Lutheran Worship and Resources
Norma Boeckler, Artist-in-Residence
Saturday, November 3, 2012
TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
This sermon is found in all the editions of the Church Postil and in five pamphlet editions printed at Wittenberg in 1522, 1523 and 1524. The title of one pamphlet is: “A sermon on the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John.
A nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum, etc. In which is shown how faith once begun should be increased and laid hold of. Martin Luther, 1524, Wittenberg.” Perhaps printed first: “The Three Sermons,” Matthew 12, “The Sign of Jonah”; John 4, “The Nobleman’s Son,” and Luke 19, “Palm Sunday. Wittenberg, 1522.” Erl. 14, 249; W. 2351; St. L. 11, 1762.
Text: John 4:46-54. He came therefore again unto Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe. The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die. Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. The man believed the word that Jesus spake unto him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him, saying, that his son lived. So he inquired of them the hour when he began to amend. They said therefore unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house. This is again the second sign that Jesus did, having come out of Judaea into Galilee.
THE NOBLEMAN’S SON OF CAPERNAUM HEALED. AN EXAMPLE OF FAITH.
* The contents of this Gospel. 1.
I. THE FIRST POINT TO NOTE IN THIS GOSPEL IS,THAT FAITH MAKES THE TREASURES OF CHRIST THE PROPERTY OF ALL BELIEVERS.
II. THE SECOND POINT TO NOTE IS,THE INCREASE OR GROWTH OF FAITH.
1. The foundation and cause of this increase.
2. The nature of this increase. 4-7.
3. The objection raised by this increase, and the answer. 8-10.
4. The increase takes place under many kinds of trials and temptations. 10-12f.
* Where the heart does not stand firm on the Word, it cannot withstand temptation. 13-15.
* Of the knowledge of the law and of Christ.
* The stronger faith is, the weaker is the flesh; and the weaker faith is, the stronger is the flesh. 17.
III. THE THIRD POINT TO NOTE IS,THE SEALING AND CONFIRMATION OF FAITH.
1. The nature of this sealing and confirming. 18-19.
2. This sealing and confirming takes place under many kinds of temptation. 20-21.
* Of the exercise of faith.
* Conclusion. 23.
SUMMARY OF THIS GOSPEL:
1. 1. Here we have an example, in which you see how imperfect faith increases, even when we do not cease to pray.
2. When we are delivered from temptation, our faith is increased, to the end that we may more strongly withstand future temptations and persecutions.
THE NOBLEMAN’S SON HEALED.
1. Today’s Gospel pictures to us a remarkable example of faith, for St.
John carefully notes at three different times that the nobleman believed, and we may indeed be greatly moved by the fact, and ask, what kind of faith must he have had, that the Evangelist mentioned it so often. We have already learned so much about faith and the Gospel that I think we should rightly understand it. But since it ever occurs again and again, we are obliged to discuss it frequently.
2. In the first place, I have often said that faith through the Gospel fully brings the Lord Jesus with all his riches home to every man; and that one Christian has just as much as another, and the child baptized today has not less than St. Peter and all the saints in heaven. We are all equal and alike in reference to faith, and one person has his treasure just as full and complete as another.
3. Our Gospel lesson speaks further of the increase of faith, and here there is a difference. Although faith fully possesses Christ and all his riches, yet it must nevertheless be continually kept in motion and exercised, so that it may have assurance, and firmly retain its treasures. There is a difference between having a thing and firmly keeping hold of it, between a strong and a weak faith. Such a great treasure should be firmly seized and well guarded, so that it may not be easily lost or taken from us. I may have it indeed in its entirety, although I hold it only in a paper sack, but it is not so well preserved as if I had it locked in an iron chest.
4. Therefore we must so live on the earth, not that we think of something different that is better to acquire than what we already possess; but that we strive to lay hold of the treasure more and more firmly and securely from day to day. We have no reason to seek anything more than faith; but here we must see to it how faith may grow and become stronger. Thus we read in the Gospel, that, although the disciples of Christ without doubt believed (for otherwise they had not followed him), yet he often rebuked them on account of their weak faith. They had indeed faith, but when it was put to the test, they let it sink and did not support it. So it is with all Christians; where faith is not continually kept in motion and exercised, it weakens and decreases, so that it must indeed vanish; and yet we do not see nor feel this weakness ourselves, except in times of need and temptation, when unbelief rages too strongly; and yet for that very reason faith must have temptations in which it may battle and grow.
5. Therefore it is not as the idle babblers among the theologians of the schools taught, who make out that we are lazy and careless, by saying: If one have the smallest drop or spark of love and faith, he will be saved. The Scriptures teach that one must increase and progress. True it is that you possess Christ through faith, although you only hold the treasure in a poor cloth; yet you must see to it that you firmly lay hold of him and let no power rob you of him.
6. Consequently this nobleman or officer, whoever he was (I hold he was a courtier of King Herod), was so far in faith that he believed if he could bring Jesus into his home, he would then surely heal his son; for he had heard God’s Word or the Gospel of Christ, that he cheerfully helped every person that was brought to him and refused no one his favor. His faith laid hold of this and that was the reason he went to Christ. For if his heart had been kept in suspense, so that he had thought: Who knows whether he can help you or will help you? he would not have gone to him. Therefore it is certain that he had beforehand so conceived of Christ and believed that he would help him.
7. The nature and manner of faith are to picture and mirror the goodness of Christ thus in the heart of man. Therefore the Epistle to the Hebrews says, in 11:1.: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for,” that is, of something good, the grace and goodness of God. Now the faith of this man stood so, that if he had continued in it he would with. out a doubt have been saved, and the Lord would have had pleasure in it. However, he dealt severely with him, found an imperfection in his faith, chastised him and said: “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe.”
8. How does this agree with what I said before? If faith and a good confidence in him brought the nobleman to Christ, how can he then say: Ye will in no wise believe, unless ye see signs? But, as I said, he wishes to show him that his faith is not yet strong enough; for he still clings only to the seeing and the experience of the bodily present Christ. Likewise did Christ chastise the disciples in the boat, when the storm came and he said to them: “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” Matthew 8:26. As if he were to say: Where is your faith now? Therefore, however good and genuine faith may be, it falls back when it comes to a battle, unless it has been well disciplined and has grown strong.
9. Therefore you should not imagine it is enough if you have commenced to believe; but you must diligently watch that your faith continue firm, or it will vanish; you are to see how you may retain this treasure you have embraced; for satan concentrates all his skill and strength on how to tear it out of your heart. Therefore the growth of your faith is truly as necessary as its beginning, and indeed more so; but all is the work of God. The young milk-faith is sweet and weak; but when long marches are required and faith is attacked, then God must strengthen it, or it will not hold the field of battle.
10. Therefore this man would not have been helped by the faith he had at first; he would have been forced to retreat had not Christ come and strengthened him. But how did he strengthen him? The nobleman believed, if he came to him in his house, he could surely heal his son. Then Christ gave him a rebuke, a bitter and hard answer: “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe.” With these words he gives faith a scornful rebuff that it can not stand. The poor man was terrified and his faith at once began to sink and to vanish, therefore he says: “Sir, come down ere my child die.”
11. As if he would say: Yes, you must hasten and come and yourself be present, or my son will die. Here Christ now bestows upon him a stronger faith, as God does upon all whom he strengthens in faith, and raises him thus to a higher degree or plain that he may become strong and believe in a different way than he did before; and he speaks thus to the father: “Go thy way; thy son liveth.”
12. Had he thus said to him before that his son would live he would have been unable to believe; but now he believes when faith springs forth in his heart and begets in him another faith, so that he becomes a different man.
Therefore the Lord adds to his great rebuke great strength. For, he must now cling to that which he does not see; for he did not before believe that Christ had such power and influence that he could heal his son when he did not see him and was not present with him. It is truly strong faith, that a heart can believe what it does not see and understand, contrary to all the senses and reason, and can cling only to God’s Word. Here there is nothing manifest except that he believed, otherwise he would have received no help. In faith one must look to nothing but the Word of God. Whoever permits anything else to be pictured in his eyes is already lost. Faith clings to the naked and pure Word, neither to its works nor to its merits. If your heart does not thus stand naked, your cause is lost.
13. Let us now take an example of this: When a priest, nun or monk boasts that he has maintained his chastity, said many masses, fasted often, prayed much and the like, and then does not keep in mind God’s Word, but his own good works, and builds upon them, so that he thinks God must consequently hear him, then he is lost; for as long as this picture is in the mind, faith cannot be there. Therefore when one is about to die and death is present, and he looks around for a way of escape and for the first step he should take, then satan is at hand and pictures to him how dreadful and horrible death is; and besides he sees hell and God’s judgment before his eyes. Then satan is victorious, for there is no help as long as this is before his eyes. If he were wise and pictured nothing else in his heart and continued to cling to the Word of God alone, he would live, for that is a living Word. Therefore, whoever clings to the Word must stand where the living and eternal Word stands.
14. However, this is exceedingly difficult to do; for here you see how hard it was for this nobleman; also, for the Apostles in the Gospel, Matthew 8:25-26, when they were on the water in a boat and the boat was about to sink and the waves beat into the boat, so that death was before their eyes; then they lost their hold on the Word. Had they firmly believed and said:
Here we have the Word of God, here is Christ; where he is, there we are also; there would have been no danger. But since they did not have such faith, they would have had to sink and perish had not Christ come to their help. Just so it was with Peter, when he walked on the sea and came to Christ: so long as he held to the Word, the water had to bear him up; but when he turned his eyes from Christ and he let go the Word he saw the wind blowing and he began to sink.
15. Therefore I said, we must let go of every thing and cling only to the Word; if we have laid hold of that, then let rage and roar the world, death, sin, hell and all misfortune. But if you let go the Word, then you must perish. This we see also in people who seek temporal nourishment: when they have sufficient, and their house and barn are full, they easily trust in God and say, they have a gracious God; but when they have nothing they begin to doubt, then their faith vanishes; for they picture before their eyes, that there is nothing at hand and not any provision in store, and they know not how they shall exist; thus care and worry drive faith out of the heart.
But if they would lay hold of God’s Word, they would think thus: My God lives, he assures me he will sustain my life; I will go forth and labor, he will make everything right, as Christ says, Matthew 6:33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” If I retained this Word and would cast the other out of my mind, I would not come into need. But as long as you picture before your eyes your poverty, you cannot believe. This nobleman doubtless had also a picture in his eyes, that he might have thought: He will not grant my request, he will give me a hard answer, will not accompany me home and will cruelly turn me away. Had he fixed his eyes upon such treatment he would have been lost; but since he turned his eyes from such thoughts, Christ later gives him blessed consolation and says: “Go thy way; thy son liveth.”
16. This is the nature and way of faith: — thus God deals with us, when he wishes to strengthen us. This is also what St. Paul means in Corinthians 3:18, when he says: “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit.” The glory of the Lord with Paul is the knowledge of God. Moses also possessed a glory, the knowledge and understanding of the law. When I have a knowledge of the law, I look into his clear countenance and into his pure light. But now we have passed through that and have a higher knowledge of Christ our Lord.
Whoever knows him as the man who helps in time of need and gives power to fulfill the law, through whom we have acquired the forgiveness of sins: in that way he mirrors his glory in us. That is, as the rays of the sun are reflected in the water or in a mirror, so Christ reflects himself and gives forth a luster from himself in our hearts, in a way that we are transformed from one degree of glory to another, so that we daily increase and more clearly know and understand the Lord. Then we shall be changed and transformed into the same image, in a way that we all will be one bread with Christ. This is not accomplished in that we ourselves do it by virtue of our own power; but God, who is the Spirit, must do it. For even if the Holy Spirit began such glory or illumination in us and would later forsake us, then we would be as we were before.
17. Now we ought to be so armed that we do not remain standing still at the first degree, but continually increase; therefore the cross, temptation and opposition must come, by means of which faith will grow and become strong, and as the glory of faith increases, the mortification of the body also increases; the stronger faith is, the weaker will the flesh be, and the smaller the faith, the stronger the flesh, and the less will the flesh be denied.
We are apt to think, if I shall continually help my neighbor, what will become of me? To what will I come at last? But if we had mirrored in us true faith and Christ, we would not doubt that we should have enough, but remember that God will surely come to our assistance when the crisis comes. But if we are lost in such a little tempest, what will we do in the great conflicts of the soul? See, in this way faith is exercised and increased; if we go forth, and are to-day as yesterday, to-morrow as to-day, that is not a Christian life. Now the second thing for which John praises this man is, that he increased in faith.
18. In the third place, he says: While he was going home, his servants met him and said to him that his son lived, and he experienced that his son began to amend in the very hour that the Lord had said to him, “Thy son liveth;” and he believed and his whole house. Here the Evangelist says again that he believed. But, if he had not believed heretofore why did he come to Christ? This is a more perfect faith, that was confirmed by the miracle. In this manner our Lord God deals with us to make us more perfect and raise us ever to a higher plane of faith. If we pass through this condition, we thus come into the experience and become assured of our faith, as we see here that the nobleman overcomes all difficulties like an iconoclast who tears down pictures and images, receives applause and becomes certain of his cause, in that he has experienced it, and finds that he is helped by faith, and all agree; the time, the miracle and the word with the faith.
19. What then did he now believe? Not that his son had been healed, for this kind of faith is now at an end, the healing has been done, and it is now a thing of the past. He sees before his eyes that his son lives. But out of his experience comes forth another faith, that Christ would in the future continue to help him out of other troubles and whatever dark pictures might rise before him; that is what he believed. If the Lord had said to him:
Go and die; he would have replied: Although I do not know whither I shall go or where the inn is, yet since I tried before what faith is, I will again cling to the Word. You helped me once when I could not see nor understand; you will now again help me. Moreover, if Christ had said to him: Leave home and land and your possessions, and come, follow me; he would not have thought: Yes, but how shall I support myself? No doubt the picture would have appeared before his eyes: There is everything in abundance, here is nothing; shall I let go of that, what will I come to? But now he thinks: Although nothing is here, and I see nothing, I will nevertheless cling to the Word, he will surely help me. I tried it before.
This is impossible for reason, but faith can do all things.
20. Therefore faith exercises itself in various temptations and every day new temptations arise; for the former experiences do not always return, as one sees here. This nobleman has already made use of the work of faith, that is now past, it will never return again; but he must now try another.
Therefore the oftener a person experiences the same temptation, the better it is for him; the more he triumphs over the storm, the firmer he lays hold of Christ, and becomes skilled so to be ready to bear all that is laid upon him.
21. In like manner it went with the Holy Patriarchs, and thus it always goes with us; so that I believe what has taken place in former times, is of no help to me, but my faith must always turn its attention to things of the future.
Therefore, when God called Abraham to depart out of his own country, he did it, and believed it, Genesis 12:lf. Now when he came into that country, God called him to go into another and later into another. Thus he continually increased in faith, and later he became so assured, and had traced and experienced how God dealt with him, and became such a perfect character that he was willing to offer his own son as a sacrifice to God. From this it follows: Whoever is greatly tried and disciplined in this way, faces death much more willingly.
22. Thus you see how an example of growing faith is here portrayed; it is now clear enough, therefore take it well to heart. Every person has indeed his own experiences in life by which he may exercise his faith, to trust God to help him. Thus he will be able to prove how God helps him, and he can thus make progress and grow in faith. As soon as one experience ends another always begins, so that we may see and grasp the truth that our Lord God is true. If we have the confidence that he will nourish and sustain our bodies, we can also believe that he will save our souls. I have now spoken enough about faith.
23. The other part of this Gospel, on love, every one can easily understand for himself. It is clearly enough set forth and it is not necessary to speak much about how Christ served and helped this nobleman. He had no advantage or gain from it himself, but he did it purely gratuitously out of love. Also you see how the nobleman became a servant of his son.
Whatever there is more in this Gospel belongs to its spiritual significance, and its exposition word for word we will commend to the quiet and wise spirits.
TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
KJV John 4:46 So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death. 48 Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. 49 The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die. 50 Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way. 51 And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth. 52 Then enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. 53 So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house. 54 This is again the second miracle that Jesus did, when he was come out of Judaea into Galilee.
This sermon is printed in all the editions of the Church Postil and in three pamphlet editions, all of which appeared at Wittenberg in one year, 1526.
The title of all three is the same: “A sermon for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, on the true nature of faith. Of the nature of the wickedness of the devil our adversary. The saying of Paul in 2 Corinthians 4, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels’ and Matthew 13, ‘Faith is like a grain of mustard seed.’ Richly explained and adorned with beautiful examples from Moses, St. Peter and others. How faith begins like a blossoming tree.
Martin Luther, Wittenberg, 1526.” Erl. 14, 261; W. 11, 2365; St. L. 11, 1772.
OF FAITH IN GENERAL, AND OF THE NOBLEMAN IN PARTICULAR.
I. OF FAITH IN GENERAL.
1. The way and nature of faith.
2. Satan is an enemy of faith and seeks to destroy it. 2-3.
3. That it is quickly accomplished as far as faith is concerned, is proved. a. By the examples of the Old Testament. 4-5. b. By the examples of the New Testament. 6-7. c. By the examples in the time of the Reformation.
* Believers should not feel too secure, but be on their guard. 8-10.
4. How and why God permits faith to be attacked.
5. Why satan is such a great enemy of faith. 12-13.
* The Peasant War was the work of satan. 14f.
* It is characteristic of satan, if he succeeds not in one way, he will try another. 15.
II. OF THE FAITH OF THE NOBLEMAN IN PARTICULAR.
1. In what way the faith of the nobleman originates. 16-17.
2. How the faith of the nobleman is tried. 18-19.
3. How the faith of the nobleman is strengthened. 20-23.
* Of faith. a. It does not depend upon how weak or strong faith is, but on whether it will persevere. 24-25. b. Why God permits faith to be tried. 26-27. c. How one should pray for the maintainance of faith.
4. That the faith of the nobleman was beautiful and noble.
* There is nothing more blessed than to cleave to Christ by faith.
5. Why the Evangelist in his description of the faith of the nobleman uses so many words. 29-39.
6. How the faith of the nobleman breaks forth into glorious fruits.
* The greatest and highest work of faith.
* Christ rejects no one, who is weak in faith.
* How and why Christians should admonish one another to continue steadfast in the Word.
1. A beautiful example of faith is presented in this Gospel, exhibiting, as it does, the nature and character of faith, namely, that it is to increase and become perfect; and it portrays faith in a way as to show that it is not a quiet and idle, but a living, restless thing, that either retrogrades or advances, lives and moves; and where this does not occur, faith does not exist, but only a lifeless notion of the heart concerning God. For true, living faith, which the Holy Spirit pours into the heart, cannot be inactive. This I say for the purpose that no one may be sure, even if he has attained faith, that he now has everything; with this it shall not stop, for it is not sufficient to begin, but one must constantly grow and increase, and continue learning to know God better.
2. For, on the other hand, it is not the nature and custom of our enemy, the devil, to be idle, as 1 Peter, 5:8 says: “Be sober, be watchful; your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” If then the devil neither sleeps nor rests, it is not right for a Christian to be idle and fold his hands; but he is to consider how he may fortify himself against the power of the devil; for he is not called the prince of this world in vain, John 14:30, as to-day’s Epistle teaches, Ephesians 6:12: “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” This prince rules the world, howls and rages, is mad and foolish, cannot bear that a Christian progresses; nor is it to be wondered at, for thereby a rupture is made in his kingdom and his net broken. Hence, wherever possible, he hinders the growth and development of the Christian life.
3. When, therefore, the fire of faith is kindled and burns, and the devil feels it and becomes aware of it, he immediately grasps it with all his cunning, for he knows how his kingdom is endangered by it. Therefore he endeavors with great zeal to protect his kingdom, and exerts himself to retain all under his obedience. Certain it is, therefore, that, when a person begins to believe, temptation and persecution will be sure closely to follow him; and if this does not occur, it is a sign his faith is not true and he has not tightly apprehended the Gospel. For that rogue, the devil, has a sharp vision and easily becomes conscious of the presence of a true Christian. Therefore he exerts himself to entrap him, and surrounds and attacks him on all sides; for he cannot bear that anyone should desert his kingdom.
4. Therefore it is dangerous to live heedlessly, for the devil is likely to take us by surprise. This happens even to the great ones among the saints, who rightly apprehend the Word of God. If they regard themselves as standing securely, this rogue is behind them, strikes them down and wrestles with them until they are vanquished. Behold, what happened to the great men of God, to Moses, to Aaron and to the princes of Judah. They had an excellent faith, when they led the people out of Egypt, and all the people went in faith through the Red Sea, through death, through the wilderness and through many other wonderful experiences, in which they manifested their faith; but at last they came to a point where everything was ruined; they feared that they would have to die of hunger and thirst in the parched wilderness. Is it not a pity that after manifesting their faith in so many great trials, going into and through death, wrestling with and overcoming it, when they regarded themselves at the very best, they should fall, allow themselves to be overcome by their belly and murmur against God, and be so fiercely attacked that they succumb and all be overthrown by satan.
Hence no one is secure, unless his faith continues to grow stronger and stronger.
5. Moses, who had such an exceedingly strong faith, also fell; when he was to strike water out of the rock with his rod, he doubted and said to the people, Numbers 20:10: “Hear now, ye rebels; shall we bring ye forth water out of this rock?” [According to Luther’s translation, “Come here, let us see if we can bring forth water out of the rock for you.”] The good man, Moses, who had performed so many miracles, is tripped by reason and falls into carnal thoughts, fearing that the unbelief of the people would hinder the great miracle and sign. But he should have adhered firmly to the Word of God and esteemed that higher, greater, stronger and more efficacious than the unbelief of the people; but the good man was so severely tempted that he stumbled and fell.
6. We have similar examples in the New Testament. Peter was strong and confident in faith. When he saw Jesus walking on the water, he said, impelled by his strong faith, Matthew 14:28: “Lord, bid me come unto thee,” and stepped out of the ship into the water. He was confident that the water would bear him. Peter had a remarkable faith and a bold spirit, so that he ventured upon the water and danger, yea, even death, making the venture boldly and daringly by reason of his faith in Christ. But when he thought he was most secure, the wind and storm arose and he forgot the Word and lost faith; he fell, sank into the water and permitted satan to tear faith out of his heart. Where was then his great faith? Faith is a tender, subtle thing, and we so easily make a mistake and are liable to stumble; but the devil is watchful, and unless men exercise watchfulness, he quickly gains his point.
7. How strongly the people were inclined toward Christ! They regarded him as a Prophet, followed him eagerly, defended him with a zeal that even the nobles of the people were amazed and did not dare to lay hands on him.
But when he had been seized and bound, and led away and crucified, the people forsook him. Alas! alas! he is no longer a Prophet; no one stands by him, yea, instead they cry out, Luke 23:21, “Crucify him, crucify him!” and what is still worse, his own Disciples forsake him. Where now was their faith and holiness?
8. So, also, we meet with similar occurrences in our day. At first, when the Gospel was proclaimed, it was a lovely sermon and all the world desired to become Christian, nobody opposed it. But when attacks were made on the monks, priests, and nuns, when the Mass was criticized; alas! they fell like leaves from the trees. Afterwards, when the nobles were also attacked, the Gospel was still more persecuted and its reception began more and more to abate. The devil does not rest yet, and hence he stirs up so many sects and factions. How many sects have we not already had? One has taken up the sword, another has attacked the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, others that of baptism. The devil does not sleep, he will do many more such things, he looks around and exerts himself to exterminate the pure doctrine in the Church and will finally, it is feared, bring it to this, that should one pass through all Germany he would find no pure pulpit, where the Word of God is preached as in former days. He tries with all his might to prevent the pure doctrine from being taught, for he cannot endure it.
9. Escape from the enemy is most difficult. He lurks and watches everywhere, and pushes his affairs so hard, that even the learned fall and the elect stumble, as did Moses, St. Peter, and the Apostles. We think we are safe, permit matters to drift along, no one is concerned for his own welfare, no one cares for it. We should pray and call on God to maintain the Gospel and cause his holy name to be proclaimed more and more widely; but no one cares, no one prays for the advancement of the Gospel.
The consequence of this must be, God will overthrow both us and satan.
Our end will be, he will make us bite the dust, and through our own rashness and indifference we shall fall into great misery.
10. The devil also is able to present to the factious spirits the idea that they regard themselves as right, like the Arians who thought their cause was right. But there was no one who could decide whether or not their teachings were orthodox. The Christian, however, subdues his reason and does not deceive himself, but in humility says to God: “Dear Lord, although I feel certain concerning the matter, yet without thee I cannot maintain it; therefore help me or else I am lost.” To be sure he may feel certain of it, like Peter on the water, who could not well feel more sure that the water would bear him on; he knew of no more hindrance; but when the storm burst on him he saw wherein he lacked. The heart must have thoroughly grasped this idea that, although we may feel secure concerning a matter and have Scripture for it, and be prepared and fortified in the best possible manner with clear proofs, it is the power, will and might of God that protect us and defend us against the devil, our adversary and most bitter foe.
11. This occurs only, however, when God awakens us and keeps us in his fear, so that we may always be concerned and cry to him: “O Lord, help us and increase our faith, for without thee we are lost,” Luke 17:5. Our hearts should always be in the condition as if we had only begun to believe to-day, and always be so disposed toward the Gospel as if we had never before heard it. We should make a fresh beginning each day. The nature and character of faith is constantly to grow and become stronger. The devil, as has already been said, is not idle, and has no rest. If he is struck down once, he will arise again; if he cannot enter at the front door, he sees to it that he enters at the rear; if he cannot effect an entrance in this way, he breaks in through the roof or digs his way through underneath the doorsill, toiling until he effects an entrance, employing all manner of cunning and schemes. If one way fails, he tries another and perseveres until he succeeds.
12. Over against this, man is a poor, weak creature, as St. Paul says, Corinthians 4:7, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” The treasure is the Gospel; but I am weaker than the vessel in the potter’s hands. An earthen vessel is a weak thing and is easily broken and its contents spilled.
Hence the devil, when he notices what a treasure faith is and in what a poor vessel it is kept, rages and storms, and in his wrath says to us: “I will strike you and shatter your vessel: you have a great treasure, but I will spill it for you; I will give you a blow. If I were permitted, how soon would I shatter the vessel. You are after all nothing but a little poor and weak vessel of earth.”
13. So God has placed this poor, little vessel among enemies. How soon may it not therefore be destroyed! It may be broken with a club; yea, if a serpent would prick it, it would go to pieces. It would be a small matter for satan suddenly to ruin an entire country. Hence he is angry, because God takes hold of the matter in such a bantering manner and confronts him with a poor little earthen vessel, and yet he is so great a prince and so powerful a lord of the world. I would also be vexed, if I were a strong man and some one were to tickle me with a straw. I would undoubtedly crush the straw in my anger, and would rather be met with spear, sword and complete armor; even as the strong Goliath was vexed because David, without armor, dared to approach him with a staff, 1 Samuel 17:43. Thus also the devil is angry because God wants to trample him under foot by means of flesh and blood. If a mighty spirit were opposed to him, he would not be so sorely vexed; but it greatly angers him that a poor worm of the dust, a fragile earthen vessel defies him, a weak vessel against a mighty prince. God has placed his treasure, says St. Paul, in a poor, weak vessel; for man is weak, easily aroused to anger, avaricious, arrogant, and weighed down with other imperfections, through which satan easily shatters the earthen vessel; for if God would permit him, he would soon have utterly destroyed the whole vessel. He breaks many an earthen vessel with false doctrine. Now all this happens, says St. Paul, in order that we may learn our inability to accomplish anything by our own strength, but alone by the power of God.
God has, therefore, bid defiance to the devil and said to him: Thou mighty spirit, I will oppose thee with a poor, weak earthen vessel; nevertheless, seize it. This angers the devil exceedingly. Therefore he goes about, as a roaring lion, in order to break and shatter to pieces the fragile vessels made of earth.
14. See what he did with the prophets whom the peasants raised up.
Certainly, no one did this but the devil, who desired to shatter the vessels and indeed did shatter many of them, so that faith and the Scriptures fared badly among them.
15. Indeed, more factious spirits shall arise and it shall come to pass that they will not regard Christ as God, nor as the son of a virgin. For the devil is so cunning and skillful that, if one thing is taken from him, he makes use of another. Thus it has been from the beginning, and it will continue to be so in the future. And all this is permitted, in order that we may be on our guard, lift up our eyes to heaven, so that we may know and acknowledge God, and, if we have made a beginning in faith, that God may nourish and protect the same and preserve the vessel by his power. But satan would gladly break this earthen vessel and crush it under his feet. Others, who belong to him, he pushes hither and thither, according to his pleasure, and rejoices in them. — This is intended to serve as an introduction to the Gospel. We will now consider the text in its proper order. The Evangelist says: “And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum.”
16. This has occurred to other people also, namely, that they have had sick children; but what is to be particularly noted here, appears in these words: “When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son; for he was at the point of death.”
17. Here begins the faith that depends on Christ. This Gospel shows that he had faith; for he hears of Christ, how he heals the sick; his heart recognizes Christ, cleaves to him and thinks thus: If he helps all others, he will also help me and heal my son. He regarded Christ as the person who can help men, and he expects every benefit from him. This indeed, is the heart of a true Christian, since it leads him to attach himself to Christ. If, however, this nobleman had remained in doubt, he would not have come to Christ, but his heart would have been in the condition to say: “He, indeed, helps others, but who knows if he will help me also;” and he might have left the matter rest at this. But his faith was a living faith, and hence he arose and went to Christ. This was the beginning of faith.
18. Now you shall see how strangely and contrary to expectation Christ met him and how his faith was tried, when he said to him: “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe.”
19. How are we to understand this? He says, Ye do not believe, and yet ye have faith? Thus the Lord also spoke to Peter, Matthew 14:31, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” Peter was confident and had faith; therefore he ventured out on the water; but when he saw the storm rage, he doubted and sank. So here also: The nobleman had heard reports concerning Christ, that he was helping everybody. He believed this and came to him. But when he heard that Christ refused to come to him, he felt hurt and his faith drooped, and he feared lest Christ would refuse to help him. This was a rebuff and here began the trial of incipient faith; for this was a hard saying, “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe.” This expression was a trial of his faith, and produced a doubt, and caused him to stumble. The devil stood back of him and said: Return to your home, await the result; he will not help you. But the nobleman was not so easily repulsed, but said to the Lord: “Sir, come down ere my child die.”
20. Faith was ready to droop and sink; but the Lord did not forsake him, raised him up and said to him: “Go thy way; thy son liveth.”
21. He must have had a pure faith, or else he would not have asked the Lord to come to his son. What then did he lack? This: He believed if Christ came to his house, he could heal his son; but unless he were present, he could not effect the cure. His faith was not strong enough to realize that Christ could heal without being present. Hence, his faith had to attain a higher stage. His weak faith was gone, the little earthen vessel was shattered, and he thought his son had to die; but Christ approached, raised him up, placed him on a higher plane of faith, and said to him: “Go thy way; they son liveth.” Thus the man advanced from his first faith, when he believed that Christ could heal if he were present, to a higher stage of faith, by reason of which he now believed the mere word of Christ. For if he had not believed the Word, he would not have ceased until the Lord had accompanied him to his house; but he accepted the Word, believed Christ and clung to his word; for the son was at home, and Christ was with the father.
22. The father accepted the word of Christ and said in his heart: My son is ill; but I shall find him well. This was faith over against reason and experience. Reason would have led him to say: When I left my son, he was ill. As you left him, so you shall find him. But faith says the contrary, stands firmly on the Word and drowns itself in it, and does not at all doubt that it shall be as the Word declares: “Go thy way; thy son liveth.”
23. This is a pure and strong faith, that requires the individual to cast away all sense, understanding, reason, eyes and heart, and sink himself into one little word and be satisfied with and feel secure in it. Christ says, Thy son liveth, so he says to himself: It is certainly true, I shall find it so. Thus faith does not remain idle or quiet, but progresses and rises higher.
24. So Christ also deals with us and permits us to be tried, in order to strengthen our faith. If at the close of our lives, when our time comes to die, we shall have a spark of such faith, it will be well with us; as Christ said to his disciples in the Gospel, Matthew 17:20, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say to this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you.”
A mustard seed is very small, but he who has such faith, shall certainly be saved. The truth lies not in the fact that faith is small; but in that the mustard seed remains and is not destroyed by the birds; that the devil cannot tear faith out of our hearts. It does not matter how insignificant faith may be; but the power lies in seeing to it that faith be not overthrown.
25. Peter on the water retained his pure faith as long as he unhesitatingly ventured on the water according to the word of Christ; for that reason the water bore him and he did not sink. Had he remained in this faith, he might have gone hundreds of miles on the water; but as soon as he wavered, he began to sink. So also Moses, who had a strong faith, but fell from it.
Therefore, it does not matter whether faith be strong or weak; but that it perseveres, no matter how weak it may be. It may happen that he who has a weak faith, abides in faith; and that he who has a strong faith, doubts and falls. Moses and Peter had great and strong faith, so that Moses by faith led the people of Israel through the midst of the sea and through death, and Peter boldly ventured on the sea; but they both fell, although God raised them up again. But the thief on the cross laid hold on faith once for all and clung to it.
26. God deals with us in a way so as to put down arrogance, and that we may not become haughty and wanton, but always remain in his fear. For when temptation comes, we are liable to fall into error. We have a beautiful parable of this in the tree which begins to blossom in the spring, and soon spreads out entirely covered with white blossoms; but as soon as rain falls on it many of the blossoms are ruined, and frost utterly destroys many more of them. Afterwards when the fruit begins to appear and any wind happens to arise, much of the young fruit falls to the ground; when the fruit has more fully developed, caterpillars and worms make their appearance, and they prick and destroy the fruit to such an extent, that scarcely the twentieth part, yea, hardly a hundredth part ripens. The same thing happens to the Gospel. At first everybody wants to become a Christian, it promises to do well and is pleasing to all men: but as soon as the wind or rain of temptation comes, large numbers fall away. Afterwards come the sects and factions, like worms and beetles, which prick and pollute the fruit of the Gospel, and so much false doctrine is taught, that only a few remain faithful to the Gospel.
27. This parable is a sign and picture of true faith. Thus, faith first consists in this, that we may be not secure and presumptuous, but remain in fear.
By the grace of God we are rich in the Word of God and have been brought out of deep and great darkness; but we forget the Word, become weak, continue unconcerned about the matter and have no taste for it. If, under these conditions false prophets should break in with their false teachings and even the devil burst in, and find us idle and the house swept and garnished, he brings with him seven other spirits, more wicked than himself, and our last state is worse than the first. And even if this should happen, we are not therefore to despair, but instruct one another, so that we cling to God and pray to him, saying: “Merciful God, thou hast permitted me to become a Christian, help me to continue to be one and to increase daily in faith. Even if the whole world should fall, and each one conspire to do evil, and the devil break all the earthen vessels, yet I will not be turned by it, but by thy divine help will abide in the Gospel.” Each one should think of the matter, as if he were alone in the world; even as it will be in death at the end of the world, when no one will be concerned about others, but each one must be concerned about himself.
28. Thus the faith of this man was most excellent and noble. He hears the single word, “Thy son liveth.” He believes it and goes home, gives the glory to God, grasps the word, clings to it, and does not grope after other things. Hence God also honors him in return, heals his son, lifts him up and increases his faith, does not permit him to remain in doubt and in weakness, but makes him certain and strong in faith, permits him to continue and become stronger. Nor does he wait until the man has returned to his home, but while he is still on the way allows the restoration of his son to be announced to him, permits his servants to meet him on the way, who bring him the joyous tidings, saying, “Thy son liveth.” For God cannot delay and remain outside, where there is a true heart, which depends solely on him and clings to his Word, and lets everything else go and looks only to the Word of God. In a case like this, God cannot hide himself, but permits himself to be seen and enters his heart and makes his abode there, as we read in St. John’s Gospel, John 14:23. Thus he richly manifested himself to this nobleman, and for this reason, that we might understand the nature of this man’s faith, namely, an excellent and true faith, that was produced purely by the Word of God.
29. What is more blessed and joyous than to believe God’s Word and cling to it in the face of all temptations, and to shut the eyes to all temptations of the devil, to lay aside sense and understanding, reason and cunning, and unceasingly say in one’s heart: “God has spoken, he cannot lie?” Nothing can be more joyful, I say, than such faith. For whatever we ask of God in such faith, we receive more abundantly than we can ever imagine, and God is nearer to us than we can realize. In a word, it all depends upon our belief and trust in him. Therefore, the Evangelist uses so many unnecessary words, as it seems to us, as these: “The man believed the word that Jesus spake unto him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him, saying, that his son lived. So he inquired of them the hour when he began to amend. They said therefore unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth.”
30. All this means, if we believe and trust in God, we shall know that he will richly give us all things for which we pray. And the Evangelist concludes the Gospel with these words: “And himself believed and his whole house.”
31. Thus his faith had increased, not only that he had risen from a lower to a higher stage of faith, but also that he had caused the members of his household to believe. He did not merely abide in faith, but he had an active faith, which did not lie still and idle in his heart, but broke forth and was exposed to others, and preached Christ to others and praised him before them, telling them how he had come to Christ, received consolation from him and how he had received help through his faith, so that all who were in his house had to believe. For it is the character and nature of faith that it attracts other people, breaks forth and becomes active in love, as St. Paul says, Galatians 5:6, “Faith working through love” is the thing that avails; for it lives and can neither remain silent, nor inactive, as King David says, <19B610> Psalm 116:10, and as St. Paul, referring to believers, says, Corinthians 4:13, “I believed and therefore did I speak.” Faith cannot do otherwise, it must break forth and speak; it cannot remain quiet, for it desires to benefit its neighbor. This man had faith for himself; but it did not remain such, but broke forth; for he doubtless preached to his household, telling them how he had come to Christ and received comfort from him; and no doubt they believed his words.
32. Thus we see, if we believe we are to open our mouths and confess the grace God has shown us. This also is the greatest and best work of faith, namely, to inform and teach others in the Word; for as Paul says, Romans 10:10, “With the heart, man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation.” If one is ashamed of the Word and hides it, it is a sign of a lax faith.
33. Thus we see that Christ makes no distinction between weak and strong faith, and rejects no one; for weak faith is also faith, and if it only continues, it will ever grow stronger-d. He came into the world, to receive the weak, and to carry and sustain them. If he were as impatient as we are, he would at once say to us: “Depart from me. I will have nothing to do with you; for you do not believe as you ought.” Who could receive help from him? But the great art of Christ is to know how to deal gently with the weak, not to knock them about and impatiently drive them away. Even though to-day they may not be strong, it may happen in an hour’s time that they grasp the Word more richly than we who regard ourselves as strong.
34. Thus we should teach one another to cling to his Word. For if we abide in his Word, we shall be sufficiently fortified against the devil; for we have a defiance of him in the Word, even though we ourselves are weak. But to the devil, who in an hour’s time could break in pieces all earthen vessels, all men would be as a feather, and he could blow them when and where he wished; but this feather shall become heavier for him than heaven and earth. For a Christian has Christ within himself; but Christ is heavier than heaven and earth. This must suffice concerning this Gospel.
35. We have made a beginning in the attempt to formulate a German Mass. You know that the Mass is the most important external office, that has been instituted for the comfort of true Christians. Therefore I beseech you Christians, that you may pray and supplicate God, that this work may be acceptable to him. You have often heard that no one should teach, unless he knows, that this is the Word of God. Hence nothing should be ordered or arranged unless we know that it is acceptable to God. Nor should we depend on our reason; for unless it begins of its own accord, nothing will come of it. For this reason I have hesitated so long with reference to the German Mass, in order that I might not give any encouragement to the sectarian spirits, who rush into things without thought, and have no regard whether it is God’s pleasure or not. But now, since so many people from all countries have requested me, by petitions and letters, and since the secular government forces me to it, we could not well excuse ourselves and evade the matter but must regard it as the will of God. If there is anything, therefore, in this work that is human and our own, let it fall and perish, even though it have a grand and fine appearance.
But if it is the work of God, it must go forward, even though it appear foolish. Therefore all things that God does, even though not acceptable to any one, must prosper. Therefore, I beseech you to pray the Lord, that, if it is a proper or correct Mass, it may be maintained to his honor and glory.