#45 Human Ordinances Can Be Useful But Have Only Natural Effects

Besides these external signs and holy possessions the church has other externals that do not sanctify it either in body or soul, nor were they instituted or commanded by God; but, as we said at length above, they are outwardly necessary or useful, proper and good—for instance, certain holidays and certain hours, forenoon or afternoon, set aside for preaching or praying, or the use of a church building or house, altar, pulpit, baptismal font, candlesticks, candles, bells, priestly vestments, and the like. These things have no more than their natural effects, just as food and drink accomplish no more by virtue of the grace the children say at the table, for the ungodly or rude folk who don’t say it, that is, who neither pray to God nor thank him, grow just as fat and strong from food and drink as Christians do. To be sure, Christians could be and remain sanctified even without these items, even if they were to preach on the street, outside a building, without a pulpit, if absolution were pronounced and the sacrament administered without an altar, and if baptism were performed without a font—as happens daily that for special reasons sermons are preached and baptisms and sacraments administered in the home. But for the sake of children and simple folk, it is a fine thing and conducive to good order to have a definite time, place, and hour to which people can adapt themselves and where they may assemble, as St. Paul says in I Corinthians 14 [:40], “All things should be done decently and in order.” And no one should (as no Christian does) ignore such order without cause, out of mere pride or just to create disorder, but one should join in observing such order for the sake of the multitude, or at least should not disrupt or hinder it, for that would be acting contrary to love and friendliness.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.173-174)

Picture:  St. Luke: “Fitit in Diebus Herodis Regis,” the Latin of Lk 1:5, “In the days of Herod king…”

#44 Where God Has Not Promised, We Receive Nothing

On the other hand, what good would it do you even if you went to St. James, clad in armor, or let yourself be killed by the severe life of the Carthusians, Franciscans, or Dominicans in order to be saved, and God had neither commanded nor instituted it? He still knows nothing about all this, but you and the devil invented them, as special sacraments or classes of priests. And even if you were able to bear heaven and earth in order to be saved, it would still all be lost; and he who would pick up the straw (if this were commanded) would do more than you, even if you could carry ten worlds. Why is that? It is God’s will that we obey his word, use his sacraments, and honor his church. Then he will act graciously and gently enough, even more graciously and gently than we could desire; for it is written, “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me” [Exod. 20:23]. And, “Listen to him and to no other” [Matt. 17:5]. May that suffice on the church. More cannot be said unless each point is elaborated further. The rest must deal with different ideas, about which we want to speak too.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.172-173)

Picture:  St. Mark: “Initium Evangelii Jesu Christi,” the Latin of Mk 1:1, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ…”

#43 If God Promised to Forgive Through the Picking Up of a Straw…

In summary, if God were to bid you to pick up a straw or to pluck out a feather with the command, order, and promise that thereby you would have forgiveness of all sin, grace, and eternal life, should you not accept this joyfully and gratefully, and cherish, praise, prize, and esteem that straw and that feather as a higher and holier possession than heaven and earth? No matter how insignificant the straw and the feather may be, you would nonetheless acquire through them something more valuable than heaven and earth, indeed, than all the angels, are able to bestow on you. Why then are we such disgraceful people that we do not regard the water of baptism, the bread and wine, that is, Christ’s body and blood, the spoken word, and the laying on of man’s hands for the forgiveness of sin as such holy possessions, as we would the straw and feather, though in the former, as we hear and know, God himself wishes to be effective and wants them to be his water, word, hand, bread, and wine, by means of which he wishes to sanctify and save you in Christ, who acquired this for us and who gave us the Holy Spirit from the Father for this work?  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.172)

Picture: St. Matthew: “Liber generationis Jesu Christi,” the Latin of Mt 1:1, “A book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ…”

#42 The devil’s Sacraments and Churches

Well then, that is just what is done for us feeble human beings, and in it we see how God deals with us as with beloved children and not, as he surely would have a right to, in his majesty. And yet, in this guise he performs his majestic, divine works and exercises his might and power, such as forgiving sin, cleansing from sin, removing death, bestowing grace and eternal life. Indeed, these things are missing in the devil’s sacraments and churches. No one can say there, “God commanded it, ordered it, instituted it, and ordained it; he himself is present and will do everything himself”; but one must say, “God did not command, but forbade it, that man, or rather that ape of God, invented it and misled the people with it.” For he effects nothing except that which is temporal, or, if it purports to be spiritual, it is sheer fraud. He cannot forgive sin eternally and save, as he lyingly claims, by means of holy water, masses, and monkery, even though he may restore a cow’s milk which he had first stolen from her by his prophetesses and priestesses. Among Christians these are called the devil’s harlots and, when apprehended, are rightfully burned at the stake, not because of the theft of milk, but because of the blasphemy with which they fortify the devil, his sacraments, and his churches against Christ.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.171-172)

Picture:  The pulpit was made for Trinity in 1864.  Originally it had the four evangelists and an angel, which was damaged by the tornado of 1896.  A statue of Martin Luther (a gift from a congregation in Dresden, Germany) has replaced the angel.

#41 The External Means of Grace Commanded, Instituted, and Ordained by God

Therefore the ecclesia, “the holy Christian people,” does not have mere external words, sacraments, or offices, like God’s ape Satan has, and in far greater numbers, but it has these as commanded, instituted, and ordained by God, so that he himself and not any angel will work through them with the Holy Spirit. They are called word, baptism, sacrament, and office of forgiveness, not of angels, men, or any other creature, but of God; only he does not choose to do it through his unveiled, brilliant, and glorious majesty, out of consideration for us poor, weak, and timid mortals and for our comfort, for who could bear such majesty for an instant in this poor and sinful flesh? As Moses says, “Man shall not see me and live” [Exod. 33:20]. If the Jews could not endure even the shoes of his feet on Mount Sinai, that is, the thunder and the clouds, how could they, with their feeble eyes, have endured the sight of the sun of his divine majesty and the clear light of his countenance? No, he wants to work through tolerable, kind, and pleasant means, which we ourselves could not have chosen better. He has, for instance, a godly and kind man speak to us, preach, lay his hands on us, remit sin, baptize, give us bread and wine to eat and to drink. Who can be terrified by these pleasing methods, and wouldn’t rather delight in them with all his heart?  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.171)

Picture:  A banner “Die Ev. Luth. Dreieinigkeits Kirche, U.A.C. St. Louis, Mo,”  The Evangelical Lutheran Trinity Church. Unaltered Augsburg Confession, destroyed by a tornado on May 27, 1896 and rebuilt and reopened May 28, 1897.

#40 The Reformed Rejected Even the external Means of Grace for the “Spiritual”

And that is what happened. When we began to teach, on the basis of the gospel, that these external things do not save, since they are merely physical and creatural and are often used by the devil for the purpose of sorcery, people, even great and learned people, concluded that baptism, being external water, that the word, being outward human speech, that Scripture, being physical letters made with ink, that the bread, being baked by the baker, and the wine were nothing more than outward, perishable things. So they devised the slogan, “Spirit! Spirit! The Spirit must do it! The letter kills!” So Münzer called us Wittenberg theologians scribes of Scripture and himself the scribe of the Holy Spirit, and many others followed his example. There you see how the devil had armed himself and built up his barricades. If anyone were to attack his outward doctrine and sacraments (which afford quick, visible, and mighty aid), then the outward words and sacraments of Christ (attended by tardy or, at least, by invisible and feeble help) must go down to far worse destruction along with them.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.170-171)

Picture:  The Holy Spirit (Good Shepherd Window, top)

#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)