18 Servants, be in subjection to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. 19 For this is acceptable, if for conscience toward God a man endureth griefs, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what glory is it, if, when ye sin, and are buffeted for it, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye shall take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.
OUR CHRISTIAN DUTIES.
1. This epistle selection, too, is an admonition to good works, or the fruits of faith. It touches upon nearly every condition of life, teaching how each individual should live and conduct himself. But first, Peter admonishes Christians in general that in their intercourse with gentiles, or the unbelieving world, they give no real occasion for censure or reproach concerning their conduct. The admonition seems to hinge upon the fact that Christians, as the apostle reminds them in the first and second chapters, have been called to a lively, a never-dying, hope of an imperishable inheritance in heaven, and of eternal joy and salvation; that they are now redeemed, having obtained remission of sins through the precious blood of Christ; and again, that they are become a holy nation and royal priesthood, to show forth and magnify the grace of God, they who in time past were not God's people and had not obtained grace. "But now," Peter would say, "you have obtained grace through the divine calling of Christ, through the suffering of your Lord. Live, then, as a holy people of God and citizens of heaven."
2. We have already heard that in the Christian life are two essential principles, two principles upon which Christian teachers may lay emphasis. First, faith in the fact that through Christ's blood we are released from sin and have forgiveness; second, being forgiven, our natures are to be changed and we are to walk in newness of life. In baptism, when we first believe, we obtain not only remission of sins whereby we are of grace made children of God, but also the power to purge out, to mortify, the remaining sins. Our transgressions are not forgiven, Paul says (Rom 1, 6), with the privilege of continuing in them, as the insolent rejecters of grace imagine. It is this way: Our sins being blotted out through the blood of Christ, we need not to make remuneration or render satisfaction for them; we are children of grace and enjoy forgiveness. Nevertheless, inherent sin is not entirely purged out, or mortified.
REMISSION AND MORTIFICATION DEFINED.
3. There is difference between remission of sins and mortification of them. The distinction should be made clear for the sake of combating those who confound and pervert the two principles by their false doctrines. In regard to remission, the Pope and many others have taught that forgiveness of sins is obtained through the foolishness of men's own self-elected works, the satisfactions of their own devising. This error has ever prevailed in the world. Cain was the first to make it, and it will continue to the end. And where this error is refuted, false teachers are found who, on the other hand, accept and boast of the doctrine of grace without enjoying its happy results. They proceed as if mere forgiveness were enough, and without further effect than averting punishment; as if it leaves us where we were before, not ameliorating in any wise our moral condition; and as if no more is to be known about Christ and the Gospel.
Therefore, they who claim to be Christians must learn that, having obtained forgiveness without merit on their part, they should henceforth give no place to sins, but rather resist their former evil lusts and avoid and flee from the fruits and works thereof. Such is the substance of this lesson.
4. But note from the apostle's words how his view has changed since the time when, as a fisherman of Bethsaida, he went about with the Lord previous to the Lord's death and resurrection. At that time Peter and the other apostles, in fact the entire Jewish nation, had no other conception of Christ's kingdom—or the kingdom of God—than as an earthly one wherein they should know only happiness, figuring as wealthy farmers, citizens, noblemen, counts and lords. The sum of the world's goods should be theirs, and all the gentiles their vassals. They were to be thenceforth undisturbed by enemies, wars, famine or misfortune, and to enjoy the extremity of peace, leisure and happiness under their supreme King, the Messiah. Such were their hopes, even their expectations. With these pleasing fancies were their minds filled. And just so today are the Jews full and drunken with their visionary dreams.
THE NATURE OF CHRIST'S KINGDOM.
5. Observe here, however, Peter teaches that the lot of the sharer in Christ's kingdom is quite the reverse of what he once imagined. "O beloved Christians," he would say, "who are called and baptized into the royal and priestly kingdom of Christ, I have now to tell you things quite different from the ideas and dreams you and I used to entertain. We are, it is true, citizens, counts and lords in the kingdom where Christ reigns supreme over all earthly kings and lords, and where is only eternal riches, peace and happiness in every form; but the life of that kingdom is unlike that of earthly kings and dominions. You are not, be it known, lords and noblemen in a worldly sense; neither is Christ a king as the world regards kingliness, and the kingdom of the world is not in harmony with his. Know, then, you must regard yourselves strangers and pilgrims in the kingdom of the world.
"Therefore, I admonish you that, having now become Christians—brothers in the eternal heavenly kingdom—your manner of life should be such as becomes them who are no longer of a worldly kingdom. Regard this earthly life only as the traveler or pilgrim regards the country wherein he journeys, the inn where he procures a night's lodging. He does not expect to remain in the city, to be mayor or even a citizen. He finds there his food, but his thoughts are cast beyond its gates, to the place where home is. So," Peter says, "must you look upon your earthly course. You did not become Christians with the prospect of reigning here on earth, as the Jews fancy they shall reign and be established. The dwelling-place, the citizenship and the authority of Christians are to be found in another direction, not in this world. Therefore, think of yourselves as pilgrims on earth, directing your attention toward other possessions and another country, wherein you shall be lords forever, and where no discord nor misfortune such as you must endure in this earthly harbor shall ever enter."
CHRISTIAN USE OF THIS LIFE.
6. But how is indifference to this life to be accomplished? Peter goes on to say: "Be subject to every ordinance of man ... whether to the king ... or unto governors"; again, "Servants, be in subjection to your masters ... also to the froward." How is it consistent with royal citizenship in a celestial country to be a pilgrim on earth? How can we live here with wives and children, houses and lands, and being citizens under a temporal government, and yet not be at home? There is a distinction here which, as before said, was at first difficult for the beloved apostles themselves to understand. But to Christians, especially those of today, it should be clear. Christ and the apostles do not, in this teaching, design the rejection of external government and human authority—what Peter here terms ordinances of men. No, they permit these to remain as they are; moreover, they enjoin us to submit to and make use of them.
7. This is the difference to be kept in mind: We are to conduct ourselves in our earthly stations and occupations as not regarding this life our true kingdom and best good. And we are not to think the life beyond holds nothing more nor better than what we possess here, as do the Jews and the Turks. Although they believe in the resurrection of the dead, they carnally imagine the future life will be like the present except for its perfect peace and happiness, its freedom from misfortune, persecution and all ills. It is the prerogative of the Pope and his holy epicures to believe nothing in any respect.
Every Christian, be he lord or servant, prince or subject, should conduct himself as befits his station, using in trust whatever God has given him—dominion and subjects, house and home, wife and children, money and property, meat and drink. He is to regard himself solely as a guest of earth, as one eating his morsel of bread or taking his lunch in an inn; he must conduct himself in this earthly harbor as a pious guest. Thus may he actually be a king reigning with fidelity, or a lord faithful to his office, and at the same time declare: "I count nothing on this life. I do not expect to remain here. This is but a strange country to me. True, I am seated in the uppermost place at table in this inn; but the occupant of the lowest seat has just as much as I, here or yonder. For we are alike guests. But he who assigned my duty, whose command I execute, gave me orders to conduct myself piously and honorably in this inn, as becomes a guest."
8. So should Christians in all stations of life—lords and ladies, servants and maids—conduct themselves as guests of earth. Let them, in that capacity, eat and drink, make use of clothing and shoes, houses and lands, as long as God wills, yet be prepared to take up their journey when these things pass, and to move on out of life as the guest moves on out of the house or the city which is not his home. Let them conduct themselves as does the guest, with civility toward those with whom they come in contact, not infringing on the rights of any. For a visitor may not unrestrainedly follow his own pleasure and inclinations in the house of a stranger. The saying is: "If you would be a guest, you must behave civilly; otherwise you may promptly be shown the door or the dungeon."
9. Christians should be aware of their citizenship in a better country, that they may rightly adapt themselves to this world. Let them not occupy the present life as if intending to remain in it; nor as do the monks, who flee responsibility, avoiding civil office and trying to run out of the world. For Peter says rather that we are not to escape our fellows and live each for himself, but to remain in our several conditions in life, united with other mortals as God has bound us, and serving one another. At the same time, we are to regard this life as a journey through a country where we have no citizenship—where we are not at home; to think of ourselves as travelers or pilgrims occupying for a night the same inn, eating and drinking there and then leaving the place.
10. Let not the occupants of the humbler stations—servants and subjects—grumble: "Why should I vex myself with unpleasant household tasks, with farm work or heavy labor? This life is not my home anyway, and I may as well have it better. Therefore, I will abandon my station and enjoy myself; the monks and priests have, in their stations, withdrawn themselves from the world and yet drunk deeply, satisfying fleshly lusts." No, this is not the right way. If you are unwilling to put up with your lot, as the guest in a tavern and among strangers must do, you also may not eat and drink.
Similarly, they who are favored with loftier positions in life may not, upon this authority, abandon themselves to the idea of living in the sheer idleness and lustful pleasure their more favored station permits, as if they were to be here always. Let them reason thus: "This life, it is true, is transitory—a voyage, a pilgrimage, leading to our actual fatherland. But since it is God's will that everyone should serve his fellows here in his respective station, in the office committed to him, we will do whatever is enjoined upon us. We will serve our subjects, our neighbors, our wives and children so long as we can; we would not relax our service even if we knew we had to depart this very hour and leave all earthly things. For, God be praised, had we to die now we would know where we belong, where our home is. While we are here, however, on the way, it is ours to fulfill the obligations of our earthly citizenship. Therefore, we will live with our fellows in obedience to the law of our abiding-place, even unto the hour wherein we must cross the threshold outward, that we may depart in honor, leaving no occasion for complaint."
11. Thus, mark you, should every Christian conduct himself here on earth, according to Peter. In the first place, he should know where is his real home, his fatherland. We learn this through faith in Christ, whereby we become children of God, heirs of eternal life, citizens of heaven. Accordingly, we sing: "Now we pray thee, Holy Spirit, for true faith," etc., when we depart home from this wretchedness. This sentiment accords beautifully with the text here where Peter calls us "sojourners and pilgrims"—wayfarers in earthly wretchedness, desiring home and casting our thoughts beyond the gates of our sojourning-place. Second, though we must suffer this wretched condition in a foreign land, we are under obligation to render every honor to the host and to respect the inn, making the best of whatever may befall us.
12. The prophet Jeremiah found it necessary to give admonition of this sort to his wretched Jewish countrymen in Babylon who longed unspeakably to be home again and almost despaired because of having so long to suffer misery among strangers when many of their brethren were at home. Other prophets had encouraged them with the promise of soon being returned. Consequently many of them ceased to till the land and neglected to provide for a livelihood. To these Jeremiah writes (ch. 29, 10): "Ye must have patience, for ye are not so soon to return—not till seventy years be accomplished." Meanwhile, though in wretchedness and captivity, they were to do as he bids in verses 5-7: "Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them. Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters: and multiply ye there, and be not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray unto Jehovah for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace."
That there in their misery they should build houses and make themselves citizens of Babylon, should marry and rear children—yes, give their children in marriage—as if they were to remain there permanently—this injunction of the prophet was altogether disagreeable and annoying to them. And still more offensive was the command to pray for the city and kingdom wherein they were captives. Much rather would they have prayed for liberation; for, influenced by the other prophets, they hoped to return home the following year.
13. Now, how was it with them? The godly, faithful ones had reason to hope and trust in release and a return to their own kingdom. Surely there was no pleasure, no joy, for them in their present miserable condition, as in Psalm 137 they testify and complain by the rivers of Babylon. There they cried and wept and had not an hour of enjoyment when they thought of home. The long seventy years their hearts continually stood at the gate ready to depart, so that they had no inclination whatever to build houses, to cultivate farms, to make gardens, to take wives and rear children. Nevertheless, the prophet bids them meet all the requirements of citizens of that country; and more than that, to pray for their hosts in the same spirit in which they would pray for their neighbors and fellow-citizens, asking God for peace and prosperity upon the city.
CHRISTIANS SUBJECTS OF TWO KINGDOMS.
14. So, too, Christians are subjects of two kingdoms—they have experience of two kinds of life. Here on earth where the world has its home and its heavenly kingdom, we surely are not citizens. According to Paul (Phil 3, 20), "our conversation"—our citizenship—"is with Christ in heaven"; that is, in yonder life, the life we await. As the Jews hoped to be released from Babylon, we hope to be released from this present life and to go where we shall be lordly citizens forever. But being obliged to continue in this wretched state—our Babylon—so long as God wills, we should do as the Jews were commanded to do—mingle with other mortals, eat and drink, make homes, till the soil, fill civil offices and show good will toward our fellows, even praying for them, until the hour arrives for us to depart unto our home.
15. He who is guided by these facts, who comprehends the distinction between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of the world, will know how to resist successfully all classes of fanatics. For these latter paint this life in a terrible aspect. They want to run out of the world entirely, and are unwilling to associate with anyone; or they proceed to disturb civil regulations and to overthrow all order; or again, as with the Pope, they interfere in secular rule, desiring temporal authority, wholly under the name and color of Christianity.
Having as Christians forgiveness of sins, and being now people of God, children of his kingdom, citizens no longer of Babylon but of heaven, let us know that during the period of our sojourn here among strangers, it is ours to live righteously, honorably and chastely, to further civil and domestic peace and to lend counsel and aid to benefit even the wicked and ungrateful, meanwhile constantly striving after our inheritance and keeping in mind the kingdom whither we are bound.
16. In short, a Christian must be one who, as Paul says (1 Cor 7, 29-31), uses this world as not abusing it, who buys and possesses as though he possessed not, who has wife and children as though he had them not and who builds as though not building. How is it possible to reconcile these seeming inconsistencies? By making the Christian faith distinct from the faith of the Jews and Turks—yes, of the Papists even: by accepting the fact that the Christian's attitude toward this earthly life is the attitude of the guest; that in such capacity is he to build, to buy, to have dealings and hold intercourse with his fellows, to join them in all temporal affairs—a guest who respects his host's wishes, the laws of the realm and of the city and the customs of the inn, but at the same time the Christian refrains from attesting his satisfaction with this life as if he intended to remain here and hoped for nothing better. Thus will the Christian pass through every temporal event in the right way—having every possession as though not having it, using and yet not cleaving to it; not so occupied with the temporal as to lose the eternal, but leaving behind—forgetting—the former while striving after the latter as the goal set before him.
17. Therefore, they who presume to run out of the world by going into the desert or the wilderness; who, unwilling to occupy the inn but finding it indispensable nevertheless, must become their own hosts—these are great and unreasonable fools. Surely they must eat and drink and have clothing and shelter. With these things they cannot dispense, even if they can withdraw from all society. Nor is their action forsaking and fleeing the world, as they imagine it to be. Whatever your station and condition, whatever your occupation in life, of necessity you must be somewhere on earth while mortal life is yours. Nor has God separated you from men; he has placed you in society. Each individual is created and born for the sake of other individuals. But observe, wherever you are and whatever your station, you are, I say, to flee the world.
HOW TO ESCAPE THE WORLD.
18. But how are we to flee the world? Not by donning caps and creeping into a corner or going into the wilderness. You cannot so escape the devil and sin. Satan will as easily find you in the wilderness in a gray cap as he will in the market in a red coat. It is the heart which must flee, and that by keeping itself "unspotted from the world," as James 1, 27 says. In other words, you must not cling to temporal things, but be guided by the doctrine of faith in Christ, and await the eternal, heavenly inheritance; and in that faith and that hope are you to execute the trust and work committed to you here, declaring the while: "That which I do here is not the chief good, the thing of real value, for which I live; though such is the case with the world, the Jews, the Turks and the Papists. I hold this temporal life as a tavern, valuing it no more than the guest values the inn where he enjoys food and lodging, while heart and mind turn ever to his own home."
What tolerance would there be for one foolish enough to declare: "I will not eat nor drink here. I will behave peculiarly, smashing windows and turning things upside down, for this is not my abiding-place"? For the very purpose of advancing himself on his journey, the traveler should make use of the inn, accepting whatever is offered.
19. Likewise should Christians use the world, constantly casting their thoughts beyond this life, notwithstanding they have here house and home, wife and children. These are for the present life only, yet the Christian owes them due consideration, the while he asserts: "Today we are here, tomorrow elsewhere. Now we avail ourselves of this inn, the next day of another. We do not expect to remain here."
Relative to this subject, Peter in his beautiful Pentecostal sermon says concerning David, who nevertheless was a holy king, that he did not ascend into the heavens, but, having fulfilled the will of God, fell asleep. Peter, so far from being willing to disparage David's office and rule, to criticise him therein for wrong-doing, rather magnifies it in glowing terms. David was a king, and cast not aside his crown; no, he retained his royal glory. He held his office as a God-intrusted one, in the execution whereof he served God. Similarly should the righteous ruler do—in fact, all men in their respective offices and stations. Let them remember they are not placed where they are to choose their own pleasure, but solely for the service of God. Such is their duty so long as they are here—transients, like the stranger at the inn with other guests, who conducts himself with respect to the needs and the pleasure of his fellows, doing as they do, and in case of danger and necessity uniting with them in the effort to help and protect.
20. King David did not regard his kingdom and his God-bestowed blessings as his real glory, but as his office, his opportunities for service in this earthly pilgrimage. In it all he remains a guest, expecting to leave this tarrying-place for a certain abode. Hence he says (Ps 39, 12): "I am a stranger with thee, a sojourner, as all my fathers were." How is that? Has a king of David's glorious rank occasion to speak thus? Is he a guest who occupies a royal throne, who is lord of landed estate and of more than twelve hundred thousand people according to his own calculation? This is David's meaning: In his kingdom he serves God as a transient here on earth, and set apart by God for that purpose; but at the same time as a citizen of God's kingdom in another life, another existence, which he regards more glorious than earthly glory, and as affording something better than a temporal crown.
REASONS TO ABSTAIN FROM CARNAL LUST.
21. Such is Peter's teaching. He admonishes Christians to Christlike lives and works in view of the fact that they are called to great glory, having become through Christ a royal priesthood, a people of God and citizens of heaven. He would have them occupy this temporal world as guests, striving after another and eternal kingdom; that is, to abstain from all carnal lusts and maintain a blameless walk, a life of good works. The apostle assigns two reasons for such self-denial: First, that we may not, through carnal, lustful habits, lose the spiritual and eternal; second, that God's name and the glory we have in Christ may not be slandered among our heathen adversaries, but rather, because of our good works, honored. These are the chief reasons for doing good works. They ought most forcibly to urge us to the performance of our duties.
22. Peter admonishes, first, to "abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul." He implies that if we do not resist carnal inclinations, but rather follow them, we shall lose our priceless eternal inheritance. To be a stranger on earth, striving after another and better life, is inconsistent with living in fleshly lusts as if one's sole intent was to remain in the world forever. If you would have the things of one life, Peter says, you must forsake the things of the other. If you forget your fatherland and lie drunken with this carnal life, as does the heathen world in living in unbelief and without hope of eternal life, you will never reach yonder existence; for so you reject it.
It is necessary to strive if we are to withstand the lusts of the flesh; for these, Peter says, war against the soul—against faith and the good conscience in man. If lust triumphs, our hold on the Spirit and on faith is lost. Now, if you would not be defeated, you must valiantly contend against carnal inclinations, being careful to overcome them and to maintain your spiritual, eternal good. In this instance, our own welfare demands the conquest.
23. In the second place, God's honor calls for it. God's honor here on earth is affected by our manner of life. We are to avoid giving occasion for our enemies to open their mouths in calumniation of God's name and his Word. Rather must we magnify the name of God by our confession and general conduct, and thus win others, who shall with us confess and honor him. Christ commands (Mt 5, 16): "Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."
24. Peter proceeds to enumerate certain good works appropriate to Christians in all stations of life, particularly those Christians under authority, or in a state of servitude—men-servants and maid-servants. In the apostle's day, Christians had to submit to heathen authority—to serve unbelieving masters. Peter admonishes Christians to glorify God by their conduct, patiently bearing the violence and injustice offered, and forbearing to return evil; as we heard in the epistle lesson for the preceding Sunday which follows today's text. But to take up all the good works Peter enumerates here would require too much time at present.
Third Sunday After Easter Second Sermon.
Text: First Corinthians 15, 20-28.
20 But now hath Christ been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of them that are asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; then they that are Christ's, at his coming. 24 Then cometh the end, when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For he must reign, till he hath put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy that shall be abolished is death. 27 For, He put all things in subjection under his feet. But when he saith, All things are put in subjection, it is evident that he is excepted who did subject all things unto him. 28 And when all things have been subjected unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subjected to him that did subject all things unto him, that God may be all in all.
We have no desire to reject the Sunday epistle readings in common use up to this time, particularly as some of them are excellent and profitable; nevertheless, a different order and selection might well have been made. For portions have been taken from James for the two Sundays following, the intent of the compilers having been to choose something from each of the apostles, among whom they regarded James one of the chief. These selections, however, seem not to have been written by an apostle; they do not at all compare with the selections from the other apostles. It were better for the instruction and comfort of the people, and as befitting this season, to handle the article of the resurrection—concerning the resurrection of both Christ and ourselves, or of all the dead—between Easter and Pentecost. It seems appropriate so to do, making selections from the preaching of the apostles; for instance, the entire fifteenth chapter of Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians, which treats throughout of the resurrection of the dead. Therefore, we shall arrange this chapter to the present and following Sundays. It is our intent to so use it hereafter, and they who feel disposed may adopt it likewise. But it is not our purpose in so doing to restrict those who prefer the old arrangement. The entire fifteenth chapter, however, being amply explained in special sermons, we would advise everyone to read those expositions.
Fourth Sunday After Easter
Text: First Corinthians 15, 35-50.
35 But some one will say, How are the dead raised? and with what manner of body do they come? 36 Thou foolish one, that which thou thyself sowest is not quickened except it die: 37 and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not the body that shall be, but a bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other kind; 38 but God giveth it a body even as it pleased him, and to each seed a body of its own. 39 All flesh is not the same flesh; but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fishes. 40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: 43 it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So also it is written, The first man Adam became a living soul. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 Howbeit that is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; then that which is spiritual. 47 The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is of heaven. 48 As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. 49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
This selection follows immediately after the one we have arranged for the preceding Sunday, concerning the resurrection of the dead. In the text Paul deals with the question, How are the dead raised, and with what body do they come? This passage likewise is treated fully enough in the sermons on the fifteenth chapter, and they who desire may read those discourses; they are too lengthy to insert here.
The selection from the first chapter of James, however, having commonly been read for this Sunday, and as it contains good instruction and admonition, we will, for the sake of some who may desire to retain it, allow it to remain; and we will make some explanation of it lest we be thought to desire its rejection altogether. It was not, however, written by an apostle. It does not bear the apostolic stamp in all particulars, and is not in every respect compatible with the true doctrine.
Fourth Sunday After Easter Second Sermon.
Text: James 1, 16-21.
16 Be not deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
19 Ye know this, my beloved brethren. But let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: 20 for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. 21 Wherefore putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
[Footnote 1: This sermon was printed first in the "Two Sermons on Anger," by Luther, Wittenberg, 1536.]
1. This lesson was addressed to all Christians. Particularly was it meant for the time when they had to endure from the unbelieving world persecutions severe and oft; as James indicates at the outset, where he says (verses 2-4): "Count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into manifold temptations; knowing that the proving of your faith worketh patience. And let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire." Again (verse 12): "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation."
WHY MEN REJECT THE GOSPEL.
2. Two things there are which part men from the Gospel: one is angry impatience, and the other evil lust. Of these James speaks in this epistle. The former sin, he says, arises under persecution—when for the sake of Christ the Lord you must give up property and honor, and risk body and life; must be regarded as fools, as the drudges, yes, the footstool, of the world. Painful and intolerable to the point of discouragement and weariness is such a lot, particularly when it is apparent that your persecutors enjoy good fortune, having honor, power and wealth, while you suffer constantly. Peter, too, admonishes (1 Pet 3, 10), upon authority of Psalm 34, 12-14: He who would be a Christian must be prepared to avoid evil and do good, to seek peace, to refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile, and must commit himself to God.
In the case of a great many people otherwise favorably disposed toward the Gospel, it is nothing but persecution which deters and repels them from it. They cannot endure the injuries and reproaches they must suffer for its sake. But for the precious holy cross which is laid upon Christians, and their inability to overcome indignation and impatience, the world would long ago have been crowded with Christians. But on account of trials men recoil, saying: "Rather than endure these, I will remain with the majority; as it is with them, so be it with me."
3. The second thing to which James refers is worldly lust—"filthiness," as James terms it. This, too, is a prevailing evil, particularly with the common people. When they once hear the Gospel they are prone to think right away that they know all about it. They cease to heed it and drown in lust, pride and covetousness of the world, being concerned entirely with accumulating wealth and seeking pleasure.
4. That these two evils prevail is apparent to the eyes of all men today. We fear that we shall fare no better than the prophets and the apostles; these things are likely to continue. Nevertheless, we must unceasingly exert ourselves in behalf of ourselves and others to guard diligently against both these evils. Particularly must we not impatiently murmur and rage against God; we must also show meekness toward our fellowmen, to the end that wrath everywhere may be quelled and subdued, and only patience and meekness reign among Christians.
5. As I said before, such seems to be the trend of the whole text. The apostle gives a reason why we should be patient to the extent of not allowing ourselves to be vexed with them who injure us, especially ungrateful rejecters of the Word of God or persecutors of Christians. The reason he assigns is the debt of gratitude we owe: we are to remember the great good we receive from God in heaven—"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights."
OUR BLESSINGS OUTWEIGH OUR ILLS.
6. If you carefully balance our gifts and trials against each other and weigh them carefully, you will find the blessings conferred upon you so numerous and rich as far to outweigh the injuries and reproaches you must incur. Therefore, if you are assailed by the world, and are provoked to impatience by ingratitude, contempt and persecution, compare with your trials the blessings and consolations you have in Christ and his Gospel. You will soon find you have more reason to pity your enemies than you have to murmur and to rage against them.
7. Again, concerning them who live in worldly lusts—in "filthiness," as the apostle terms it: let not their conduct induce you to forsake the Gospel to be like them; for their portion is altogether paltry in comparison with your glorious blessings and divine riches. Take thought, then, and do not allow yourselves to be misled either by the wanton wickedness of the world, through the injury and pain it may inflict, or by the prosperity of the world's wealthy, who live riotously in all manner of voluptuousness. Look upon what you have from the Father in comparison—his divine blessings, his perfect gifts.
8. For the sake of distinction, we shall designate by "good gifts" the blessings we enjoy here in this life; by "perfect gifts" those awaiting us in the life to come. James implies this distinction when he says: "Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures." In the terms "good gifts" and "perfect gifts," the apostle comprehends all our blessings, those we have already received in the present life and those to be ours in the life to come.
9. I will not now speak particularly of earthly, transient and changeable blessings, such as temporal goods, honor, a healthy body and others, but could we only compare our blessings with these and weigh our treasures and surpassing blessings, we should presently conclude that ours transcend in value a hundred thousand times anything the world possesses and boasts. Many individuals there are who would give thousands of dollars to have the sight of both eyes. So much do they prize the blessing of sight, they would willingly suffer a year's illness or endure other great inconveniences to obtain it. Less sensible would they be to such discomforts than to the deprivation of the thing they desire.
Of physical blessings particularly, we shall not now speak, however, save to mention that they are never equaled by physical ills. Who can purchase or merit, even by enduring tenfold his present physical ills, the very least of God's gifts; as, for instance, the beholding of the light of the beautiful sun for a single day? And so long as mortal life itself remains, you have the greatest of blessings, one outweighing far all gold and silver and all the misfortunes you may endure.
OUR BLESSINGS IN CHRIST'S RESURRECTION.
But we shall speak now particularly of the blessings we have in Christ's resurrection, a subject appropriate to this Paschal season. The text says, Every good gift and every perfect gift cometh down from the Father of lights. For God has begun the work of edifying us, of building us up, and will constitute us his own children, his heirs. This work, James says, is wrought through the Gospel, or "the word of truth," as he terms it.
10. But what does the resurrection advantage us? It has already brought us this gain: our hearts are enlightened and filled with joy, and we have passed from the darkness of sin, error and fear into the clear light; the Christian is able to judge all sects, all doctrines of devils, that may arise on earth. Is it not a thing of unspeakable value, a precious gift, to be enlightened and taught of God to the extent of being able to judge correctly every doctrine and every kind of conduct exhibited in this world, and to show all men how to live—what to do and what to avoid? Well may we boast, then, of having here on earth also a Father—"the Father of lights"—from whom we receive blessings of such magnitude that man should willingly yield body and life for their attainment.
What would I in my darkness not have given to be liberated from the very dread which prompted the celebration of masses and other abominations, yes, from the torture and anguish of conscience which left me no rest? or to have instruction enabling me rightly to interpret a single psalm? I would, for such enlightenment, readily have crawled on the ground to the ends of the earth. Thank God, we now have the blessed treasure abundantly, the great and precious light, the gracious Word. What is the sum of all suffering and misfortune compared to this light?
11. Secondly, through Christ's resurrection we have a good, joyous conscience, one able to withstand every form of sin and temptation and to maintain a sure hope of eternal life. The great, glorious gifts and blessings of the resurrection are these: the Gospel, Holy Baptism, the power of the Holy Spirit, and comfort in all adversity. What is a slight injury or the loss of some temporal blessing in comparison with these? What reason has any man to murmur and to rage when such divine blessings are his, even here in this life, blessings which none can take away or abridge?
If, then, you are called to renounce money, possessions, honor and men's favor, remember you have a treasure more precious than all the honors and all the possessions of the world. Again, when you see one living in great splendor, in pleasure and presumption, following his own inclinations, think thus: "What has he? A wretched portion, a beggarly morsel. In contrast, I have divine grace enabling me to know God's will and the work he would have me do, and all in heaven and on earth is mine." Look, says James, upon the treasure already obtained from the Father of lights—his great and glorious gifts.
12. But these do not represent the consummation of resurrection blessings. We must yet await the real, the perfect, gifts. Our earthly condition does not admit of perfection; hence we cannot truly perceive, cannot comprehend, our treasure. We are but "a kind of first-fruits of his creatures." God has only commenced to work in us, but he will not leave us in that state. If we continue in faith, not allowing ourselves to be turned away through wrath and impatience, God will bring us to the real, eternal blessings, called "perfect gifts," the possession of which excludes error, stumbling, anger, and any sin whatever.
THE FUTURE LIFE OF BLESSEDNESS.
13. That future existence, James goes on to say, will be one wherein is "no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning"—no alternating of light and darkness. In other words, there will not be the variation and instability characteristic of this world, even of the Christian life—today joyous, tomorrow sad; now standing but soon tottering. It is in the Christian life just as in the physical world: we find variableness and continual change—light is succeeded by darkness, day by night, cold by heat; here are mountains, there valleys; today we are well, tomorrow ill; and so it goes. But all this change shall be abolished. The present life shall be succeeded by one wherein is no variation, but a permanence and eternity of blessing. We shall unceasingly behold God in his majesty where dwells no darkness, no death, plague nor infirmity, but pure light, joy and happiness. Look to this future life! call it to mind, when assailed by the world and enticed to anger or evil lust. Remember the great blessings of heaven assuredly promised you, and whereof Christ your Head has already taken possession, that he may make sure your entrance into the same blessings. These should be to you far more precious and desirable than the things of earth, which all men must leave behind.
14. To these things the Christian should direct his thoughts and efforts, that he may learn to prize his blessings, to recognize his treasures as great and glorious, and to thank God for the beginnings of his grace and blessing bestowed here below. Let us ever look and turn toward true knowledge and understanding, toward righteousness and life; so shall we attain that perfection wherein we are freed from the present imperfect, unstable existence, the yoke we now bear upon our necks and which continually weighs upon us and renders us liable to fall from the Gospel.
Impulse and aid for such pursuit we are to receive from the holy cross and persecution, as well as from the example of the world. With what ease the poor, wretched people are wrested from the Word and from faith, wherein they might enjoy unspeakable grace and blessings, by the sordid, beggarly pleasures to be sought for here!
15. Therefore, James says: "Why trouble yourselves about earthly blessings, which though God-given are transitory? Why not much rather rejoice in the comforting prospect of the great heavenly blessings already abundantly yours and which cannot be taken from you?" And by way of explanation he says further: "Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth."
GOD'S CHILDREN BEGOTTEN BY THE WORD.
16. The first, and in fact the best, thing Christ has sent us from on high is sonship. He brought us forth, made us his children, or heirs. We are truly called children born of God. But how are we born? Through "the Word of truth," or the true Word. By this statement James makes a wide thrust at all factions and sects. For they also have a word and boast much of their doctrine, but theirs is not the Word of truth whereby men are made children of God. They teach naught, and know naught, about how we are to be born God's children through faith. They prate much about the works done by us in the state derived from Adam.
But we have a Word whereby, as we are assured, God makes us his beloved children and justifies us—if we believe in that Word. He justifies us not through works or laws. The Christian must derive his sonship from his birth. All whittling and patching is to no purpose. The disciples of Moses, and all work-mongers, would effect it by commandments, extorting a work here and a work there, effecting nothing. New beings are needed, children of God by birth, as John 1, 12 says.
17. The children of God, John tells us, are they who believe on the name of Christ; that is, who sincerely cling to the Word. John extols the Word as the great, the mighty, gift. They are children who cleave to the message that through Christ God forgives their sins and receives them into his favor; who adhere to this promise in all temptations, afflictions and troubles. The Word here on earth is the jewel which secures sonship. Now, since God has so greatly blessed you as to make you his own begotten children, shall he not also give you every other good?
18. Whence, then, do you derive sonship? Not from your own will, not from your own powers or efforts. Were it so, I and other monks surely should have obtained it, independently of the Word; it would have been ours through the numerous works we performed in our monastic life. It is secured, James says, "of his will." For it never entered into the thought of any man that so should we be made children of God. The idea did not grow in our gardens; it did not spring up in our wells. But it came down from above, "from the Father of lights," by Word and Spirit revealed to us and given into our hearts through the agency of his apostles and their successors, by whom the Word has been transmitted to us. Hence we did not secure it through our efforts or merits. Of his Fatherly will and good pleasure was it conferred upon us; of pure grace and mercy he gave it.
CHRISTIANS THE FIRST-FRUITS.
19. James says, "That we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures"; that is, the newly-begun creature, or work, of God. By this phrase the apostle distinguishes the creatures of God from the creatures of the world, or creatures of men. Likewise does Peter when he says (1 Pet 2, 13), "Be subject to every ordinance [or creature] of man"; that is, to everything commanded, ordained, instituted, made, by men. For instance, a prince constitutes men tax-gatherers, squires, secretaries, or anything he desires, within the limits of his power.
But new creatures are found with God. They are styled "creatures of God" because he has created them as his own work, independently of human effort or human power. And so the Christian is called a "new creature of God," a creature God himself has made, aside from all other creatures and higher than they. At the same time, such creation of God is only in its initial stage. He still daily operates upon it until it becomes perfect, a wholly divine creature, as the very sun in clearness and purity, without sin and imperfection, all aglow with love divine.
20. Take into careful consideration these facts. Keep before you the great blessing, honor and glory God has conferred upon you in making you heirs of the life to come, the life wherein shall be no imperfection nor variation, the life which shall be an existence in divine purity and protection like God's own. Do not, then, by any means allow yourselves to be provoked to anger by the wretched, sordid, beggar's wallet which the world craves. Rather, much rather, rejoice in the divine blessings, and thank God for having made you worthy of them. Whether sweet or bitter—in comparison with these let everything else be spurned. "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward"—to us the children of God—says Paul in Romans 8, 18.
IMPATIENT ANGER FORBIDDEN.
21. So James draws the conclusion: "Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath." In other words, in receiving counsel or comfort be swift; but do not permit yourselves readily to criticise, curse, or upbraid God or men. James does not mean to prohibit reproof, censure, indignation and correction where the command of God or necessity requires; but he forbids rashness or hastiness on our part, despite our provocation in the premises. When we are provoked we should first hear what the Word of God says and be advised thereby. It is the right and true counsel, and we should ever permit ourselves to be led by it; according to its teaching should all our decisions, reproofs and censures be regulated. In immediate connection, James bids us receive the Word with meekness; we are not to be incensed when censured by its authority, or to become impatient and murmur when we have to suffer something because of it.
The reason James assigns for restraining our anger is: "For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." This is a truth admitted even by the heathen—"Ira furor brevis est," etc.—and verified by experience. Therefore, upon authority of Psalm 4, 4, when you feel your wrath rising, sin not, but go to your chamber and commune with yourself. Let not wrath take you by surprise and cause you to yield to it. When slander and reproach is heaped upon you, or curses given, do not rashly allow yourself to be immediately inflamed with anger. Rather, take heed to overcome the provocation and not to respond to it.
22. The apostle's first point, then, is: Christians should guard against yielding to wrath and impatience, and should remember the great blessings they enjoy—gifts wherewith all the advantages and favors of the world are unworthy of comparison.
23. Similarly, James says regarding the other point: "Wherefore putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness," etc. By "filthiness" he means the impure life of the world—indulgence, voluptuousness and knavery of every sort. These things, he would say, should be far from you Christians who enjoy blessings so great and glorious. Could you rightly recognize and appreciate these blessings, you would regard all worldly pursuits and pleasures mere filth in comparison. Nor is this overdrawn; they are such when contrasted with the good and perfect heavenly gifts and treasures.
24. "Receive with meekness the implanted word." You have the Word, James says, a Word which is yours not by your own fancy or effort, but which God, by grace, gave to you—implanted in you. It has free course—is preached, read and sung among you. (By the grace of God, it is free among us, too.) In this respect, God be praised, there is no lack. It is of the utmost importance, however, to receive it, to make profitable use of it; to handle it with meekness that we may hold it fast and not allow it to be effaced by anger under persecution or by the allurements of worldly lusts. Christ says (Lk 21, 19), "In your patience possess ye your souls [ye shall win your souls]."
MEEKNESS AND PATIENCE ENJOINED.
Meekness and patience are necessary to enable us to triumph over the devil and the world. Without them we shall not be able to hold fast the Word in our strife against those evil forces. We must fight and contend against sin, but if we essay to cool our wrath by grasping the devil and his followers by the hair and wreaking vengeance upon them, we will accomplish nothing and may thereby lose our treasure, the beloved Word. Therefore, lay hold of the Word planted or engrafted within you, that you may be able to retain it and have it bring forth its fruit in yourself.
THE POWER OF THE WORD.
25. It is a Word, says James in conclusion, "which is able to save your souls." What more could be desired? You have the Word, the promise of all divine blessings and gifts. It is able to save you if you but steadfastly cleave to it. Why, then, need you take any account of the world, and anything it may do, whether good or evil? What injury can the world render, what help can it offer, so long as you hold the treasure of the Word? Observe that the apostle ascribes to the spoken Word, the preached Gospel, the power to save souls. Similarly, Paul commends it to the Romans (ch. 1, 16), in almost the same words, as "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth."
26. Now, the Word is implanted within you in a way to give you the certain comfort and sure hope of your salvation. Be careful, then, not to permit yourselves to be wrested from it by the wrath or the filth of the world. Take heed to accept in purity and to maintain with patience the Word so graciously and richly given you by God without effort or merit on your part. Those who are without the Word, and yet endeavor to attain heaven, what efforts have they made in the past! what efforts are they making today! They might torment themselves to death; they might institute and celebrate every possible service—they would accomplish nothing. Is it not better to cling to the Word and maintain this treasure whereby you attain salvation and divine sonship than to permit the world to wrest you from it through persecution, passion or moral filth the source of its own ruin and perdition?
Fifth Sunday After Easter
Text: First Corinthians 15, 51-58.
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We all shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? 56 The sting of death is sin; and the power of sin is the law: 57 but thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not vain in the Lord.
You will find this lesson explained in the special sermons on the same chapter.
Text: Acts 1, 1-11.
1 The former treatise I made, O Theophilus, concerning all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, 2 until the day in which he was received up, after that he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit unto the apostles whom he had chosen: 3 to whom he also showed himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing unto them by the space of forty days, and speaking the things concerning the kingdom of God: 4 and being assembled together with them, he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, said he, ye heard from me: 5 for John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days hence.
6 They therefore, when they were come together, asked him, saying, Lord, dost thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? 7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father hath set within his own authority. 8 But ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10 And while they were looking stedfastly into heaven as he went, behold two men stood by them in white apparel; 11 who also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye looking into heaven? this Jesus, who was received up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye beheld him going into heaven.
This epistle text is simply a narrative concerning the visible ascension of Christ into heaven. It is in itself clear. Whatever it may be necessary to say relative to the article of Christ's ascension, we shall leave for the sermons on the Festivals of Christ as they occur at intervals during the year, at which times it is fitting to speak particularly of each article concerning Christ.
Sunday After Ascension Day
Text: First Peter 4, 7-11.
7 But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore of sound mind, and be sober unto prayer: 8 above all things being fervent in your love among yourselves: for love covereth a multitude of sins: 9 using hospitality one to another without murmuring: 10 according as each hath received a gift, ministering it among yourselves, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God; 11 if any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles of God; if any man ministereth, ministering as of the strength which God supplieth: that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, whose is the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
[Footnote 1: This sermon appeared as early as 1525 in pamphlet form.]
EXHORTATION TO CHRISTIAN LIVING.
1. This text, too, is an admonition to Christian living, a discourse concerning the fruits of a good tree, a figure applied to the Christian; in other words, concerning the fruits of the one who, through faith, has obtained redemption from sin and death and has a place in the kingdom of grace and of eternal life. Such a one is exhorted to live henceforth in a manner indicative of the fact that he has apprehended the treasure of salvation and is become a new man.
EXHORTATION TO SOBERNESS.
2. Certain good works are also introduced, and in the first part of our text Peter makes an especially emphatic continuation of the admonition in the foregoing part of the chapter, warning Christians to abstain from gross vices—carnal lusts—which in the world lead to obscenity, and from the wild, disorderly, swinish lives of the heathen world, lives of gormandizing, guzzling and drunkenness. Peter admonishes Christians to endeavor to be "sober unto prayer." The epistle was written chiefly to the Greeks, the masses of which people were very social, and inclined to carouse and gormandize. And we Germans are accused of the same excess; not without some reason either.
3. With intent to turn Christians from these vices unto temperance and sobriety, Peter reminds them, as all the apostles are wont to do, of the obligations particularly incident to the Christian calling, to the only true, divine service, the things for the sake of which they have become Christians and which distinguish them from the remainder of the world. His meaning is: It is not for Christians to lead lives heathenish, profligate and riotous; to indulge in gormandizing, guzzling, carousing and demoralizing of themselves. They have something nobler to do. First, in that they are to become different beings, and be occupied with the Word of God wherefrom they derive their new birth and whereby they preserve it. Second, being born anew, they have enemies to fight; so long as they live on earth, they must combat the devil, also their own flesh, which is corrupted by the devil until it is full of evil lusts. Having, then, to assume the obligations of this calling and contest, they must not give way to drowsy indolence; much less may they become foolish, drunken sots, indifferent to all issues and heedless of their obligations. Rather, they have need to be watchful and sober, ever ready with the Word of God and with prayer.
4. These are the two kinds of armor, two weapons of defense, whereby the devil is vanquished and of which he is afraid: First, diligence in hearing, learning and practicing the Word of God, that instruction, comfort and strength may be received; second, sincere petitioning upon the authority of that Word, a crying and calling to God for help when temptations and conflicts arise. One or the other of these weapons of defense must continually be in active exercise, effecting perpetual intercourse between God and man—either God speaking to us while we quietly listen, or God hearing our utterances to him and our petitions concerning our needs.
Whichever the weapon we wield, it is unendurable to the devil; he cannot abide it. Christians need both equipments, that their hearts may ever turn to God, cleave to his Word, and continually, with ceaseless longing, pray a perpetual Lord's Prayer. Truly, the Christian should learn from the temptations and straits wherewith the devil, the world and the flesh constantly oppress him, to be ever on his guard, watching for the enemy's point of attack; for the enemy sleeps not nor rests a single moment.
5. Here is applicable Peter's injunction for the Christian to keep within the bounds of physical temperance and sobriety; not to overload the body and injure it by excessive eating and drinking: so as to be watchful, intelligent, and in a mood, to pray. He who is not careful to discharge the obligations of his office or station with temperance and sobriety, but is daily in a sottish condition, is incapable of praying or performing any other Christian duty; he is unfit for any service.
6. Right here a special admonitory sermon might well be preached to us dissolute Germans, in warning for our excesses and drunkenness. But where would be forthcoming a sermon forcible enough to restrain the shameful sottishness and the drink devil among us? The evil of overindulgence has, alas, swept in upon us like a torrent, overwhelming as a flood all classes. It daily spreads further and further throughout the nation, embracing every station from the lowest to the highest. All preaching, all admonition, seem far too weak—not vain and impotent, but despised and scorned—to meet the emergency. But the apostles, and even Christ himself, declared that in the end of the world such a state of affairs should obtain. For that very reason did Christ (Lk 21, 34) admonish Christians to take heed to themselves lest at any time their hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness and the cares of this life, and so that day come upon them unawares.
7. Now, God having in his infinite goodness so richly shed upon us Germans in these latter times the Gospel light, we ought, in honor and gratitude to him, to try to reform ourselves in the matter of intemperance. We should fear lest through this evil besides committing other sins we draw upon us the wrath and punishment of God. For naught else can result from the pernicious life of intemperance but false security, and contempt of God. Individuals continually dead in drunkenness, buried in excesses, living like swine, cannot fear God, cannot be occupied with divine things.
8. Had we no other incentive to abandon our intemperate living, the scandalous reputation we have among the nations ought to move us to reform. Other countries, particularly those bordering on Germany, regard us with extreme contempt, calling us drunken Germans. For they have virtue enough to abstain from excessive drinking. The Turks are real monks and saints in this respect; so far are they from the evil of intemperance that in obedience to the teaching of their Mohammed they prohibit the drinking of wine or any other intoxicant, and punish the offense as the greatest evil in their midst. For this very reason are they better soldiers than our drunken masses. They are always awake and vigilant, alert concerning their own interests, planning attacks upon us and continually extending their dominion, while we lie sleeping in our excesses as if we could withstand the Turks by drunkenness and carousing.
9. But what is the use of multiplying words on the subject when the evil prevails to such extent as to be common custom in the land? No longer confined to the rude, illiterate rabble, to country villages and public taverns, it has penetrated all cities and entered nearly every house, being particularly prevalent among the nobility—in the courts of princes. I recall that when I was young drunkenness was regarded an inexpressibly shameful thing among the peerage, and that the dear lords and princes restrained it with serious prohibitions and punishments. But now it is more alarmingly prevalent among them than among farmers. It is generally the case that when the great and good begin to go down, they sink to a lower level than others. Yes, intemperance has attained such prevalence that even princes and lords have learned the habit from their young noblemen and are no longer ashamed of it. Rather, they call it honorable, making it a civil virtue befitting princes and noblemen. Whosoever will not consent to be a drunken sot with them, must be discountenanced; while the knights who stand for beer and wine obtain high honors, and great favors and privileges, on account of their drinking. They desire fame in this respect, as if they had secured their nobility, their shield and helmet, by the very fact that they exceed others in the shamelessness of their tippling.
10. Yes, and have we not further reason for checking the evil when even the young practice it without fear or shame? They learn it from the aged, and unrestrained they disgracefully and wantonly injure themselves in the very bloom of life, destroying themselves as corn is cut down by hail and tempest. The majority of the finest, most promising young people, particularly the nobility, they of court circles, ruin their health, body and life, before arriving at maturity. How can it be otherwise when they who should restrain and punish commit the same sins themselves?
11. Hence Germany has always been a wretched country, chastised and plagued by the drink devil, and completely immersed in this vice, until the bodies and lives of her people, as well as their property and honor, are shamefully consumed and only a sordid existence remains. He who would paint the conditions must portray something swinish. Indeed, but a small proportion of the inhabitants of Germany are undebased by this evil. These are children, girls and women. Some sense of propriety in the matter remains to them, though occasionally we find even under the veil some intemperance; however, it is with restraint. Enough modesty remains to inspire the universal sentiment that so disgraceful a thing is it for a woman to be drunk, such a one deserves to be trampled upon in the streets.
12. In the light of their example, let us men learn to see our own shame and to blush for it. While noting how disgraceful is drunkenness for women, let us remember it is much more so for ourselves. We ought to be saner and more virtuous; for, according to Peter, the woman is the weaker vessel. Because of the weakness of women, we ought to have more patience with them. Man being endowed with a broader mind, stronger faculties and firmer nature, he should be the saner being, the farther removed from the brute. It stands to reason that it is a much greater disgrace for him to indulge in the vice of drunkenness. In proportion to the nobility of his creation and the exalted nature wherewith God has endowed him, should be the disgrace of such unreasoning, brutish conduct on his part.
13. What can be said for us? So complete is the perversion of all manly virtue and honor in our conduct in this respect that it cannot be surpassed by any other possible degradation of manhood. There remains to us but an atom of good reputation, and that is to be found among the women. The occasional instance of drunkenness among them but emphasizes our own disgrace. All countries look upon us with scorn and contempt, regarding us as shameful and sordid creatures, day and night bent upon making ourselves surfeited and stupid, possessing neither reason nor intelligence.
The evil would be more tolerable, more excusable, if drinking and carousing had any limit, if intoxication were but an occasional thing—the case of a person inadvertently taking one drink too much, or of taking a stimulant when tired from excessive labor and worry. We excuse it in women who may chance to drink a little more at wedding parties than they are accustomed to at home. But this excessive guzzling kept up unceasingly day and night, emitting only to be filled again, is wholly inconsistent with the character of a prince, a nobleman, a citizen, yes, of a human being, not to mention the life of a Christian; it is really more in keeping with the nature and work of swine.
14. Now, when God and all mankind permit you to eat and to drink, to enjoy good things, not merely what is necessary for actual subsistence, but in a measure calculated to afford gratification and pleasure, and you are yet not satisfied with that privilege—when such is the case, your sordid and gluttonous tendencies are worthy one born solely to consume beer and wine. But such are the excesses now to be seen in the courts of princes—the banqueting and the drinking—that one would think they meant to devour the resources of the country in a single hour. Lords, princes, noblemen—the entire country, in fact—are ruined, reduced to beggary, for the particular reason that God's gifts are so inhumanly wasted and destroyed.
15. As I said before, the evil of drunkenness has, alas, gained such ascendency as to be past restraint unless the Word of God may exert some controlling influence among the few, the individuals who are still human and who would be Christians. The masses will remain as they are, particularly as the civil government makes no effort to restrain the evil. It is my opinion that if God does not sometime check the vice by a special judgment—and until he does it will never be punished and restrained—even women and children will become inebriate, and when the last day arrives no Christian will be found but all souls will descend drunken into the abyss of hell.
16. Let all who desire to be Christians know that it is incumbent upon them to manifest the virtue of temperance; that drunken sots have no place among Christians, and cannot be saved until they amend their ways, until they reform from their evil habits. Concerning them Paul says plainly (Gal 5, 19-21): "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."
Here you see that he who lies day and night in drunkenness has no more inheritance in the kingdom of God than the whoremonger, adulterer, and such like. Know then, just as idolatry, adultery and so on, are sins excluding you from heaven, so too, drunkenness is a sin which bars you from the blessings of baptism, and from remission of sins, faith in Christ and your personal salvation. Hence, if you would be a Christian and saved, you must be careful to lead a sober and temperate life. But if you disregard this admonition and yet hope to be saved—well, then continue to be an infidel and a brute so long as God permits.
17. Were you a Christian, even if you could permit yourself to be unmoved by the physical injury wherein, by drunkenness, you plunge yourself, not only wasting your money and property, but injuring your health and shortening your life; and if you could permit yourself to be unmoved by the stigma justly recognized by men and angels as attaching to you, a filthy sot—even then you ought to be moved by God's command, by the peril of incurring eternal damnation—of losing God's grace and eternal salvation—to refrain from such unchristian conduct. O God, how shameless and ungrateful we are, we so highly blessed of God in having his Word and in being liberated from the tyranny of the Pope, who desired our sweat and blood and tortured our consciences with his laws—how ungrateful we are in the face of these things not to amend our lives in some measure in honor to the Gospel, and in praise and gratitude to God!
18. Where peradventure there are still pious parents or godfearing Christian rulers, they ought, for the sake of lessening the evil of intemperance, to restrain their children and domestics with serious chastisements. Pastors and preachers are under obligation to admonish the people frequently and faithfully, holding up to them God's displeasure and wrath and the injuries to soul, body and property resultant from this evil, to the intent that at least some might be moved and profited. And they who wantonly and openly persist in the vice, being not disposed to amend their conduct but at the same time boast of the Gospel, should not be allowed to participate in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper nor to act as sponsors at baptism. Preachers and pastors should hold such as openly antichristian, and should make a distinction against them the same as with manifest adulterers, extortioners and idolaters. Such is Paul's command (1 Cor 5, 11): "I wrote unto you not to keep company, if any man that is named a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no, not to eat."
NECESSITY FOR PRAYER.
19. But we will not now remark further upon this subject. To return to Peter: He admonishes us to be sober so that we may give ourselves to prayer, as becometh those who are Christians and have turned from the vile, heathenish conduct of the world. Just preceding our text, in verse 3, he says: "For the time past may suffice to have wrought the desire of the Gentiles, and to have walked in lasciviousness, lusts, winebibbings, revellings, carousings, and abominable idolatries." He admonishes us as being now called and ordained to contend against the devil by faith and prayer. Later on (ch. 5, 8) he brings in the same warning in clearer phrase, exhorting Christians to be sober and watchful. Do you ask, What is the great necessity therefor? he says: "Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion [in the midst of a flock of sheep], walketh about, seeking whom he may devour."
Peter's meaning is this: Since you are a people called to contend with this powerful spirit which is more intent on seizing your souls than is the wolf on seizing the sheep, it is essential you should take thought how to withstand him. Resistance is effected only through faith and prayer. But soberness and vigilance are necessary to enable one to pray. With gormandizers and drunkards, reason is dethroned and they are rendered incapable of respecting anything, or of performing any good work. Therefore, the ability to pray and call upon God has been taken from them and the devil overcomes and devours them at his will.
20. The diligence in prayer which characterized Christians of the primitive Church, even while undergoing great persecution, is apparent to us. They were more than willing to assemble daily for prayer together, not only morning and evening, but also at certain other appointed hours; and frequently they watched and prayed entire nights. Some of them, according to St. Augustine, carried their vigils to such extent as at times to abstain from food for four days. True, this was going to somewhat of an extreme, particularly when later the practice came to be an example and a commandment. Yet their habit of perfect sobriety morning, evening and at all times is commendable. With the cessation of this practice in the congregations, there succeeded the wretched order of monks, who pretend to do the praying for others. They, it is true, observed the same appointed hours, the same seasons of prayer, in their matins, vespers, and so on, but they did not really pray; they merely kept up an incessant sound, muttering and howling.
We still retain from the ancient custom the observance of morning and evening prayers in schools for children. But the same practice should obtain in every Christian family. Every father is under obligation to train up his children to pray at least at the beginning and the close of day, commending to God every exigency of this earthly life, that God's wrath may be averted, and deserved punishment withheld.
21. Under such conditions, we would be properly instructed and not have to be subjected to intolerable oppression and to prohibitions relative to eating, drinking and dressing, being guided by nature's demands and our own honor and pleasure. Yet we would not be inordinate and brutish in these things nor shamefully dethrone reason. Drunkenness is a sin and a shame to any man, and would be even were there neither God nor commandment; much less can it be tolerated among Christians. There is more virtue in this respect among the very heathen and Turks. They put us to shame, while it is our place to set an example shaming them. Our characters ought to be so noble as to give no chance for offense at our conduct, that the name of God be not defamed but glorified, as Peter admonishes in the conclusion of this epistle lesson.
TEMPERANCE IN ALL THINGS.
22. What we have said in regard to sobriety, we must also say relative to that other virtue—temperance, to which Peter gives first place. They are mutually related, but temperance respects not only eating and drinking, but is opposed to all immoderation in outward life—in clothing, ornament, and so on; to whatever is superfluous, or excessive; to any extravagant attempt to be greater and better than others. To such extent has immoderation gained the upper hand in the world, there is nowhere any limit to expense in the way of household demands, dress, wedding parties and banquets, in the way of architecture, and so on, whereby citizens, rulers and the country itself are impoverished, because no individual longer keeps within proper bounds. Almost invariably the farmer aspires to equal the nobleman, while the nobleman would excel the prince. As with sobriety, so with the virtue of temperance—there is scarce to be found an example of it in our midst, so completely has self-control, sincerity and discipline given way.
[Footnote 2: The German text uses the two words "maszig" and "nichtern," which may be rendered "temperate" and "sober."]
23. At the same time the apostle does not forbid appropriate and respectable recognition of the things of physical well-being, in keeping with each individual's station in life, even including things ministering pleasure and joy. For Peter would not have filthy, rusty, greasy monks nor sour-faced saints, with the hypocrisy and show of their simulated austere and peculiar lives, wherein they honor not their bodies, as Paul says (Col 2, 23), but are ever ready to judge and condemn other people—the maiden, for instance, who chances to join in a dance or wears a red dress. If you are a Christian in other respects, God will easily allow you to dress and to adorn yourself, and to live with comfort, even to enjoy honor and considerable pleasure, so long as you keep within proper bounds; you should, however, not go beyond the limits of temperance and moderation. In other words, do not overreach propriety and self-restraint, regardless of real pleasure, in the endeavor to show off in excessive and unprofitable squandering. Such conduct results in confusion and trouble—chastisement sent of God; in taxes, extortion, robbing and stealing, until finally lords and subjects are ruined together.
"Above all things being fervent in your love [have fervent charity] among yourselves; for love [charity] covereth a multitude of sins."
24. In the foregoing part of the text, Peter admonishes Christians concerning their obligations to themselves; here he tells what is to be their conduct toward others. He embraces all the good works named in the second table of the commandments as obligations we owe to our neighbor, in the little but forcible and comprehensive phrase—"fervent in your love." This virtue, too, is incumbent on the Christian who must contend against the devil and pray. For prayer is hindered where love and harmony are displaced by wrath and ill-will. The Lord's Prayer teaches: "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."
How can they pray one for another who feel no interest in a neighbor's wants, who rather are enemies, entertaining no good will toward one another? Where hearts are inflamed with hatred toward men, prayer has ceased; it is extinguished. Hence, antichristians and all popedom, however holy their appearance, cannot pray while enemies to the Word of God and persecutors of Christians. He who repeats the Lord's Prayer while indulging wrath, envy and hatred, censures his own lips; he condemns his own prayer when he seeks forgiveness from God but does not think of forgiving his neighbor.
25. With Christians there must be, not merely natural human affection such as exists even among heathen, but ardent, fervent love; not the mere appearance of love, the smoke—false, hypocritical love, as Paul calls it (Rom 12, 9)—but real fervor and fire, which consent not to be easily extinguished, but which endure like the love between husband and wife, or the love of parents for children. True conjugal and parental love is not easily quenched, even though the object of its affection be weak, diseased or dangerously ill. Rather the greater the need and the danger of one individual, the more is the heart of the other moved and the brighter does love burn.
26. Such sincere love, as the apostle elsewhere styles it, must exist among Christians who are all children of one Father in heaven and brothers and sisters. Indeed, they are under obligation to love even their enemies—who are human beings of the same flesh and blood—and to wish no one evil but rather to serve all wherever possible. This love is the beautiful red robe for the adornment of Christians, supplementing the pure white garment of faith received in baptism. It is to be worn in obedience to the example of Christ, who for us, even while we were enemies, wore the same red garment of love when he was sprinkled with his own blood. It was then he burned with the intense fire of ineffable and most exalted love.
27. The apostles were moved to admonitions of this character because they clearly perceived the great weakness and imperfection bound to exist among Christians even in their outward lives. They knew that no one could, in his everyday life among men, live so discreetly as not at some time or other, by word, gesture or act, to give offense to someone, moving him to anger. Such perfection of life is found in no family, not even with husband and wife. The case is the same as in the human body: one member frequently comes in conflict with another; a man may inadvertently bite his tongue or scratch his face. He who would be a saint so stern and selfish as to endure no evil words or acts, and to excuse no imperfections, is unfit to dwell among men. He knows nothing of Christian love, and can neither believe nor put into practice the article of the Creed concerning the forgiveness of sins.
28. So the Christian's fire of love must be characterized, not by a dull, cold red, but by a warm scarlet—according to the Scriptures (Ex 26, 1), "Coccum bis tinctam" (rose-red). This love retains its fire and is really true, having which the Christian is not easily disheartened and overcome by wrath, impatience and revenge, but to a certain extent is able to endure and tolerate attacks upon himself calculated to distress. It manifests itself more strongly in suffering and enduring than in action.
29. Therefore, Peter extols such love, declaring it to be a virtue potent not only to bear but to cover "a multitude of sins." This statement he introduces from the Proverbs of Solomon (ch. 10, 12). The Papists, however, pervert its meaning, explaining it in a way at variance with the doctrine of faith; they make of love to one's neighbor a work or virtue having merit with God. It is their desire to draw the conclusion that for the sake of our love our sins are covered; that is, forgiven and exterminated. But we shall not notice the dolts. It is clear enough from the text that reference is to hatred and love received from men; our own sins are not intended here, but the transgressions of others. To cover our sins in the sight of God, yet other love is requisite—the love of the Son of God, who alone is the bearer of sins in God's sight, and who, as John the Baptist says, takes away, bearing them upon his own shoulders, the sins of the whole world, including our own. And the example of his love teaches that we, too, should in love cheerfully bear and freely forgive the sins of others against us.
30. Solomon contrasts the two opposing principles of envious hatred and love, and shows the effect of each. "Hatred," he says, "stirreth up strifes; but love covereth all transgressions." Where hatred and enmity dwell in the heart, they must inevitably stir up strife and bring misfortune. Animosity cannot restrain itself. It either bursts out in pernicious language clandestinely uttered against the object of enmity, or it openly demeans itself in a manner indicating its ill will. Hence follow reveling, cursing, quarreling and fighting, and, when wholly unrestrained, cruelty and murder.
These things are due to the fact that the eyes of Younker Hate are so blinded by scorn and venom that he can see only evil in every man with whom he comes in contact; and when he actually finds it he will not let it alone, but stirs it, roots and frets in it, as the hog roots with defiled snout in offensive filth. "You must have viewed your neighbor from behind," we say when one can speak and think only the worst of a neighbor though he may have many good traits. Hate really desires only that everyone be an enemy to his neighbor and speak the worst about him, and if he hears aught in his neighbor's favor, he puts upon it the very worst construction, with the result that the other party is embittered and in turn comes to hate, curse and revile. Thus the fire burns until only discord and mischief can obtain.
31. But on the other hand, as Solomon tells us, Love is a virtue pure and precious. It neither utters nor thinks any evil of its neighbor. Rather, it covers sin; not one sin, nor two, but "a multitude of sins"—great masses of them, forests and seas of sin, as it were. That is, love has no desire to reflect itself in a neighbor's sins and maliciously rejoice in them. It conducts itself as having neither seen nor heard them. Or, if they cannot be overlooked, it readily forgives, and so far as possible mends matters. Where nothing else can be done, it endures the sins of a neighbor without stirring up strife and making a bad matter worse.
32. The apostle, upon authority of observation and experience, acknowledges that where people dwell together there must be mutual transgressions; it cannot be otherwise. No one will always do what is pleasing to others, and each is liable to commit open wrong. Peter would teach that since men must live together in their respective stations in life—for the Scriptures make no recognition of singular and intolerant saints who would promptly run out of the world when some little thing takes place at variance with their opinions—he who would live peaceably must so control himself as to be able to bear with others, to overlook their imperfections, and to cover their transgressions and thus avert further resulting evil.
Where no toleration is exercised, where no wrong is forgiven and forgotten, hate and envy must find place. The sole office of these is to stir up strife and contention. No peace and rest is to be had where they exist; wrangling and fighting, oppression and bitterness, must obtain. The unbounded ill-will, the innumerable strifes and wars, having place on earth, all result from the abominable evil of the lack of love among us and from the prevalence of pernicious hate, which leads to anger and revenge when opposition offers. Thus we become enemies to one another instead of to evil, when it is our duty to love our fellow-men.
33. Now, if you would live as a Christian and enjoy peace in the world, you must make every effort to restrain your anger and not to give way to revenge as do others. Rather you must suppress these passions, subduing your hatred by love, and be able to overlook and bear, even though you have to suffer great pain and injustice. So doing you will develop a noble character fitted to accomplish much good through patience and humility, to allay and abolish enmity, and strife, and thereby to reform and convert others. If you are unwilling to be patient under injustice, then go on hating and envying, impatiently blustering about and seeking revenge. But from such a proceeding only strife and disquietude can be your portion, though your complaints be long and your lamentations loud. You may run hither and thither, and still you will not find the truth otherwise than as I have stated. This text would have to be done away with first, and the Scriptures falsified.
34. Paul, having in mind Solomon's saying about love, in extolling the same virtue amplifies the latter's statement with various expressions, in the thirteenth of First Corinthians. Among other things he says there (verses 5-8): "Love seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil; rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth," etc. This, mark you, is "being fervent in love," as Peter calls it. Here is the heat, the fire, effective to consume all evil and to replace it with only good. This fire will not permit itself to be quenched; it surmounts all checking. Whatever of evil is heaped upon it, it remains in itself good, and works only good.
35. The essential property, the "differentia essentialis," of genuine love, as its nature requires fervency, is the fact that it cannot be embittered. He who has it, will not cease to love, to do good and to endure evil. In a word love cannot hate; it cannot be at enmity with anyone. No evil can be wrought too great for love to endure. No one can commit against it more sins than it can cover. It cannot be enraged to the point of refusing to forgive. Its attitude is not unlike that of the mother toward her child. The child may be imperfect and impure, even filthy, but the mother notes it not, even if she sees it. Her love blinds her. The eyes wherewith she looks upon her child as the beautiful and God-given fruit of her own body are so pure that she overlooks all imperfections, regarding them as nothing. Indeed, she excuses, even glorifies, them. Although the child squints, it must not be called squint-eyed, but love-eyed, and even a wart must be thought to become it.