[The following sermon is taken from volume VI:64-92
of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids,
MI). It was originally published in 1908 in English by Lutherans in All
Lands Press (Minneapolis, MN), as The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin
Luther, vol. 1. This e-text was scanned and edited by Richard Bucher,
it is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without
1. This epistle selection
illustrates the Gospel lesson for the first Sunday in Advent, wherein we
learned the disciples did not themselves ride on the colt, but led it to
Christ and set him thereon. That is what the apostle does here. The
Corinthians had come to divisions among themselves and to boasting of certain
apostles as their leaders. With one party it was Peter, with another Paul,
and with yet another Apollos. Each one exalted the apostle by whom
he was baptized or was taught, or the one he regarded most eminent.
Now comes Paul and interposes, permitting no one to boast of any apostle,
and teaching them to laud Christ alone. He tells them it matters
not by whom they were baptized and taught, but it is of the utmost importance
that they all hold to Christ together and own allegiance to him alone.
Paul beautifully teaches how the apostles are to be regarded.
The whole passage is a fierce thrust
at Popery and the clerical government, as we shall see.
"Let a man so account of us, as of
the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God."
2. The reference is to all apostles
and all heirs to the apostolic chair, whether Peter, Paul or any other.
Let us, then, be very careful how we regard the apostles and bishops; we
must attach neither too much nor yet too little importance to them. Not
without reason did Paul--the Holy Spirit, in fact--make this restriction;
and without doubt we are under obligation to follow it. The same limit
here made concerning apostles applies to bishops. It designates the character
of their office and the extent of their power. So when we see a bishop
assuming more than this text gives him warrant for, we may safely regard
him, as a wolf, and an apostle of the devil, and avoid him as such. Unquestionably
he must be Antichrist who in ecclesiastical government exceeds the authority
3. First, Paul warns us against receiving
apostles or bishops as anything but "ministers of Christ;" nor should they
desire to be regarded otherwise. But the term "minister of Christ" must
not in this connection be understood as one who serves God, in the present
acceptation of the phrase --praying, fasting, attendance upon Church services,
and all the things styled "divine service" by ecclesiastical rites, institutions
and cloisters, and by the whole clerical order. Theirs are merely humanly
devised works and words, whereby Paul's teaching here and elsewhere is
wholly obscured, even to the extent of making it impossible to know what
he means by the "ministry of Christ." He has reference to the ministry
that is an office. All Christians serve God but all are not in office.
In Romans 11, 13, also, he terms his office a ministry: "Inasmuch as I
am an apostle of Gentiles, I glorify my ministry." And in the epistle selection
preceding this (Rom 15, 8) he says: "I say that Christ hath been made a
minister of the circumcision." Again (2 Cor 3, 6): "Who also made us sufficient
as ministers of a new covenant not of the letter, but of the spirit."
4. What language is forcible enough
to serve me in the attempt to eradicate from the hearts of all Christians
that error so deeply impressed of Popery wherein they interpret the ministry
of Christ--or the service of God--in no other light than as their own works,
performed to Christ without any authority to do them? Mark you, beloved,
to serve Christ, or to serve God, is defined by Paul himself as to fulfil
a Christ-ordained office, the office of preaching. This office is a service
or ministry proceeding from Christ to us, and not from us to Christ. Note
this carefully; it is important. Otherwise you cannot understand the design
of the Pauline words, "ministry, ministration, to minister." So he always
has it. Seldom does he speak of the service or ministry rendered primarily
above them to God; it is usually of the ministry beneath them, to men.
Christ, too, in the Gospel bids the apostles to be submissive and servants
of others. Lk 22, 26.
To make himself clearly understood
in this matter of service, or ministry, Paul carefully adds to the word
"ministers" the explanatory one "stewards," which can be understood in
no other way than as referring to the office of the ministry.
5. He terms his office "service or
ministry of Christ" and himself "minister of Christ," because he was ordained
of God to the office of preaching. So all apostles and bishops are ministers
of Christ; that is preachers, messengers, officers of Christ, sent to the
people with his message. The meaning of the verse, then, is: "Let every
individual take heed not to institute another leader, to set up another
Lord, to constitute another Christ. Rather be unanimously loyal to the
one and only Christ. For we apostles are not your lords, nor your masters;
we are not your leaders. We do not preach our own interests, nor teach
our own doctrines. We do not seek to have you obey us, or give us allegiance
and accept our doctrine. No, indeed. We are messengers and ministers of
him who is your Master, your Lord and Leader. We preach his Word, enlist
men to follow his commandments, and lead only into obedience. And in this
should you regard us, expecting of
us nothing else than to bring the message. Though we are other persons
than Christ, yet you, do not receive through us another doctrine than his;
another word, another government, nor another authority than his. He who
so receives and regards us, holds the right attitude toward us, and receives,
not us, but Christ, whom alone we preach. But he who does not so regard
us, does us injustice, discards Christ, the one true Leader, sets up another
in his stead and makes gods of us."
6. In Judges 8, 22-23 we read that
the children of Israel said to Gideon: "Rule thou over us, both thou, and
thy son, and thy son's son also," to which Gideon answered, "I will not
rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: Jehovah shall rule over
you." And in First Samuel 8, 7 we are told that when the children of Israel
desired a king of Samuel, God said: "They have not rejected thee, but they
have rejected me, that I should not be king over them." Thus we see God
cannot permit any authority to usurp his own among his people.
7. But perhaps you ask: "Where was
the sin of the people when they desired Gideon to rule over them? Had not
God given Gideon leadership in the contest, and did he not later provide
many holy kings expressly for them?" I reply it was not a sin for the children
of Israel to have sovereigns; it was not contrary to God's will; for there
must be temporal authorities. But the sin consisted in the fact that, not
content with God's government, they chose human government instead. Gideon
and the holy kings did not extend their authority as rulers a hair's breadth
farther than God's command warranted, and they did not regard themselves
in any other light than as the servants or ministers of God; that is, they
ruled according to God's direction and not according to their own. Thus
was perpetuated God's government in its purity, and they were servants
in it; as were the apostles servants in the word of Christ. Hence David
sings of his own kingdom as identical with God's. He says: "Arise, 0 Jehovah,
in thine anger: lift up thyself against the rage of mine adversaries, and
awake for me; thou hast commanded judgment. And let the congregation of
the peoples compass thee about; and over them return thou on high. Jehovah
ministereth judgment to the peoples." Ps 7, 6-8.
8. But where more authority is assumed
than God's command gives, and where the magistrate attempts to rule according
to human doctrines, or the subjects seek such leadership, idolatry results
and the leader assumes a new character. The magistrate is no longer a servant
or minister, but rules arbitrarily, without command of God. God says of
them as he said to Samuel concerning the children of Israel: "They have
not rejected the magistrate, but they have rejected me, that I should not
reign over them." I refer here to spiritual matters, to the sovereignty
of the soul, which must stand before God. Civil government is a matter
that does not pertain to nor concern the soul.
9. Where divine leadership is shared
with any other than God or Christ, there must also be doctrine and commandments
differing from the doctrine and command of Christ. Service of Christ must
immediately fail; Christ must be rejected for the establishment of a new
sovereignty. Plainly enough, no one can be servant of Christ and at the
same time teacher of his own message. The two conditions cannot exist at
the same time. How can one be a servant of Christ if he does not teach
Christ's message? Or how can he teach his own message when he is under
obligation to teach only Christ's? If he advocates his own counsels, he
makes himself lord and does not serve Christ. If he advocates Christ's
counsels, he cannot himself be lord.
10. From this you may judge for yourself
whence arises Popery and its ecclesiastical authority, with all its priests,
monks and high schools. If these can prove they teach nothing but the message
of Christ, we must regard them as his ministers or servants. But if we
can prove they do not so teach, we must regard them as not his servants.
Now it certainly is clear that their teaching is not the doctrine of Christ,
but their own doctrine. Hence it is evident they constitute the kingdom
of Antichrist and are servants of the devil. For Paul makes a firm stand
here and declares: "Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ."
11. Their claim that in addition to
the teachings of Christ, the commandments of the Church may be taught--and
they intimate that their teachings are the doctrines of the Church--is
of no significance. Paul's teaching here continues to stand, that the Church
belongs neither to Peter nor Paul, but to Christ only, and acknowledges
none but the servants or ministers of Christ. You see, then, the blasphemy
of the Pope in crying obedience to his doctrines as the road to salvation,
and disobedience to them, the road to damnation. Paul here makes obedience
to these things a work of the devil; as he does also in First Timothy 4,
1-3: "But the Spirit saith expressly, that in later times some shall fall
away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons,
through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies, branded in their own conscience
as with a hot iron; forbidding to marry,, and commanding to abstain from
meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by them that
believe and know the truth." And Christ says: "My sheep hear my voice,
and a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him; for they know
not the voice of strangers. I know mine own, and mine own know me." Jn
12. Note the harmony between Paul's
teaching and this statement of Christ's that any other than the voice of
Christ is a strange voice, the doctrine of the devil, and to be avoided.
You see here Christ's own verdict in regard to doctrines, what his Church
hears and teaches, and what are and what are not the commandments of the
Church. The Church has no other doctrine than that of Christ, and no other
obedience than to obey him. All the Papists say, then, concerning obedience
to the commandments of the Church is in the same class with what Paul calls
speaking lies in hypocrisy, moved by false spirits and doctrines of devils.
13. The same is the meaning of the
phrase "stewards of the mysteries of God." The word "steward" here signifies
one who has charge of his lord's domestics; one whose office is the same
as that of stewards in monasteries at the present day, or provosts in nunneries,
or governors, managers and overseers of the sort. For "oekonomus" is Greek
and signifies in English a steward, or one capable of providing for a house
and ruling the domestics. Christ in Matthew 24, 45 calls such a one simply
a servant: "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath
set over his household, to give them their food in due season?" Such a
servant was Eliezer, the steward of Abram's house. Gen 15.
14. Now, God's household is the Christian
Church--ourselves. It includes pastors and bishops, overseers and stewards,
whose office is to have charge of the household, to provide nourishment
for it and to direct its members, but in a spiritual sense. Paul puts a
distinction between the stewards of God and temporal stewards. The latter
provide material nourishment, and exercise control of the physical person;
but the former provide spiritual food and exercise control over souls.
Paul calls the spiritual food "mysteries." The practice of providing it
has so long been discontinued we do not now know what a steward is nor
what is meant by "mysteries." Church officials imagine that when they baptize,
celebrate mass and administer other sacraments, they exercise the mysteries,
and that now there is no proper mystery but the mass. At the same time
they know not the meaning of the term in this connection.
15. I cannot just now find a word in
German equivalent to "mysterion," and it will be well to retain the Greek
form, as we have with many other words. It is equivalent to "secret," something
hidden from our eyes, invisible to all, and generally pertaining to words.
For instance, a saying not easily understood is said to contain a hidden
meaning, a secret, a "mysterion"--something is concealed therein. The concealment
itself may properly be termed "mystery"; I call it a secret.
16. What, then, constitutes the mysteries
of God? Simply Christ himself; that is, faith and the Gospel concerning
Christ. The whole Gospel teaching is far beyond the grasp of our reason
and our physical sense; it is hidden to the world. It can be apprehended
only by faith; as Christ says in Matthew 11, 25: "I thank thee, 0 father,
Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise
and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes." And as Paul tells
us (1 Cor 2, 7-8): "We speak God's wisdom in a mystery, which none of the
rulers of this world hath known."
17. Expressed in the clearest manner
possible, "mystery" reception of the things of faith--that Christ the Son
of God was born of a virgin, died and rose again, and all this that our
sins might be forgiven. These things eye sees not nor reason comprehends.
Indeed, as Paul says (I Cor 1, 23), they are mere foolishness to the wise,
and simply an offense to the self-righteous saints.
How can the natural man perceive, or
reason acknowledge, that the man Christ is our life and salvation, our
peace, our righteousness and redemption, our strength and wisdom, Lord
of all creatures--that he is even God-- and everything else the Scriptures
testify of him? None can apprehend these truths except he hears and believes
them through the Gospel. They are too far beyond sense and reason to be
grasped by the natural man.
18. So, then, the mysteries of God
are simply the blessings in Christ as preached through the Gospel and apprehended
and retained by faith alone. Paul says relative to the matter, speaking
on how men should behave themselves in the house of God: "Without controversy
great is the mystery of godliness; he who was manifested in the flesh,
justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached among the nations, believed
on in the world, received up in glory." I Tim 3, 16. This is spoken of
Christ, who was manifest in the flesh. He dwelt among men who had flesh
and blood like himself, yet he was still a mystery. That he was Christ,
the Son of God, the life, the way, the truth and all good, was hidden.
19. Yet he was "justified in the Spirit;"
that is, through the Spirit's influence believers received, acknowledged
and retained him as all we have mentioned. "To justify" means simply to
pronounce just, or at least to admit as just; as we have in Luke 7, 29:
"All the people when they heard, and the publicans, justified God." Again,
in Psalm 51, 4: "That thou mayest be justified when thou speakest." This
is equivalent to saying: The believer in Christ justifies him, and acknowledges
the truth that Christ alone is our life and righteousness and wisdom, and
that we are sinners, condemned and perishing. For such Christ is, and such
is his claim. He who acknowledges this his claim justifies him in the Spirit;
but he who does not justify him relies upon his own works; he does not
see himself condemned but contends against and condemns Christ. [This justification
of Christ is effected by no one unless he possesses the Holy Spirit, whose
work alone it is. Flesh and blood cannot do it, even if it be publicly
presented to our eyes and preached into our ears.]
20. The statement in Romans 1, 4, "Christ
was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of
holiness," has reference to justification. As if to say: "In unbelievers
Christ is nothing; not only despised, but utterly condemned. But the saints
whose life is in the Spirit who sanctifies them, strongly and boastfully
maintain that he is the Son of God. To them it is proved and firmly settled."
21. Paul might have said: "We are the
stewards of the wisdom of God, or of the righteousness of God," and so
on. For all this Christ is; as he says (I Cor 1, 30): "Who was made unto
us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption."
But this would have been specifying, and he desired to embrace in one word
all the blessings in Christ which the preaching of the Gospel brings; so
he styles them "mysteries." We may understand it as if he said: "We are
spiritual stewards whose duty it is to minister the grace of God, the truth
of God--but who can enumerate all? Let us briefly sum them up and say,
the mysteries of God; mysteries and hidden things because faith alone can
He adopts the same style in Romans
1, 4 when he comprises in one word how Christ was manifest in the flesh,
justified in the Spirit, preached to the gentiles, and so on. Similarly,
in First Timothy 3, 16 he expresses it briefly in Greek, "oristheis," determined.
In short, Christ was declared and determined, was received and regarded,
as the Son of God, by angels, gentiles, the world, heaven and all things;
since for this purpose he was manifested, justified, revealed, preached,
believed, received, and so on. Hence he indicates it here by the plural
word "mysteries," and in First Timothy 3 , 16 by the singular "mystery."
The words are, however, equivalent in this connection. Christ is all in
all, one mystery many mysteries, as expressed in the many mysteries blessings
we have from him.
22. It is worthy of note that Paul
adds to "mysteries" the modifier "of God;" he means the hidden things God
grants and which exist in him. For the devil also has his mysteries, as
Revelation 17, 5 says: "Upon her forehead a name written, Mystery, Babylon
the Great," etc. And again in the seventh verse, "I will tell thee the
mystery of the woman." The things over which the Pope and his priests now
preside as stewards are mysteries of the latter class; for they intimate
that their doctrine and deeds win heaven, when in reality they but conceal
death and hell for all who trust therein. But the mysteries of God enfold
life and salvation.
23. Thus we arrive at the apostle's
meaning in the assertion that a minister of Christ is a steward in the
mysteries of God. He should regard himself and insist that others regard
him as one who administers to the household of God nothing but Christ and
the things of Christ. In other words, he should preach the pure Gospel,
the true faith, that Christ alone is our life, our way, our wisdom, power,
glory, salvation; and that all we can accomplish of ourselves is but death,
error, foolishness, weakness, shame and condemnation. Whosoever preaches
otherwise should be regarded by none as a servant of Christ or a steward
of the divine treasurer; he should be avoided as a messenger of the devil.
So it follows:
FAITHFULNESS IN STEWARDS.
"Moreover, it is required in stewards,
that a man be found faithful."
24. Upon this all depends. After faithfulness
God inquires. Angels, men and all creatures look for and demand it; not
the mere name or honor of steward will answer. The question is not whether
one's bishopric be large or small; nor is it particularly important whether
or not he be outwardly pious. The question is, does he faithfully execute
the duties of his office, acting as a steward in the blessings of God?
Paul here permits us much liberty to judge the doctrines and lives of our
bishops, cardinals and all Papists. The same faithfulness is also required
by Christ: "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath
set over his household, to give them their food in due season?" Mt 24,
25. What is the nature of the faithfulness
of the Papists --how does it measure up? Tell me, who would be reformed
or profited were any one bishop to have prominence and power enough to
possess every bishopric, as the Pope tries to do? Who would be benefited
if a bishop were so holy that his shadow would raise the dead? Who would
be the gainer if he had wisdom equal to all the apostles and prophets?
But none of these things are inquired after; the question is, Is he a faithful
bishop? does he administer to the household of faith the Word of God? does
he preach the Gospel and dispense the mysteries of God? Emphatically the
inquiry is made upon these points. Here is where the individual is benefited.
Above all things, then, faithfulness is demanded of stewards.
26. Now, measure the Pope and all the
eccIesiasts by the requirements of this text. Tell me, what is the Pope
seeking? Is not the sole purpose of all his grasping and raging to enable
him to rule supremely and arbitrarily? His whole concern is for fame, power,
position and wealth, for authority over all men. Through the Pope's blasphemous
lips the devil deceitfully endeavors to emphasize the importance of obedience
to popish laws, and the danger to the soul's salvation from disobedience.
The Pope is not concerned about faithfulness to the Christian household.
For tell me where in all his innumerable laws and commands--a veritable
flood of them-- where in the whole extent of his government, did you ever
learn of his touching with a single word upon the mysteries of God? or
where has he preached the Gospel? All his utterances relate to quarrels,
to prebends, or at best to the matter of pates and apparel. Indeed, he
openly condemns the Gospel and the mysteries of God. And the bishops and
ecclesiasts follow him with their endowments, cloisters and high schools.
27. They have so perverted apostolic
faithfulness that with them a faithful bishop, abbot or ecclesiastical
prelate is one who loyally manages, guards, improves and increases their
temporal possessions--the heritage of St. Peter, the Castle of St. Moretz,
the land of the holy cross, the interests of the Virgin and other concerns
of the Church, in a word, their own emolument--under the name of God and
of the saints; the world, even in its most sordid state, bears no comparison
to them. Such are the princes, the bishops and prelates who have the credit
of having governed well the Church; it matters not whether or not they
have, during their whole lives, read or heard the Gospel, not to mention
their disregard for their duty to preach it. The blasphemous tongue of
the Pope, in its world-wide unrestraint, calls them good stewards of the
blessings of God who are utterly useless, unless it be to fill the place
of treasurer, assessor, guardian, bailiff, architect, mayor, plowman, butler
or kitchen steward for some temporal lord. Such is their apostolic fidelity;
this and nothing more.
In the meantime, souls are perishing.
Divine interests are going to ruin. The wolf reigns and devours. In spiritual
affairs the popish stewards see no danger and afford no security. They
sit unconcernedly counting over their profits, attending to the interests
of St. Laurence and with extreme faithfulness providing for the property
of the Church --a faithfulness in return for which they are certain Christ
has prepared for them no inferior seat in heaven. 0 wretched, lost, blinded
multitude, how securely you are going on toward hell!
28. I cannot pass without notice here--for
I must relate it as a warning against similar attempts a trick of the devil
which, I heard it said, he exhibited in time past at Merseburg, in our
own country. It had to do with the golden cup of Emperor Henry. The Pope's
beloved people zealously relate a certain falsehood, for which they obtain
indulgences. They assert that the roasted Laurence, by casting the golden
cup into the balance, got so much the better of the devil that he was forced
to release the soul of the Emperor, in consequence of which he (the devil)
was enraged to the extent of breaking an ear off the cup. Such gross, foolish,
idle falsehoods are intended to blind us Christians from perceiving the
devil's trickery. What is the devil's purpose in this fabrication? The
whole thing is a design to establish by the miraculous, the wealth, luxury
and delicate faithfulness of the prelates of which we have spoken. Thereby
the weak-minded are to be induced to believe they can overcome the devil
by presenting gifts to the Church. But Peter says this conquest is only
to be effected by the power of faith. These are the signs Christ and Paul
predicted would accompany the misleading of the elect from the faith.
29. A fidelity even more beautiful
to contemplate exists among unspiritual lords and faithful stewards of
the same class actively engaged in directing the spiritual welfare of souls.
Certainly these are true stewards and the right sort! So extremely holy
are they, St. Peter will have to be on his guard if he holds his place
with them. They are our spiritual fathers--priests, monks and nuns--who
exercise themselves in obedience to the Pope, the holy Church and every
form of human institutions and orders and statutes. Among them are the
paragon, the quintessence, the kernel, the marrow, the foundation--and
how shall I enumerate all the honorable titles which they assume and hold
from custom? Yes, far enough from custom! The beautiful little cat has
pretty, smooth fur.
30. Here is where we find our good
stewards and our unheard-of fidelity. How tenaciously, how rigorously and
earnestly, they adhere to that sort of obedience and maintain those traditions.
Yes, indeed, they are the proper saints. Few bishops who rigidly observe
the holy, spiritual law can rank with them. But when we investigate their
cloisters and review their doctrines
and conduct, we find that no people on earth are less acquainted with the
mysteries of God and farther from Christ. Indeed, they act as if mad, maliciously
storming Christ with their own inventions. They are the Gog and Magog of
the Revelation of John, contending against the Lamb of God. For they exalt
their own works to the extermination of faith, and are termed the faithful
stewards of God, as the wolf among the sheep is the shepherd.
31. Now, he that hath ears, let him
hear what Paul says: "It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful";
but he is faithful who is occupied with the mysteries of God. The conclusion,
then, is: the Pope, the bishops, monks and nuns, the founders and inmates
of universities, and all who with them build upon anything or are occupied
with anything but Christ, the Gospel and true faith, though they may have
indeed the name of servants and stewards of Christ, are in reality servants
and stewards of the devil, their lord, and are engaged with his mysteries
or secrets. Christ, in the saying we have quoted from Matthew, tells us
further, the servant of the household should be not only faithful, but
also wise, able to discern between the mysteries of God and the mysteries
of the devil, that he may safely guard and keep himself and those committed
to his care. For, as Paul says in Second Corinthians 11, 13-14, false apostles
sometimes fashion themselves into true apostles of Christ, even as the
devil transforms himself into an angel of light.
32. Where wisdom to discern the mysteries
of God is lacking, the greater the faithfulness the greater the danger;
as we perceive in the two mentioned cases of false, seductive faithfulness
on the part of the unspiritual saints. Paul well knew how the mysteries
of the devil would prevail; so, while silent in regard to every other qualification
necessary for stewards, he points out faithfulness. Had our bishops remained
faithful stewards of God, popery and its peculiar spiritual orders undoubtedly
would not have been introduced; the common spiritual order and life of
faith would have been maintained. And were they now to return to faithfulness
the strange special orders would soon pass, and the true common ones be
MAN'S JUDGMENT AND GOD'S.
"But with me it is a very small thing
that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment."
33. First, we must understand Paul's
language here, and explain the terms of the original, with which we need
to be as familiar as with our mother tongue. He employs the word "judge,"
or sentence, in a worthy sense; that is, as carrying the thought of esteem.
"Judgment," as generally understood, conveys the idea of condemnation.
But this is true: Every public judgment operates in two ways. One party
is condemned, the other liberated; one is punished, the other rewarded;
one dishonored, the other honored. The same is true in private judgment.
While the Pharisee in the Gospel praised himself, he censured the publican
and others; while he honored himself, he dishonored others. And the attitude
of everyone toward his neighbor is either praise or censure. judgment must
involve these two things. Hence, Paul here says he is judged, or sentenced,
by the Corinthians; that is, their judgment renders honor and praise unto
him. By extolling Paul above the other apostles, decision is made between
him and the others, to his advantage and with prejudice against them. Some,
however, judged in favor of Peter, others of Apollos. That "judgment" is
here equivalent to "praise" is evident from the conclusion of the passage:
"Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, then shall each man
have his praise from God." What is this but saying, Praise not, let God
praise? It is God's prerogative to judge, to praise and to crown man; we
are not to perform that office for one another.
34. The expression "man's judgment"
Tag") implies that judgment of approval
whereby man exalts and makes illustrious and renowned those he esteems.
The thought is suggestive of the illumination or glory of day, which renders
visible things unrevealed in darkness. In the Latin, illustrious people--they
who are on everyone's tongue--are called "praeclari," "nobiles," "illustres."
In German, "durchlauchtige" stands for those of high renown, those having
name and reputation superior to others. On the other hand, the unrenowned
are called "obscuri," "ignobles," humiles"--insignificant, unknown, humble.
The holy Scriptures term kings and princes "doxas," "glorias," "claritates,"
indicative of glory, splendor and popularity. Peter (2 Pet 2, 10) says
of the Pope and his adherents that they tremble not to rail at glories.
That means they will curse dignitaries--kings, princes, and all exalted
in earthly glory; this when Christ has commanded us to love our enemies,
to bless them that curse us, to do good to our persecutors. We see how
the Pope defames on Maundy-Thursday in the "Bulla Caenae Domini"; and,
indeed, whenever it pleases him.
35. Man's judgment, then, is expressed
in the clamor and ostentation men make before the world. Jeremiah says
(ch 17, 16), "Neither have I desired the woeful day; thou knowest." In
other words, "They accuse me of preaching new doctrines solely to gain
a name, and honor and praise before men; to win their esteem. But thou
knowest it is not so; I have not sought such honor and praise." Christ
says (Jn 5, 41), "I receive not glory from men." That is, "I do not desire
men to laud and extol me." And (Jn 8, 50), "I seek not mine own glory."
Again (Jn 5, 35), speaking of John the Baptist, "Ye were willing to rejoice
for a season in his light." The meaning is, "It would have pleased you
to have John's testimony contribute to your honor and praise; you would
have liked to enjoy for a short season the esteem of the people. This is
what you sought."
36. Paul regards it a very trivial
matter to command the clamorous honor and praise of men, to gain a reputation
with them. He aptly calls such popularity "man's judgment," or human glory.
For it is of human origin and not directed of God; and, with men, it shall
pass. Paul would say: "I do not desire your praise, nor the praise of all
the world." Let men seek for that. Servants of Christ and stewards of God
look to Christ and to a divine glory for their judgment.
37. But the apostle surely manifests
ingratitude in not sending the Corinthians a bagful of bulls or letters;
in not blessing them nor distributing indulgences among them in recognition
of their great honoring of the apostolic see. The Pope would have conducted
himself in a manner much more worthy of an apostle. Yes, indeed; he would
have anathematized them had they not illumined him with the glory of their
judgment. He would have said, "I am a Papist; the Pope is the highest,
the holiest, the mightiest." Had Paul so desired he might have become pope,
might have held supremacy; he had but to utter a single word. He had only
to receive them who desired to join themselves to him; the others would
have been obliged to yield. But in his stewardship he strove for faithfulness
rather than for exaltation. Hence he had to remain a common tent-maker
and to travel on foot.
38. From this verse, clearly the Corinthians
judged with distinction of persons, preferring that baptism and Gospel
which they had themselves received. They intimated that Paul, or Peter,
or Apollos, was supreme. This Paul could not admit. He holds the apostles
equal, whatever their individualities. He who is baptized and taught by
Paul is as much a Christian as one baptized and taught of Peter, or Apollos,
or anyone else. In opposition to this teaching, the Pope fiercely rants,
admitting no one a Christian unless instructed of himself. At the same
time he teaches mere infidelity and the foolish works of men.
39. Now, Paul condemns undue respect
of persons, and in the matter of stewardship for God is concerned only
about faithfulness. By these very teachings, he removes every reason for
divisions; his Church cannot be disunited, but must remain harmonious,
allowing equality in all things. How can there be divisions when one minister
of Christ is like another, when he is equally a steward of God? So long
as there is no difference in privilege, even if one does exceed another
in faithfulness, it will not create sects; it will only publish the common
Gospel with greater efficiency.
40. Paul's words have reference not
to one apostle only, but to every apostle. He does not say, "Let a man
so account of me," but "Let a man so account of us;" of "us," mark you.
Who is meant by "us"? Himself, Peter, Apollos--they about whom the matter
arose. The conclusion necessarily is that Peter and Paul are to be considered
equal. Then either Paul's teaching is wrong when he regards all apostles
equal servants of Christ and stewards of God, or the claims and proceedings
of the Pope must be false and this text a powerful enemy of popedom.
"Yea, I judge not mine own self."
41. You may inquire how it is that
Paul should look upon his own judgment of himself as truer than the judgment
of any other; for we see how the majority of men praise or highly approve
themselves. Naturally one is pleased with himself, but few receive the
glory of "man's judgment" -- are honored in the sentence of others. We
might expect Paul to reverse the statement, saying: "With me it is a very
small thing that I should judge myself; I desire neither this human glory
of man's judgment, nor the praise of yourselves or of all the world." But
he speaks, rather, as a Christian and according to the state of his own
conscience before God. The Corinthians exalted Paul in the things acceptable
to God. They insisted he was higher, greater and better before God than
the other apostles; but certain other Christians extolled Peter.
Now, there is with God no better evidence
of the soul's condition than what the conscience reveals. God judges not,
like men, according to appearance, but according to the heart; as we learn
from First Samuel 16, 7: "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but Jehovah
looketh on the heart." So it is plain the evidence of our consciences is
of greater weight before God than the testimony of all the
world. And this evidence alone will
stand; as said in Romans 2, 15: "Their conscience bearing witness therewith,
and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them; in
the day when God shall judge the secrets of men."
42. Paul would ask: "Why should divisions
arise among you concerning us? What if one is preferred of men before another?
It is altogether immaterial. For even our own consciences refrain from
judging as to who ranks first in God's sight." Solomon says, "He that trusteth
in his own heart is a fool." Prov. 28, 26. There are no grounds for divisions.
No one knows who ranks first with God. Christ himself does not claim the
right to set one soul on the right hand and the other on the left. Mt 20,
23. Since all the apostles are alike before God, since one is a minister
of Christ as well as another, and since we may not know who ranks first
in God's estimation, let no one presume to judge, much less to exalt himself
above another because of temporal power, wealth or popularity. The exaltation
of the Pope and the claim that his eminence is from God is in violation
of this principle; Paul's words dispute it, teaching that no one is able
to know nor judge until the last day.
43. But here the keen tongues of the
Papists seek to effect a breach. They assume that Paul does not deny the
supremacy of Peter, or of the Pope, but forbids judgment of the person
himself as to how good or bad he is in God's sight. I admit that Paul does
forbid such judgment, nevertheless the design of the Corinthians for which
he rebukes them was to exalt the office, the baptism and the doctrine,
wholly because of the person; otherwise they would not have said, "I am
a good follower of Paul," "I am a good follower of Peter," and so on. Well
they knew that doctrine, baptism and office were the same with all the
apostles, but their object was to exalt the office and its efficacy with
the standing of the individual. Paul, however, takes the opposite stand;
he assumes equality of office upon the very ground of equality of individuals
in man's sight, since none can know another's standing before God. Had
the Corinthians desired to exalt the individual only, and not the office,
they would not have created sects and said, "I am of Paul," etc. just as
we may hold St. Peter holier in person than St. Augustine and yet not cause
division thereby. But it is creating sects for one to say, "I am of Peter,"
and another, "I am of Augustine," meaning, "The doctrine taught me is superior
to what is taught you."
44. The hypocritical Papists, being
well aware that their false claim for the supremacy of the Pope cannot
stand unless backed by his personal holiness, proceed to bolster up that
falsehood by a greater one. They endeavor to give him the reputation of
personal goodness by saying he cannot err, for the Holy Spirit never forsakes
him, and Christ is ever with and in him. Some of them, knowing the absurdity
of denying that the Pope does openly sin, are so bold in their blasphemous
utterances as to declare it is impossible for him to remain in mortal sins
for a quarter of an hour. Thus accurately have they measured with hour-glass
and compasses the extent of the Holy Spirit's presence in the Pope. Why
do they tell such blasphemous falsehoods? Doubtless because they are aware
of the futility of attempting to maintain supremacy without personal goodness;
they would be compelled to admit that exaltation without piety must be
of the devil. It cannot be said the Corinthians exalted the person independently
of the office; it was because of his office.
45. Do you ask further concerning Paul,
who desired to be regarded a minister of Christ and a steward of God, Why
did he not judge himself? I reply: As before stated, the ministry and the
office are not his but God's, who enjoined them upon him. As no man can
create the Word of God, so no man has authority to send it forth, or constitute
an apostle. God has himself accomplished the work; he has constituted the
apostles. Hence we should own the work, glory in it, confess it, and give
to publish abroad the news of the priceless blessing the one God has bestowed.
To illustrate: Though I cannot constitute myself a living soul, I ought
to glory in and confess the fact that God has created me a human being.
But just as I am incapable of judging how I stand and will stand in the
sight of God, so I cannot judge which apostle or steward is greatest before
46. But you object: You teach, however,
that a Christian should not doubt his acceptance with God, and he that
doubts is no Christian; for faith assures that God is our Father and that
as we believe so shall it be unto us. I reply: Indeed, I would have you
hold fast the assurance of faith in the grace of God; faith is simply a
steadfast, indubitable, sure confidence in divine grace. But this is what
I say: the Corinthians' intent was to judge the apostles by their personal
goodness and works, that according to one's holiness, rank and merit might
his office be exalted and his followers secure some honor above others.
But Paul overthrows all works and merit, leaving them to God's judgment,
and places every apostle in the same rank as to office and faith. They
fill one and the same office and are justified by one and the same faith.
The question of who ranks first in goodness, position, merit and achievement
must be left to God; it is not an occasion for divisions in the community.
"For I know nothing against myself;
yet am I not hereby justified."
47. This verse also implies that the
Corinthians judged the apostles in regard to the worthiness of person and
works; Paul admits his conscience does not reproach him, and confesses
to the truth of their judgment so far as his person and conscience are
concerned. But, he teaches that such judgment does not suffice before God;
and that all decisions based on the same principle are false.
48. Much might be said on this verse.
It shows us all works are rejected and no one is made godly and happy by
any of them. The fact that Paul dared say "I know nothing against myself"
proves him certainly to have abounded in good works; nevertheless he says,
"I am not hereby justified." By what is he justified, then? By faith alone.
Could one be justified upon the grounds of a clear conscience --knowing
nothing against himself--his confidence would rest in himself. He could
judge and extol his own character, as do presumptuous saints. Then faith
and God's grace would be unnecessary; we would have in ourselves all essentials
and could easily dispense with God. The fact is, however, all depends on
our reliance upon the grace of God. Thereby are we justified. The subsequent
judgment of our works and character, of our calling and worthiness, must
be left to God. We are certain we are vindicated by none of these things,
and uncertain how God will estimate them.
49. It is easily evident to all, I
presume, that Paul refers to his character after conversion when he says
he knows nothing against himself; for, concerning his previous life, he
tells us (I Tim 1, 13) he was an unbeliever, a blasphemer and a persecutor
of the first Christians.
50. The question, however, arises,
How can it be that he is not justified by his clear conscience when he
declares (2 Cor 1, 12): "For our glorying is this, the testimony of our
conscience, that in holiness and sincerity of God, not in fleshly wisdom
but in the grace of God, we behaved ourselves in the world, and more abundantly
to you- ward"? This quotation contains the answer. The words, "in the grace
of God," give it. We are indeed to rejoice in the grace of God, to boast
of and glory in it; since it is founded upon the glorying of our conscience.
Even had not these words been included, it must necessarily be understood
that reference is to the glorying in grace or else to honor before the
It is the privilege and the duty of
everyone to acknowledge before men his innocence, to rejoice in having
injured no one. And he should not call evil what he knows to be good. At
the same time such glorying avails nothing before God; he must judge the
heart, though men are satisfied with deeds. Before God, then, something
more than a good conscience is necessary. Moses says (Ex 34, 7), "Forgiving
iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the
guilty." We read (Rom 3, 27), "Where then is the glorying?" And again (I
Cor 1, 31), "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord"; that is, in
But he that judgeth me is the Lord."
51. The thought here is, "I will wait
for God's judgment and praise." Paul says also (2 Cor. 10, 18), "For not
he that cornmendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth."
His intent, however, is not to deter them from godly living but rather
to incite thereto. Although no man is capable of judging and commending
another, yet none shall go unjudged and uncommended. God himself will judge
and praise right living. We should be so much the more faithful in doing
good because God is to be judge; we are not to be remiss here even though
uncertain as to how he judges us.
"Wherefore judge nothing before the
time, until the Lord come, who will both bring to light the hidden things
of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall
each man have praise of God."
52. We may well ask, Are we not to
give praise to one another? Paul says (Rom 12, 10), "In love of the brethren
be tenderly affectioned one to another." And Christ (Mt 5, 16): "Even so
let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and
glorify your Father who is in heaven." And the apostle also tells us (2
Cor 6, 8) we must here upon earth walk "by evil report and good report."
But, we reply our faith alone, not our works, is the chief thing to be
honored in all cases. Good works are imperative, and we should extol them
in others; but no one is to be judged, justified or preferred because of
them. The farmer at his plow sometimes may be better in God's sight than
the chaste nun.
53. The five foolish virgins (Mt 25,
2), despite their virginity, are condemned. The widow who threw into the
treasury two mites (Mk 12, 42) did more than all the others who cast in
much greater amounts. The work of the woman who was a sinner (Lk 7, 37)
is extolled above any work of the Pharisees. It is impossible for us mortals
to discern the relative merits of individuals and the value of their works;
we ought to praise all, giving equal honors and not preferring one above
another. We should humble ourselves before one another, ever esteeming
our neighbor above ourselves. Then we are to leave it to God to judge who
ranks first. True, he has declared that whoever humbles himself shall be
exalted, yet it is not evident who humbles and who exalts himself; for
the heart, by which God judges, is not manifest. One may humble himself
when secretly in his heart he is haughty, and again the meekhearted may
54. So Paul says: "The Lord comes,
who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest
the counsels of the hearts." Then it will appear who is really worthier,
superior and better, and whose works excel.
55. It is most unchristianlike to base
our estimation of one upon his outward appearance and visible works; to
say, for instance, that the Carthusian leads a life essentially better
than the farmer, or than any married man. Indeed, the Carthusian if he
does right will esteem his own life inferior to that of the married man.
For God judges not according to outward expression, but according to the
secrets of darkness and the counsels of the heart, and how can the Carthusian
know which is the humbler and holier, his own heart or the farmer's?
56. Applicable here are two instances,
in my opinion the best in all the "Lives of the Fathers." One is of St.
Anthony, to whom it was revealed that a tanner at Alexandria, a humble,
honest mechanic, but one in no wise illustrious, was far superior to the
saint because of his humility of heart. The other relates to Paphnutio,
who, despite all his austerity of life, was not superior to a fifer nor
to either of two married women. It was a special manifestation of grace
that God revealed these two incidents at a time when monastic life was
most intense, and works prodigious. His purpose was to deter us from judging
by outward appearances--by works--and to teach us to value all works alike
and to prefer others above ourselves.
57. Now you will say: If all stations
are alike and all works of the same value, none to have preference, what
advantage is it to us to forsake the world and enter the holiest orders,
to become monks, nuns and priests, in the effort to serve God? I reply:
Did not Christ and Paul foretell that false Christs and prophets should
arise and deceive many? Had the doctrine of equal service to God under
all conditions and in all works continued to stand, certainly no monasteries
and cloisters would have been established--or at least they would not have
increased so rapidly--to create the illusion that service to God consists
only in meeting their requirements. Who would have become a priest, who
a monk, yes, who a pope and bishop, had he realized that in such capacity
his position and its works are no more meritorious than those of the poorest
nurse maid who rocks children and washes swaddling clothes?
It would grievously distress, yes,
and shame, the Pope had he to humble himself to a nurse maid, esteeming
his works inferior to hers--he whose position and works are so meritorious
that kings, and even God's saints, are scarce worthy to kiss his feet.
The holy Papists, then, must institute something superior to Paul's teaching
here. They are compelled to judge themselves, and to proclaim their position
and works supreme, else they cannot sell their merits and procure heaven
for poor laymen, married persons and individuals in various stations, implying
that these do not in their lives serve God.
58. Now, seeing how impossible it is
for the present ecclesiastical order to stand unless it disposes of this
passage from Paul and exalts its religious life with distinction above
that of other Christians, it is certainly clear enough that popery, with
its monasteries and cloisters, is based on mere falsehoods and blasphemies.
The Papists style themselves "ecclesiastical'' or "spiritual" and others
"secular," when God sees none as ecclesiasts or churchmen, but as believers;
and believers are found for the most part not among the clergy but among
the laity. What greater deception than to call the clerical order spiritual,
and to separate it from the class among whom true spiritual life exists?
God alone is to judge who is holiest and best. The clerical order assumes
the title "spiritual" simply because they have shaved heads and wear long
cloaks. What folly--even insanity!
59. You will say: If this be true,
it were better for us to leave the cloisters and monasteries. I reply:
There are but two things for you. Follow the teaching of this lesson, commending
not yourselves. Regard your order and station no better than as if you
were not an ecclesiastic, and your chastity not superior to that of an
honest, loyal wife and mother; if you are not willing so to humble your
ecclesiasticism, then discard caps, bald pates, cloisters and all. Either
adopt this course or know that your ecclesiasticism, your spirituality,
has its origin, not with a good spirit, but with an evil spirit. You will
never overthrow Paul's doctrine here. It is better to be a mother among
the common believers in Christ than to remain a virgin in the devil's cause.
Paul stands firm on the point that we must not judge ourselves.
60. But you will loudly object: Jerome
and many others have highly commended virginity; and Paul, too (1 Cor 7,
38), teaches it is better to be a virgin than to marry. I answer: Let Jerome
be here or there, Augustine here or Ambrose there, you have learned what
God here says through Paul, that no one shall judge himself or anyone else
to be best. God's command should have more weight than the sayings of many
Jeromes, were they as numerous as the sand grains upon the seashore or
the leaves of the forest. True, Paul says it is better to be continent
than to marry, but he does not say "in God's sight." If he did, it would
be a contradiction of his words here. He who lives continently, it is true,
is freer to publish the Gospel than the married man; and it was with the
thought of Gospel furtherance that Paul applauded virginity, or continence.
He says: "He that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord."
I Cor 7, 32.
Christ also applauds the eunuchs (Mt
19, 12), not for the sake of their condition but for the sake of their
profit to the kingdom of heaven; that is, for the sake of their furtherance
of the Gospel. Now, although none cares less for the Gospel than do these
ecclesiasts, they continue to exalt their position above that of others,
and to extol continence for the mere sake of the merit in denial, not for
the end it serves. To illustrate the advantage of continence: It is better
to learn a trade than to be a servant; and why? Not because it is a condition
more acceptable to God, but because it offers less hindrances to his service.
It is in this light that Paul applauds virginity and continence; but only
in those who have a desire for it through the grace of God.
61. At present no one cares whether
continence is a help or a hindrance; everyone plunges into it, thinking
only of how exalted, worthy and great it makes them. All is done with such
pains and danger, unwillingness and impurity, that an adequate cry and
protest cannot be raised against the evil. Still they wish to be better
than other people. Thus they have brought such reproach upon the marriage
state that it is considered an impure and disgraceful life. As a reward
God permits their continence to pollute their garments and beds continually.
Really there is no greater or more polluted incontinence than theirs, inordinate,
imprisoned, restrained and intolerable as it is.
"Bring to light the hidden things of
darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts."
62. Paul gives the reason we should
refrain from commending ourselves or any other when he declares that the
hidden things of darkness and the counsels of the hearts are not yet brought
to light. Since God judges according to the secrets of the heart which
we cannot know, we should withhold judgment of the various stations and
works of men, and not make distinction. The virgin is not to exalt her
state of virginity above the station of the wife. The Pope ought to humble
his eminence below the position of the plow-boy. No one should presume
to regard his own station, or that of another, as better before God than
the occupations of other men.
63. Every person should be free to
choose and live in the state that suits him, all being alike until the
Lord comes. But, were this principle to be carried out where would the
holy fathers and the spiritual lords obtain their daily bread, not being
accustomed to labor? They secure their subsistence by making the impression
that the common man is in error and by separating from him their states
and position. They judge themselves to be the best people, confident of
enjoying the common man's treasures, because his state is nothing. Hence
arise so many institutions, and gifts flow to the cloisters, chapels and
churches for the especial benefit of these idle, beloved gluttons and gormandizers.
All this would fall were Paul's teachings introduced.
64. By the "hidden things of darkness"
and the "counsels of the hearts" Paul refers to the two powers commonly
but not very intelligibly termed "will" and "reason." Man possesses in
his inmost being two capacities: he loves, delights, desires, wills; and
he understands, perceives, judges, decides. I shall term these capacities
"motive" and "thought."
65. The motives and desires of man
are deep and deceitful beyond recognition; no saint, even, can wholly comprehend
them. Jeremiah says (ch. 17, 9-10): "The heart is deceitful above all things,
and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it? I, Jehovah, search the
mind, I try the heart." And David (Ps 32, 2): "Blessed is the man in whose
spirit there is no guile."
Many pious individuals perform great
works from a selfish motive or desire. They seek their own interests, yet
never with assurance. They serve God not purely for love of him, but for
the sake of personal honor or profit; of, gaining heaven and escaping the
tortures of hell. One cannot realize the falseness of his motives until
God permits him to endure many severe temptations. So Paul calls such motives
"hidden things of darkness," a most appropriate name. Not only are they
concealed, but in darkness, in the inmost heart, where they are unperceived
by the individual himself and known to God alone.
66. Remembering this deplorable secret
motive of the heart, we should be induced to submit ourselves one to another
and not to contrast any particular work or station with others. The motive
determines the force and judgment of every work, every station, of all
conduct, of every life. As Solomon says (Prov 16, 2): "Jehovah weigheth
the spirits"---God is the weigh-master of the spirits. Since there may
be something of good concealed in the secret heart of the wife and likewise
something of evil in the virgin's heart, it is absurd and unchristian to
exalt a virgin above a wife because of her continence, a purely external
virtue. It is just as unreasonable to measure the two by their external
life as to compare the weight of eggs by putting the shells into the balance
and leaving out the contents.
67. Now, according to our secret motives
so are our thoughts--good or evil. Our motives and desires control our
aims, decisions and reasonings. These latter Paul terms "counsels of the
heart"--the thoughts we arrive at in consequence of our secret motives
68. Of these two, Mary hints in her
song of praise (Lk. 1, 51): "He hath scattered the proud in the imagination
of their heart." She calls intent or motive of the heart the "hidden things
of darkness"--her desire, while the "counsels" and imaginations are the
heart's expression. Moses, referring to man's heart, says (Gen 6, 5): "Every
imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." And
Christ (Mt 6, 22-23) earnestly warns us against the same false motive:
"The lamp of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy
whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole
body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee
be darkness, how great is the darkness!" The reference in this whole quotation
is to the secret workings of darkness, which are not to be overcome in
any way but by despair of our own works, and strong faith in the pure grace
of God. Nothing is more conducive to this end than sufferings severe and
many, and all manner of misfortunes. Under such influences man may learn,
to some extent, to know himself; otherwise all is lost.