|From Norma Boeckler|
THE FIFTH CHAPTER OF ST. MATTHEW.
V. 1, 2. And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: and he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying:
HERE the evangelist with a formal stately preface declares how Christ disposed himself for the sermon he was about to deliver; that he went upon a mountain, and sat down, and opened his mouth; so that we see he was in earnest. These are the three things, it is commonly said, that mark a good preacher; first, that he take his place; secondly, that he open his mouth and say something; thirdly, that he know when to stop.
To take his place, that means that he assume a position as a master or preacher, who can and ought to do it, as one called for this purpose and not coming of his own accord, but to whom it is a matter of duty and obedience; so that he may say: “I come, not hurried hither by my own purpose and preference, but I must do it, by virtue of my office.
This is said as against those who have heretofore been causing us so much vexation and tribulation, and indeed are still doing it, namely the factious spirits and fanatics, that are running up and down through the country, poisoning the people, before the pastors or those in office and authority find it out, and thus befoul one family after another until they have poisoned a whole city, and from the city a whole country. To guard against such sneaking renegades one ought not to allow any one to preach who has not been duly and officially appointed; also no one should venture, though he should be a preacher, if he hears a lying preacher in a popish or other church, who is misleading the people, to preach against him; nor should any one go about into the houses and get up private preachings, but he should remain at home and mind his own official business, or keep silent, if he neither will or can publicly take his place in the pulpit.
For God does not want us to go wandering about with his word, as though we were impelled by the Holy Spirit and had to preach, and thus were seeking preaching places and corners, houses or pulpits, where we are not officially called. For even St. Paul himself, though called as an apostle by God, did not want to preach in those places where the other apostles had preached before. Therefore we are here told that Christ boldly and publicly goes up upon the mountain, when he begins his official ministry, and soon afterwards says to his disciples: “Ye are the light of the world;” and: “Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light to all that are in the house”. For the office of the ministry and the word of God are hence to shine as the sun, and not go sneaking and plotting in the dark, as in the play of blind-man’s buff; but all must be done in broad daylight, that it may be clearly seen that both preacher and hearer are sure of this, that the teaching is rightly done, and that the office has been rightly conferred, so that there is no need for concealment. Do thou likewise. If you are in office, and are commissioned to preach, take your place openly and fear nobody, that you may glory with Christ: “I spake openly to the world, * * in secret have I said nothing.” John 18:20.
But you say, “How? Is no one then to teach anything except in public? Or is the head of a family not to teach his servants in his house, or to have a scholar or some one about him who recites to him?” Answer: Certainly, that is all right, and all just in place. For every head of a family is in duty bound to teach his children and servants, or to have them taught. For he is in his house as a pastor or bishop over his household, and he is commanded to take heed what they learn, and he is responsible for them. But it is all wrong for you to do this away from your own house, and to force yourself into other houses or to neighbors, and you should not allow any such sneak to come to you and to carry on special preaching in your house for which he has no authorization. But if any one comes into a house or city let him be asked for the evidence that he is known, or let him show by letter and seal that he has been duly authorized. For one must not trust all the stragglers that boast of having the Holy Spirit, and insinuate themselves thereby here and there into the homes. In short, it means that the gospel, or the preaching of it, should not be heard in a corner, but up upon a mountain, and openly in the free daylight. That is one thing that Matthew wants to show here.
The next thing is that he opens his mouth. That belongs (as above said) also to a preacher, that he do not keep his mouth shut, and not only publicly perform his official duty so that every one must keep silence and let him take his proper place as one who is divinely authorized and commanded, but also that he briskly and confidently open his mouth, that is, to preach the truth and what has been committed to him; that he be not silent or merely mumble, but bear witness, fearless and unterrified, and speak the truth out frankly, without regarding or sparing any one, no matter who or what is struck by it.
For that hinders a preacher very much if he looks about him and concerns himself as to what the people do or do not like to hear, or what might occasion for him disfavor, harm or danger; but as he stands high up, upon a mountain, in a public place, and looks freely all around him, so he is also to speak freely and fear nobody, although he sees many sorts of people, and to hold no leaf before his mouth, nor to regard either gracious or wrathful lords and squires, either money, riches, honor, power, or disgrace, poverty or injury, and not to think of anything further than that he may speak what his office requires, even that for which he stands where he does.
For Christ did not institute and appoint the office of the ministry that it might serve to gain money, possession, favor, honor, friendship, or that one may seek his own advantage through it, but that one should openly, freely proclaim the truth, rebuke evil, and publish what belongs to the advantage, safety and salvation of souls. For the word of God is not here for the purpose of teaching how a maid or man servant is to work in the house and earn his or her bread, or how a burgomaster is to rules a farmer to plough or make hay. In short, it neither gives nor shows temporal good things by which one maintains this life, for reason has already taught all this to every one; but its purpose is to teach how we are to attain to thai life, and it teaches thee to use the present life, and to nourish the belly here as long as it lasts; yet, so that thou mayest know where thou art to abide and live when this must come to an end.
If now the time comes for preaching of another life that we are to be concerned about, and for the sake of which we are not to regard this one as if we wanted to remain here forever, then contention and strife begin, so that the world will not endure it. If then a preacher cares more for his belly and worldly living, he does not do his duty; he stands up indeed and babbles in the pulpit, but he does not preach the truth, does not really open his mouth; if there seems to be trouble ahead he keeps quiet and avoids hitting anybody. Observe, this is why Matthew prefaces his account with the statement that Christ, as a true preacher, ascends the mountain and cheerfully opens his mouth, teaches the truth, and rebukes both false teaching and living, as we shall hear in what follows.
V. 3. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
This is a delightful, sweet and genial beginning of his sermon. For he does not come, like Moses or a teacher of law, with alarming and threatening demands; but in the most friendly manner, with enticements and allurements and pleasant promises. And indeed, if it had not been thus recorded, and if the first uttered precious words of the Lord Christ had not been given to us all, an over-curious spirit would tempt and impel everybody to run after them even to Jerusalem, yes, to the end of the world, if one might hear but a word of it all. Then there would be plenty of money forthcoming to build a good road, and every one would boastingly glory how he had heard or read the very words that the Lord Christ had spoken. O what a wonderfully happy man would he be held to be who should succeed in this! That is just the way it surely would be if we had none of our Savior’s words written, although much might have been written by others; and every one would say: Yes, I hear indeed what St.
Paul and his other apostles have taught, but I would much rather hear what he himself said and preached. But now that it is so common, that every one has it written in a book, and can read it daily, nobody regards it as something special and precious. Yes, we grow tired of them and neglect them, just as if not the high Majesty of heaven, but some cobbler, had uttered them. Therefore we are duly punished for our ingratitude and contemptuous treatment of these words by getting little enough from them, and never feeling or tasting what a treasure, force and power there is in the words of Christ. But he who has grace only to recognize them as the words of God and not of man, will surely regard them as higher and more precious, and never grow tired or weary of them.
Kindly and sweet as this sermon is for Christians, who are our Lord’s disciples, just so vexatious and intolerable is it for the Jews and their great saints. For he hits them a hard blow in the very beginning with these words, rejects and condemns their doctrine and preaches the direct contrary; yes, he denounces woe against their way of living and teaching, as is shown in the sixth chapter of Luke. For the substance of their teaching was this: If it goes well with a man here upon earth, he is happy and well off; that was all they aimed at, that God should give them enough upon earth, if they were pious and served him; as David says of them in <19E401> Psalm 144: “Our garners are full, affording all manner of store; our sheep bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our streets; our oxen are strong to labor; there is no breaking in or going out; there is no complaining in our streets.”
These they call happy people, etc.
Against all this Christ opens his mouth and says there is something else needed than having enough here upon earth; as if to say: You dear disciples, if you come to preach among the people, you will find that they all teach and believe thus: He who is rich, powerful, etc., is altogether happy; and again, he who is poor and miserable is rejected and condemned before God. For the Jews were firmly fixed in this belief: if it went well with a man, that was a proof that God was gracious to him; and the reverse. This is explained by the fact that they had many and great promises from God of temporal and bodily good things that he would bestow upon the pious. They relied upon these, and supposed that if they had this they were well off. This is the theory that underlies the book of Job. For in regard to this his friends dispute with and contend against him, and insist strongly upon it that he must have knowingly committed some great crime against God, that he was so severely punished. Therefore he ought to confess it, be converted and become pious, then God would take away the punishment again from him, etc.
Therefore it was needful that his sermon should begin with overturning this false notion and tearing it out of their hearts, as one of the greatest hindrances to faith, that strengthens the real idol mammon in the heart. For nothing else could follow this teaching than that the people would become avaricious, and every one would care only for having plenty and a good time, without want and discomfort; and every one would have to infer: If he is happy who succeeds and has plenty, I must see to it that I am not left in the lurch.
This is still to-day the common belief of the world, especially of the Turks, who completely and thoroughly rely upon it, and thence conclude that it would not be possible that they should have so much success and victory if they were not the people of God and he were not gracious towards them above all others. Among ourselves also the whole papacy believes the same thing, and their teaching and life are based upon the fact that they only have enough and besides have secured for themselves all manner of worldly property; as everybody can see. In short, this is the greatest and most widely diffused belief of religion upon earth, whereupon all men of mere flesh and blood rely, and they cannot count anything else as happiness.
Therefore he here preaches an altogether different new sermon for Christians, viz. that if it does not go well with them, if they suffer poverty and have to do without riches, power, honor and a good time, they are still to be happy and not to have a temporal, but a different, an eternal reward; that they have enough in the kingdom of heaven.
Do you now say: How, must Christians then all be poor, and dare no one have money, property, honor, power, etc.? Or, what are the rich, as princes, lords, kings, to do? Must they give up all their property, honor, etc., or buy the kingdom of heaven from the poor, as some have taught?
No; it is not said that we are to buy from the poor, but we are to be ourselves poor and be found among those poor, if we are to have the kingdom of heaven. For it is said plainly and bluntly: Blessed are the poor; and yet there is another little word along with that, viz. spiritually poor, so that nothing is accomplished by any one’s being bodily poor, and having no money and property. For, outwardly to have money, property and people, is not of itself wrong, but it is God’s gift and arrangement. No one is blessed, therefore, because he is a beggar and has nowhere anything of his own; but the expression is, spiritually poor. For I said already in the beginning that Christ is here not at all treating of secular government and order, but is speaking only of what is spiritual — how one aside from and over and above that which is outward is to live before God.
It belongs to secular government that one should have money, property, honor, power, land and people, and without these it could not exist.
Therefore a lord or prince must and cannot be poor; for he must have all sorts of possessions suited to his office and rank. Therefore it is not meant that one must be poor and have nothing at all of his own. For the world could not exist in such a way that we should all be beggars and have nothing. For no head of a family could maintain his family and servants, if he himself had nothing at all. In short, to be bodily poor decides nothing.
For we find many a beggar who gets bread at our door more proud and evil-disposed than any rich man, and many a miserly farmer with whom it is harder to get along than with any lord or prince.
Therefore be bodily and outwardly poor or rich, as may be your lot, God does not ask about that; and he knows that every one must be before God, that is spiritually and in his heart, poor; that is, not to place his confidence, comfort and assurance in temporal possessions, nor fix his heart upon them and make mammon his idol. David was an excellent king and had indeed his purse and his chest full of money, his barns full of grain, the country full of all sorts of goods and stores; yet along with this he had to be spiritually a poor beggar, as he sings about himself: “I am poor, and a stranger in the land, as all my fathers were.” Notice, the king who sits in the midst of such possessions, a lord over land and people, dare not call himself anything else than a stranger or a pilgrim who goes upon the highway and has no place where he can abide. That means a heart that does not cling to property and riches; but, although it has, yet it is as though it had not, as St. Paul boasts of the Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 6:10: “As poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”
The meaning of all that has been said is that one is to use all temporal good and bodily necessities, whilst he lives here, not otherwise than as a stranger in a strange place, where he spends the night and leaves in the morning. He needs no more than food and lodging, and dare not say: “This is mine, here will I stay ;” nor dare he take possession of the property as tho’ of right it belonged to him; else he would soon hear the host say to him: “Friend, do you not know that you are a stranger guest here? Go your way, where you belong.” Just so here; that you have worldly goods, that is the gift of God to you for this life, and he allows you indeed to make use of it and to fill with it the worm-bag (Madensack) that you wear about your neck; but not that you fix and hang your heart upon it as though you were to live forever; but you are to be always going farther and thinking about another higher and better treasure that is your own and is to endure forever.
This is roughly said for the common man, that one may learn to understand (speaking according to the Scriptures) what it means to be spiritually poor or poor before God, not to reckon outwardly as to money and property, or as to want or superfluity, since we see (as above said) that the poorest and most miserable beggars are the worst and most desperate scoundrels, and dare to commit all sorts of knavery and evil tricks, which decent, honest people, rich citizens or lords and princes, are not guilty of; on the other hand also, many saintly people that have had plenty of money, honor, land and people, and yet with so much property have been poor; but we must reckon according to the heart, that it must not be much concerned whether it has anything or nothing, much or little, and always to treat what it has as though one did not have it, and had to be ready at any time to lose it, keeping the heart always fixed upon the kingdom of heaven.
Again, he is called rich according to the Scriptures who, although not having any worldly possessions, still scrambles and scratches after them, so that he never can get enough. These are the very ones whom the gospel calls rich bellies, who amid great possessions have the very least, and are never satisfied with that which God gives them. For it looks into the heart which is sticking full of money and worldly goods, and judges accordingly, although there is nothing in the purse or money box. Again it judges him poor in heart, though he has chest, house and hearth full. Thus Christian faith moves straight forward; it regards neither poverty nor riches; it asks only how the heart stands. If there be an avaricious belly there, the man is said to be spiritually rich; and again, he is spiritually poor who does not cling to such things and can empty his heart of them, as Christ elsewhere says: “He who forsakes houses, lands, children, wife, etc., he shall have a hundred fold again, and besides eternal life,” that he may bear away their hearts from earthly good, so that they do not regard it as their treasure, and that he may comfort his own, who have to forsake it, that they shall receive much more and better, even in this life, than what they relinquish.
Not that we are to run away from property, home, wife and child, and wander about the country burdening other people, as the Anabaptist crowd does, that accuse us of not preaching the gospel aright because we keep our home and stay by wife and child. No, such crazy saints he does not want; but the true meaning is: Let a man be able in heart to leave his earthly home, his wife and child, though staying in the midst of them, nourishing himself along with them and serving them through love, as God has commanded, and yet able, if need be, to give them up at any time for God’s sake. If thou art thus disposed, thou hast forsaken all things in such a way that thy heart is not taken captive, but remains pure from avarice and from clinging to other things for comfort and confidence. A rich man may properly be called spiritally poor, and need not therefore throw away his earthly possessions, except when he must needs forsake them; then let him do it in God’s name, not for the reason that he would rather be away from wife, child and home, but would rather keep them as long as God grants it and is served by his so doing, and yet willing if he wishes to take them from him again. So you see what it means to be spiritually and before God poor, or spiritually to have nothing and forsake all.
Now look also at the promise that Christ adds, and says: “For of such is the kingdom of heaven.” This is indeed a great, excellent, glorious promise, that we are to have a beautiful, glorious, great, eternal possession in heaven, since we are here gladly poor and regardless of earthly good.
And as thou here givest up a very small matter that thou wouldst still gladly use as long and as much as thou canst have it, thou shalt instead thereof attain a crown, that thou mayest be a citizen and a lord in heaven.
This ought to influence us, if we wanted to be Christians, and if we held his words to be true. But no one cares who it is that says this, and still less what he says; they let it pass through their ears in such a way that no one concerns himself about it any more nor lays it to heart.
But he shows with these words that no one understands this unless he is already a true Christian. For this trait and all the rest that follow are simply fruits of faith which the Holy Spirit himself must work in the heart. Where now faith is not, there the kingdom of heaven also will be wanting, nor will spiritual poverty, meekness, etc., follow, but only sordid raking and scraping, quarreling and noisily contending for worldly goods. Therefore all pains are lost upon such worldly hearts, so that they never learn or know what spiritual poverty is, nor do they believe or care for what he says and promises about the kingdom of heaven; although for their sake he so orders and ordains it that he who will not be spiritually poor in God’s name, and for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, must still be poor in the devil’s name and get no thanks for it. For God has so hung the greedy to their belly that they are never satiated with their greedily gained good, nor can they ever be happy. For squire greediness is such a merry guest, who never lets any one rest; he seeks, pushes and hunts without ceasing, so that he dare not enjoy his dear treasure for an hour; as Solomon the preacher too wonders and says: “A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth and honor, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it. This is vanity, and it is an evil disease.” He must always be afraid and anxiously concerned how he may keep what he has, and add to it, that it perish not, or be diminished, and is so completely tied up that he dare not cheerfully spend a penny. But if there were a heart that could be content and satisfied, it would have rest and the kingdom of heaven besides; otherwise along with great possessions, or indeed with its greediness, at must have purgatory here and there hellish fire besides, and as they say: Travel here with a barrow and there with a wheel; that is, have here trouble and anxiety and there bitter grief.
Notice, God always overrules it so that his word must remain true, and no one be saved or satisfied except Christians; and the rest, although they have everything, yet they are none the better off — indeed are not as well off, and must still be poor beggars, as far as the heart is concerned; only that the former are willingly poor and are looking forward to an imperishable eternal possession, that is to the kingdom of heaven, and are blessed children of God; but the latter are greedy for worldly good and still do not get what they want, and must besides be all the time martyrs of the devil.
And there is, in short, no difference between a beggar before the door, and such a wretched greedy-gut, except that the one has nothing and can be put off with a crust of bread, whilst the other, the more he has the harder he is to fill, even though he should get all the world’s money and goods in a heap.
Therefore this sermon, as I said, is of no account for the world, and answers for it no good purpose; for it insists upon being sure of its case, and will not take anything upon faith, but must see it and handle it, and says, it is better to have a sparrow in your hand than to be gaping at a crane in the air. Therefore Christ lets them go, does not want to force anybody or drag him to him by the hair; but he gives his kind counsel to all who are willing to be advised, and holds out before us the most precious promise. If thou wilt, thou hast here peace and rest in heart, and there forever what thy heart shall desire. If thou wilt not, then go along and have rather here and there all manner of misery and misfortune. For we see and know that all depends upon being satisfied and not clinging to worldly good; as many a one is whose heart God can fill, though he has only a bit of bread, so that he is cheerful and better contented than any prince or king. In short, he is a rich lord and emperor; need have no care, trouble or sorrow.
That is the first part of this sermon: He who wants to have enough here and there, let him take heed that he be not greedy and avaricious, but accept and use what God gives, and earn his daily bread in faith, then he will have here his paradise and even the kingdom of heaven, as Paul says, 1 Timothy 4:8, “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.”
V. 4. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
As he began this sermon against the teaching and faith of the Jews (and indeed not of them alone, but of the whole world, even where it is at its best, which clings to the notion that it is well off if it only has possessions, honor, and its mammon, and it serves God only for this end), he now continues and shows the folly of what they regarded as the best, most blessed life upon earth, viz., having good, quiet days and suffering no discomfort, as some are described in the <197301> seventy-third Psalm: “They are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other men.”
For that is the chief thing that men desire, that they may have joy and pleasure and have no trouble. Now Christ turns the leaf over, states the exact opposite, and calls those blessed that have sadness and suffering, and so throughout, all these statements are made in direct opposition to the world’s way of thinking, as it would like to have it. For it does not want to suffer hunger, trouble, disgrace, contempt, injustice and violence, and those who can be free from all this it counts blessed.
So that he means here to say that there must be another life than the one they seek and care for, and that a Christian must see to it that he is a sufferer and sorrow-bearer in this life. He who will not do this may indeed have a good time here, and live according to all his heart’s desire, but he will have to suffer forever hereafter, as Luke says, 6:25, “Woe unto you that laugh now! For ye shall mourn and weep.” So it went with the rich man, Luke 16., who lived sumptuously and joyfully every day, clothed in purple and fine linen, and thought he was a great saint and well off before God because he had given him so much that was good, though he at the same time let poor Lazarus lie daily before his door full of sores, in hunger and distress and great misery. But what kind of a judgment did he hear at last when he was lying in hell? “Remember thou in thy lifetime didst receive thy good things and Lazarus his evil things, therefore thou art now tormented and he is comforted,” etc. See, that is exactly our text: “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted;” and again, as much as to say: Those who here seek and have nothing but joy and pleasure shall weep and howl forever.
Do you ask again: What then are we to do? Are those all to be damned that laugh, sing, dance, dress well, eat and drink? We surely read about kings and holy people that were cheerful and lived well. And especially Paul is a wonderful saint, who insists upon it that we be always cheerful, Philippians 4:4, and says, Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice,” and again: “Weep with those that weep.” Observe, that seems inconsistent, to rejoice evermore and yet weep and mourn with others.
Answer: Just as I said before, that to have riches is no sin, nor is it forbidden; just so to be cheerful, to eat and drink well, is no sin, nor is it condemnatory; in like manner it is not wrong to have honor and a good name; and yet I am to be blessed if I do not have this, or can do without it, and instead of this suffer poverty, wretchedness, disgrace and persecution.
So both of these things are here, and must be, to mourn and be cheerful, to eat and suffer hunger, as Paul boasts concerning himself, Philippians 4:11 seq.: “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased and how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” Also, 2 Corinthians 6:8 seq.: “By honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report: as dying, and behold we live; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,” etc.
Therefore, the meaning is: Just as not he is called spiritually poor who has no money or anything of his own, but he who does not hanker after it or put his confidence in it as if it were his kingdom of heaven: so also not he is said to mourn who is always outwardly of downcast countenance, looking gloomy and never laughing; but he who does not comfort himself with having a good time and living sumptuously, as the world does — that cares for nothing but having constant joy and pleasure, and revels in it, and does not think or care how it goes with God or the people.
Thus many excellent, great people, kings and others, that were Christians, have had to mourn and bear trouble, although they lived splendidly before the world; as David everywhere in the Psalms complains about his weeping and sorrowing. And also now I could easily give examples of great people, lords and princes, who have had the same bitter experience with reference to the precious gospel; as, now at the late diet at Augsburg and on other occasions, although they got along very well outwardly, and were clothed in princely style in silk and gold, and to all appearance were like those who walk upon roses, yet they had to be daily right among poisonous serpents, and they had to experience at heart such unheard-of arrogance, insolence and shame, so many evil tricks and words from the shameful papists, who took pleasure in embittering their hearts and as far as they could in preventing them from having a single cheerful hour, so that they had to chew the cud of inward misery and do nothing but lament before God with sighs and tears. Such people know something of what it means to mourn and be sorrowful, although they do not at once show it, but eat and drink with others, and sometimes with laughing and jesting, to conceal their sorrow. For you must not think that mourning means only weeping and lamenting, or wailing, like children and women; this is not yet the real deep grief, if it has found its way to the heart and pours itself out through the eyes; but that is it, when the real hard blows come that strike and crush the heart, so that one cannot weep or dare complain to any one.
Therefore mourning is not a rare plant among Christians, although it makes no outward show, even if they would gladly be cheerful in Christ, and also outwardly as much as they can. For when they look at the world they must daily see and be painfully conscious of so much malice, arrogance, contempt for and blasphemy of God and his word, and besides so much misery and misfortune that the devil occasions, both in church and state, that they cannot have many cheerful thoughts, and their spiritual joy is very weak. And if they were to look at such things all the while, and did not sometimes turn their eyes away, they could never be cheerful at all; it is enough that this really happens oftener than they would wish, so that they need not go far to find it.
Therefore only begin and be a Christian, and you will soon learn what mourning means. If you cannot do better, take a wife, and settle yourself, and make a living in faith, so that you love the word of God and do what belongs to your calling; then you will soon learn, both from neighbors and in your own house, that things will not go as you would like, and you will be everywhere hindered and hedged so that you will get enough to suffer and must see what will make you sad at heart. Especially however the dear preachers must learn this thoroughly, and be daily exercised with it, so that they must take to heart all manner of envy, hatred, scorn and ridicule, ingratitude, contempt besides, and revilement, so that they are inwardly pierced and uninterruptedly tormented.
But the world will have none of this mourning, therefore it seeks those callings and modes of living in which it can have a good time and need not suffer anything from anybody, as the monks’ and priests’ calling used to be. For it cannot endure that it should in a divinely given calling serve other people with constant care, trouble and labor, and get nothing for this but ingratitude and contempt and other malicious treatment as a reward.
Therefore when things do not go with it as it wishes, and one is scowled at by another, they can do nothing but pound away with cursing and swearing, yes, and with their fists besides, and are ready to sacrifice property and reputation, land and people. But God orders it so, that they still must not get off so easily, that they need not see or suffer any misery, and he awards to them as a recompense, because they try to avoid it, that they still must suffer, and even make this twofold greater and heavier by their wrath and impatience, and cannot have any comfort and good conscience. But Christians have this advantage, that although they mourn they shall be comforted and be blessed both here and there.
Therefore, whoever does not want to be out and out a worldling, but to have part with Christians, let him be counted in as one who helps to sigh and mourn, so that he may be comforted, as this promise tells. We read of a case of this kind in the prophecy of Ezekiel, chapter nine, how God sent six men with deadly weapons to the city of Jerusalem. But he commissioned one among them to go through the midst of the city with “a writer’s inkhorn by his side,” to “set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.” Those thus marked were to remain alive, but the rest were all to be slain. See, this is the advantage of Christians, that although they must see only sorrow and misery in the world, yet at last it comes to pass, when the world is most secure and is moving along in full enjoyment, that the little wheel turns, and suddenly a misfortune overtakes them in which these must remain and perish, whilst the others are snatched out of it and delivered, as in the case of dear Lot at Sodom, when they had long vexed his heart (as St. Peter says) “with their filthy conversation.” Therefore let the world now laugh and live in revelry, according to its lust and wantonness. And though you have to mourn and weep, and daily see what grieves your heart, submit and hold fast to the saying [of our text], that you may be satisfied and comfort yourself with it, and also outwardly refresh yourself and be as cheerful as you can.
For those who thus mourn may properly have and take joy when they can, so that they do not utterly sink through sadness. For Christ also added these very words and promised this consolation, that they should not despond in their sorrow, or let the joy of their heart be entirely taken away and extinguished, but should mingle this mourning with consolation and refreshment, otherwise, if they never had any comfort or joy, they would have to pine and shrivel away. For no man can endure nothing but mourning; for it sucks out the very juices of the body, as the wise man says: “Grief has killed many people.” Also: “A gloomy spirit dries up the marrow in the bones.” Therefore we should not only avoid this, but we should commend and urge such people to be cheerful sometimes, if possible; or at least to moderate their grief and partly forget it.
Therefore Christ does not wish that there should be nothing but mourning and sadness here, but warns against those who will not mourn at all, who want to have only a good time and all their comfort here; and he wants to teach his Christians, if it goes badly with them and they have to mourn, that they may know that this is God’s good pleasure, and it should also be theirs, and that they should not swear, or rage, or despair, as though their God had no mercy. When this is the case, the little bitter draught is to be mixed with honey and sugar, and so made less repulsive; that is the purpose of this promise, that this is well pleasing to him, and that he calls them blessed, besides that he comforts them here, and there they shall be entirely relieved of sorrow.
Therefore bid good-bye to the world and all that harm us, in the name of their lord, the devil, and let us sing this song and be cheerful, in the name of God and Christ. For it will surely not end with them as they wish; but, although they now rejoice at our misfortune, and do much to injure us, we will still keep up good courage, and shall live to see that they will have to weep and lament when we are comforted and happy.
V. 5. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
This beatitude follows admirably upon the first when he said: Blessed are the poor in spirit, etc. For as he there promised the kingdom of heaven and an eternal inheritance, so he here adds a promise of this present life and possessions here upon earth.
But how does this agree together? to be poor and to possess the land? It seems to me that the preacher has forgotten how he began. For, if one is to possess the land and worldly goods, he cannot be poor. But he does not mean to say here that to own the land and have all kinds of possessions here upon earth, means, that every one is to possess a whole country; else God would have to create more worlds; but he refers to the blessings that God bestows upon each one, that he gives to one wife, children, cattle, house and home, and what is implied in this, that he may abide in the land (where he lives) and have control of his worldly goods, as the scriptures usually speak, and it is repeatedly said in Psalm thirty-seven: “those that wait upon the Lord shall inherit the earth;” also, “such as be blessed of him shall inherit the earth,” etc. Therefore, he himself adds here the gloss, that to be spiritually poor, of which he spoke before, does not mean to be a beggar, or to throw away money and goods. For he teaches here that they are to remain and dwell in the land and have to do with earthly possessions; as we shall hear bye and bye.
Now, what does it mean to be meek? Here you must, in the first place, be again reminded, that Christ is not speaking at all about the government and its official authority; for it does not belong to this to be meek (sanftmuthig, as we use the word Sanftmuth in German); for it holds the sword, that it may punish the wicked, and it has a wrath and vengeance that are called the wrath and vengeance of God; but he is speaking only of individual persons, how each one is to conduct himself towards others, aside from official position and control; as father and mother, if they do not live as father and mother towards their children, nor perform their official duty as father and mother, that is, towards those who are not called father or mother, as neighbors and others. For I have elsewhere often said that we must make a wide difference between these two, office and person. He who is known as Jack or Martin is a very different man from him who is called Elector, or Doctor, or Preacher.
For here we have two different persons in one man. One, in which we are created and born, according to which we are all alike, man, woman, child, young, old, etc. But when we have now been born, God makes of you another person, makes you a child, me a father; one a master, another a servant; this one a prince, that one a citizen, etc. That means then a divine person, holding a divine office, and moves clothed with its own dignity, and is not called simply Jack or Nicholas, but a prince of Saxony, or father and master. Here he says nothing about these, but lets them move on in their office and rank, as he has ordered it; but he is speaking of the mere, single, natural person, what each is to do for himself, as a man, towards others. Therefore, if we hold official and authoritative position, we must be strict and rigid, be wrathful and punish, etc. For here we must do what God places within our reach and of his own accord commands us to do.
Beyond this, in what is unofficial, let every one learn for himself that he be mild towards everybody, that is, not to deal with and treat his neighbor unreasonably, with a hateful or revengeful spirit, like those who rush through headlong, never willing to bear anything or yield an inch, but turning the world upside down, never listening to anybody or excusing him for anything, but pile on the bundles at once and never stop to think, only how they may take vengeance and strike back again. Rulers are not hereby forbidden to punish and enforce retribution by divine authority; but also no license is here granted for a judge, burgomaster, lord or prince, who is a villain, and confounds the two persons and goes beyond his official authority through personal malice, or from envy, hatred and hostility (as often happens) under the mantle of office and legal right’ as if our neighbors, under the name of the authorities, wanted to carry out something against us which they could not otherwise accomplish.
And especially he is here talking again with his Jews, as he had begun, who always insisted upon it that they were not to suffer anything from a heathen and a stranger, and that they were always right if they unhesitatingly avenged themselves, and quoted for this purpose the sayings of Moses, as Deuteronomy 8:23: “The Lord shall make thee the head and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only and not beneath,” etc., which would be all right enough. But the meaning is, if God himself does this, then it is well done. For it is altogether another matter if he orders it and says: I will do it, and if we do it ourselves, without authority. What he says, that shall and must be done. What we say, that happens if it can, or perhaps it does not happen at all. Therefore you have no right to apply to yourself this promise, and take confidence from it when you want to do something which he ought to do, and you will not wait till he tells you to do it.
Observe, Christ is here rebuking those wild saints who think every one is master in the whole world and has a perfect right to bear no suffering, but only to make a racket and bluster, and with violence to defend his own; and he teaches us that he who wishes to rule and possess his own, his property, home, etc., in peace, must be meek, so that he may overlook things and act reasonably, and suffer just as much as he can. For it cannot be otherwise but that your neighbor will sometimes take advantage of or injure you, either accidentally or through malice. If it was done accidentally, you make it no better on your part if you neither can nor will endure anything. If it was done maliciously, you only aggravate him by scratching and pounding, whilst he is laughing at you and making merry that he is worrying and vexing you, so that you still can have no peace or quietly enjoy your own.
Therefore choose one of the two, whichever you please: either to live with meekness and patience among the people and keep what you have with peace and a good conscience, or with racket and rumpus to lose your own, and besides have no peace. For this is settled, the meek shall inherit the earth. And look only yourself at those queer characters that are always quarreling and disputing about property and other matters, and yielding to nobody, but are determined to rush everything through, whether they do not squander more by quarreling and contending than they could ever gain, and at last lose land and people, house and home, with unrest and a bad conscience besides; and God adds his sanction to it, which says: “Be then not meek, so that you do not keep the land, nor enjoy your mite with peace.” But if you want to live rightly and have rest, then let your neighbor’s malice and hostility smother and extinguish itself; otherwise you cannot better please the devil, or more greatly harm yourself, than by getting up an angry racket. Have you a government over you? report the case and let them attend to it. For it is the business of the government not to permit the innocent to be much oppressed; and God will also overrule in such a way that his word and ordinance abides, and you according to this promise come to possess the land. Thus you will have peace and blessing from God, but your neighbor will have unrest, together with God’s displeasure and curse.
But this sermon is intended only for those who are Christians, and believe, and know that they have their treasure in heaven, that is secure for them, and cannot be taken from them; therefore they must have enough also here, although they do not have chests and pockets full of red ducats. Since you know this, why will you let your joy be disturbed and taken from you — yes, why even make disquiet for yourself and rob yourself of this excellent promise?
Observe, you have now three points with three rich promises, so that he who is a Christian must have enough, both temporal and eternal, though he must here suffer much, both inwardly, in heart, and outwardly. Again, the worldlings, because they will not endure poverty, nor trouble, nor violence, neither have nor enjoy either the kingdom of heaven or worldly good with peace and quiet. You can read more about this in Psalm thirty-seven, which is the real commentary upon this passage, and richly describes how the meek inherit the earth and the ungodly are to be cut off.
V. 6. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled .
Righteousness must here not be understood as being the Christian righteousness in general, whereby the person becomes pious and acceptable before God. For I have before said that these eight beatitudes are nothing else than a teaching about the fruits and good works of a Christian, which must be preceded by faith, as the tree and main body or sum of his righteousness and blessedness, without any work or merit, out of which these beatitudes must all grow and follow. Therefore understand here the outward righteousness before the world, which we observe among ourselves towards others, that this is the meaning, short and simple, of these words: he is a really blessed man who perseveringly and assiduously strives to promote the general welfare and the right conduct of every one, and who helps to maintain and carry this out with word and deed, with counsel and act.
This is now also an excellent beatitude, which comprehends very many good works, but which is by no means common. For instance, that we may illustrate, if a preacher wishes to be counted as hungering and thirsting for righteousness, he must be ready to instruct and help every one in his calling, that he may conduct it properly and do what belongs to it, and when he sees that there is something wanting, and things do not go right, that he be on hand, warn, rebuke, and correct as well and by such means as he can: thus that I, as a preacher, be faithful to my office, and others to theirs, that they follow my teaching and preaching, and thus on both sides the right thing is done. Where now there are such people as take a special and earnest interest in gladly doing what is right, or in being found rightly at work, these may be said to be hungering and thirsting after righteousness. If this were the case there would be no knavery or injustice, but complete righteousness and blessedness on earth. For what is the righteousness of the world else than that every one do in his calling what is due? That means that every one’s rights should be duly regarded, those of the man, the woman, the child, the man servant and maid servant in the family, the citizen or the city in the land; and it all amounts to this, that those who are to oversee and rule other people execute this office with diligence, carefulness and fidelity, and that the others also faithfully and willingly render to these due service and obedience.
Nor does he without cause use the phrase: “Hunger and thirst after righteousness;” he means thereby to indicate that in order to attain it one must have great earnestness, a yearning eagerness and incessant diligence: that where there is a lack of this hunger and thirst, all will amount to nothing. The reason is this; for there are too many and great hindrances, both on the part of the devil, who is everywhere blocking the way, and on the part of the world, (namely his children,) which is so wicked that it cannot endure a pious man, who wants to do right or help others to do it; but it so annoys and worries him that in the end he loses patience and is out of humor about it. For it is painful to see how shamefully people act, and reward whole-hearted kindness with ingratitude, contempt, hatred and persecution. Hence also many persons who could not bear to witness this base conduct, at last grew desperate about it and took refuge in the wilderness, fleeing from human society and becoming monks, so that the saying has often been verified: “Despair makes a monk ;” either, that one does not trust to make his own living and runs into a monastery for his stomach’s sake, as the great crowd has done; or, that one despairs of the world and does not trust to remain pious in it or to help other people.
But this is not hungering and thirsting after righteousness. For he who wants to preach or rule in such a way, that he allows himself to be made weary and impatient, and to scamper off into a corner, he will be slow to help other people. It is not your duty to creep into a corner or into the wilderness, but to come out briskly, if you were therein, and offer both your hands and feet and your whole body for use, and hazard everything that you have and can do; and you are to be such a man as can be hard against hard, so as not to allow himself to be frightened off or dumfounded, or be overcome by the ingratitude or malice of the world: but you should always push along and persevere as much as possible. In short, you should have such a hunger and thirst after righteousness that will never diminish or cease and cannot be satiated, so that you care for nothing else, only so that you may accomplish and maintain what is right, despising on the other hand everything that would hinder you. If one cannot make the world altogether pious, let him do what he can. It is enough, that he has done his own duty, and has helped some, if only one or two. If the others will not follow, then let them go, in God’s name. One must not run off because of the wicked, but conclude: it was not undertaken for their sake, nor for their sake was it dropped; perhaps bye and bye some of them may come to their senses, or there may be fewer of them, and they may somewhat improve.
For here you have a consolatory, certain promise, with which Christ allures and attracts his Christians, that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled; that is, that they shall be delightfully rewarded for their hunger and thirst by seeing that they have not labored in vain, and that at last some have been reached who have been benefited; and it will be manifest not only here upon earth, but still more hereafter, when every one will see what such people have accomplished by their diligence and perseverance, although things do not now go as they would like, and they have nearly lost heart; as when a pious preacher has snatched so many souls out of the jaws of the devil and brought them to heaven; or a pious faithful ruler has helped many lands and people, who bear this testimony of him and praise him before the whole world.
Just the opposite, are the sham saints who out of great sanctity forsake the world and run into the wilderness, or hide themselves in corners, so that they may escape the trouble and worry that they must otherwise endure, and pay no regard to what is going on in the world; never once thinking upon it that they ought to help or advise other people with doctrine, instruction, exhortation, reproof and correction, or at least with praying and supplication to God. Yes, they are disgusted with it, and grieve over it, that other people become pious, for they want to be considered the only holy ones, so that whoever wants to get to heaven must buy from them their good works and merit. In short, they are so full of righteousness that they look contemptuously upon other poor sinners, just as the great saint Pharisee, Luke 17, intoxicated with self-sufficiency, blurts out his contempt for the poor publican, is profuse in his self-congratulations, so that he pays his respects to God, and is thankful that he alone is pious and other people bad.
Observe, these are the people against whom Christ here speaks — the proud, self-sufficient spirits that tickle themselves with and find joy and pleasure in the fact that other people are not pious, whereas they ought to pity, compassionate and help them; they cannot do anything else but despise, backbite, judge and condemn everybody; and everything must be stench and filth except what they themselves do. But; that they should go and instruct and benefit a poor faulty sinner, that they shun as they would shun the devil. Therefore they will have to hear again, how Christ exclaims about them, Luke 6:25: “Woe unto you that are full, for ye shall hunger.” For as those shall be filled, who now hunger and thirst; so must those forever hunger, who now are so full and satiated, and yet no one can get any good from them, or boast that they have ever helped any one or led him in the right way. Now you have in a word the meaning of this beatitude, which (as above said) comprehends many good works, yes all good works, wherewith every one may live aright by himself among the people and help to give success to all sorts of offices and callings; as I have often shown elsewhere.
V. 7. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy .
This is also an excellent fruit of faith, and follows well upon the preceding: he who is to help others and contribute to the common well-being and success, should also be kind and merciful — that is, that he should not be ready to raise a racket and make a disturbance if something be wanting, and things do not go as they should, whilst there is still hope of improvement. For that is one of the virtues of sham sanctity that it can have no compassion for or mercy upon the fallible and weak, but insists upon the extremest strictness and most careful selection, and as soon as there is the slightest failure, all mercy is gone and they do nothing but fume and fret; as also St. Gregory shows how to recognize this, and say: Vera justitia compassionem habet, falsa indignationem — true holiness is merciful and compassionate, but false holiness can do nothing but be angry and rage; and yet they say: Pro zelo justitiae, (as they boast), that is, we do it through love and zeal for righteousness.
For all the world is coming to see that they have been carrying on their mischievous and outrageous tricks under the beautiful, excellent semblance and cover that they were doing it for the sake of righteousness. Just as they have heretofore exhibited and are still exhibiting their hostility to and treachery against the gospel under the name of protecting the truth and exterminating heresy; they claim thereby to merit that God is to crown them for this and raise them to heaven, as those who out of great thirst and hunger for righteousness persecute, strangle and burn his saints. For they claim, forsooth, to have the name, even more than the true saints, of hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and put on such a sanctimonious appearance and use such admirable words, that they think even God himself will not know any better.
But the noble tree is known by its fruits. For, when they should insist upon righteousness, that both spiritual and temporal affairs be rightly conducted, they do not do it, do not think of instructing and improving any one, live themselves in constant vice, and if any one rebukes their conduct, or does not praise it and do as they wish, he must be a heretic and let himself be damned to hell. See, just so is surely every sham saint. For his selfrighteousness makes him so proud that he despises everybody else, and can have no kind, merciful heart. Therefore is this a necessary warning against these abominable saints, so that every one may take care, if he has to do with his neighbor, whom he should help and rectify in his way of living, that he still may be able to be merciful, and forgive, that it may be seen that you are honestly aiming at righteousness, and not wishing to gratify your own malice and anger, and that you are so righteous that you deal amicably and gently with him who is willing to desist from unrighteousness and become better, that you bear with and endure his fault or weakness until he comes to terms. If, however, you try all this, and still find no hope of improvement, then you may give him up and turn him over to those whose place it is to punish him.
This is now one side of mercifulness, that one takes pleasure in forgiving sinners and those at fault. The other is to be beneficent also towards those who are externally in need or require help, which we call works of mercy, from Matthew 25:35. This feature too the ostentatious Jewish saints knew nothing about. For with them there was nothing but ice and frost, yes a heart hard as a block or a stone, and not an affectionate drop of blood that found pleasure in doing good to a neighbor, and no mercifulness to forgive sin; they cared and planned alone for their own belly, although another might die of hunger; so that there is much more mercifulness among open sinners than in such a saint; as it cannot be otherwise, since they praise only themselves and count themselves holy, despising every one else as of no account, and suppose that all the world must serve them and give them plenty; but they are not under obligation to give anything to or to serve anybody.
Therefore this sermon and exhortation is despised by and of no account among such saints, and finds no scholars except those who are already cleaving to and believing on Christ, who know of no holiness of their own, but who, as already described, are poor, wretched, meek, really hungering and thirsting, and so disposed that they despise nobody, but compassionately sympathize with the need of everybody else. To these applies now the comforting promise: It is well for you that are merciful, for you will find again abundant mercy, both here and hereafter, and such mercy as inexpressibly far exceeds all human benefactions and mercifulness. For there is no comparison between our mercifulness and that of God, nor between our possessions and the eternal treasures in the kingdom of heaven; and he is so pleased with our benefactions to our neighbor that he promises us for a penny a hundred thousand ducats, if it were necessary for us, and for a drink of water the kingdom of heaven.
Now, if any one will not suffer himself to be moved by this excellent, comforting promise, let him turn the other side of the page and hear another sentence: “Woe to the unmerciful, and let them be cursed, for no mercy shall be shown to them; as now the world is full of such people, among the nobility and citizens and farmers, who so wondrously sin against the dear gospel that they not only give nothing to poor pastors and preachers, but besides take and torment, where they can, and act just as if they meant to starve it out and drive it out of the world, and notwithstanding go along quite securely, thinking that God must keep quiet about it and let them do just as they please.” But they will be struck some day, and, I fear, somebody will come who will make of me (who have given warning enough) a prophet, and he will treat them with perfect heartlessness, and besides take from them reputation and property, body and life, that God’s word may remain true, and he experience unmitigated wrath and eternal displeasure who will not show or have mercy, as St.
James says: “He shall have judgment without mercy that hath showed no mercy.”
Therefore also Christ at the last day will adduce this unmercifulness as the worst injury done against himself, even all that we have done out of uncharitableness, and will himself utter the curse: “I was hungry and thirsty and ye gave me no meat, ye gave me no drink, etc. Depart ye, therefore, ye cursed, into everlasting, hellish fire,” etc. He warns and exhorts us faithfully from pure grace and mercy. Whoever will not accept this, let him choose the worse and eternal damnation. Consider the rich man, Luke 16:19 seq., who, although he saw poor Lazarus daily lying at his gate full of sores, had not charity enough to give him a bundle of straw or allow him the crumbs from under his table. But see how fearfully he was requited, that in hell he would gladly have given a hundred thousand ducats if he could only boast of having given him a thread.
|From Norma Boeckler|
V. 8. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God
This beatitude is somewhat obscure, and not so easily understood by us who have such gross carnal hearts and minds, and it is hidden, too, from all the sophists, who should really be the most learned, so that none of them can say what it means to have a pure heart, and still less, what it means to see God; they busy themselves with mere dreams and evil thoughts, about matters of which they know nothing themselves by experience.
Therefore we must look at these words according to the Scriptures, and learn to understand them correctly. A pure heart, they fancy, means that a man runs off from the community into a corner, a monastery, or the wilderness, and does not think upon the world, nor concern himself about worldly affairs and business, but amuses himself with nothing but heavenly thoughts; they have by this fanciful teaching not only befooled and dangerously misled themselves and other people, but have committed the murderous fault of holding as unclean the doing of things and holding of positions in society that are unavoidable in the world and indeed are by God himself appointed.
But the Scripture speaks of this pure heart and mind, that it is quite consistent with it that one be a husband, love his wife and children, think about them and care for them, and busy himself about other matters that belong to such a relation. For all this God has ordained. But what God has ordained, that cannot be impure — yes, it is the very purity with which we see God. Thus, when a judge acts in his official capacity and condemns a criminal to death, that is not his office and work, but God’s. Therefore it is a good, pure and holy work (if he be indeed a Christian) which he could not do if he had not already a pure heart. Also, that must be called a pure work and heart, although a man or maid-servant in the house performs a dirty, filthy task, as hauling manure, or washing and cleaning children.
Therefore it is a shameful perversion when one pays so little attention to the relations that are embraced in the ten commandments, and gapes after other, special, showy works; just as if God had not as pure a mouth or eyes as we, or as pure a heart and hand when he makes both man and woman: how should then such works or thoughts make an impure heart? But thus they shall become blind and fools who despise the word of God and measure purity only by the outward mask and display of works, and meanwhile have to make mischief with their own wandering thoughts, and stand gaping to climb up to heaven and feel after God, until in the effort they break their own necks.
Therefore, let us understand rightly what Christ means by a pure heart; and notice again, that this sermon was principally aimed at and sharply directed against the Jews. For, as they wanted to have no suffering, but coveted a life of ease, pleasure and joy, and would not hunger, nor be merciful, but to be self-satisfied and the only pious ones, besides judging and despising others; so their holiness, too, was this, that they must be outwardly clean, in body, skin, hair, clothes and food, so that not even a little spot dare be upon their clothing. And if any one touched a dead body, or had a scab or the itch upon his person, he dared not approach other people; that they regarded as purity. But that is not what constitutes being pure, said he; but those I praise who take pains to be of a pure heart, as he says, Matthew 23:25: “Ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within are full of extortion and excess.” Also: “Ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but are within full of dead men’s bones and of all uncleanness;” just as is the case with our clergy at present, altho’ they lead outwardly a decent life, and conduct the public worship with such formality and display that it is something beautiful to see. But he does not ask for such purity, but wants to have the heart pure, though it be one who is outwardly a scullion in the kitchen, black, sooty and begrimed, and doing all sorts of dirty work.
What then is a pure heart? or in what does it consist? Answer: It is easily told, and you need not climb to heaven nor run into a monastery after it and make it out with your own thoughts; but be guarded against all such thoughts as you call your own, as against so much mud and filth, and know, that a monk in the monastery, when he is sitting in his deepest contemplativeness, and thinking of his Lord God, as he paints and imagines him to himself, is sitting (if you will pardon me) in the dirt, not up to his knees, but over head and ears. For he is following his own notions, without any word of God, which is simply lying and delusion; as the Scriptures everywhere testify. But that is a pure heart, that is ever on the lookout for God’s word, and takes this in place of its own thoughts. For only that is pure before God, yes purity itself, through which everything that comes in contact with it and belongs to it is and is called pure. So with a common rough mechanic, a cobbler or a smith, who sits at home, though he be personally unclean and sooty, or smells badly on account of being blackened and soiled, and thinks: My God has made me a man and given me a house, wife and child, and ordered me to love them, and with my labor to nourish them, etc. Now observe, he is making a heart matter of it with God, and, although outwardly he stinks, inwardly he is perfectly fragrant before God. But if he gets to be highly pure, so that he also embraces the gospel and believes on Christ (without which indeed that purity cannot be), then he is pure through and through, inwardly at heart towards God, and outwardly towards everything that is under him upon earth, so that everything that he is and does, whether he goes, stands, eats and drinks, etc., is pure to him, and nothing can make him impure; so when he looks at his own wife or sports with her, as the patriarch Isaac, Genesis 26:8, which to a monk is disgusting and makes him impure. For there he has the word of God, and knows that God has given her to him.
But if he forsook his wife and took up another, or neglected his trade or office and injured or worried other people, he would be no longer pure; for that would be against the command of God.
As long, however, as he is faithful in these two particulars, namely, in the word of faith towards God, by which the heart becomes pure, and in the word of the knowledge of what he is to do towards his neighbor in his calling, everything is pure to him, even if with his fists and his whole body he is busy with dirt. A poor servant girl, if she does what she ought to, and along with it is a Christian, she is before God in heaven a beautiful, pure maid, so that all the angels applaud her and love to look at her. On the other hand, the very strictest Carthusian, though he fasts and castigates himself to death, does nothing but weep for pure devotion, and never thinks about the world, and yet is without faith in Christ and love towards his neighbor, is a mere stench and pollution, both inside and outside, so that both God and the angels abominate and are disgusted with him.
So you see how all depends upon the word of God, so that what is comprehended in and moves with that, must all be called clean, pure and snow-white as to God and man. Therefore St. Paul says, Titus 1:15: “To the pure all things are pure,” and again: “Unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure.”
Why so? Because both their mind and conscience are impure. How can that be? For they say they know God, but with works they deny it; for it is these that are abominable in the sight of God, etc. Observe how the apostle paints them in horrible colors, and how he denounces the great Jewish saints. For, take as an example a Carthusian monk, who thinks, if he lives after his strict rule, in obedience, in poverty, unmarried, cut off from the world, he is in every respect pure. What else is that than their own way of thinking, aside from the word of God and faith, originating in their own heart? In this way they consider themselves alone pure, and other people impure. That St. Paul calls an impure mind, that is, everything that they think and imagine.
Since now this notion and thinking is impure, everything that they do accordingly must also be impure for them, and as their mind is so is also their conscience, so that, though they should and could be useful to other people, they have a conscience that takes its hue from their way of thinking and is tied up with their hoods, cloisters and rules: they think if for a minute they should neglect this routine to serve their neighbor and have anything to do with others, they would have committed the most heinous sin and have quite polluted themselves. That all comes of not recognizing the word of God and his creatures, although as St. Paul says, “with their mouths they profess that they do.” For if they knew how and for what purpose they had been created by God, they would not despise these callings in society, nor set up so highly their own standard, but they would acknowledge these as the works and creatures of God to be pure, and would honor them, and themselves gladly abide in them and be helpful to their neighbor. That would then be to recognize God aright, both in his word and in his creatures, and to keep pure both heart and conscience, which thus believes and reasons: What God does and orders, that must be pure and good, for he makes nothing impure, and sanctifies everything through the word that he has affixed to all callings and creatures.
Therefore guard yourself against all your own thoughts, if you wish to be pure before God, and see to it that your heart is established and fixed upon the word of God, then you are pure over and above all Carthusians and saints in the world. When I was young, they gloried in this proverb: Love to be alone and your heart will stay pure; and they quoted in proof a saying of St. Bernard, who said whenever he was among the people he befouled himself — as we read in the lives of the fathers of a hermit, who would not have any one come near him or talk with anybody, and said: “The angels cannot come to him who moves among men.” We read also of two others who would not let their mother see them; and as she often watched her opportunity and once took them by surprise, they presently closed the door and left her standing without a long while weeping, until they, finally persuaded her to go away and wait until they would see each other in a future life.
Behold, that was called a noble deed, and the height of sanctity and most perfect purity. But what was it? There is the word of God: “Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother.” Had they regarded that as holy and pure, they would have shown their mother and their neighbor all honor, love and friendship: on the contrary, following their own notions and self-chosen holiness, they cut themselves off from them, and by their very attempt to be the purest they most shamefully defiled themselves before God; just as though the most desperate scoundrels could not have such thoughts and put on such an appearance that one would have to say: “These are living saints, they can despise the world and hold intercourse only with spirits; “ — yes, with spirits from the bottom of hell. The angels like nothing better, than when we familiarly handle the word of God; with such they love to dwell. Therefore let the angels be undisturbed up there in heaven, and look for them here below, upon earth, in your neighbor, father and mother, child and others, that you may do to them what God has commanded, and the angels will not be far away from you.
I speak thus, that one may learn in this matter of purity to order himself aright, and not go so far to hunt for it as the monks do, who have thrown it quite out of the world and stuck it in a corner or into a hood; all of which is stench and filth, and the true harboring-place of the devil; but let it be where God has placed it, namely in the heart that clings to God’s word, and uses its calling and all creatures in accordance therewith, in such a way that both the entire purity of faith toward God is embraced therein, also outwardly shown in this life, and everything is done in obedience to the word and command of God, whether it be bodily clean or unclean. So I have said above, concerning a judge who has to condemn a man to death, and thus shed blood and pollute himself with it, which a monk holds to be an abominably unclean deed; but the Scripture calls this serving God; as St.
Paul, Romans 13:1-4, calls “the higher powers” that “bear the sword,” “the minister of God ;” and it is not their work and command but his, that he lays upon them and demands from them. Now you have the meaning of a pure heart that acts in accordance with the clean and pure word of God.
What is however their reward, or what does he promise them? It is this, that they shall see God. A glorious title and a splendid treasure! But what does it mean to see God? The monks have here again their dreams, that it means to sit in the cells and meditate heavenward, and lead a contemplative life — so they call it, and have written many books about it. But it will never do to call that seeing God, when you come harping on your own notions and scrambling heavenward; as the sophists and our factious spirits and crazy saints insist upon measuring and mastering God and his word and works by their own brains: but it is this, if thou hast a true faith that Christ is thy Savior, etc., then thou seest at once that thou hast a gracious God. For faith leads thee up, and opens for thee the heart and will of God, where thou beholdest nothing but superabundant grace and love. That is exactly what it means, to see God, not with bodily eyes, (for with these no one can see him in this life,) but with faith, that beholds his paternal, friendly heart, in which there is no wrath or disfavor. For he who regards him as wrathful, does not see him aright, but has drawn a veil and cover, yes, a dark cloud, over his face. But to behold his face, as the Scripture expresses it, means to recognize him aright as a gracious, benevolent father, upon whom one can rely for everything good; and this comes only through faith in Christ.
Accordingly also, if thou livest in thy calling after the word and command of God, with thy husband, wife, child, neighbor and friend, thou canst see what is the mind of God in regard to these relations, and canst conclude that he is pleased, as that is not thine own dream, but his word and command, that never belies or deceives us. Now it is a most excellent thing, and a treasure above all that one can think or wish, to know that one is standing and living aright towards God: in such a way, that not only the heart can comfort itself with the assurance of his grace and glory in it, but that one can know that his external walk and conversation is pleasing in his sight; whence it follows that he can cheerfully and heartily do and suffer everything and let nothing alarm or dishearten him. None of these things can they do who do not have this faith and a pure heart that is guided only by God’s word; as all the monks have openly taught that no man can know whether he is in a gracious state or not; and it serves them just right, that, because they despise faith and real godly works, and seek a purity of their own devising, they must never see God, nor know how they stand with him.
For if you ask some one, who has most diligently observed his hours for prayer, held his masses daily, and fasted, whether he is sure too that God is pleased with this, he must say he does not know that, and is doing it all at a venture; if it succeeds, let it succeed. It is not possible for any one to say anything else. For no one can boastingly say: God gave me this hood, or ordered me to wear it; he commanded me to hold this mass, etc. We have all been groping in this blindness hitherto, when we were doing so many so-called good works, making contributions, fasting, praying rosaries, and yet we never dared to say: This work is well pleasing to God; I am sure of this, and will die upon it. Therefore no one can say that in all his doing and living he has ever seen God. Or if any one should presumptuously glorify such works, and think that God must regard them favorably and reward them, that would mean seeing not God, but the devil in place of God. For there is no word of God for that, but it is all devised by men, grown out of their own hearts. Therefore it can nevermore make any heart sure or satisfied, but it remains hidden under presumption until the last hour comes, when it all vanishes and drives into despair, and so it never comes to pass that one sees the face of God.
But he who lays hold upon the word of God and abides in the faith, can maintain his stand before God and look upon him as his gracious Father, and need not fear that God is standing behind him with a club; is sure that God is looking graciously and smilingly upon him, together with all the angels and saints in heaven. See, that is what Christ means by this word, that only those behold God who have this pure heart; whereby he cuts off and sets aside all other sorts of purity, so that, where this kind is not, although otherwise everything be pure in a man, it avails nothing before God, and he can never see God. On the other hand, if the heart is pure, everything is pure, and it matters not if outwardly everything be impure, yes, even if the body is full of sores, scabs and leprosy all over.
|From Norma Boeckler|
V. 9. Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God.
Here the Lord honors with a high title and excellent praise those who find pleasure in diligently trying to make peace, not only so far as they are themselves concerned, but also among other people, that they may help to settle ugly and tangled disputes, endure contention, guard against and prevent war and bloodshed; which is indeed a great virtue, but very rare in the world and among the sham saints. For those who are not Christians are both liars and murderers, like their father, the devil. Therefore they serve no other purpose than to create strife, contention, war, etc.; as we now find among the priests, bishops and princes hardly anything but bloodhounds, who by many tokens have abundantly shown, that there is nothing they would rather see than that we should all swim in blood. Thus, if a prince becomes angry, he thinks at once that he must begin a war; then he inflames and incites everybody, until there has been so much warring and shedding of blood that he begins to be sorry for it, and gives a thousand ducats for the souls of those that were slain. These are nothing but bloodhounds; they cannot rest until they have taken vengeance and sated their rage, until they have dragged their land and people into wretchedness and misery; and yet they want to be called Christian princes and have a good cause.
There is more needed to begin a war than that you have a good cause. For although we are not forbidden here to carry on a war, as above said, that Christ here does not mean to detract anything from the powers that be and their official authority, but is teaching only individual people who wish to lead for themselves a Christian life; yet it is not right that a prince determines to have a war with his neighbor, even though (I say) he has a good cause and his neighbor is in the wrong; but the meaning is: Blessed are the peacemakers; so that he who wants to be a Christian and a child of God, not only does not begin war and strife, but helps and advises for peace, wherever he can, although there was reason and cause enough for going to war. It is enough, if one has tried his best for peace and all avails nothing, that one acts on the defensive, to protect land and people.
Therefore not Christians, but the children of the devil are those to be called, the quarrelsome fellows, who rush to their rapiers and jerk their sword from its sheath for a word; still more, however, those who now persecute the gospel, and cause its preachers to be innocently burned or murdered, who have done them no harm, but only good, and have served them with body and soul. But of these we say nothing now, but of those only who maintain that they are right and have a good cause, and think that they, as high and princely persons, ought not to suffer, although other people would suffer.
It is also meant here, if injustice and violence are done to you, that it is not right for you to consult your own foolish head, and begin right away to take vengeance and strike back; but you are to think over it and try to bear it and have peace. If that will not answer, and you cannot endure it, you have law and governmental authority in the land, where you can seek relief in a regular way. For the powers that be are ordained to guard against this injustice and punish it. Therefore he who injures you, sins not only against you, but rather against the authority itself, for the order and command to keep the peace was given to it and not to you. Therefore let your judge, whose business it is, avenge and punish this, for against him your opponent has done the wrong. If you, however, take vengeance into your own hands, you do still greater wrong, for you make yourself guilty of the same sin as he who sins against the powers that be, and interferes with their office; and by so doing you put your own good cause in the wrong. For the common saying is: “He who strikes back is in the wrong, and striking back makes a quarrel.”
Notice now this is one thing that Christ here demands against the revengeful and uproarious; and he calls those peacemakers, in the first place, who help to make peace among the people, as pious princes, counselors or jurists, and persons in authority, who hold their governmental position for the sake of peace. In the second place, pious citizens and neighbors, who by their salutary good counsel adjust, harmonize and settle contention and strife (that has been occasioned by bad, poisonous tongues) between husband and wife, or among neighbors; as St. Augustine boasted of his mother, Monica, that when she saw two at outs she always spoke the best on both sides, and whatever of good she heard about the one party that she brought to the other, but whatever of evil she heard that she kept quiet, or mildened it as much as she could, and thus she often effected a reconciliation. For it is among the women particularly that the shameful vice of slander is prevalent, often so that great trouble is occasioned through an evil tongue. To this those bitter and poisonous brides of the devil largely contribute, who if they hear a word about anybody give it a point and edge, and intense bitterness against others, so that sometimes wretchedness and murder are the result.
This all comes from the fact that there is naturally sticking to us the shameful, devilish filth, that every one likes to hear and tell the worst about his neighbor, and is tickled if he sees a fault in some one else. If a woman were as beautiful as the sun, and had any mark or little spot upon her body, one should forget everything else and look only for the spot, and talk about that. So, if some one were the most renowned for honor and virtue, yet a poisonous tongue shall come along and say she had been seen once laughing with somebody, and so defame her as to eclipse all her praise and honor. Such are real poisonous spiders that can suck nothing but poison out of a beautiful, lovely rose, and ruin both the flower and the sap, whilst a little bee sucks nothing but honey out of it and leaves the roses uninjured.
That is the way those act, who discern nothing in other people, unless there is something faulty or impure in them, which they can blame; on the other hand, what there is good in them, they do not see; for men have many virtues which the devil cannot destroy, and yet he hides or defaces them that they shall not be seen. So, in the case of a woman, though she be very full of faults and have no other virtue, yet she is a creature of God, and can at least carry water and wash clouts; and there is no person upon earth so bad that there is not something in him that one must praise. How is it, then, that we leave out of view the good and feast our eyes upon what is impure, as if we took delight (by your leave) in looking only at a man’s behind, when God himself has covered the uncomely parts of the body, and (as Paul says, 1 Corinthians 12:24) “has given more abundant honor to that part which lacked?” And we are such a filthy set, that we seek only after that which is dirty and stinks, and wallow in it like hogs.
See, those too are real children of the devil, who himself gets his name from doing that, so that he is called diabolus, that is, a disgracer and reviler, who finds his pleasure in this, that he puts us most completely to shame, and embitters us among ourselves, so that he may occasion only murder and misery, and allow no peace or concord between brethren and neighbors, husband and wife.
I once heard of a case of this kind, of two married persons who lived together in such love and harmony that they were the town’s talk, and when the devil could not hinder this in any way, he sent an old hag to the woman, who told her that her husband was going with another woman and meant to kill her; she thus embittered her heart against her husband, and advised her to conceal a knife about her person, that she might get ahead of him. When she had accomplished this, she went to the husband and told him the same about her, that she meant to murder him, and in proof of it (said she) he would find at night a knife beside her in bed. That he then found, and cut off her head with it. Whether this be true or not, it shows at all events what wicked, poisonous tongues can do, even between those who heartily love each other, so that they may properly be called devil’s- months or female devils, as he, the devil, diabolus, signifies nothing else than a bitter, poisonous, evil mouth.
Therefore be on your guard against such as these, that you pay no attention to them, and learn to put the best construction upon, or even to conceal, what you hear about your neighbor, so that you may make and keep peace and harmony; then you can be called with all honor a child of God before all the world and the angels in heaven. You should let yourself be drawn and attracted by this honor — yes, you should run after it, if that were possible for you, even to the end of the world, and gladly give for it all that you have. Now you have it here offered to you and spread before you for nothing, do not need to do or give anything for it, except that if you want to be a child of God, that you also show yourself to be that, and do the works of your Father towards your neighbor. For thus has our Lord Christ done for us when he reconciled us to the Father and secured his favor, and still daily intercedes for us and pleads our cause. Do thou likewise, that thou mayest be a pacificator and mediator between thy neighbors, and carry the best to both sides, but withhold the bad, that the devil has inspired, or explain it as well as you can. If you come to Margaret, do as was said of Monica, the mother of Augustine, and say: O, dear M., why are you so bitter? She surely don’t mean it ill; I see nothing else about her but that she would like to be your dear sister, etc. In like manner, if you meet with Catharine, do the same with her. Then as a true child of God you would have effected on both sides a peace, as far as you could.
But if you will or must speak of the evil, then do as Christ has taught you.
Do not carry it to others, but go to him who has done the wrong and exhort him to do better; not in such a way that you make a display of it when you come, and expose the person concerned; that you speak when you should be silent, and be silent when you should speak. This is one and the first way that you should deal alone between yourself and your neighbor. If, however, you must tell it to others, if the other course does not answer, then tell it to those whose duty it is to punish, father and mother, master or mistress, burgomaster and judge, etc. That is the right and regular course to pursue, that what is wrong may be done away or punished. Otherwise, if you spread it among other people, the person remains unbenefited, and the evil unrebuked, and will besides be reported abroad by yourself and others, so that it will be on everybody’s tongue.
Notice how a pious physician does with a sick child; he does not run about among the people and herald it abroad, but he goes to the child and examines his pulse, or whatever is necessary, not that he may gratify his pleasure at the child’s expense, or make fun of him, but with the good and kind intention of helping him. So we read of the holy patriarch Joseph, Genesis 37:2,10, who was with his brothers, by the cattle, and when they were badly reported of, he went and told it to their father, as their master, in whose place it was to look into the matter and punish them, for they would not hear him.
But you may say: Why then do you yourself publicly attack the pope and others, and do not keep the peace? Answer: One must advise and help all he can for peace, and keep silence as well as he can. But, when the sin is public, and becomes too widely spread, or does public injury (as the pope’s teaching), then it is no longer right to be silent, but to protest and rebuke, especially for me and others, who are in public office, whose duty it is to teach and warn everybody. For the command and duty has been laid upon me, as a preacher and doctor, who am to watch that no one is misled, so that I may give account of this at the last judgment. So St. Paul, Acts 20:28, commands the preachers, that they are to watch and guard the whole flock against the wolves that would appear among them, etc. So it becomes me to rebuke those who sin publicly, that they may do better, just as a judge must publicly convict and punish the evil-doers by virtue of his office. For we have said it often enough that Christ is not speaking here of a public office, but of all Christians in general, according as we are all alike before God.
V. 10. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I have said above that these statements and promises must all be understood as matters of faith, and as said concerning things that are not seen nor heard, and they have no reference to outward appearances. For how can those be said to be prosperous and blessed outwardly who are poor and mourn, and besides must suffer all sorts of persecution, which things the whole world and reason call adversity, and which they teach to avoid? Therefore whoever wants to have the blessedness and the good things that Christ here speaks of, he must lift up his heart above all senses and reason, and not judge himself by his feelings, but must argue thus: Am I poor, then am I not poor. Poor I am outwardly, according to the flesh, but before God in faith I am rich. So, when he feels sad, dejected and worried, he must not judge accordingly and say he is an unhappy man, but he must turn about and say: I feel sadness, indeed, misery and inward sorrow, but nevertheless I am blessed, cheerful and comfortably fixed upon the word of God. Just the opposite of this is the case, too, in the world, so that those who are called rich and happy are not so. For Christ utters his woe against them, and calls them unhappy, although it appears as if they were well off and succeeding admirably. Therefore they should raise their thoughts above riches and a good time which they are enjoying, and should say: I am indeed rich and live in the midst of enjoyment, but alas for me if I have nothing else than this! For amid all this there must assuredly be abundant misery, wretchedness and sorrow, that will overtake me before I am aware of it. The same is true of all these sayings, that every one of them has a different aspect before the world from that it wears according to these words.
Now we have hitherto treated nearly all the parts of a Christian mode of living and the spiritual fruits of faith in these two aspects: First, as to his person, that he is poor, sad, miserable, suffers want and hunger, and along with this, towards others is a useful, beneficent, merciful, peaceable man, and does nothing but good works. Here he now adds the last, how he is treated for all this — that although he is full of good works, even towards enemies and evil men, he must get this reward from the world, that he is persecuted, and lose body, life and everything for it.
Therefore, if you wish to be a Christian, consider this well, that you may be unterrified, and not on that account become out of heart and impatient, but be cheerful and content with it all, and know that you are not badly off when this happens to you. For the same thing happened to himself and all the saints, (as is soon hereafter stated,) and to those who wish to be Christians it is for this reason thus foretold, that they shall and must suffer persecution. Therefore you must make your choice. You have two ways open before you, either towards heaven and eternal life, or towards hell; either with Christ or with the world. But you must know this: If you live so that you will have a good time here, and no persecution, then you will not get to heaven with Christ, and the converse; and you must, in short, either let Christ and heaven go, or choose this, that you will suffer all manner of persecution and evil treatment in the world. In a word, he who will have Christ, must forfeit personal ease, life, goods, honor, the favor of the world, and not be frightened at contemptuous treatment, ingratitude or persecution. The reason is this: The devil is a wicked, wrathful spirit, and neither can nor will endure it that a man enters the kindom of God. If any one undertakes to do this, he throws himself in his way, and stirs up and tries all the opposition against him that he can.
Therefore, if you wish to be a child of God, get ready for persecution, as the wise man says, and Paul in 2 Timothy 3:12: “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” Also Christ himself: “the disciple is not above his Master. Have they persecuted me? they will also persecute you.” It cannot be otherwise, therefore it is said: “Blessed are those that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake;” so that one may know with what to console himself. For otherwise it is a trying, unhappy condition, outwardly viewed, and has a bad influence, to be sitting constantly in bodily and pecuniary danger. But when faith takes hold, he can lift himself above it all and think: Now Christ has nevertheless said that I am blessed and well off. Because he has said it, I let this be my comfort and it gives me great delight. The word shall enlarge my heart — yea, make it greater than heaven and earth. For what are all that persecute me contrasted with this man or his word? Is it one or two that are persecuting us? Those who are on our side, who encourage, console and congratulate us, are many more, yes ten thousand angels to one of them, together with all the saints, who side with Christ and God himself. Therefore we must not let this word lie so cold and simple, but inflate it well and magnify it, and set it in opposition to all persecution; thus we will see and learn that all our suffering is to be despised as nothing at all, in contrast with this great consolation and eternal blessing.
But he adds significantly this expression: “for righteousness’ sake;” to show that it is not enough to be persecuted if this be wanting. For the devil and bad people must also endure persecution and one scoundrel often quarrels with another, and they are not mutually friendly; as one murderer persecutes another, a Turk makes war upon a Tartar, but these are not for that reason happy; but it is true only of those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; as also Peter, 1 Peter 4:15, says: “Let no one among you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evil-doer,” etc.
Therefore it all amounts to nothing for any one without this [i.e., righteousness] to boast and make an ado about great suffering; as the graceless monks have misled the poor people whom they have led out to punishment for their evil-doing, and have told them for their comfort that they were paying for their sin by their death. But do you beware of the death that is to atone for your sin. For this belongs to the bottom of hell.
There must first be righteousness and the death of Christ the Lord.
Therefore see to it, that you have in the first place a real divine cause for the sake of which you must suffer persecution, and are really sure of it, so that your conscience can safely rest upon it, even if the whole world were opposed to you. Therefore, first of all, the word of God must be confidently and firmly grasped, so that no doubt or hesitation can arise from that source. As, if now the emperor, bishops or princes wanted to forbid married life, liberty to eat, using both forms in the sacrament, etc., and would persecute you on that account: then you must see to it, that your heart is sure of the matter and firmly convinced that the word of God has made these things free and unforbidden, yes, commands us to make a serious matter of them and stake even life upon them. Thus you can confidently say: this cause is not mine, but it is that of my Lord Christ. For I have not concocted it out of my own head, nor have I undertaken or begun it of my own accord, or at the advice or suggestion of any one else; but I have received it from the mouth of Christ, brought down and announced from heaven, who never belies or deceives me, but is himself pure truth and righteousness. Upon the word of this man I will venture to suffer, to do and leave undone whatever is befitting, and his word, by itself, shall avail more to comfort and strengthens my heart, than the raging and threatening of all devils and of the world can avail to terrify me.
For what does it amount to, if a prince or emperor is foolishly furious in his rage, and threatens with sword, fire or the gallows, if my Savior on the contrary, friendly communes with my heart and comforts me with these assurances that I am blessed, and in hearty sympathy with my God in heaven, and all the heavenly host and holy beings call me blessed? If my heart and mind are in such a state that I can suffer for the sake of his word and work, why should I allow myself to be frightened by these wretched people, who indeed rage and foam in hostility against God, but who suddenly vanish like smoke or like poor soap-bubbles? As the prophet Isaiah says, 51:12 sq.: “I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass; and forgettest the Lord thy Maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth,” etc., that is, he is everlasting and almighty who comforts thee and has pleasure in thee: when they all shall have vanished he will still be sitting above there, and thou too. Why will you then care more for the threatening and fuming of a miserable, stinking maggot-bag, than for this divine consolation and approbation? You should rather thank God, and be heartily glad of. it, that you are worthy to suffer thus, as the apostles went forth ( Acts 5:41) “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.”
See, are we not now highly blessed with these words, if we only accept it with loving gratitude? for there is no lack of persecution. And we have along with it the great advantage, that our enemies themselves cannot condemn our cause, and must confess (no thanks to them for it) that it is right and the truth; but there is this wanting in the matter, that we should teach it, for they will not learn or accept from us, what has never happened or been heard of before. Therefore, what we suffer on this account is a holy, blessed suffering, as they must themselves bear witness, and it is now no longer a human, but a real devilish persecution, so that they say we must and shall not call it the word of God, but must hold our tongue and not preach, unless we first go and fall at the feet of the Pope, and submit to be judged as it may please him and his minions.
Therefore let us suffer, so much the more willingly and joyfully, everything that they can do against us, because we have the strong, sure consolation, and great, glorious satisfaction, that our teaching and cause are confirmed by their own mouth; besides that, we hear in this place the excellent charming promise that we shall be well rewarded in heaven, and are to rejoice and exult in this, as those who do not need to look forward to heaven, but have it already; and they with their persecuting only the more help us thitherward, yes, actually drive us toward heaven. Now see, whether these simple, short words cannot give as much courage as the whole world can do, and inspire more comfort and joy than all the suffering and torment that our enemies can inflict upon us; if we do not hastily skim over them, but heartily appropriate them and duly consider them.
This we have to say as to the persecution that is carried on by actual violence and affects person or property, when Christians are seized and tortured, burned, hanged and massacred; as happens now, and has happened heretofore. Beyond this there is another kind of persecution which is called defamation, disgracing, putting to shame, which concerns our honor and good name, in which way Christians above all others have to suffer. Of this Christ now further treats.
|From Norma Boeckler|
V. 11. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake .
This is also a great, severe persecution, and (as above said) the real suffering of Christians, that they are most bitterly and poisonously slandered and defamed. For, although other people too must suffer persecution, so that they are violently and unjustly treated; yet men are satisfied with allowing them to retain their honor and good name. This is therefore still no real Christian suffering. For to this it is not enough that all manner of tortures and torments are imposed upon them; but along with this their name must be most shamefully spit upon and slandered, so that the world loudly boasts, when it murders the Christians, that it has executed the worst scoundrels, whom the earth could no longer carry, and that it has done God the greatest and most acceptable service, as Christ says, John 16:2; so that there is no name upon earth so slandered and disgraced as that of a Christian, and no people so bitterly opposed and attacked by such malicious, poisonous tongues as the Christians.
They are showing this now thoroughly in their treatment of the dear gospel and its preachers, by such slanderous abuse, lying, deception, evil artifices, and malicious misrepresentations, that one would rather die ever so often than endure these poisonous, malicious darts. Here comes the Pope hurling his thunderbolts and damning us under nine hells, as children of the very worst devil. In like manner his hangers-on, bishops and princes, are raging and roaring with such an abominable vilifying and reviling as to strike one through and through, so that one: would at last have to become weary, and be no longer able to endure it, if we had not a stronger and mightier consolation than all their malice and rage amounts to. Therefore we let them rage and defame, that they may plague themselves and have the scorching misery with their poisonous insatiable hatred and envy. But we are well satisfied and in good spirits. If they are determined to be very angry and rage, we can, on the other hand, laugh and be cheerful.
Therefore I say again: Let him who wants to be a Christian know that he must expect to suffer such persecution from poisonous, wicked, slanderous tongues, especially where they can do nothing with their fists, that he may let all the world sharpen their tongues upon him, and aim at him, sting and strike him, and he on the other hand only defiantly despise all this, and besides laugh in God’s name, and let them rage in the name of their god, the devil, in the comfortable assurance (as above said) that our cause is right, and is God’s own, which they must themselves confirm, although they indeed condemn us, and yet say it is the truth; besides, our heart and conscience before God are assured that we are teaching aright. For we are not teaching out of our own head and reason or wisdom, nor are we seeking our own advantage, property or honor thereby before the world; but we preach and praise only God’s word and his doings.
On the other hand they, our enemies, glory in nothing but their own works, merits and holiness, and us, who do not practice these things with them, they persecute on that account. For they do not persecute us as if we were adulterers, robbers or thieves, etc.; they can indeed tolerate amongst them the most desperate scoundrels and villains; but they raise a terrible hue and cry, because we will not approve their doctrine and life, and praise only the gospel, Christ, faith and really good works, and thus suffer not for ourselves, but everything for the sake of Christ the Lord. Therefore we will sing the whole tune with them, and we will show them that our head is harder than theirs. For, in a word, they must let the man alone, whether they like it or not.
V. 12. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven.
These are surely sweet, comforting words, that ought to make our heart cheerful and courageous against all sorts of persecution. Ought one not to regard as dearer and of more account the word and consolation of the dear Lord, than that of an impotent maggot-bag, or the raging, threatening, excommunicating, cursing and thundering of the abominable Pope, even if he were to pour out upon us the very dregs and whole hell of his wrath and cursing, like a cloudburst; because I hear that Christ my Lord is so heartily pleased, and orders me to be myself happy along with it, besides he promises me such an excellent reward, that the kingdom of heaven shall be mine and everything that Christ has, along with all saints and all Christendom; in short, such a treasure and consolation that I ought not to exchange it for all the world’s possessions, joy and music, although every leaf and blade of grass were a tongue that sang my praises. For here it is not a Christian that calls one blessed, yes, not an angel, but the Lord of all the angels, at whose feet both they and all creatures must fall and offer supplication. Therefore they, along with all other creatures, even the very leaves and grass, must cheerfully join in singing about me and dancing in my praise.
And what on the other hand are they who slander and curse me but mere nits and lousy fellows (pardon the expression), yes, much more infamous than can be told. Even if all creatures, the leaves and blades of grass in the forest, and the grains of sand along the sea-shore, were so many tongues to rebuke and annihilate them, what would all that be in contrast with the single word of this man? For his voice sounds so clearly that heaven and earth must be filled and resound with it, whilst on the other hand the slobbery, hoarse scratching and coughing of his enemies are no longer heard.
See, thus we ought to learn a little how to use and take advantage of these words, that do not stand here in vain, but were spoken and written to strengthen and comfort us, with which he as our dear Master and faithful Shepherd or Bishop, equips us to be unterrified and well prepared to suffer, if they impose upon us all manner of torment and misfortune for his sake, both by words and deeds, and that we may despise all that is offensive to us, and condemn it despite our reason and heart.
For, if we are led by our own thoughts and feelings, we have a hard time of it, and it hurts that one should serve, help, advise and benefit the world and everybody, and get no thanks for it but the very worst, most bitter hatred, and cursed, poisonous tongues, so that, if flesh and blood were to rule here, it would soon say: If I am to get nothing else for this, then let who will cling to the gospel and be a Christian, and let the devil henceforth help the world, if it will have it so. Hence too everybody is now complaining and crying — the gospel is making much discord, strife and disturbance in the world, and everything is worse since it has been published than it was before, when every thing moved along quietly, and there was no persecution, and the people lived together as good friends and neighbors.
But this is what it means: If you will not have the gospel or be a Christian, then go and be a worldling, and nobody will persecute you, and you will be a friend of the world. But if you will have the gospel and Christ, then you must expect to have trouble, contention and persecution wherever you go.
Reason: because the devil won’t allow it to be otherwise, or cease to egg the people on against the gospel, so that all the world is incensed against it; just as now farmers, citizens, noblemen, princes and lords, who are hostile to the gospel from sheer wantonness, and do not themselves know why.
Therefore I make this reply to these idle talkers and grumblers: There neither can nor ought to be a peaceful, quiet state of things. For how could it be so where the devil is ruling, and is a deadly enemy to the gospel? And this, indeed, not without reason, for it hurts him in his kingdom, so that he feels it; and if he would let it move on unhindered, his kingdom would soon be totally destroyed. But if he is to resist and hinder it, then he must rally all his art and power, and stir up against it whatever he can. Therefore do not hope for any peace and quietness as long as Christ and his gospel are in the midst of the devil’s kingdom. And woe upon the pleasant and comfortable time that used to be, and upon those who now wish to have it back again! For this is a sure sign that the devil is ruling with great power, and no Christ is here; as I, alas! am concerned, lest it be so again, and the gospel be taken away from us Germans all too soon, which is what these noisy fellows are struggling for.
But we have this assurance, that it is not our fault that things are not going right. For we would be heartily glad if everything went right, and have done our part by teaching, exhorting, beseeching, entreating and yielding, even towards our enemies, offering them peace, and everything that we ought to do; yet we accomplish nothing, except that they persecute, slander and abuse us most shamefully, and cannot cease until they may cool their rage in our blood. As it will not there fore be otherwise, we let them go on at last with their threatening, raging and defaming, and take to ourselves the comfort of which we have heard, assured, that they cannot accomplish what they desire unless they first have hurled Christ from heaven, and made him, with all that he has said, a liar. “For thus persecuted they the prophets that were before you.” You are not alone (he means to say) in suffering thus. Look about you and count backward to all the holy fathers that ever lived before you, and you will find that they were served the same way. What special treatment do you expect? Is he to change his plan on your account? He had to suffer it in the case of his dear patriarchs and prophets, that they were persecuted and slain, besides being persecuted and traduced by everybody, and made the mock of the world, as we see in the Scriptures, that it was a common proverb, if one wishes to name a prophet, one names for them a fool; as in the history of Jehu, 2 Kings 9:11, they said of a prophet: “Wherefore came this mad fellow to thee?” And Isaiah shows, 57:4, how they “made a wide mouth and drew out the tongue” against him. But what did they gain thereby? For now the dear prophets and saints have honor and praise in all the world, and besides are ruling forever with Christ the Lord; but they are an abominable stench and are accursed. This you are to expect for yourselves (says Christ) assuredly, that you shall be rewarded as they are, only more abundantly and gloriously than you can believe, or even dare to desire. For you belong to the same company.
See, this is surely an excellent, precious Preacher and faithful Master, who omits nothing that serves to strengthen and console, both by word and promise, besides by the example and testimony of all the saints and of himself; and with this agree all the angels in heaven and all creatures. What more, then, should we have and desire? Should we not in consideration of such consolation, for his sake patiently endure the wrath and insolence of the world and the devil? What would we do, if we had not a righteous divine cause, and such excellent assurances, and still had to suffer like other people who have no consolation? For it cannot be in the world that one need not suffer anything, and there must be (as above said) some suffering on account of the gospel, that the pious may thereby be tested and helped to their promised consolation, joy and blessedness; but the wicked and despisers or enemies of the gospel be punished and damned.
Thus now, has Christ hitherto prepared and instructed his Christians, how they are to live and suffer in the world, and especially those who are to hold public office in the Church; although even aside from this, every Christian ought to be always ready to stand by himself, where it is necessary, to confess his Lord, and to represent his faith, and be always ready-armed against the world, the devil, the mob, and whatever may be arrayed against him. Now he goes further, and means to commit to them the office, and teach them how to administer it; afterward also to lay upon their lips what and how they are to preach. For with these characteristics a Christian is entirely perfect if he personally lives right and suffers variously because of this, if he afterwards also properly administers his office, in which he is to serve and help others.
|From Norma Boeckler|