I feel in my heart, that my works flow forth out of love, then I am assured that my faith is genuine. If I forgive, then my forgiving assures me that my faith is genuine, and it seals and proves my faith, that God also has forgiven me and daily forgives me; but if I do not forgive, then may I at once conclude that I am lacking in faith. So it was also with Abraham, his works made known to him his faith. God well knew that Abraham believed; but he had to know and prove it.
17. Therefore the works are only continual spontaneous fruits and proofs of such faith. For of what use were it to me, if I had already strong faith and did not know it? As, if I had a chest full of gold and knew it not, it would be of no use to me; but when someone makes it known to me, he then does me as great a service as if he donated it to me. Just so, if I have faith, and know it not, it is of no use to me. Therefore faith must blossom forth and become known to me through the works following faith and these are then signs and seals that faith is present in my heart. St. Peter also teaches the same when in 2 Peter 1:10-11 he conclusively says of the works of love and the virtues of faith: “Wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never stumble: for thus shall be richly supplied unto you the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” He does not say, do good works that you may be called; but that you may make your calling and election sure, to your own satisfaction.
18. Therefore the Scriptures guard you well from blundering into them and fortifying your works by such passages. For works are rejected in Scripture, that we should not think of becoming righteous through them; but they are honored and praised in Scripture in that they are needed by our neighbor and are signs and fruits of our faith.
19. See, I had to make this explanation in order that I might not strengthen the interpretations of the Papists, all of whom err in their understanding of this Gospel. Now, therefore God often places such passages against one another, as we and reason are apt to imagine, in order to exercise us in reading the Scriptures, and that we may not think we know the whole Scriptures, when we hardly know a passage. Some passages convey the spirit and teaching, how we are to appear in God’s presence, with nothing but our faith; as the passage: “Being justified freely (undeservedly, without merit, gratuitously, Ed.) by his grace.” Then later in order that the body outwardly might not lie around lazy and become sluggish, we have also passages, which direct and exercise the body; as those above. “Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven; give, and it shall be given unto you;” and the passages in Matthew 25:42f. , where our Lord Christ says, he will require works of us on the day of judgment, when he will say to the condemned: “I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not,” and so on. These passages the ignorant and fickle spirits wish to cram together and murder, and construe everything to refer to works; and that is wrong. But those who are spiritual refer them only to their body and stand before God also only in spirit: that is right and also necessary; for man is made up of two parts, spirit and flesh. Therefore some passages refer to naked faith in the spirit, others to naked works done to the body; for a passage of Scripture cannot refer at the same time to the spirit and also to the body.
20. Here we should also speak on the attitude we are to take to our neighbor with respect to our temporal possessions. With regard to his possessions one should act thus: he should part with some to others, should loan and give to his neighbor, where and when he will. And for doing this we have rigid commandments and not only words of advice, as they explain them who teach, that whoever wishes to be perfect should do them. Consequently those wishing to live thus, have retired into monasteries and have desired to become perfect. Hence all monasteries are founded upon the filth of the devil. For there are no people more avaricious and less benevolent than just those in the monasteries. Now, if one wishes to be a Christian, he should loan to others, to the extent of his ability, freely without any writing. Again, if we see one has nothing with which to pay us back, we should freely donate it to him and cancel the debt, as Nehemiah did, as is recorded in the fifth chapter of II Esdras (Nehemiah 5). For God has given this to you, he can indeed give you more, if you believe differently. Further, if one takes anything from us, we are not to demand it to be returned; but our neighbor is to intercede for us and help to restrain injustice and to enter a complaint against the authorities, in order that we may not suffer too much.
21. Now observe the monks and priests have entirely and completely twisted these works, that they should be only advisable. And in this way they have drawn all other persons from them, who then, having done no Christian work during their whole lives, provide for the saying of masses or leave other legacies when they are about to die, by which all is fulfilled and accomplished. But you hear now: If we wish to be Christians, we must loan, give and part with our possessions, or we will be deficient in our faith.
22. Therefore thoroughly ponder and grasp this Gospel, in order that you may not deal with God in any other way than through naked faith and let good works gush from such faith that they may serve only your neighbor.
This has been said of the first part of our Gospel text. Now. let us see what follows further, since the Lord himself explains what kind of mercy he means. He says: “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: and condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: give, and it shall be given unto you.”
23. Here the Lord divides mercy into thee parts, that we may know what mercy is which we are to exercise toward our neighbor. First, we are not to judge or condemn; second, we are to forgive our neighbor, if he has offended us; third, you are to come to the help of the needy: this is what the word “mercy” means, when used in the Scriptures.
24. And all this must flow out of an upright faith so that it be done without hypocrisy and without guile, and that we may have no respect of persons.
For if you would wish them well, who wish you well; or benefit those, who benefit you; or harm those, who harm you, that would be a great error. But you should do to him as Christ here just preceding our Gospel text says:
You should imitate your heavenly Father and love your enemies, do good to those who do harm to you, forgive him who offends, you, loan to him who is in need, and so on, as you have heard.
25. Now, to speak of the first part, how we should not judge nor condemn, we remark that God has appointed the sword of the state to punish public crime, only that care must be taken that it be not used contrary to God’s precept and command, for example, that we do not murder one when he is innocent. For when the judge does injustice, he is at the same time as much a murderer as others. Of this judgment the Lord here does not speak; he has in mind Luke 12:14, where he said to him who wished he should say to his brother that he should divide the inheritance with him: “Who made me a judge or a divider over you.” For Christ’s kingdom is not concerned about outward matters.
26. But the Lord speaks here of another judgment, namely, that one esteems another good or bad because of that which one does not see on the outside, which judgment belongs to God alone. For it can happen that you see your neighbor sin to-day whom God receives to-morrow. You can indeed also be pious in your own eyes and not think of your own sins. Such judging Christ has forbidden, for no love or unity can be where people thus judge and condemn. To judge or condemn one another is nothing but to have a beam in your own eye; as all hypocrites have in their eyes. For those who regard themselves righteous, take offense at their brethren; whatever they do displeases them, and they will not behold their own sins.
But it so happens that you will not discover the beam in your own eye, if you behold continually the sins of others, and thus fall under the judgment of God. From this it follows then, that you, who judge another, art a greater sinner before God, then the lowest villain or the worst harlot, for God alone knows who shall be saved or condemned; all sin is nothing compared to your judging.
27. The same hypocrites are adepts in rejoicing over and taking pleasure in having an opportunity to gossip about the fall and crime of a neighbor, and to stir up his filth. And what other persons do, they always construe in the worst light, and no one can do anything to please them; and although they themselves cannot at once do this, they nevertheless gladly hear others speak of it. If you were a godly person you should cover up and help to quiet such things, as much as it may be possible for you. And it generally happens that the worst harlots, even according to the flesh, also judge and pass sentence; yea, they judge not only human beings, but also God himself.
28. Therefore, is thy brother a sinner, then cover his sin and pray for him.
Dost thou publish his sins, then truly thou art not a child of your merciful Father; for otherwise thou wouldst be also as he, merciful. It is certainly true that we cannot show as great mercy to our neighbor, as God has to us; but it is the true work of the devil that we do the very opposite of mercy, which is a sure sign that there is not a grain of mercy in us. All this is the meaning of the text of this Gospel, when it says: “Can the blind guide the blind? shall they not both fall into a pit?
The disciple is not above his teacher: but every one when he is perfected shall be as his teacher. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me cast out the mote that is in thy eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”
29. As if the Lord would say: You think thy Brother is blind and will punish him, that is, you wish to guide others and you are blind yourself.
You hold him as a sinner and think you are righteous. What difference is that than that your heart is so disposed as to think you are better than he?
This means nothing more nor less than that you wish to guide others, and?t you are blind yourself; and whoever follows you will fall into the ditch with you. Concerning characters who imagine they are better than others and would that the people followed them more than the Word of God, Paul says to the Romans 2:#23 17:23: “But if thou bearest the name of a Jew, and restest upon the law, and gloriest in God, and knowest his will, and approvest the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them that are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having in the law the form of knowledge and of the truth; thou therefore that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou rob temples? thou who gloriest in the law, through thy transgression of the law dishonorest thou God?” Therefore he says also at the beginning of the same chapter to the hypocrites: “Wherefore thou art without excuse, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest dost practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against them that practice such things. And reckonest thou this, O man, who judgest them that practice such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?”
30. I call that telling the truth to the hypocrites who understand to show others the way, which they themselves do not know, and guide others along with themselves into the ditch. Therefore the Lord says: “The disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is perfected shall be as his teacher.” It is a common proverb to say: I cannot learn more from my teacher, than he knows. Why did the Lord utter this saying? Because of two kinds of teachers: the first is blind; if I follow him, then I also will be blind; if he falls into the ditch, so will I. The other teacher is the merciful Father, from whom we should learn mercy; follow we him, then we also will be merciful, even as he is merciful; and if we were merciful all the time, then we would be perfect, even as he is perfect; but that does not fully take place while we are here in this life.
31. The second part of mercy is that we are to forgive those who offend us. A Christian can never be so greatly offended, that he should not forgive, not only seven times, but seventy times seven, as the Lord spake to Peter in Matthew 18:22. Therefore God also forgives a Christian his sins or infirmities, so that he may forgive others their infirmities. This Christ pictured just before in a beautiful parable, which he closed with the words: “So shall also my heavenly Father do unto you, if ye forgive not everyone his brother from your hearts.”
32. And we pray for this also daily in the Lord’s Prayer, when we pray the petition and say: Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Is not that something great, when I a poor sinner forgive my neighbor his sins or failings, that God will forgive me also my sins and infirmities? Had one murdered my father, what would that be compared to my sin, with which I have offended and provoke God to anger.
33. The third element that belongs to mercy is, that we should give to the poor and needy and come to their help. Concerning this John in his first Epistle,1 John 3:17, says: “But whoso hath the world’s goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, doth the love of God abide in him?” For where the love of God is, it must manifest itself. To this the saying of Christ in Matthew 5:7 refers: “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” Therefore the Lord adds here in our Gospel a promise, and says: “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall they give into your bosom.” And he further says: “For with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again.”
34. This is sufficient for the present on the three parts of the mercy we are to show to our neighbor. To this end should the saying of Christ in Matthew 7:12 especially stir us. After he spoke so much about Christian love and how we should show our brother such love, he concludes and says: “All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them: for this is the law and the prophets.”
Now everyone is always so disposed, if he be sick, that he wishes the whole world would come to his help. Am I a poor sinner, steeped in shame, have I a heavy afflicted conscience: then I ought to wish for the whole world to comfort and help me, and cover my sins and my shame.
Just such should my attitude be to my neighbor, not to judge and condemn, forgive his failings, help him, counsel, loan and give to him as I would that others should do to me, if I were overwhelmed with anxiety and want, with misery and poverty.
35. And just in this way does the world take knowledge of Christians, how they live among themselves and show one another such acts of mercy. This the Lord Christ also taught his disciples in the Lord’s Supper when in John 13:34-35 he said: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Such is the explanation of this Gospel; let us pray to God for his grace.
Luther's Second Sermon. FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. Luke 6:36-42
Right Conduct Toward One's Enemies
KJV Luke 6:36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. 37 Judge not, and ye shall not be
judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: 38 Give, and it shall
be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into
your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. 39 And he
spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? 40 The
disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. 41 And why beholdest
thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 42 Either
how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself
beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own
eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye.
This sermon appeared in 1535 under the title: “A Beautiful Christian consolation in all kinds of suffering and trial from the 8th chapter of Romans, with the explanation of the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity. Preached by Dr. Martin Luther.”
THE RIGHT CONDUCT TO ONE’S ENEMIES.
1. Beloved Friends! Upon this Gospel a great deal might be said, but at present we will not consider it all, lest we overload ourselves and retain nothing. You have heard in the text how our dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, holds up to us the works of mercy, how we should be merciful; not to judge nor to condemn but gladly forgive everyone and in like manner willingly give and help all, as there is need. If we do this, he says, there shall be given to us again good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. But if we will not do this, with the same measure we mete to others it shall be measured to us again. By this he would earnestly forbid his Christians to condemn anyone, to judge or avenge themselves, or to take from anyone, but rather to give and forgive.
For a better understanding of this Gospel, we must in the first place reply to our adversaries, who hold up this text against us as a strong, firm ground of their doctrine, that a man can by works obtain forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and boast of it as though they already had surely gained the victory. They say: Here indeed it stands clearly written: “Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven; give, and it shall be given to you again.”
What can a man bring up against such clear passages? Therefore, it certainly follows from this, that a man can obtain forgiveness of sins by good works. Thus, by these and similar passages concerning works, they wish to prove that we are justified and saved by our own merit; and denounce and condemn us as heretics, because we teach that we are saved only through faith in Jesus Christ, who has been crucified and died for us, who gave his body and shed his blood for us for the forgiveness of sins.
Thus they make Christ entirely unprofitable for us, and call the doctrine of faith simply an error and falsehood. Here we see how the blind lead the blind.
2. Well, we allow them to proceed, because they want to be blind and hardened. But if they were in earnest to know the truth, they could plainly see from this Gospel to what such passages, to which they so firmly hold, properly refer, and how they should be interpreted. For this Gospel evidently and plainly says, that Christ does not speak to those who shall first obtain grace, but to his disciples, who already are children of grace and justified, and are also sent out by him, that they should preach to others such grace and salvation; from which it clearly follows that they already have forgiveness of sins, and are pious and justified, and are not first to obtain salvation through works. I say, he speaks to those, and instructs them how they shall conduct themselves toward their enemies, namely, when they are persecuted by them, that they should not persecute them in return, but should patiently suffer all these things, and do them good for evil.
3. Hence it is not meant, that by such works as are here enumerated they should first obtain forgiveness of sins and the righteousness that avails before God; but Christ speaks plainly and simply to his disciples whom he had chosen and called Apostles, as St. Luke shows preceding this Gospel.
Christ teaches them how they shall conduct themselves when they preach, as though he would say: You dear disciples, I send you as sheep among wolves, and commend this office unto you to preach, and others shall hear your preaching, accept and believe it. And you will be so received that the world will be offended at you and regard you as enemies, and you will find just as much friendship and love in it, as sheep among wolves. For it will become wholly mad and foolish at your preaching, and will by no means tolerate it.
Therefore see to it that you lead a better life and conversation than your enemies, who will practice upon you all kinds of unmerciful deeds by judging and condemning you. Moreover they will not only not forgive you any sin, but will proclaim your best works and deeds of mercy as the greatest sins. Again, they will not only not give you anything, but they will also hunt down that which is your own, and will take and keep it by violence. Thus they will treat you. But beware, that you be not like them; on the other hand where they judge, judge not; where they condemn, bless; where they take revenge, forgive; when they take, give. For immediately before, the Lord teaches the very same when he says: Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.
4. In this manner St. Paul also admonishes the Christians at Rome ( Romans 12:18-19): “If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men. Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God.” Christ here teaches the very same when he says: Be merciful, judge not, condemn not, avenge not yourselves, give unto and assist everyone, in order that you may not become equally as bad as your enemies; but rather that they may be prevailed upon by your kind and friendly conversation, to give you a good testimony, and finally be compelled to say conscientiously: Behold, we judge and condemn these people, and carry out all our maliciousness against them; against this they neither defend or avenge themselves, but suffer it all patiently, and besides, they overcome evil with good, Surely, they cannot be bad people, because they have so much patience, and reward evil with good; I myself, will also hold to them, because they do no one any harm, although they have good reasons for so doing.
5. From this one can easily see that Christ does not here teach us to become pious and just through our works, but admonishes those who were already pious and just, that they be merciful like their Father in heaven, so that the heathen may thereby become better, and that thus unbelievers may be kindly enticed to become converted and edified, not only by preaching, but also by the merciful and blameless lives and good conduct of the good and just.
6. In the same sense St. Paul also teaches in 1 Corinthians 7:13: And the woman that hath an unbelieving husband, and he is content to dwell with her, let her not leave her husband, as long as he will permit her to remain a Christian. Because it can so happen that the man may be influenced by the virtue of his Christian wife to become converted and say:
I see by my wife, that Christians are good people; therefore I also want to be a Christian. Thus we also read of St. Monica, the mother of St.
Augustine, who had a strange and wonderful husband, who besides was also a heathen. But what did she do? She so conducted herself toward him that he did her no wrong. Other Christian wives were very much astonished at this, and went to her and complained about their husbands, that they could not do anything to please them, although they were Christians, and yet they were scolded and beaten by them; therefore they questioned her how she treated her husband, who, as every one knew, was not only a wonderful man, but a heathen also, and yet he never beat her.
Such favor they could not expect from their husbands, although they were not heathen, but Christians.
7. Kindhearted Monica answered them and said: I fear you give your husbands cause for doing this. If you were subject to them and would not clamor back, or especially when they begin to be strangely cruel, if you would not answer back, but be patient, submit and obey them, and with friendly words appease them, you would, of course, not be beaten. For thus I am accustomed to treat my husband; when my lord scolds, I pray; is he angry, I avoid him, or return kind words; in this way I have not only put down his anger, but I have also brought him so far, that he is converted and has become a Christian. Behold, the beautiful fruit that followed this conduct, because kind Monica was merciful toward her husband, and did not condemn and judge him. Thus it can often take place, as St. Paul says, that an unbelieving husband or wife, may become converted through the one who believes.
8. Thus, says Christ here, should you Christians also do, because you are children of grace and peace, not of anger and discord, and are also called to inherit the blessing. Therefore you should also bring the blessing among the people, first by your preaching and public confession, and after that also by your good outward conduct, so that when the unbelievers judge and condemn you, treat you unmercifully and rob you, you will be merciful to them, and not avenge yourselves, but give and forgive, and besides help, love and bless them, and speak the best things of them before God and the world; that they may also observe by your good conduct that you are pious and blameless people, who do not only suffer evil, but also return good for evil. By this you will obtain a good name among the heathen, and be estimable and honorable in my sight, who art your Lord and God.
9. Thus you see that this text does not at all permit us to conclude from it that forgiveness of sins is obtained by works; for Christ here speaks to those who are already children of grace, and does not instruct them how to obtain by works, as the Papists dream, the forgiveness of sins, which they already had by grace; however, he here teaches them how they are to conduct themselves, when they go forth and preach, toward the people who persecute, judge, condemn them, and afflict them with all kinds of torment and misfortune; that they immediately do the contrary, not judge, nor condemn, but forgive and give; and then they shall also be neither judged nor condemned before God or the world. And even though the world judge them, still God will not condemn them, as it is said in Psalm 37:13-40. So it shall also be forgiven and given them again.
10. Thus Christ admonishes his disciples with these words, that they diligently perform the duties of their office and preach with courage, let it offend whom it may, and that nothing whatever may lead them astray, even though all the world revile and curse; let them only freely continue and they shall be richly rewarded; for it is already determined in heaven that there shall be given unto them full measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.
11. From all this it is certainly clear, that Christ does not here speak of that righteousness, of how a man becomes just before God, which takes place alone through faith in Jesus Christ, but teaches his disciples how to lead a good life here on earth among unbelievers, by which they may be of great benefit to those who judge and condemn them. When they do such things, it shall be rewarded unto them again both here and hereafter; not that they thereby merit the forgiveness of sins; for no work, be it ever so good, is able to accomplish this; but when they on this account suffer or lose anything, it shall be returned to them even here in this life an hundred fold, as is written in Mark 10:30, and in the life to come they will be more gloriously arrayed and adorned than other saints. Why? Because they have suffered and done more for Christ’s sake than others. For Daniel the prophet says, Daniel 12:3, that the teachers shall shine as the brightness of the firmament after the resurrection of the dead, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever. And St. Paul in Corinthians 15:41 says: “For one star differeth from another star in glory.
So also is the resurrection of the dead.”
12. The Lord further says: When you fail to do thus, but return evil for evil, it shall be measured to you again, “for with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again.” For by thus judging and condemning those who judge and condemn you, you sufficiently show that you are not my true disciples, and have not yet the forgiveness of sins, or else you would do what I have commanded you. From which it follows further that your faith is not right. So with you it will be changed, and you will hear from me that you have no faith and are false Christians.
13. This is sufficiently proved, because you still judge one another, and one does not assist the other. This my Christians will not do. Therefore your sins will remain upon you, and will only become greater, as is shown in the parable of the wicked servant who owed his Lord ten thousand talents and could not pay it; the Lord forgave him the debt out of pure grace. But as he would not forgive his fellow servant the very little debt, he again fell into his own former debt, which was forgiven him and brought down upon himself the great wrath of his Lord, who delivered him over to the tormentors. Matthew 18:34.
14. Thus our dear Lord would here kindly and lovingly invite us to do good works and lead a Christian life also among our enemies. But when we fail to do this he threatens us, that he would not regard us as Christians.
For such works are as a sign or confession that we are true Christians. In addition to this, other people will be made better by such works, and so will we ourselves who do them, as St. Peter says, we make our calling and election sure thereby, and become richer in faith.
15. To this friendly admonition of Christ our Lord we Christians and especially we ministers should diligently give due heed, for we also have at the present day adversaries of our faith and doctrine, who are great and powerful, ‘kings, princes, lords, Pope and bishops. To these our enemies according to this doctrine of Christ we show all mercy, and are not willing that a hair of their heads should be injured, or that they should be robbed of a cent. But this we wish them from our heart, that they may learn to know their errors and sins, and commit themselves to the grace of God and believe the Gospel. On this account they judge, condemn and persecute us, rob us of honor, goods, body and life, as though we were the worst rogues that tread the earth. Such things we do not to them in return, God be praised! but show them all love and kindness, and would willingly help them, if they would only permit it.
16. Yes, they say, you revile us nevertheless, both in writing and preaching, and condemn us as heretics, and will not permit us to be the Christian Church. Is such reproof and condemnation mercy? We answer: This is quite a different matter. Christ in this Gospel speaks of those who shall suffer injustice. And it would not be right to apply this to those who by virtue of their office are required to reprove what is wrong. For those who have the office to judge and condemn, do no wrong thereby, in so doing.
For as little as it agrees or is valid for a child to say to its father when he would punish it; father, be merciful, and God will then also be merciful to thee; so little is it valid against those who have the office of reproof. For it would be very inappropriate for a thief or evil doer to say to the officer of the law: Dear sir, forgive and do not judge me, and then our Lord God will again forgive thee. No, my dear fellow, the officer of the law by virtue of his office will thus answer and say: It is not necessary that I should forgive you. I do what is right, and doing right needs no forgiveness, but is praiseworthy. Thus also when father and mother punish their children, they do right, for this is called true punishment, when the office requires it. But beware, that you do not revenge yourself against him who must punish you, even if at times he treats you unjustly.
17. Wherefore it is not appropriate to twist this text, as though the Lord speaks of those who have the authority to punish the wrong, as ministers and all persons in authority, fathers, mothers, princes, lords, and finally also the executioner, who should not say to the evil doer, to whom he must administer justice, as however they are accustomed to do: “Dear Sir, forgive me, what I do to you today,” for why should he say this? As he does right, he needs no forgiveness, which pertains alone to sin and wrong; for. his office is to punish wrong. Just as it would be wrong if a father would say to his son when he would punish him: Dear son, forgive me, that I punish you. No, he does right, therefore the son should bear it, for thus God will have it.
18. Thus St. Paul says, 2 Corinthians 5:13: “For whether we are beside ourselves, it is unto God; or whether we are of sober mind, it is unto you.”
In his first Epistle, Paul severely rebuked the Corinthians, which some thought was too severe; but he does not excuse himself in the least nor asks for grace, he simply says: If we rebuke too severely, it is unto God and we serve him; but if we are sober and deal gently, we do so for your good. He will not admit that he has done any sin at all, because he so severely rebukes them, but says he serves God by it, and if he has been too indulgent, he did it for their benefit. This is quite a poor answer to such a complaint as: Dear Paul, why do you strike us so hard? But as he fills the office of an Apostle, he gives no other answer but this: I rebuke and punish sin as I wish, I do right and serve God thereby; not on account of my person, but because God has so commanded and ordered it.
19. Thus also a judge can say, when by virtue of his office he sentences the evil doer unto death, that he serves God thereby. So also father and mother, when they punish their child as it has deserved, thus serve God; but if they, punish it somewhat milder than it deserves, it is for the good of the child.
20. We must make a distinction however, for it is vastly different when a person punishes who has the office to punish, and when one punishes who has not this office. An office, call it what you may, is ordained to punish sin; not to tolerate wrong, but protect the right. Therefore, because I and other ministers have this office, we do right, a work of mercy for the people, when we rebuke them, let whoever will do us good or evil for it.
21. Just as it is a great mercy not to allow young people to have their will and way, whether it be accomplished by threats or by the rod; it will still cost trouble and labor enough to oppose and prevent evil, even though we punish severely. If punishment were altogether omitted and mercy took the place of office, the country would be full of rogues, and the world become a mere den of murderers. Then one would say to another: If you steal from me, I will rob you; if you go with my wife, I will go with yours. No, this would never do; therefore the executioner is a very beneficial and even a merciful man, for he prevents the rogue from repeating his crime, and restrains others from committing crimes. He executes the one and thus threatens others that would do the like, that they may fear the sword and keep the peace. This is a magnificent grace and pure mercy.
22. Again, it is a great sin against mercy, yes a horrible murder, when a father allows his child to go unpunished; for this is just the same as though he killed it with his own hands; hence Solomon says, Proverbs 23:13,14: “Withhold not correction from the child; for if thou beat him with the rod, he will not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.” That is, he will not die of your beating, but with the rod you cause him to live, and deliver his soul from death; for if you do not punish him, the executioner will, even unto death, by taking away his life.
As Solomon would say: If you do not beat your son with the rod of life, in order that he may live, then you are a murderer; because you assist your child to become a rogue, so that the executioner must strike him with the rod of death. Therefore take in your hand the rod of life, and freely punish when necessary, that he may escape the rod of death. Then you will perform a noble work of mercy to him, whereas if you let him have his own will, you become his murderer.
23. Therefore it is senseless for the Papists to cry: We of course teach others not to judge, nor condemn, but we ourselves do the contrary, punish, judge and condemn everyone. For as I said, what we do in this, we do by virtue of our office. Therefore our judging and punishing is of such a nature, that it only makes one better and harms no one. And we are obliged to do it on account of the command of Christ our Lord, Luke 24:47, that repentance and forgiveness of sins be preached in his name among all nations on earth; and John 16:8: “The Holy Spirit will reprove the world of sin.”
24. According to this command all the Apostles have first judged and reproved the world, and proclaimed God’s wrath against it; afterwards they preached forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name, as St. Paul does, Romans 1:3, and St. Peter, Acts 2:3-10, and Christ himself when he says, John 9:39: “For judgment came I into this world.” Those who have accepted this preaching and permit themselves to be judged and reproved by it, have received the comfort of the Gospel, that without merit, by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus they are justified and saved, Romans 3:24.
This judgment and reproof of Christ and the Apostles is not harmful, but beneficial, comfortable and wholesome. Moreover, those who have not allowed themselves to be reproved by these have remained in their sins, and have died and perished forever; and also, in time, have their cities, lands and kingdoms in which they have lived, been most woefully devastated and destroyed.
25. As therefore the Apostles have preached according to the command of Christ, so too must we do, and say that all men are conceived and born in sin and are by nature children of wrath, and on this account condemned, and can neither by their own or any other creature’s help, advice, work or merit, receive forgiveness of sins and be saved. This is to reprove, judge and condemn everybody, and yet we do this, not out of our own wantonness, or that we take pleasure in crying down men as sinners and godless; but out of Christ’s order and command. With this however we do not cease, but we again encourage and comfort those whom we have rebuked, and say that Jesus Christ has come into the world to save sinners, so that all who believe in him, should not perish, but receive everlasting life.
26. Therefore God-fearing people accuse us of no fault in this; for they observe that we do not preach human nonsense like monks in their hoods, but proclaim the Gospel of Christ; they are glad therefore, and heartily thank God that they have lived to see the time when they can know the precious truth, and thereby obtain comfort for their consciences, and accept this our reproof and judgment as a great mercy. Again, the great and godless crowd scold and condemn us on account of this our reproof, as heretics and traitors, who disturb both the old faith and worship and also the worldly government and peace. We must bear this; yet our conscience gives us the testimony that they wrongfully accuse us, and besides we are comforted to know that we are not the first ones who have been thus slandered. St. Paul also had to hear from Jews and Gentiles, that he was a blasphemer and traitor. Yea, Christ himself was accused before Pilate for misleading the people and making them disobedient to the emperor, for which also he was crucified, With them we are glad to be cried down as heretics and traitors, until the time when our innocence shall come to light.
27. If now the wretched, hardened Papists were not such bitter enemies of the truth, and of us on account of the truth, they could observe by our life that we hold firmly to this admonition of Christ, be merciful; for God be praised, we have not thus far avenged ourselves against any man who has done us injury, we have not driven anyone from house and home, wife and child, we have cast no one into prison on account of his faith, much less have we beheaded, burnt at the stake or hung anyone for their faith, as the Papists have done, the tender saints, who have for the last few years shed much innocent blood, and still do not cease. But we have complied with this doctrine and admonition of Christ, and have honored their order and government and confirmed it with our doctrine as far as they are right, we have prayed and pleaded for them, privately and publicly, and have faithfully also admonished them in writings by virtue of our office which God has committed to our charge.
And for this our mercy we have received from them the reward, that they have put us under the ban, cursed and persecuted us, and driven many of our brethren from their possessions and murdered them. What more shall we do? Yet we must bear the name of being impatient, angry, spiteful, and revengeful people, who judge and condemn all the world. Well, we must bear this disgrace before the world, until our dear Lord Jesus Christ, the just Judge, shall examine us and decide the matter; in the meantime we permit them evermore to lie, slander and persecute us; but they shall learn by experience when God’s time comes, whom they have slandered and persecuted in us.
28. This much is said of the chief meaning of this Gospel, how we are to be merciful also toward our enemies. Now we should also apply it to our own lives, we who want to be Christians and brethren should practice this among ourselves; for it is very necessary also that this admonition be preached to us. Although we are all called Evangelical, I fear that the most of us are heathen under the Christian name. Well, what shall we do about it? We must allow the name to all, although few there be who bear it in truth. For St. Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:2 says: “For all have not faith”; and Christ himself complains, Matthew 22:14, that many are called but few are chosen. Now, those who are true Christians should with all diligence take this admonition of Christ to heart, that they may not only be friendly toward enemies, but also much more toward those called Christians.
29. Therefore let everyone who goes to the sacrament and pretends to be a Christian take heed to himself that he deceive not himself. For one can now well see what a scraping, grabbing and scratching there is even among those who want to be Christians, from the lowest to the highest stage of society. It is a sin and a shame to hear it. Nearly everyone falls into this shameful greed, and such a state may well be called a swine’s life, for as the swine in the trough, whichever one is the strongest pushes the rest away, as though she wanted to devour all herself, just so it goes in the world today, and everyone goes securely forth, gives nothing whatever and takes all he can get, whether he gets it rightfully or wrongfully, so that the word give, which stands here in the Gospel, has almost disappeared, and instead robbery and theft in homes and in the market have everywhere come to take its place. What unfaithfulness prevails even among day laborers and house servants, how shamefully they earn their bread with malicious unfaithfulness, cheating and overcharging. They do not look upon it as stealing, and yet it is just as much stealing when they labor unfaithfully, as when they steal it out of our purse. This is the way servants and laborers do, and it matters not by what they are called.
30. But how will such people stand in that day when Christ shall ask them, whether they have done according to his admonition? For if Christians are to be merciful to their enemies as Christ here teaches, much more will it become them to show all love and friendship toward their brethren and Christian people; and as they are not to curse their enemies, much less should they curse their friends. Again, if they are not to avenge themselves on unbelievers, but give to them and do them good, much more should they show this kindness to the household of faith. Yes, turn the thing around to rob, to covet, and to take advantage of another wherever one can; this goes on yet in the world with violence. But the holy Gospel says:
Give, and it shall be given unto you; if we do not hold ourselves to this rule, we shall hear the opposite: Steal and rob, and you shall be robbed and stolen from again.
31. But our Lord God is so full of resources that he can send misfortune upon a city or a country so that even after they have gathered and hoarded for a long time, some tramp brother or fellow pilgrim comes along, to whom one must give or he will take it himself by force. For it must surely come to this that if we willfully forget that word “give,” our Lord God will make out of it “take.” After such misfortune we strive with all diligence, for wherever the Lord says “give” there we only wish to make out of it “take.” Well then take, steal and rob as long as you will, what will it avail you; things will take a turn some day so that it will be taken from you again.
32. All history teaches us, that when a kingdom, a principality, or a city, has been exalted to the highest pitch and becomes rich, then comes a war, or some other misfortune, so that it again becomes poor. Thus it happens also to individual families and persons; when they rise suddenly and become powerful, they also immediately fall again. I have already observed several who sat amid great possessions, and yet in a short time were thoroughly ruined. Why is this? Because they did not want to give as Christ here admonishes, but much rather took from others, for this reason a change took place with them, that it was again taken from them; as also teaches experience, and the common proverb runs: Goods unjustly won, will not last to the third son, that he may enjoy it. Such things we see daily in all ranks of life; and if it does endure for a time and descends from father to son, yet it sinks with the third heir, for it is a cursed wealth, which has either been obtained by theft or greed.
33. By such daily experience the children of the world ought to become wise and think: Why scratch and scrape so long, you cannot rightfully possess goods obtained by stinginess after all, nor will it prosper in your hands, as you have time and again experienced from one or another.
34. But we Christians should be more influenced by what the Holy Scriptures teach about it. Thus David says, Psalm 37:16-18: “Better is a little that the righteous hath, than the abundance of many wicked,” and the reason immediately follows: “For the arm of the wicked shall be broken, and the Lord upholdeth the righteous. The Lord knoweth the days of the perfect; and their inheritance shall be forever.” As though he would say:
Although a good man may have but little, if he only has it with God and honor, it will be dearer to him than all the treasures of the ungodly. For our Lord God will shower his blessings upon that little, so that it will last to children’s children to the thousandth generation. This is also apparent; for at the present time we find many old and honorable families in the cities, whose possessions have reached to several hundred generations, whereas with others it has disappeared with the third.
We should learn from this and similar passages, and hold to it because it is the truth, that it is better to have thirty dollars with God and honor, than three thousand won without God and with dishonor. For God blesses the little which the righteous have (says Psalm 37:16), so that he may not only possess it with a good conscience, but will also be to his benefit and he will use it so that God may be pleased with it. But the wealth that has been unjustly obtained, may be enjoyed for a time; yet because God’s blessing does not rest upon it, it wears away and loses itself, so that we cannot tell what has become of it; for it has been won by greed and wrong, and as they did not regard it as stealing for one to scrape all together and give nothing away, the rust is entered into it and eats it up, so that it cannot be seen that there ever was a penny there. As also the heathen have learned from experience and said: “By evil acquired, by evil it goes,” “As it is won, so it is gone.”
35. But why say more? One will not grow wise except by his own losses; we let our Lord God promise and threat in vain, but who asks about it?
Though we preach ever so much, Proverbs 11:4: “Riches profit not in the day of wrath; but righteousness delivereth from death,” and Proverbs 5:28: “He that trusteth in his riches shall fall; but the righteous shall flourish as the green leaf;” everyone thinks the while: “Dear Sir, say what you will, if I had money and goods, I would be free from all distress;” they simply make our Lord God a liar. But they will experience sooner than they wish, that they are deceived.
Therefore, my dear friends, let us fear and trust in God, and hereafter be merciful and kind, not only toward enemies as this Gospel teaches, but still more toward our friends and brethren; especially because we hear that our Lord is such an enemy to shameful covetousness, that he will blow upon such ill-gotten gain, so that it will vanish and fly away as the dust before the wind. The prophet Haggai 1:6, says of the miser, that he gathers into a bag with holes; as though he would say: Well, they may gather, but it will do them no good, because they want to get rich by greed even to the injury of others. And Solomon says: The godless man, when he has for a long time gathered wealth in heaps, has such a curse in his house, that he not only does not become better by his wealth, but it also disappears under his hands, as though the rust had devoured it.
36. Now dear friends, do not despise such a warning, but take it to yourselves, and if you have already been ensnared by this covetousness, turn again and reform. Formerly when one served the devil in popedom, everyone was merciful and kind, then they gave with both hands joyfully and with great devotion, to support the false worship of God. Now, when one should justly be kind and give, and show his thankfulness to God for the holy Gospel, everyone is about to perish with hunger, no one will give anything, but will only receive. Formerly every city according to its size, liberally supported several cloisters, not to mention mass-priests and rich monasteries. Now, when only two or three persons, who preach God’s Word, administer the sacraments, visit and comfort the sick in an honest and Christian manner and instruct the youth, are to be supported in one city, and that too not from their own but from property that came to us from the papacy, it is hard for everybody to give.
37. But thus it must be, that Jesus with Mary and Joseph should have no room in the inn at Bethlehem, but after all he finds a crib, and Mary and Joseph a stall, in which they miserably help themselves as best they may.
And as they are not at home in Nazareth but in a strange place at an inconvenient time, in the midst of winter, and altogether forgotten in the stall by the people of Bethlehem, yet after all they do not perish with hunger. But before they should suffer hunger among their blood relations who care nothing for them, even the heathen must come from rich Arabia and present the little child Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. Christians understand well enough what is meant.
38. Therefore let everyone be diligent to comply with this admonition, that he willingly give, if he desires that it shall be given unto him again. If he will not do this, Christ will most certainly keep his Word, that it shall not be given unto him again. And though he already has something, there shall not be given him grace enough to enjoy it, as has already been shown from Scripture passages, Now God does not only show us by his Word that our covetousness is displeasing to him, and that usurers shall not enjoy their goods, but proves it also by daily examples. I will relate one as a warning which has recently occurred, although some may be offended at it: It is not far from here to Wittenberg, as has been reported to me and have also myself made proper inquiries, there was a farmer, who all his life cheated and took advantage of the people in the market, as at present nearly all are accustomed to do, he went into his barn to look after his grain; then the devil set such a ghost before his eyes, that he found his barn empty, and could see no corn there. What happened? The miserable, stingy man becomes frightened, and thinks the corn was secretly stolen from his barn.
He goes down to his wife and servants with great cries and lamentations and says all his grain has been stolen out of his barn. As the wife and servants go in to look after it, in the meantime the wretched man hangs himself for grief, and dies in the rope before they return again to him. And yet it was but the deception of the devil. For all the corn was still lying untouched on the floor. The devil by the decree of God had thus infatuated him, that he could not see even a single grain.
39. This I say, has taken place before our very doors, to frighten and warn us. What benefit did the poor man reap from it? What help are now his goods to him, which he had scraped together so long with care and labor?
The devil wanted to kill him, therefore he so blindfolded him that he could not see his own corn, and thus he gave him a cause, to hang himself for grief. This is I think a curse, which came upon ill-gotten goods, that he should not only not enjoy it, but even not behold it, and thereby lose both body and soul. More similar histories have appeared, as you at other times have heard from me; and it is good not to forget them, there may yet be some who will be reformed by them. The wretched man who so miserably hung himself will find his sentence. But we tell it you as a warning. If you will not receive it, but despise it, you do not despise me who told it you, but the Lord Christ, who tells it to you through me. But if you receive it and do better, I will give you no reward, for I cannot reward the works of a Christian. But he who here says: Give and it shall be given to you, will richly reward it. Whoever will, let him accept, and whoever will not, can let it alone. This text will not become false on that account. For although not all are punished like this man, yet everyone who despises this admonition of Christ, will find his condemnation on the last day. And it is indeed to be wondered at, that we willingly and with great care, weariness and labor, for the stingy man’s stinginess becomes very hard, 1 Timothy 6:10, should bring into our own house first our own injury and curse, whereas with lighter labor and a more joyful courage, if we according to the doctrine of Christ would give and help our neighbor, could well be rich. For he who said, Give, and it will be given you, will certainly keep his Word, and give again to those who obey his admonition, and that abundantly; for he says:
A full, pressed down, shaken together, and overrunning measure shall be given to you again.
40. Were it not better, you had but little with God and honor, and give and help the needy according to your ability, and have thereby a good conscience and the glorious comfort that God will bless and increase your humble store, than that you should, with care and restlessness and with an evil conscience, have great possessions, which you not only cannot enjoy, but cannot even be master of, for a miser is mammon’s servant and a captive. And yet, you do not only know from God’s Word, although you will not believe it, but also from daily experience, that it will do your children or heirs no good, but by the very consumption of it they shall become poor.
41. What have you of it at last, O wretched man, when you have so long scraped and scratched together, except that you have made your life very toilsome in sins, and the devil, when your last hour comes, will drag you into the abyss of hell, and so you will not only shamefully lose your money and goods, which in this life you never could enjoy, but besides you also wretchedly lose both body and soul, and upon all this with your condemned treasures you bring down God’s displeasure and curse upon your children and heirs, who have become no better than yourself, but fall into poverty and into all distress and misfortune. Very well, he that will hear, let him hear. For everyone must bear his own burden, as St. Paul says, Galatians 6:5: I believe it also. Therefore you who will not hear, answer for yourselves. This is enough of this Gospel for a small admonition. God grant, that in some of you it may bring forth fruit! Amen.