1. This epistle lesson treats not of faith, but of its fruits, or works. It
teaches how a Christian should conduct himself outwardly in his relations to
other men upon earth. But how we should walk in the Spirit before God, comes
under the head of faith. Of faith Paul treats comprehensively and in
apostolic manner in the chapters preceding this text. A close consideration
of our passage shows it to be not didactic; rather it is meant to incite, to
exhort, urge and arouse souls already aware of their duty. Paul in Romans
12, 7-8 devotes the office of the ministry to two things, doctrine and
exhortation. The doctrinal part consists in preaching truths not generally
known; in instructing and enlightening the people. Exhortation is inciting
and urging to duties already well understood. Necessarily both obligations
claim the attention of the minister, and hence Paul takes up both.
[The following sermon is taken from volume VI:9-27
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. The pagination from the Baker edition has been maintained
for referencing. This e-text was scanned and edited by Richard Bucher,
it is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without
2. For the sake of effect and emphasis the apostle in his admonition
employs pleasing figures and makes an eloquent appeal. He introduces certain
words -- "Armor," "work," "sleep," "awake," "darkness," "light," 'day,"
"night'' -- which are purely figurative, intended to convey other than a
literal and native meaning. He has no reference here to the things they
ordinarily stand for. The words are employed as similes, to help us grasp
the spiritual thought. The meaning is: Since for sake of temporal gain men
rise from sleep, put aside the things of darkness and take up the day's work
when night has given place to morning, how much greater the necessity for us
to awake from our spiritual sleep, to cast off the things of darkness and
enter upon the works of light, since our night has passed and our day
3. "Sleep" here stands for the works of wickedness and unbelief. For
sleep is properly incident to the night time; and then, too, the explanation
is given in the added words: "Let us cast off the works of darkness."
Similarly in the thought of awakening and rising are suggested the works of
faith and piety. Rising from sleep is naturally an event of the morning.
Relative to the same conception are Paul's words in First Thessalonians 5,
4-10: "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness . . . ye are all sons of light,
and sons of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness; so then let
us not sleep, as do the rest, but let us watch and be sober. For they that
sleep sleep in the night; and they that are drunken are drunken in the
night. But let us, since we are of the day, be sober, putting on the
breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation. For
God appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through
our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we
should live together with him."
4. Paul, of course, is here not enjoining against physical sleep. His
contrasting figures of sleep and wakefulness are used as illustrations of
spiritual lethargy and activity--the godly and the ungodly life. In short,
his conception here of rising out of sleep is the same as that expressed in
his declaration (Tit 2, 11-13): "For the grace of God hath ap-peared,
bringing salvation to all men, instructing us, to the intent that, denying
ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and righteously and
godly in this present world; looking for the blessed hope and appearing of
the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." That which in the
passage just quoted is called "denying ungodliness and worldly lusts," is
here in our text described as a rising from sleep; and the "sober,
righteous, godly life" is the waking and the putting on the armor of light;
while the appearing of grace is the day and the light, as we shall hear.
5. Now, note the analogy between natural and spiritual sleep. The sleeper
sees nothing about him; he is not sensitive to any of earth's realities. In
the midst of them he lies as one dead, useless; as without power or purpose.
Though having life in himself he is practically dead to all outside.
Moreover, his mind is occupied, not with realities, but with dreams, wherein
he beholds mere images; vain forms, of the real; and he is foolish enough to
think them true. But when he wakes, these illusions or dreams vanish. Then
he begins to occupy himself with realities; phantoms are discarded.
6. So it is in the spiritual life. The ungodly individual sleeps. He is
in a sense dead in the sight of God. He does not recognize--is not sensitive
to--the real spiritual blessings extended him through the Gospel; he regards
them as valueless. For these blessings are only to be recognized by the
believing heart; they are concealed from the natural man. The ungodly
individual is occupied with temporal, transitory things, such as luxury and
honor, which are to eternal life and joy as dream images are to
When the unbeliever awakes to faith, the transitory things of earth will
pass from his contemplation, and their futility will appear. In relation to
this subject Psalm 76, 5, reads: "The stouthearted are made a spoil, they
have slept their sleep; and none of the men of might have found their
hands." And Psalm 73, 20: "As a dream when one awak-eth, so, 0 Lord, when
thou awakest, thou wilt despise their image." Also Isaiah 29, 8: "And it
shall be as when a hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he
awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and,
behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul
hath appetite: so shall the multitude of all the nations be, that fight
against mount Zion."
But is it not showing altogether too much contempt for worldly power,
wealth, pleasure and honor to compare them to dreams--to dream images? Who
has courage to declare kings and princes, wealth, pleasure and power but
creations of a dream, in the face of the mad rage of earth after such
things? The reason for such conduct is failure to rise from sleep and by
faith behold the light.
"For now is salvation nearer to us than when we first believed."
7. What do these words imply? Did we believe before, or have we now
ceased to believe? Right here we must know that, as Paul in Romans 1, 2-3
says, God through his prophets promised in the holy Scriptures the Gospel of
his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom all the world was to be saved.
The word to Abraham reads: "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth
be blessed." Gen. 22, 18. The blessing here promised to the patriarch, in
his seed, is simply that grace and salvation in Christ which the Gospel
presents to the whole world, as Paul declares in the fourth chapter of
Romans and the fourth of Galatians. For Christ is the seed of Abraham, his
own flesh and blood, and in Christ all believing inquirers will be blessed.
8. This promise to the patriarch was later more minutely set forth and
more widely circulated by the prophets. All of them wrote of the advent of
Christ, and his grace and Gospel, as Peter in Acts 3, 18-24 says: The divine
promise was believed by the saints prior to the birth of Christ; thus,
through the coming Messiah they were preserved and saved by faith. Christ
himself (Lk 16, 22) pictures the promise under the figure of Abraham's
bosom, into which all saints, from the time of Abraham to Christ's time,
were gathered.Thus is explained Paul's declaration, "Now is salvation nearer
to us than when we first believed." He means practically: "The promise of
God to Abraham is not a thing for future fulfilment; it is already
fulfilled. Christ is come. The Gospel has been revealed and the blessing
distributed throughout the world. All that we waited for in the promise,
believing, is here." The sentence has reference to the spiritual day Paul
later speaks of--the rising light of the Gospel; as we shall hear.
9. But faith is not abolished in the fulfilment of the promise; rather it
is established. As they of former time believed in the future fulfilment, we
believe now in the completed fulfilment. Faith, in the two instances, is
essentially the same, but one belief succeeds the other as fulfilment
succeeds promise. For in both cases faith is based on the seed of Abraham;
that is, on Christ. In one instance it precedes his advent and in the other
follows. He who would now, like the Jews, believe in a Christ yet to come,
as if the promise were still unfulfilled, would be condemned. For he would
make God a liar in holding that his word is unredeemed, contrary to fact.
Were the promise not fulfilled, our salvation would still be far off; we
would have to wait its future accomplishment.
10. Having in mind faith under these two conditions, Paul asserts in
Romans 1, 17: "In the Gospel is revealed a righteousness of God from faith
unto faith." What is meant by the phrase "from faith unto faith"? Simply
that we must now believe not only in the promise but in its past fulfilment.
For though the faith of the fathers is one with our faith, they trusting in
a Christ to come and we in a Christ revealed, yet the Gospel leads from the
former faith to the latter. It is now necessary to believe not only the
promise, but also its fulfilment. Abraham and the ancients were not called
upon to believe in accomplished fulfilment, though they had the same Christ
with us. There is one faith, one spirit, one Christ, one community of
saints; but they preceded, while we come after, Christ.
11. Thus we--the fathers and ourselves--have had and still have a common
faith in the one Christ, but under different conditions. Because of this
common faith in the Messiah, we speak of their act of faith as our own,
notwithstanding we were not alive in their day. And similarly, when they
make mention of hearing, seeing and believing Christ, the reference is to
ourselves, in whose day they live not. David says (Ps 8, 3): "When I
consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers," that is, the apostles. Yet
David did not live to see their day. And (Ps 9, 2): "I will be glad and
exult in thee; I will sing praise to thy name, 0 Thou Most High." And there
are many similar passages where one individual speaks in the person of
another in consequence of a common faith whereby believers unite in Christ
as one body.
12. Paul's statement "Now is salvation nearer to us than when we first
believed" cannot be understood to refer to nearness of possession. For the
fathers had the same faith and the same Christ with us, and Christ was
equally near to them. Hebrews 13, 8 says, "Jesus Christ is the same
yesterday and today, yea and for ever." That is, Christ exists from the
beginning of the world to all time, and through him and in him all are
preserved. To him of strongest faith Christ is nearest; and from him who
least believes, is salvation farthest, so far as personal possession of it
goes. Paul's reference here is to nearness of the revelation of salvation.
When Christ came the promise was fulfilled. The Gospel was revealed to the
world. Through Christ's coming it was publicly preached to all men. In
recognition of these things, the apostle says: "Salvation is nearer to us"
than when unrevealed and unfulfilled in the promise. In Titus 2, 11, it is
said: "For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation." In other
words, God's grace is revealed and publicly proclaimed; though the saints
who lived prior to its manifestation nevertheless possessed it.
13. So the Scriptures teach the coming of Christ, notwithstanding he was
already present to the fathers. However, he was not publicly proclaimed to
mankind until after his resurrection from the dead. It is of this coming in
the Gospel the Scriptures for the most part teach. Incident to this
revelation he came in human form. The taking upon himself of humanity would
have profited no one had it not meant the proclamation of the Gospel. The
Gospel was to present him to the whole world, revealing the fact that he
became man for the sake of imparting the blessing to all who, accepting the
Gospel, should believe in him. Paul tells us (Rom 1, 2) the Gospel was
promised of God; from which we may infer God placed more emphasis upon the
Gospel, the public revelation of Christ through the Word, than upon his
physical birth, his advent in human form. God's purpose was concerning the
Gospel and our faith, and he permitted his Son to assume humanity for the
sake of making possible the preaching of the Gospel of Christ; that through
the revealed Word salvation in Christ might be brought near- might come--to
all the world.
14. Some have presented four different forms of Christ's advent, adapted
to the four Sundays in Advent. But the most vital form of his coming, that
upon which all efficacy depends, the coming to which Paul here refers, they
have failed to recognize. They know not what constitutes the Gospel, nor for
what purpose it was given. Despite their much talk about the advent of
Christ, they thrust him from us farther than heaven is from earth. How can
Christ profit us unless he be embraced by faith? But how can he be embraced
by faith where the Gospel is not preached?
THE DAY OF GRACE.
"The night is far spent, and the day is at hand."
15. This is equivalent to saying "salvation is near to us." By the word
"day" Paul means the Gospel; the Gospel is like day in that it enlightens
the heart or soul. Now, day having broken, salvation is near to us. In other
words, Christ and his grace, promised to Abraham, are now revealed; they are
preached in all the world, enlightening mankind, awakening us from sleep and
making manifest the true, eternal blessings, that we may occupy ourselves
with the Gospel of Christ and walk honorably in the day. By the word "night"
we are to understand all doctrines apart from the Gospel. For there is no
other saving doctrine; all else is night and darkness.
16. Notice carefully Paul's words. He designates the most beautiful and
vivifying time of the day--the delightful, joyous dawn, the hour of sunrise.
Then the night has passed and the day broken. In response to the morning
dawn, birds sing, beasts arouse themselves and all humanity arises. At
daybreak, when the sky is red in the east, the world is apparently new and
all things reanimated, In many places in the Scriptures, the comforting,
vivifying preaching of the Gospel is compared to the morning dawn, to the
rising of the sun; sometimes the figure is implied and sometimes plainly
expressed, as here where Paul styles the Gospel the breaking day. Again,
Psalm 110, 3: "Thy people offer themselves willingly in the day of thy
power, in holy array: out of the womb of the morning thou hast the dew of
thy youth." Here the Gospel is plainly denominated the womb of the morning,
the day of Christ's power, wherein, as the dew is born of the morning, we
are conceived and born children of Christ; and by no work of man, but from
heaven and through the Holy Spirit's grace.
17. This Gospel day is produced by the glorious Sun Jesus Christ. Hence
Malachi calls him the Sun of Righteousness, saying, "But unto you that fear
my name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in its wings."
Mal. 4, 2. All believers in Christ receive the light of his grace, and
righteousness, and shall rejoice in the shelter of his wings. Again in Psalm
118, 24, we read: "This is the day which Jehovah hath made; we will rejoice
and be glad in it." The meaning is: The natural sun makes the natural day,
but the Lord himself is the author of the spiritual day. Christ is the Sun,
the source of the Gospel day. From him the Gospel brightness shines
throughout the world. John 9, 5 reads: "I am the light of the world."
18. Psalm 19, 1 beautifully describes Christ the Sun, and the Gospel day:
"The heavens declare the glory of God." As the natural heavens bring the sun
and the day, and the sun is in the heavens, so the apostles in their
preaching possess and bring to us the real Sun, Christ. The Psalm continues:
"In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom
coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strongman to run his course.
His going forth is from the end of the heavens, and his circuit unto the
ends of it; and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof." It all refers
to the beautiful daybreak of the Gospel. Scripture sublimely exalts the
Gospel day, for it is the source of life, joy, pleasure and energy, and
brings all good. Hence the name "Gospel" --joyful news.
19. Who can enumerate the things revealed to us by this day--by the
Gospel? It teaches us everything--the nature of God, of ourselves, and what
has been and is to be in regard to heaven, hell and earth, to angels and
devils. It enables us to know how to conduct ourselves in relation to
these--whence we are and whither we go. But, being deceived by the devil, we
forsake the light of day and seek to find truth among philosophers and
heathen totally ignorant of such matters. In permitting ourselves to be
blinded by human doctrines, we return to the night. Whatsoever is not the
Gospel day surely cannot be light. Otherwise Paul, and in fact all
Scripture, would not urge that day upon us and pronounce everything else
20. Our disposition to run counter to the perfectly plain teachings of
Scripture and seek inferior light, when the Lord declares himself the Light
and Sun of the world, must result from our having incurred the displeasure
of Providence. Had we no other evidence that the high schools of the Pope
are the devil's abominable fostering-places of harlots and knaves, the fact
is amply plain in the way they shamelessly introduce and extol Aristotle,
the inferior light, exercising themselves in him more than in Christ; rather
they exercise themselves wholly in Aristotle and not at all in Christ.
"Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the
armor of light."
21. As Christ is the Sun and the Gospel is the day, so faith is the
light, or the seeing and watching on that day. We are not profited by the
shining of the sun, and the day it produces, if our eyes fail to perceive
its light. Similarly, though the Gospel is revealed, and proclaims Christ to
the world, it enlightens none but those who receive it, who have risen from
sleep through the agency of the light of faith. They who sleep are not
affected by the sun and the day; they receive no light therefrom, and see as
little as if there were neither sun nor day. It is to our day Paul refers
when he says: "Dear brethren, knowing the season, that already
is time for you to awake out of sleep, etc." Though the hour is one of
spiritual opportunity, it has been revealed in secular time, and is daily
being revealed. In the light of our spiritual knowledge we are to rise from
sleep and lay aside the works of darkness. Thus it is plain Paul is not
addressing unbelievers. As before said, he is not here teaching the doctrine
of faith, but its works and fruits. He tells the Romans they know the time
is at hand, that the night is
past and the day has broken.
22. Do you ask, Why this passage to believers? As already stated,
preaching is twofold in character: it may teach or it may incite and exhort.
No one ever gets to the point of knowledge where it is not necessary to
admonish him--continually to urge him--to new reflections upon what he
already knows; for there is danger of his untiring enemies the devil, the
world and the flesh--wearying him and causing him to become negligent, and
ultimately lulling him to sleep. Peter says (1 Pet 5, 8): "Your adversary
the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour." In
consequence of this fact, he says: "Be sober, be watchful." Similarly Paul's
thought here is that since the devil, the world and the flesh cease not to
assail us, there should be continuous exhorting and impelling to vigilance
and activity. Hence the Holy Spirit is called the Paraclete, the Comforter
or Helper, who incites and urges to good.
23. Hence Paul's appropriate choice of words. Not the works of darkness
but the works of light he terms "armor." And why "armor" rather than
"works"? Doubtless to teach that only at the cost of conflicts, pain, labor
and danger will the truly watchful and godly life be maintained; for these
three powerful enemies, the devil, the world and the flesh, unceasingly
oppose us day and night. Hence Job (ch 7, 1) regards the life of man on
earth as a life of trial and warfare.
Now, it is no easy thing to stand always in battle array during the whole
of life. Good trumpets and bugles are necessary preaching and exhortation of
the sort to enable us valiantly to maintain our position in battle. Good
works are armor: evil works are not; unless, indeed, we submit and give them
control over us. Then they likewise become armor. Paul says, "Neither
present your members unto sin as instruments of unrighteousness" (Rom 6,
13), meaning: Let not the works of darkness get such control of you as to
render your members weapons of unrighteousness.
24. Now, as already made plain, the word "light" here carries the thought
of "faith." The light of faith, in the Gospel day, shines from Christ the
Sun into our hearts. The armor of light, then, is simply the works of faith.
On the other hand, "darkness" is unbelief; it reigns in the absence of the
Gospel and of Christ, through the instrumentality of the doctrines of men-of
human reason-instigated by the devil. The "works of darkness" are,
therefore, the "works of unbelief." As Christ is Lord and Ruler in the realm
of that illuminating faith, so, as Paul says (Eph 6, 12), the devil is ruler
of this darkness; that is, over unbelievers. For he says again (2 Cor 4,
3-4): "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in them that perish:
in whom the god of this world [that is, the devil] hath blinded the minds of
the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ . . .
should not dawn upon them." The character of the two kinds of works,
however, will be discussed later.
"Let us walk, becomingly (honestly), as in the day."
25. Works of darkness are not wrought in the day. Fear of being shamed
before men makes one conduct himself honorably. The proverbial expression
"shameless night" is a true one. Works we are ashamed to perform in the day
are wrought in the night. The day, being shamefaced, constrains us to walk
honorably. A Christian should so live that he need never be ashamed of the
character of his works, though they be revealed to all the world. He whose
life and conduct are such as to make him unwilling his deeds should be
manifest to everyone, certainly does not live in a Christian manner. In this
connection Christ says: "For everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, and
cometh not to the light, lest his works should be reproved. But he that
doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest,
that they have been wrought in God, 1 Jn 3, 20-21.
26. So you see the urgent necessity for inciting and exhorting to be
vigilant and to put on the armor of light. How many Christians now could
endure the revelation of all their works to the light of day? What kind of
Christian life do we hypocrites lead if we cannot endure the exposure of our
conduct before men, when it is now exposed to God, his angels and creatures,
and on the last day shall be revealed to all? A Christian ought to live as
he would be found in the last day before all men. "Walk as children of
light, for the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and
truth." Eph 5, 9. "Take thought for things honorable," not only in the sight
of God, but also "in the sight of all men." Rom 12, 17. "For our glorying is
this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and sincerity of
God, not in fleshly wisdom . . . we behaved ourselves in the world." 2 Cor
27. But such a life certainly cannot be maintained in the absence of
faith, when faith itself-- vigilant, active, valiant faith--has enough to do
to remain constant, sleepless and unwearied. Essential as it is that
doctrine be preached to the illiterate, it is just as essential to exhort
the learned not to fall from their incipient right living, under the
assaults of raging flesh, subtle world and treacherous devil.
"Not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not
in strife and jealousy."
28. Here Paul enumerates certain works of darkness. In the beginning of
the discourse he alludes to one as "sleep." In First Thessalonians 5, 6, it
is written: "Let us not sleep, as do the rest, but let us watch and be
sober." Not that the apostle warns against physical sleep; he means
spiritual sleep--unbelief, productive of the works of darkness. Yet physical
sleep may likewise be an evil work when indulged in from lust and revelling,
through indolence and excessive inebriety, to the obstruction of light and
the weakening of the armor of light. These six works of darkness include all
others, such as are enumerated in Galatians 5, 19-21, and Colossians 3, 5
and 8. We will divide them into two general classes, the right hand class
and the left hand class. Upon the right are arrayed these four--revelling,
drunkenness, chambering and wantonness; on the left, strife and jealousy.
For scripturally, the left side signifies adversity and its attendant
evils--wrath, jealousy, and so on. The right side stands for prosperity and
its results rioting, drunkenness, lust, indolence, and the like.
29. Plainly, then, Paul means to include under the two mentioned works of
darkness--strife and jealousy--all of similar character. For instance, the
things enumerated in Ephesians 4, 31, which says: "Let all bitterness, and
wrath, and anger, and clamor, and railing, be put away from you, with all
malice"; and again in Galatians 5, 19-21, reading: "Now the works of the
flesh are . . . enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions,
parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings and such like." In short, "strife
and jealousy" here stand for innumerable evils resulting from wrath, be it
in word or deed.
30. Likewise under the four vices--revelling, drunkenness, indolence and
lewdness--the apostle includes all the vices of unchastity in word or deed,
things none would wish to enumerate. The six works mentioned suffice to
teach that he who lives in the darkness of unbelief does not keep himself
pure in his neighbor's sight, but is immoderate in all his conduct, toward
himself and toward his fellow-man. Further comment on these words is
unnecessary. Everyone knows the meaning of "revelling and drunkenness"
--excess-ive eating and drinking, more for the gratification of appetite
than for nourishment of the body. Again, it is not hard to understand the
reference to idleness in bed-chambers, to lewdness and unchastity. The
apostle's words stand for the indulgence of the lusts and appetites of the
flesh: excessive sleeping and indolence; every form of unchastity and
sensuality practiced by the satiated, indolent and stupid, in daytime or
nighttime, in retirement or elsewhere, privately or publicly-vices that seek
material darkness and secret places. These vices Paul terms "chambering and
wantonness." And the meaning of "strife" and of "jealousy" is generally
PUT ON CHRIST, THE ARMOR OF LIGHT.
"But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ."
31. In this admonition to put on Christ, Paul briefly prescribes all the
armor of light. Christ is "put on" in two ways. First, we may clothe
ourselves with his virtues. This is effected through the faith that relies
on the fact of Christ having in his death accomplished all for us. For not
our righteousness, but the righteousness of Christ, reconciled us to God and
redeemed us from sin. This manner of putting on Christ is treated of in the
doctrine concerning faith; it gives Christ to us as a gift and a pledge.
Relative to this topic more will be said in the epistle for New Year's day,
Galatians 3, 27: "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on
32. Secondly, Christ being our example and pattern, whom we are to follow
and copy, clothing ourselves in the virtuous garment of his walk, Paul
fittingly says we should "put on" Christ. As expressed in First Corinthians
15, 49: "As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the
image of the heavenly." And again (Eph 4, 22-24): "That ye put away, as
concerning your former manner of life, the old man, that waxeth corrupt
after the lusts of deceit; and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your
mind, and put on the new man, that after God hath been created in
righteousness and holiness of truth."
33. Now, in Christ we behold only the true armor of light. No
gormandizing or drunkenness is here; nothing but fasting, moderation, and
restraint of the flesh, incident to labor, exertion, preaching, praying and
doing good to mankind. No indolence, apathy or unchastity exists, but true
discipline, purity, vigilance, early rising. The fields are couch for him
who has neither house, chamber nor bed. With him is no wrath, strife or
envying; rather utter goodness, love, mercy, patience. Paul presents Christ
the example in a few words where he says (Col 3, 12- 15): "Put on therefore,
as God's elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness,
lowliness, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving
each other, if any man have a complaint against any, even as the Lord
forgave you, so also do ye: and above all these things put on love, which is
the bond of perfectness, and let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to
the which also ye were called in one body; and be ye thankful." Again, in
Philippians 2, 5-8, after commanding his flock to love and serve one
another, he presents as an example the same Christ who became servant unto
us. He says: "Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who,
existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a
thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,
being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man."
34. Now, the armor of light is, briefly, the good works opposed to
gluttony, drunkenness, licentiousness; to indolence, strife and envying:
such as fasting, watchfulness, prayer, labor, chastity, modesty, temperance,
goodness, endurance of hunger and thirst, of cold and heat. Not to employ my
own words, let us hear Paul's enumeration of good works in Galatians 5, 22-
23: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control." But he makes a still more
comprehensive count in Second Corinthians 6, 1-10: "We entreat also that ye
receive not the grace of God in vain (for he saith, At an acceptable time I
hearkened unto thee, and in a day of salvation did I succor thee: behold,
now is the ac-ceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation) [in other
words, For now is salvation nearer to us than when we first believed, and
now is the time to awake out of sleep]: giving no occasion of stumbling in
anything, that our ministration be not blamed; but in everything commending
ourselves, as ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in
necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in
labors, in watchings, in fastings; in pureness, in knowledge, in
longsuffering, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in love unfeigned, in the
word of truth, in the power of God; by the armor of righteousness on the
right hand and on the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good
report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as
dying, and behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet
always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet
possessing all things." What a rich stream of eloquence flows from Paul's
lips! He makes plain enough in what consists the armor of light on the left
hand and on the right. To practice these good works is truly putting on
35. It is a very beautiful feature in this passage that it presents the
very highest example, the Lord himself, when it says, "Put ye on the Lord."
Here is a strong incentive. For the individual who can see his master
fasting, laboring, watching, enduring hunger and fatigue, while he himself
feasts, idles, sleeps, and lives in luxury, must be a scoundrel. What master
could tolerate such conduct in a servant? Or what servant would dare attempt
such things? We can but blush with shame when we behold our unlikeness to
36. Who can influence to action him who refuses to be warmed and aroused
by the example of Christ himself? What is to be accomplished by the rustling
of leaves and the sound of words when the thunder-clap of Christ's example
fails to move us? Paul was particular to add the word "Lord," saying, "Put
ye on the Lord Jesus Christ." As if to say: "Ye servants, think not
yourselves great and exalted. Look upon your Lord, who, though under no
obligation, denied himself."
"And make not provision for the
flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof."
37. Paul here briefly notices two different provisions for the flesh. One
is supplying its natural wants-furnishing the body with food and raiment
necessary to sustain life and vigor; guarding against enfeebling it and
unfitting it for labor by too much restraint.
38. The other provision is a sinful one, the gratification of the lusts
and inordinate appetites. This Paul here forbids. It is conducive to works
of darkness. The flesh must be restrained and made subservient to the
spirit. It must not dismount its master, but carry him if necessary. Sirach
(ch 33, 24) says: "Fodder, a wand, and burdens are for the ass; and bread,
correction, and work for a servant." He does not say the animal is to be
mistreated or maimed; nor does he say the servant is to be abused or
imprisoned. Thus to the body pertains subjection, labor and whatever is
essential to its proper welfare. Paul says of himself: "I buffet my body,
and bring it into bondage [subjection]." 1 Cor 9, 27. He does not say he
brings his body to illness or death, but makes it serve in submission to the
39. Paul adds this last admonition for the sake of two classes of people.
One class is represented by them who make natural necessity an excuse to
indulge their lusts and gratify their desires. Because of humanity's
proneness to such error, many saints, deploring the sin, have often in the
attempt to resist it, unduly restrained their bodies. So subtle and
deceptive is nature in the matter of its demands and its lusts, no man can
wholly handle it; he must live this life in insecurity and concern.
The other class is represented by the blind saints who imagine the
kingdom of God and his righteousness are dependent upon the particular meat
and drink, clothing and couch, of their own choice. They look no farther
than at their individual work in this respect, and fancy that in fasting
until the brain is disordered, the stomach deranged or the body emaciated,
they have done well. Upon this subject Paul says (I Cor 8, 8): "Food will
not commend us to God; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse; nor, if we
eat, are we the better." Again (Col 2, 18-23): "Let no man rob you of your
prize by a voluntary humility and worshipping of the angels . . . which
things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and
severity to the body; but are not of any value against the indulgence of the
40. Gerson commended the Carthusians for not eating meat, even though
debility made meat a necessity. He would deny it even at the cost of life.
Thus was the great man deceived by this superstitious, angelic spirituality.
What if God judges its votaries as murderers of themselves? Indeed, no
orders, statutes or vows contrary to the command of God can rightfully be
made; and if made they would profit no more than would a vow to break one's
marriage contract. Certainly God has here in the words of Paul forbidden
such destruction of our own bodies. It is our duty to allow the body all
necessary food, whether wine, meat, eggs or anything else; whether the time
be Friday, Sunday, in Lent or after the feast of Easter; regardless of all
orders, traditions and vows, and of the Pope. No prohibition contrary to
God's command can avail, though made by the angels even.
41. This wretched folly of vows has its rise in darkness and blindness;
the looking upon mere works and trusting to be saved by the number and
magnitude of them. Paul would make of works "armor of light," and employ
them to overcome the works of darkness. Thus far, then, and no farther,
should fasting, vigilance and exertion be practiced. Before God it matters
not at all whether you eat fish or meat, drink water or wine, wear red or
green, do this or that. All foods are good creations of God and to be used.
Only take heed to be temperate in appropriating them and to abstain when it
is necessary to the conquest of the works of darkness. It is impossible to
lay down a common rule of abstinence, for all bodies are not constituted
alike. One needs more, another less. Everyone must judge for himself, and
must care for his body according to the advice of Paul: "Make not provision
for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof." Had there been any other rule
for us, Paul would not have omitted it here.
42. Hence, you see, the ecclesiastical traditions that flatly forbid the
eating of meat are contrary to the Gospel. Paul predicts their appearance in
First Timothy 4, 1-3, where he says: "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." That these words have reference to
ecclesiastical orders and those of the entire Papacy, no one can deny. They
are plain. Hence the nature of papistical works is manifest.
43. Also you will note here Paul does not sanction the fanatical devotion
of certain effeminate saints who set apart to themselves particular days for
fasting, as a special service to God, one for this saint, another for that.
These are all blind paths, leading us to base our blessings on works.
Without distinction of days and meats, our lives should be temperate and
sober throughout. If good works are to be our armor of light, and if the
entire life is to be pure and chaste, we must never lay off the arms of
defense, but always be found sober, temperate, vigilant, energetic. These
fanatical saints, however, fast one day on bread and water and then eat and
drink to excess every day for one-fourth of the year. Again, some fast from
food in the evening but drink immoderately. And who can mention all the
folly and works of darkness originating from regarding works for the sake of
the efforts themselves and not for the purpose they serve. Men convert the
armor of good works into a mirror, fasting without knowing the reason for
abstinence. They are like those who bear a sword merely to look at, and when
assailed do not use it. This is enough on today's epistle lesson.