#31 Look at Death Differently

Hence, one must look upon a Christian death with different eyes, not the way a cow stares at a new gate, and smells it in a different way, not as a cow sniffs grass, by learning to speak and think of it as the Scriptures do and not considering deceased Christians to be dead and buried people. To the five senses that is the way it appears. As far as they can lead us, it brings only woe. Therefore go beyond them and listen to what St. Paul says here, that they are sleeping in Christ and God will bring them with Christ [as he brought with him the Savior, the devourer of death, the destroyer of the devil]. Learn to comfort yourselves with these words and instil in your hearts the fact that it is far more certain that Duke John of Saxony will come out of the grave and be far more splendid than the sun is now [cf. Dan. 12:3; Isa. 60:19] than that he is lying here before our eyes. This is not so certain as the fact that he will live again and go forth with Christ because God cannot lie. But take it to heart! For he who does not have this comfort can neither comfort himself nor be happy, but the more the Word escapes him the more the consolation also escapes him.

Therefore, let us comfort ourselves now in this sorrow with the fact that we know with certainty that he will rise again with Christ. For here the words of Christ stood sure: “Every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father” [Matt. 10:32]. Otherwise, if that Man had not ascended into heaven, we could have little hope indeed.  (Luther’s Works, v.51 p.239-240)

#30 Our Hope

For this reason we shall reckon our beloved sovereign among those who sleep in Jesus Christ, but especially because he did not depart from the confession of the death and resurrection of Christ, but suffered all manner of injury and affront for it. We therefore are not going to make him a living saint. If some sin crept in, let it go, we shall let him remain a human being, but will so cloak it over that the devil will not see such small sins and emphasize the great works which the angels in heaven will extol. For what can the devil bring up against his personal righteousness, since Christ is standing there alongside him and for him with His death and resurrection, which is more than the sin of the whole world?

It is my hope that we too shall die this way and carry with us to heaven a poor sinner, if only we hold on to this cloak and wrap ourselves in the death of the Son of God and cover and veil ourselves with his resurrection. If we stand firmly upon this and never depart from it, then our righteousness will be so great that all our sins, no matter what they are, will be as a tiny spark and our righteousness as a great ocean, and our death will be far less than a sleep and a dream. Moreover, the shame of our being buried so nastily is covered with a dignity which is called the resurrection of Jesus Christ, by which it is so adorned that the sun is put to shame when it looks upon it and the beloved angels cannot gaze upon it sufficiently. We are graced and adorned with such beauty that all the other uncleanness of our poor body, such as death and the like, are as nothing.  (Luther’s Works, v.51 p.239)


#29 Our Death is But a Sleep

“But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” [I Thess. 4:13].

Here St. Paul puts in some good sugar, mixing the bitterness which is here with sweetness, and saying: You are sorrowful and grieving over those who have died. It is true that it hurts to lose a good friend. I do not reproach you for this; I praise it, for it is a sign that these are good hearts which are thus concerned about the deceased. But you must discriminate between your death and the death of the heathen, between your sorrow and that of the heathen. They have no hope after this life, but you know that you do not die but only fall asleep. For “since we believe,” he goes on, “that Jesus died and rose again” [I Thess. 4:14], it is also certain that God will bring with him those who have died in Christ and will not let them simply remain where we think they remain, but will bring them to himself.

Note particularly that he does not say: Since you believe that Christ fell asleep. He rather speaks more sternly of Christ’s death than ours and says: Since we believe that Christ died. But of us he says that we do not die, but only fall asleep. He calls our death not a death, but a sleep, and Christ’s death he calls a real death. Thus he attributes to the death of Christ such exceeding power that by comparison we should consider our death a sleep. For this is the right way to give comfort, to take the death which we suffer as far as possible from our eyes, at least according to the spirit, and look straight at the death of Christ.  (Luther’s Works, v.51 p.231, 233-234)

#28 The Word of God Gives Comfort, “Do Not Grieve as Those Without Hope

My dear friends, since this misfortune has happened to our beloved sovereign prince, and the habit and custom of holding masses for the dead and funeral processions when they are buried has ceased, we nevertheless do not wish to allow this service of worship to be omitted, in order that we may preach God’s Word to the praise of God and the betterment of the people. For we must deal with the subject and also do what is right on this occasion, since the Lord our God has again taken unto himself and graciously summoned our beloved head. Therefore we shall take as our text what St. Paul says to the Thessalonians in the fourth chapter:

“But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” [I Thess. 4:13–14].

So much we shall take up for now, in order that I may not overburden myself and you. You know that the greatest divine service is the preaching [of the Word of God], and not only the greatest divine service, but also the best we can have in every situation; but especially on these solemn occasions of sorrow [there is nothing better we can do than to preach]. (“Sermon at the Funeral of the Elector, Duke John of Saxony” Luther’s Works, v.51 p.231)

#27 Greatest Wrongs Are Associated with Church and Religion

… In the midst of these very blasphemies and infamous deeds they claim the right to the name and designation “the saintliest”; they boast that they are the vicars of Christ, the successors of Peter, etc.

Accordingly, the greatest wrongs are associated with the designation of holiness, church, true religions, etc. If anyone should express disapproval, he is immediately clubbed with the curse of excommunication and is condemned as a heretic and an enemy of God and the church. Next to the Roman popes and their confederates there is no people that prides itself more on its godliness and righteousness than the Turks, who despise Christians as idolaters but regard themselves as the saintliest and wisest of men. And yet what else is their life and godliness than endless murder, robbery, depredation, and other awful crimes?

The examples of the present time, therefore, show how those two incompatibles can exist side by side: the utmost godliness is paired with the greatest abominations, the utmost violence with the appearance of righteousness. This is also the reason why men become so hardened and smug, and do not look for the punishment they have deserved because of their sins. (Luther’s Works, v.2 p.158)

#26 Violence Follows After the Word has been Lost

Moreover, by his addition—“And the earth was filled with violence”—he indicates that this is the unvarying sequence of events: after the Word has been lost, and faith has ceased to exist, and tradition and ἐθελοθρχει̂ια, as Paul calls them (Col. 2:23), flourish in place of the true forms of worship, acts of violence and a shameful life follow.

The word חָמָס properly denotes violence, force, and harm, with disregard of all law and equity, when anyone may do what he pleases, and whatever things are done are done not by law but by force. If this was their kind of life, someone may say, how could they maintain an outward reputation for saintliness and righteousness? As though indeed one did not have similar examples before one’s eyes today! What has the world ever seen that is crueler than the Turks? Nevertheless, they adorn all their brutality with the name of God and godliness. (Luther’s Works, v.2 p.158)

#25 Those Without the Word think that Christians are Corrupt in Word and Action

The verb שִׁחֵת {corrupt} is very common in Holy Scripture, and it is striking. Moses also employs it in Deut. 31:29: “I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly; and turn aside from the way”; and David, in Ps. 14:3: “All are corrupt and have become detestable.” Furthermore, both passages are really speaking of sins against the First Table; that is, they charge those who are saintliest in appearance with false worship of God and with false doctrine. It is impossible for an ungodly life not to follow in the wake of false doctrine.

When Moses states that the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, he clearly points out the contrast, namely, that the hypocrites and tyrants were of the opinion that what Noah taught and did was wrong, but that they taught and did everything in the saintliest manner. But, says Moses, the opposite was true. The earth, that is, the entire world, or all human beings, was corrupt, namely, so far as the First Table is concerned, they did not have the true Word or the true worship. This distinction in regard to the First and Second Table is very much to my liking and has undoubtedly been pointed out by the Holy Spirit. (Luther’s Works, v.2 p.158)

#24 Ungodliness in the First and Second Table of the Law

Here Moses expressly adds the clause, “The earth was corrupt in God’s sight,” (Genesis 6:11) in order to indicate that in the sight of his age Noah was treated and regarded as a stupid and worthless person. In contrast, the world appeared to itself most holy and most righteous; it assumed that it had adequate reasons for persecuting Noah, especially so far as the First Table and the worship of God were concerned. To be sure, the Second Table likewise gives rise to pretense and hypocrisy; but there is no comparison with the First. An adulterer, a thief, and a murderer can remain hidden for a time, but not forever. But the sins against the First Table usually remain hidden under the guise of saintliness until God reveals them. Ungodliness never wants to be considered and actually to be ungodliness; it strives to be praised for piety and godliness. It embellishes its forms of worship to such a degree that in comparison with them the true forms of worship and true godliness are filthy.  (Luther’s Works, v.2 p.158)

#23 Bold Confession By the Persecuted Gives Joy to the Christian

Oh, how I have been carried away and how I overflowed with words! It is due to my faith in Christ which thus gave vent to my joy over your faith and bold confession.  John also had to leap in his mother’s womb when Christ came to him.  Thus you see him coming to me through your letter. I hope to God that he will also come to you through this missive of mine and fill not only your John but also Elizabeth and the entire house with joy and spirit, and remain with you not just for three months but forever. May God the Father of all mercy grant that. Amen.  (Luther’s Works, v.43, p.69)



#22 Luther Prays For His German People’s Unrepentance

For I fear that the German nation is going too far, so that it will finally meet the fate described in the last chapter of the Fourth Book of Kings.  Those people killed the prophets so long that God forsook them and they found themselves beyond help. Thus I am afraid that the German nation will also receive its just deserts in the end. It condemned the gospel first in Constance, where it shed the innocent blood of Huss and Jerome; then in Worms and in Heidelberg, that of Dramsdorf and several others; also in Mainz and Cologne.  The entire Rhine is bloody and will not be cleansed of the blood, but unceasingly fetes the murderers of Christians, the inquisitors, until God intervenes, and then the time of help will be past. The nation is tempting God too often. At present it again stands condemned at Worms in me. Even if they did not shed my blood, they did not lack the will and determination to. In their hearts they are continually murdering me. You unhappy nation! Why must you more than others be the Antichrist’s jailer and his hangman of God’s saints and prophets?  (Luther’s Works, v.43, p.69)

Art. XIIII  Das in der kirchen niemand offentlich ohne beruff lehren od Sacrament reichen sol.
“That no one in the church should provide the sacraments or teach publicly without a calling.”
Rom. 10, v. 15 ; And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”
Heb. 5, v. 4 ; And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.

[All of the pictures for this year’s posts are from an etching entitled “Augsburg Confession” by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677) and found in the Royal Collection Trust.]