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The complete Sermons of Martin Luther, The : 7 Volumes Hardcover – August 1, 2000
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We know Dr. Martin Luther as the great Reformer-theologian. But surprising as it may seem, these sermons are not doctoral at all. He may be easily understood by simple, uneducated readers because of his grassroots way of explaining God's word. In his lesson from the text, Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, he says, "Thank you flowers, you, who are to be devoured by the cows! God has exalted you very highly, that you become our masters and teachers" (p. 115.) You see from this that his expositions are not only simple, they are funny sometimes too, but never in that unholy way that we have come to despise from our local pastors. His interpretations are, for the most part, careful; his insights, pastoral. Because of the persecuting times in which he preached, his sermons overflow with precious comforts for afflicted persons.
Luther is also shamelessly direct. "Be on your guard, there are many lecturers who want to teach faith and conscience, and know less about them than a common blockhead" (p.65.) The pope and his monks are usually on the receiving end of this righteous indignation. "Yea, they would rather let ten poor people starve than fail to say one mass" (p. 175.) Sometimes he hammers a little too hard, "That the Jews had to practice circumcision was indeed a foolish ceremony" (p. 172.) Sometimes we are scared to believe him completely, "Since then all law exists to promote love, law must soon cease where it is in conflict with love" (p. 161.) And sure, I have left a few question marks beside some things I think he got wrong. Nothing serious. It does not worry me.
He is an expert at dividing law and gospel, "For God has not given his Law to the end to allow those to escape who disobey it. It is not sweet nor friendly, but brings with it bitter, horrible punishment, and delivers us to satan, casts us into hell, and leaves us in punishment until we have paid the uttermost farthing" (p. 283.) And so, "It is the law that teaches what we are required to do; the Gospel teaches where we shall receive what the law demands...The law discovers the disease, the Gospel ministers the medicine" (p. 31.) And then, after the medicine is taken, "Thus while ever rising in faith it [our heart] holds to Christ, where it does not do enough in keeping the law, its comfort is that Christ fulfills the law and bestows and imparts his fulness and strength, and thus he remains always our righteousness, salvation, sanctification, etc." (p. 54.) Those are his first two blocks: law and gospel. His next two are faith and love, the two-fold life principle, "Now, as I have often said, faith and love constitute the whole character of the Christian. Faith receives, love gives. Faith brings man to God [to receive], love brings man to his fellow [to give]. Through faith he permits God to do him good, through love he does good to his brother man" (p. 63.) Again, "And where faith is right, it also certainly loves, and does to another in love as Christ did to him in faith...a Christian life must embrace and never separate these two, faith and love. But the presumptuous undertake to separate them, they want only to believe and not to love, they despise their neighbor, and yet pretend to have Christ" (p. 72, 73.) And again, "Now the anxiety that springs from love is commanded, but that which accompanies faith is forbidden. If I believe that I have a God, then I cannot be anxious for my welfare...We are also to be interested in one another and this is the care of love, namely, when something is given to me, that I be diligent so that others may also receive it" (p. 112.) He is so easy to learn from! O, how I wish someone had given me his sermons when I was just beginning! What a Sunday school! Too bad Luther has been misrepresented and dismissed by our fundamentalists! They don't know how to teach the gospel themselves, and they discourage new believers from turning to someone who can! All because they disagree with Luther on the Lord's Supper? Or baptism? Shame! Church leaders ought to encourage their members to read Luther, and regularly--and Luther should be teaching church leaders. The Reformer has good advice that they should not scruple to take, for "it is a great art, to persuade people that they are poor and in need of grace" (p. 335.) Hans Luft knew that art.
His preaching is simple, but that is part of the art, to speak simply even while `deep calls to deep.' I have read many books on suffering in my many years in bed. Here is the most profound remark about it that I have come across after all that time and all my research: "For as Christ himself thus suffered, suffering has become so precious that no one is worthy of it, and it is to be regarded and esteemed as great grace" (p. 96.) In times of torment this wisdom will be awful medicine to receive, and I wouldn't share it if I had not suffered much myself. The fact is, we are not here for an easy time; we must have straight preaching to get us through. "He [God] permits man to fall so deeply into danger and anxiety, until no help or advice is within reach, and still he desires that we should not doubt, but trust in him who out of an impossible thing can make something possible, and make something out of nothing" (p. 133.) And if you are not converted, and are puzzled about all this, then listen closely, "He who seeks mercy of course neither buys nor sells anything, but seeks pure grace and mercy, as one unworthy of it, and evidently having greatly deserved the contrary" (p. 67.) That is the way, without works. And respecting this gospel for our salvation, it is every man for himself, "Each one should think of the matter, as if he were alone in the world; even as it will be in death at the end of he world, when no one will be concerned about others, but each one must be concerned about himself" (p. 273.) To abide in Christ and to increase in faith day by day, "Our hearts should always be in the condition as if we had only begun to believe to-day, and always be so disposed toward the Gospel as if we had never heard it before" (p. 267.)
My practice is to put an S in the margin to signify when something speaks to my situation, for contemplation later. Volume 3.1 is filled with S's. Martin Luther will always speak to you directly. He executes his pastoral office in the exact manner that he advocates here, "A bishop or minister ought to resemble one who waits upon the sick, who treats them very gently, gives kind words, speaks very friendly to them and exercises all diligence in their behalf...his bishoprick or parish is nothing but a hospital and an infirmary, where he has very many and various kinds of sick people for treatment" (p. 31.) Here is what occasioned one of those S's, which was to me what Augustus Toplady would call, an effectual shock: "I have often said that God acts toward man even as man is disposed; as thou thinkest and believeth concerning him, such he is to thee...If our hearts picture him as gracious or angry, pleasant or harsh, we have him that way" (p. 313.) That is not wholly true, for God often embarrasses Christians by blessing them in their sins. But it is somewhat true, and worth meditating on. For your own protection, you have to have these Sermons on Gospel Texts. Here is plain, beautiful, useful preaching, with Luther's own childlike faith in every sermon.
These sermons exhibit Luther's lowbrow, down-home, peasant preaching. They are a real treat for persons desiring straight talk on apostolic themes. In respect to the darkness of his age, that's just the style that was needed then. "I often have fears," complains Luther, "for the condemnation of all men of the present age except those who die in their cradles...no one sees and deplores the awful wrath of God overhanging us" (p. 286.) We too are living in a dark age. The difference now from then is that we have more worldly wisdom and affluence, which is worse for sure than rank ignorance and poverty. The wrath of God overhangs us more threateningly than ever, which is why we are in such need of men like Luther and the gospel the way he preached it.
"What else is the Gospel," says Luther simply, "but the message that Christ gave himself for us, to redeem us from sin, and that all who believe it will surely be saved?" (p. 134.) `Believe' in every evangelical's vocabulary, including Luther's, means "faith...a steadfast, indubitable, sure confidence in divine grace" (p. 84.) This is the old gospel message that saves the sinful soul. In defense of it, Luther could have been speaking prophetically as well as contemporaneously when he protested: "At present sermons are only idle talk...or some dream of the speaker" (p. 207.) This ministerial sacrilege is being committed as much today as before, even more than ever. The Reformer's judgment of it, though coarsely put, is awfully close to the mark: "The keeper of a public brothel is less a sinner than the preacher who does not deliver the true Gospel, and the brothel is not so bad as the false preacher's Church" (p. 200.) Anyone familiar with what the prophets of Jehovah said against their counterfeit brethren will recognize how right-on this verdict is--how this blunt rhetoric speaks an Old Testament sentence into the 16th and 21st centuries, not to mention how it speaks to the regressive 20th! Vast sections of many eras of evangelicalism will have something significant to answer for when they are called to God's Bench and accused of exchanging godly preaching for story-telling and for passing up hard-hitting Reformed sermons in favor of the chatty books that pastors `educate' themselves with! God criticizes us through the old Reformers. I am sure of it.
It is little tolerated if we speak our mind as the Reformers once did. This is especially the case where it concerns the pope, his wretched sacerdotalists, and their Great Squalid System of Idolatry. Some might think it indiscreet to call the pope `an apostle of the devil' and his teaching `the doctrine of Satan' (p. 47.) But does Luther not justly flog the pope in sermon after sermon for maintaining such seemingly innocuous prohibitions as those respecting meats and marriage? (p. 27.) He understood that the principal error is not even in the enforcing of such prohibitions and observances, but in the pope's "crying obedience to his doctrines as the road to salvation, and disobedience to them the road to damnation" (p. 69.) That is a sin, especially since the pope's dogma includes a claim of his own infallibility (p. 83.) Teaching `purification of sins by human achievements' (p. 180) is rightfully interpreted by the Reformer as `murdering Christian souls' (p. 205.) These Sermons on Epistle Texts often get to the root of Rome's faults.
Luther has been discountenanced, not only on account of his outspokenness toward Rome but because of his attitude toward the Jews. While it appears that he sees little hope for the salvation of ethnic Israel in the sermon called The Conversion of the Heathen (pp. 324, 327), yet his comments there are not conclusive enough to prove that he disbelieved in their future Messianic restoration. In his Exhortation to Bear with the Weak, he says to the Gentiles, "The Scripture promises to them [the Jews] the same Christ as you profess" (p. 56.) He makes a similar remark on page 58. Going by what I find in this volume, I see as much to suggest a positive humor than a negative one, toward controversial Israel. Certainly there is nothing akin to anti-Semitism in here.
The German Reformer has some harsh words for Aristotle (384-322 B. C.) and Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), two of Rome's most celebrated intellectual champions. He calls Aristotle `that dead and condemned heathen' (p. 285) whose writings convey no more than `the most depraved dolt knows' (p. 42.) To Aquinas he levels the sarcastic charge that his holiness came by `pernicious and poisonous doctrines' (p. 305.) If the Reformer resorts to couching his disapproval of these philosophers in raw, abrasive language, it is because their philosophic reasoning has been incorporated into professing Christianity by Catholic Rome to lend credibility to her unbiblical dogmas. To seek inferior light displaces the light of Christ (p. 17.) Luther opposes reason only in the sense of its not being sufficient, apart from the aid of faith and Revelation, to arrive at correct notions on `things concerning God' (p. 319.) Many Christians would be surprised to learn that the sermons of our time are not much more than popular psychology, and just as much a blend of truth and error as the mixture of fallen reason and Scripture found in Rome.
Now here are some concerns not as easily and honestly defended. (1) Since Luther esteems the Old Testament saints, and acknowledges their prophesying as true, we do not know what to think when he concludes, "Evidently, previous to the advent mentioned, no grace existed among men" (p. 138.) (2) He steers his people away from Mary but does not condemn undue honor being paid to her. He even calls her `the virgin Mary' (p. 53.) (3) He speaks of the Holy Ghost `deriving his divine substance' from Other Persons of the Trinity (p. 259.) (4) And he seems to nearly connect baptism and the Lord's Supper to salvation vitally (pp. 155, 229.) Too close for me, anyway. If Luther believed that faith, not regeneration, is renewing, and that this occurs at water baptism--or if he believed that grace is secured through baptism or communion--at least these errors are more plausibly drawn from Scripture than the pack of lies tied to salvation by Rome. In Luther's defense, in light of all the excellent teaching in his sermons and the medieval world that he was emerging from when he preached them, to demand orthodoxy on all principal points from this man is to insist on too much. To exclude the writings of Luther when they overtop what modern fundamentalism can do in all but a few gospel planks, is a decision that can only be made through the gray lens of ignorance or the even darker lenses of prejudice and sectarianism. Heresy must be rejected. But because of the circumstances involved, we should not shun Luther. I suspect that J. C. Ryle had shunning in mind when he recommended Protestant books that date no earlier than 1547, which was the year after Luther died.
These sermons are powerfully delivered; devastating to Rome; except for a little allegorical stretching, very exact; and full of plebeian eloquence.
So this set is definitely all the church and house postils.
It's pretty well-translated, not difficult to understand at all. I've heard so many rumors about Martin Luther and most of those were from very good sources. Is there any other person in history that real authorities, not crackpots, disagree so much about?
These sermons thus give excellent insight at least into his thoughts about Scripture. Possibly he was schizophrenic, surely prone to fits of rage, and some of his works probably represent only certain periods of his life. These sermons, however, are Luther's interpretations of Scripture when he had time to think and prepare and teach the flock, not combat an enemy, spread from 1520 to near the end of his life. Don't assume you know what he taught, as I did, until you've read what he said himself. Both those who claim him for their own and those who strongly oppose him misrepresent his views (even if there's no defense for his handling of the Peasants' War and the stance he took toward the Jews).