Category Archives: Quotes

The Bronze Serpent and Jesus

The serpent, which bit and poisoned the Jews is sin, death and an evil conscience. I know that I must die and that I am under the power of death; I cannot free myself and must remain in this state until a dead serpent is set up for me, one which, because it is not alive, can harm no one, but rather benefit, as did the serpent of Moses. Now, this is Christ. I see him hanging on the cross, not beautiful nor greatly honored. If his death upon the cross were in fashion to win for him the plaudits of men, the flesh might say that he deserved his honors and his exaltation by his works. But I see him hanging in disgrace on the cross, like a murderer and malefactor; thus, reason must say that he is cursed before God. The Jews believed that this was true and they could only consider him the most cursed of all men before God and the world, for they remembered this passage in the Law of Moses: “He that is hanged is accursed of God.” (Deuteronomy 21:23)

Moses had to set up a serpent of brass, which looked like the fiery serpents, but did not bite or harm any one, nay, it rather saved the people. Thus, Christ also has the form and the appearance of a sinner, but has become my salvation; his death is my life; he atones for my sin and takes away from me the wrath of the Father. The living, fiery serpent is within me, for I am a sinner, but in him is a dead serpent; he was indeed regarded a sinner, but he never committed any sin.

If, then, man believes that the death of Christ has taken away his sin, he becomes a new man. The carnal, natural man cannot believe that God will gratuitously take away and forgive us all our sins. Reason argues in this manner: You have sinned, you must also atone for your sin. Then it invents one good work after another and endeavors to take away sin by good works. But the Gospel of Christ is: If you have fallen in sin, another must atone for you, if a man believes this, he becomes one with Christ, and has everything that is Christ’s.

(John chapter three), then, signifies that our works are nothing, and that all human power can do is useless, but faith in Christ does it all.

Martin Luther, First Church Postil for the Feast of the Holy Trinity (John 3:1-15)

God Give You A Mouth And Your Audience Ears

If Peter and Paul were here, they would scold you because you wish right off to be as accomplished as they. Crawling is something, even if one is unable to walk. Do your best. If you can’t preach an hour, then preach a half hour or a quarter of an hour. do not try to imitate other people. Center on the shortest and simplest points, which are the very heart of the matter and leave the rest to God. Look solely to His honor and not to applause. Pray that God will give you a mouth and to your audience ears…. You will most certainly find out three things: First you will have prepared your sermon as diligently as you know how, and it will slip through your fingers like water; secondly, you may abandon your outline and God will give you grace, You will preach your very best. The audience will be pleased – but you won’t. And thirdly, when you have been unable in advance to pull anything together, you will preach acceptably both to your hearers and to yourself. So pray to God and leave all the rest to him.

Martin Luther, Tischreden 2:2606-2607

You Have No Reason To Be Frightened and So Despondent

Over against the factious spirits and false preachers, this fact stands sure: When the Holy Spirit comforts, he does so in no other way than to witness of Jesus and picture him in the human heart. In contrast, the evil spirit, by emphasizing sin and death, frightens the conscience. This the Holy Spirit must combat through his witness as he speaks through the Word to our hearts: Hold on, man, what are you up to anyway? Can’t you think of anything but sin, death, and damnation? Take your eyes off this gruesome, frightening sight and look here; don’t you know the man named Jesus Christ, of whom it is written: conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, descended into hell, and on the third day rose again, and ascended into heaven? Who do you think this happened? Was it not that you might have consolation against death and sin? then stop being frightened and so despondent; you have no reason! If Christ were not with you and upholding you, and had not done these things for you, then you would have reason enough to be frightened. But he is with you, around you, and he says, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” For that reason he suffered death for you, and for your consolation and safeguarding he is seated now at the right hand of his heavenly Father.

Martin Luther, House Postil for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (John 15:26-16:4)

OF ME

Christ says very definitely, The Holy Spirit will witness of me, of me and not of someone else. Beyond this witness of the Holy Spirit about Christ there is no sure and abiding comfort. That is why one should write the words “of me” with capital letters and diligently remember them. For of this we may be certain, that the Holy Spirit promotes no other doctrine, preaches neither Moses nor other laws whereby to comfort the conscience. If the conscience is to be comforted, it can only be by the preaching of Christ’s death and resurrection – this alone comforts. In contrast, all other preaching of law, good works, holy living, whether commanded by God or men, is incapable of comforting a person in times of need and death; instead it leaves him uncertain and in despair, frightened and tormented. If we consider God without Christ, we find no comfort but only righteous wrath and displeasure. But whoever preaches Christ proclaims and brings true comfort, so that it will be impossible for hearts not to be joyous and of good cheer.

Martin Luther, House Postil for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (John 15:26-16:4)

The Absolute Thunderbolts Against Free Choice

Notice how simple the words are: “Through the law comes knowledge of sin”; yet they alone are powerful enough to confound and overthrow free choice. For if it is true that when left to itself it does not know what sin and evil are—as he says both here and in Romans 7:7: “I should not have known that covetousness is sin if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet,’ ”—how can it ever know what righteousness and goodness are? And if it does not know what righteousness is, how can it strive toward it? If we are unaware of the sin in which we were born, in which we live, move, and have our being, or rather, which lives, moves, and reigns in us, how should we be aware of the righteousness that reigns outside of us in heaven? These statements make complete and utter nonsense of that wretched thing, free choice.

This being so, Paul speaks with full confidence and authority when he declares: “But now the righteousness of God is manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it; the righteousness of God, I say, through faith in Jesus Christ for all and upon all who believe in him. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood,” etc. [Romans 3:21–25]. Paul’s words here are absolute thunderbolts against free choice.

Martin Luther, “On the Bondage of the Will” (LW 33:262-263)

Four Features of the Sermon As Absolution

If we consider the unconditional word of absolution as the basic word, model and matrix of an evangelical sermon, then there are four decisive features that make this sermon stand out. These features have to do with grammar and pragmatics. 1. The sermon is not a discourse in the third person about something but an address in the second person, where an “I” addresses a “you.” 2. The verb is formulated in the present tense or in the present perfect (Note: The relation between the present and present perfect corresponds to the correlation between what was “won” and what is “distributed”). 3. The performative verb used in the present or present perfect is semantically and pragmatically that of “promise” – a valid promise with immediate effect; it creates community. 4. The “I” of the preacher who speaks legitimates itself, implicitly or explicitly, as authorized to make this promise – like the prophet with the message formula, “thus says the Lord:…” The preacher is an authorized representative who stands in the place of his Lord and is authorized and empowered to speak on his behalf. The divine service is begun and continued in the name of the triune God. Baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper are celebrated in this name. The sermon is delivered in this name. And the preacher hears and takes to heart the trinitarian blessing promised by the words that many pastors use to greet the congregation before the sermon: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:13).

Oswald Bayer, “Preaching the Word”, from Justification Is For Preaching, pages 202-203

The Sermon As Promise and Gift

If the sermon proper has its matrix in the gift-giving word of the Lord’s Supper, and if its purpose is nothing more than to unfold and highlight that word, then we can avoid three mistakes: the way of theorization, moralization and psychologization. In other words, the proclaimed word is not primarily statement, appeal, or expression. This cannot be emphasized too strongly. For the word and faith are closely connected: as the word, so faith. If the proclaimed word is statement and demonstration, then faith is insight and knowledge. If however the word is appeal, then faith is actually its enactment in the deed, its realization in the form of a theory or an idea. Again, if the proclaimed word is expression, then faith is a fundamental part or experience of human life as such. Only if the word is promise and gift, is faith really faith.

Oswald Bayer, “Preaching the Word”, from Justification is For Preaching, pages 201-202

The Finger of God At Work in the Church

We need to know that Christ’s work of driving out the devil never ceases but continues to go on in the Christian world until the Last Day. Wherever Christ’s kingdom is, his wondrous work continues, causing the dumb to speak, the blind to see, and the deaf to hear. When Christ came into the flesh he set this work going, and it continues in Christendom day for day till the world’s end. For this task Christ left us designated instruments: holy baptism, the blessed Sacrament, the Word and absolution, and whatever else belongs to the ministry of preaching, in order to enable us to destroy the devil’s kingdom, to take from him his captives and cast him out of people. That promise is written in Isaiah 55:11: Verbum meum non redibit vacuum, “[My word] shall not return unto me void.” Just as rain fructifies the dry land, causing it to become green and alive, so God’s Word produces fruit wherever it comes. The Holy Spirit accompanies the Word, to enlighten, kindle faith, cleanse, and free people from the devil’s power and rule.

So what that the world takes no note of it! That was true then when Christ personally accomplished it. For the world is not worthy of seeing the smallest spark of God’s wondrous signs and works, but deserves to be blind, senseless, and deaf; for it dishonors, reviles, and slanders the Lord Christ as we see here. We Christians, however, who have and believe the Word should see, know, and be comforted in our hearts that god has vested us with the power here upon earth to continue to drive out the devil also now – indeed it is our duty! – both spiritually and physically.

Every child that comes into this world is born into the kingdom of the devil, the lord of death, who exercises his sway through sin’s tyranny. But upon Christ’s command we bring a child to holy baptism, speak the words of promise which he commanded, and the child is born anew into God’s kingdom; and the devil must yield and get out. God’s grace, through Christ, is spoken by God to the child, inasmuch as he or she is baptized into Christ’s death. When a person whom the devil has greatly overwhelmed and seared with many accusations comes to me with heavy heart and troubled conscience seeking comfort and instruction, I have the mandate, as does every Christian, to comfort my brother and pronounce God’s grace, for Christ’s sake, upon him. The devil must yield, not to me, a poor and wretched sinner, but to the Word which the Lord Christ left us upon earth. When your conscience is weak and terrified, therefore, and you are unable to grasp tightly enough the comfort that God graciously wants you to have, the forgiveness of sins, then know that Christ has given the Lord’s Supper, his true body and blood to eat and to drink, so that you have no reason further to doubt that his body was given for your sins and his blood poured out for your transgressions. Where such faith and trust are present, there it is impossible for the devil to dwell and hold sway.

This work, therefore, must continue apace in Christendom, in order to drive the devil out by the finger of God. Christ began it, as St. Paul states in Acts 10:38, “[Jesus] went about doing good, healing all that were oppressed by the devil; for God was with him.” The Christian church continues this work until the world’s end, indeed more and greater works than those Christ did, as he himself promised (John 14:12): “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.”

Martin Luther, House Postil for the Third Sunday in Lent (Luke 11:14-28)

The Church Is The Pupil of Christ

The church is the pupil of Christ. It sits at His feet and listens to His Word, that it may know how to judge everything—how to serve in one’s vocation and to fill civil offices, yes, how to eat, drink, and sleep—so that there is no doubt about any area of life, but that we, surrounded on all sides by the rays of the Word, may continually walk in joy and in the most beautiful light.

But alas, we are not aware of our gifts. Only those who are spiritual rejoice and give thanks to God. Because the rest are carnal, ungrateful, greedy, and proud, they will be deprived even of what they have; and the punishment will befall them that they will listen to Satan instead of Christ and to heretics instead of the apostles, namely, to men who seek in the Word their own wisdom and glory and everything else except the joy and the heavenly blessings the Word brings us.

This wretched situation should grieve all Christians, that in the great light and glory of the Word the majority remains blind and loves the darkness more than the light (John 3:19)….

We must appeal to our touchstone and look at the Word of God. We must not simply give our tacit approval to such hideous sanctity, but we must ask whether God has commanded such a thing.

If you see a baptized person walking in his baptismal faith and in the confession of the Word and performing the works of his calling, these works, however ordinary, are truly holy and admirable works of God, even though they are not impressive in the eyes of men….

The church is the pupil of Christ; and although it teaches, it does not teach anything except what has been entrusted to it by Christ. Even the Spirit of God does the same thing (John 16:14): “He will take what is Mine.”

Therefore if we want to practice godliness, let us not do so by means of unfruitful works but by means of fruitful ones. That is, let us first receive the Word of God, and let us believe in Christ. Then let us walk in our simple calling: Let the husband support his family; let the maid obey her mistress; let the mother wash, dress, and teach the children.

Because these works are done in one’s calling and in faith in the Son of God, they shine in the sight of God, of the angels, and of the entire church of God. For they are clothed in the heavenly light, the Word of God, even though in the sight of the pope’s church they are despised for being ordinary and common.

Martin Luther, Selections from the Genesis Lectures, specifically Genesis 13:14-15

The Necessary Distinguishing Between Law and Gospel

We must know what the law is, and what the gospel is. The law commands and requires us to do certain things. The law is thus directed solely to our behavior and consists in making requirements. For God speaks through the law, saying, “Do this, avoid that, this is what I expect of you.” The gospel, however, does not preach what we are to do or to avoid. It sets up no requirements but reverses the approach of the law, does the very opposite, and says, “This is what God has done for you; he has let his Son be made flesh for you, has let him be put to death for your sake.” So, then, there are two kinds of doctrine and two kinds of works, those of God and those of men. Just as we and God are separated from one another, so also these two doctrines are widely separated from one another. For the gospel teaches exclusively what has been given us by God, and not—as in the case of the law—what we are to do and give to God.

Martin Luther, “How Christians Should Regard Moses”, LW 35:162.

 

…it is so important to distinguish the two words [Law and Gospel] properly and not mingle them together. Otherwise you will not be able to have or hold on to a correct understanding of either of them. Instead, just when you think you have them both, you will have neither.

Martin Luther, Sermon for the Circumcision of Our Lord, 1532, WA 36:9:28ff. Translated by Willard L. Bruce in Concordia Journal, April, 1992, p. 153.

 

A few times—when I did not bear this principal teaching in mind—the devil caught up with me and plagued me with Scripture passages until heaven and earth became too small for me. Then all the works and laws of man were right, and not an error was to be found in the whole papacy. In short, the only one who had ever erred was Luther. All my best works, teaching, sermons, and books had to be condemned. The abominable Mohammed almost became my prophet, and both Turks and Jews were on the way to pure sainthood…. If by choice or of necessity you must deal with matters concerning the law, works, sayings, and examples of the fathers, then remember first of all to keep this principal teaching before you, and do not be caught without it, so that the dear sun of Christ will shine in your heart. Then you can freely and safely discuss and discriminate in all laws, examples, sayings, and works.

Martin Luther, “Exposition of Psalm 117”, LW 14:37-38.

 

I admit, of course, that there are many texts in the Scriptures that are obscure and abstruse, not because of the majesty of their subject matter, but because of our ignorance of their vocabulary and grammar; but these texts in no way hinder a knowledge of all the subject matter of Scripture. For what still sublimer thing can remain hidden in the Scriptures, now that the seals have been broken, the stone rolled from the door of the sepulcher [Matthew 27:66; 28:2], and the supreme mystery brought to light, namely, that Christ the Son of God has been made man, that God is three and one, that Christ has suffered for us and is to reign eternally? Are not these things known and sung even in the highways and byways? Take Christ out of the Scriptures, and what will you find left in them?

Martin Luther, “The Bondage of the Will”, LW 33:25-26.