#39 The Devil Seeks to Abolish God’s Word and Sacraments With His Own

But not only that! The devil has armed himself with these things in order to abolish God’s word and sacraments with them. This is his line of thought: if someone arises to attack my church, sacraments, and bishops, saying that external things do not save, then God’s word and sacraments shall perish with them, for these too are external signs and his church and bishops are also human beings. If mine do not stand approved, his will stand approved even less, especially because my church, bishops, and sacraments work promptly and help now and in this life, visibly and tangibly, for I am present in them and help quickly, as soon as it is desired. Christ’s sacraments, however, work spiritually and invisibly and for the future so that his church and bishops can only be smelled, as it were, faintly and from afar, and the Holy Spirit behaves as though he were absent, permitting people to endure every misfortune and making them appear as heretics in the eyes of my church. Meanwhile, my church is not only so close that one can actually grasp it, but also my works follow very quickly; so everyone assumes that it is the true church of God. This is the advantage I have.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.169-170)

Picture:  The picture of the narthex window (updated to English) has been flipped so that you can read what was designed to be read from the outside of the church.

#38B Holy Adornment

But Christians who have the Word of God, as, thank God, we do, who believe it, preach it, and confess it, also have the right adornment. They have the right mitres on their heads, mitres adorned with verses and illustrations from the Scriptures instead of with precious pearls. Thereby they can instruct and comfort people. They wear a cross of real gold or pearls on the tips of their mitres because they are people ready to suffer everything for the sake of confessing Christ, who is the Lord and the glory of our heads (1 Cor. 11:3). They are clothed with an alb of pure white linen, that is, with a good conscience, a pure life, and good works.

Of course, the prophet used spiritual eyes to see this “holy adornment,” and he praised it because God and all the angels consider it splendid and glorious. This is so even though the world will not recognize it as such or attach any value to it, because it does not glitter and deceive the eye, like the crown and splendor of the pope and his false bishops. Indeed, the world regards such divine and holy adornment as a stench and as filth.…

We have shown in this verse what kind of people this King possesses, what the Christian Church is, and how Christ rules and works in the church with power through the Word, with the result that the church willingly clings to Him and obeys Him. We have also seen what the worship of the church is: a new and holy priesthood extending God’s honor and the knowledge of Christ. All this is to happen, he says here, “after Thy victory.” This means: after Christ has conquered His enemies—sin, death, hell, and the power of the devil and the world—in Himself by His resurrection and ascension, occupies His kingdom and dominion, and publicly proclaims this fact in all the world through the Gospel.  (Luther’s Works, v. 13 , p.296).

Picture:  “Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house and the place where thine honor dwelleth.”  Psalm 26

#38 The Devil’s Chapel is Far More Impressive than God’s Church

Oh, he is far better equipped with sacraments, prophets, apostles, and evangelists than God, and his chapels are much larger than God’s church; and he has far more people in his holiness than God. One is also more inclined to believe his promises, his sacraments, and his prophets than Christ. He is the great god of the world. Christ calls him “ruler of the world” [John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11] and Paul “the god of this world” [II Cor. 4:4]. With this aping tomfoolery he estranges men from faith in Christ and causes the word and the sacraments of Christ to be despised and almost unrecognizable because it is easier to perceive such things than to blot out sin, help in time of need, receive salvation through the devil’s sacraments rather than through Christ’s. For it is Christ’s will to make people holy and pious in body and soul through the Holy Spirit and not let them remain in unbelief and sin. This is too hard for those who do not wish to be pious or to desist from sin. They can readily dispense with this work of the Holy Spirit after they learn how they can be saved more easily without him—for example, by holy water, Agnus Dei, bulls and breves, masses and cowls—thus making it unnecessary to seek or heed anything else.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.169)

Picture:  The hard-carved wooden altar dates from 1896

#37 The Devil’s Aping Tomfoolery

But the devil has a different purpose in mind. He wants the creature to derive new strength and power from his aping tomfoolery. Just as water becomes baptism by the power of God, a bath unto eternal life, washing away sin and bringing salvation, a power which is not inherent in water; just as bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ; just as sins are remitted by the laying on of hands in accordance with God’s institution—so the devil too wants his mummery and aping tomfoolery to be strong and imbued with supernatural power. Holy water is to blot out sin, exorcise devils, fend off evil spirits, protect women in childbed, as the pope teaches us in the Aquam sale, de pe; consecrated salt is to have the same effect. An Agnus Dei consecrated by the pope is to do more than God himself can do, as this is described in verses that I should some day publish with marginal notes. Bells are to drive away devils in thunderstorms. St. Anthony’s knives stab the devil; consecrated herbs expel venomous worms; some blessings heal cows, keep off milk thieves, and quench fire; certain letters give security in war and at other times against iron, fire, water, wild beasts, etc.; monasticism, masses, and the like are said to confer more than ordinary salvation. Who can tell it all? There was no need so small that the devil did not institute a sacrament or holy possession for it, whereby one could receive advice and help. In addition, he had prophetesses, soothsayers, and sages able to reveal hidden things and to retrieve stolen goods.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.168-169)

Picture:  The chalice (Good Shepherd window top)

#36 Where God Built a Church, the devil Built a Chapel Beside It

Now when the devil saw that God built such a holy church, he was not idle, and erected his chapel beside it, larger than God’s temple. This is how he did it: he noticed that God utilized outward things, like baptism, word, sacrament, keys, etc., whereby he sanctified his church. And since the devil is always God’s ape, trying to imitate all God’s things and to improve on them, he also tried his luck with external things purported to make man holy—just as he tries with rain-makers, sorcerers, exorcists of devils, etc. He even has the Lord’s Prayer recited and the gospel read over them to make it appear a great holy possession. Thus he had popes and papists consecrate or sanctify water, salt, candles, herbs, bells, images, Agnus Dei, pallia, chasubles, tonsures, fingers, hands—who can tell it all?—finally the monks’ cowls to a degree that many people died and were buried in them, believing that thereby they would be saved. Now it would have been fine indeed if God’s word or a blessing or a prayer were spoken over these created things, as children do over their food or over themselves when they go to bed and when they arise. St. Paul says of this, “Everything created by God is good, and is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” [I Tim. 4:4–5]. The creature derives no new power from such a practice, but is strengthened in its former power.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.167-168)

Picture: Come Unto Me Statue

#35 Signs of the Fruits of Faith Not as Reliable as Faith Itself

However, these signs cannot be regarded as being as reliable as those noted before since some heathen too practice these works and indeed at times appear holier than Christians; yet their actions do not issue from the heart purely and simply, for the sake of God, but they search for some other end because they lack a real faith in and a true knowledge of God. But here is the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies the heart and produces these fruits from “an honest and good heart,” as Christ says in the parable recorded in Matthew 13 [Luke 8:15]. Since the first table is greater and must be a holier possession, I have summarized everything in the second table. Otherwise, I could have divided it too into seven holy possessions or seven principal parts, according to the seven commandments.

Now we know for certain what, where, and who the holy Christian church is, that is, the holy Christian people of God; and we are quite certain that it cannot fail us. Everything else may fail and surely does, as we shall hear in part. Men should be selected from this people to form a council; that might be a council ruled by the Holy Spirit. Thus Lyra, too, writes that the church is not to be assessed by the high or spiritual vocations in it, but by the people who truly believe.  I am surprised that he was not burned at the stake for these words, for denying that popes, cardinals, bishops, and prelates compose the church; this amounts to abominable heresy, intolerable and offensive to the holy Roman church. More about this elsewhere.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.167)

Picture: The Good Shepherd window, middle frame

#34 Other Outward Signs(Fruits of Faith) that Identify The Church

In addition to these seven principal parts there are other outward signs that identify the Christian church, namely, those signs whereby the Holy Spirit sanctifies us according to the second table of Moses; when he assists us in sincerely honoring our father and mother, and conversely, when he helps them to raise their children in a Christian way and to lead honorable lives; when we faithfully serve our princes and lords and are obedient and subject to them, and conversely, when they love their subjects and protect and guard them; also when we bear no one a grudge, entertain no anger, hatred, envy, or vengefulness toward our neighbors, but gladly forgive them, lend to them, help them, and counsel them; when we are not lewd, not drunkards, not proud, arrogant, overbearing, but chaste, self-controlled, sober, friendly, kind, gentle, and humble; when we do not steal, rob, are not usurious, greedy, do not overcharge, but are mild, kind, content, charitable; when we are not false, mendacious, perjurers, but truthful, trustworthy, and do whatever else is taught in these commandments—all of which St. Paul teaches abundantly in more than one place.

We need the Decalogue not only to apprise us of our lawful obligations, but we also need it to discern how far the Holy Spirit has advanced us in his work of sanctification and by how much we still fall short of the goal, lest we become secure and imagine that we have now done all that is required. Thus we must constantly grow in sanctification and always become new creatures in Christ. This means “grow” and “do so more and more” [II Pet. 3:18].  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.166)

Picture: The Baptismal Font

#33 The True Seven Principle Possessions of The Church

These are the true seven principal parts of the great holy possession whereby the Holy Spirit effects in us a daily sanctification and vivification in Christ, according to the first table of Moses. By this we obey it, albeit never as perfectly as Christ. But we constantly strive to attain the goal, under his redemption or remission of sin, until we too shall one day become perfectly holy and no longer stand in need of forgiveness. Everything is directed toward that goal. I would even call these seven parts the seven sacraments, but since that term has been misused by the papists and is used in a different sense in Scripture, I shall let them stand as the seven principal parts of Christian sanctification or the seven holy possessions of the church.

  1. The Holy Word of God
  2. The Holy Sacrament of Baptism
  3. The Holy Sacrament of the Altar
  4. The Office of the Keys
  5. The Ministers Who Administer
  6. Prayer, Praise and Thanksgiving
  7. The Sacred Cross of Affliction

(Luther’s Works, v.41, p.165-166)

Picture:  The Victorious Savior Window

#32 The Victory of Christ Is Utterly Certain

We must look at this image and take hold of it with a firm faith. He who does this has the innocence and the victory of Christ, no matter how great a sinner he is. But this cannot be grasped by loving will; it can be grasped only by reason illumined by faith. Therefore we are justified by faith alone, because faith alone grasps this victory of Christ. To the extent that you believe this, to that extent you have it. If you believe that sin, death, and the curse have been abolished, they have been abolished, because Christ conquered and overcame them in Himself; and He wants us to believe that just as in His Person there is no longer the mask of the sinner or any vestige of death, so this is no longer in our person, since He has done everything for us.

Therefore if sin makes you anxious, and if death terrifies you, just think that this is an empty specter and an illusion of the devil—which is what it surely is. For in fact there is no sin any longer, no curse, no death, and no devil, because Christ has conquered and abolished all these. Accordingly, the victory of Christ is utterly certain; the defects lie not in the fact itself, which is completely true, but in our incredulity. It is difficult for reason to believe such inestimable blessings. In addition, the devil and the sectarians—the former with his flaming darts (Eph. 6:16), the latter with their perverse and wicked doctrine—are bent on this one thing: to obscure this doctrine and take it away from us. It is above all for this doctrine, on which we insist so diligently, that we bear the hate and persecution of Satan and of the world. For Satan feels the power and the results of this doctrine.  (Luther’s Works, v.26, p.284-285)

Picture: The Risen Christ

#31 This Fortunate Exchange

By this fortunate exchange with us He took upon Himself our sinful person and granted us His innocent and victorious Person. Clothed and dressed in this, we are freed from the curse of the Law, because Christ Himself voluntarily became a curse for us, saying: “For My own Person of humanity and divinity I am blessed, and I am in need of nothing whatever. But I shall empty Myself (Phil. 2:7); I shall assume your clothing and mask; and in this I shall walk about and suffer death, in order to set you free from death.” Therefore when, inside our mask, He was carrying the sin of the whole world, He was captured, He suffered, He was crucified, He died; and for us He became a curse. But because He was a divine and eternal Person, it was impossible for death to hold Him. Therefore He arose from death on the third day, and now He lives eternally; nor can sin, death, and our mask be found in Him any longer; but there is sheer righteousness, life, and eternal blessing. (Luther’s Works, v.26, p.284)

Picture:  The Tools of Crucifixion:  The hammer and the pliers and the nails used in affixing Jesus to the cross.  The pole with a vinegar-soaked cloth to wet his lips before He cried, “It is finished.”  Also the spear which was used to pierce His side.