[The following sermon is taken from volume II:193-214
of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids,
MI). It was originally published in 1906 in English by Lutherans in All
Lands Press (Minneapolis, MN), as The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin
Luther, vol. 11. The original title of this sermon appears below.
This e-text was scanned and edited by Richard Bucher, it is in the public
domain and it may be copied and distributed without restriction.]
I. OF CONFESSION AND THE LORD'S SUPPER IN GENERAL.
1. Although I have often preached and written on the Lord's Supper and
Confession, yet annually the time appointed for the consideration of these
subjects, for the sake of those who desire to commune, returns, and so
we must review them in a summary and speak of them once more.
2. In the first place, I have often enough said that Christians are
not obliged to commune on this particular festive day, but that they have
the right and authority to come whenever they desire; for God established
the office of the ministers for the purpose that they might at all times
serve the people and provide them with God's Word and the Sacraments. Therefore
it is unchristian to force people under pain of committing mortal sin to
commune just at this time; as has been done heretofore, and is still done
in many places. For it is not and can not be in keeping with the Lord's
Supper to force or compel any one to partake of it; on the contrary, it
is intended only for a hungry soul that compels itself and rejoices in
being permitted to come; those who must be driven are not desired.
3. Therefore, until the present the devil has ruled with unrestrained
power and authority through the pope, compelling him to drive and force
the whole world to commune; and in fact, everybody did come running, like
swine, because of the pope's command. In this way so much dishonor and
shame have been brought upon the Lord's Supper, and the world has been
so filled with sin that one is moved with compassion to think of it. But
since we know these things we ought to let no command bind us, but to hold
fast the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. I say this for the
sake of those will not commune except at this time of the year, and who
come only because of the custom and the common practice. There is, to be
sure, no harm in coming at this Easter-festival, if only the conscience
be free and not bound to the time, and is properly prepared to receive
the Lord's Supper.
II. OF CONFESSION.
4. In the second place, we must say the same thing concerning Confession.
First of all we know that the Scriptures speak of three kinds of confession.
The first is that which is made to God, of which the prophet David speaks
in Ps 32, 5: "I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and my iniquity did I not
hide: I said, I will confess my transgressions unto Jehovah; and thou forgavest
the iniquity of my sin." Likewise, in the preceding third verse David says:
"When I kept silence, my bones wasted away as with the drought of summer;"
that is, before God no one is able to stand unless he come with this confession,
as Ps 130, 4 declares: "But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest
be feared;" that is, whoever would deal with thee must deal so that this
confession proceeds from his heart, which says: Lord, if thou be not merciful
all is lost, no matter how pious I may be. Every saint must make this confession,
as again we read in the Psalm mentioned, verse 6, "For this let everyone
that is godly pray unto thee."
Therefore, this kind of confession teaches us that we are all alike
wicked and sinners, as the saying is, If one of us is good, all of us are
good. If anyone have special grace, let him thank God and refrain from
boasting. Has anyone fallen into sin, it is because of his flesh and blood;
nor has any fallen so low but that another who now stands may fall even
lower. Therefore, as far as we are concerned, there is no difference among
us, the grace of God alone is dividing us.
5. This kind of confession is so highly necessary that it dare not cease
for a moment, but must constitute the entire life of a Christian, so that
without ceasing he praise the grace of God and reproach his own life in
the eyes of God. Otherwise, if he dare to plead some good work or a good
life before God, his judgment, which can tolerate nothing of the kind,
would follow; and no one is able to stand before it. Therefore, this kind
of confession must be made, that you may condemn yourself as worthy of
death and the fire of hell; thus you will anticipate God so that he will
not be able to judge and condemn you, but must show you mercy. Concerning
this kind of confession, however, we will not speak at this time.
6. The second kind of confession is that made to our neighbor, and is
called the confession springing from love, as the other is called the confession
springing from faith. Concerning this kind of confession we read in Ja
5, 16: "Confess therefore your sins one to another." In this confession,
whenever we have wronged our neighbor, we are to acknowledge our fault
to him, as Christ declares in Mt 5, 23-25: "If therefore thou art offering
thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught
against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first
be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with
thine adversary quickly, while thou art with him in the way etc." God here
requires of both parties that he who hath offended the other ask forgiveness,
and that he who is asked grant it. This kind of confession, like the former,
is necessary and commanded; for God will be merciful to no one, nor forgive
his sins, unless he also forgive his neighbor. In like manner, faith cannot
be true unless it produce this fruit, that you forgive your neighbor, and
that you ask for forgiveness; otherwise a man dare not appear before God.
If this fruit is absent, faith and the first kind of confession are not
7. The third kind of confession is that ordered by the pope, which is
privately spoken into the ears of the priest when sins are enumerated.
This confession is not commanded by God; the pope, however, has forced
the people to it and, in addition, has invented so many kinds and varieties
of sin that no one is able to keep them in mind; thus consciences have
been troubled and tortured in a manner that is pitiful and distressing.
Concerning this, however, we will say that God does not force you to confess
by faith to him, or by love to your neighbor, when you have no desire to
be saved and to receive his grace. Neither does he want you to make confession
against your will and desire; on the contrary, he wants you to confess
of your own accord, heartily, with love and pleasure. In like manner, he
does not compel you to make a private confession to the priest when you
have no desire of your own to do so, and do not long for absolution.
This the pope disregarded, and proceeded as though it were a part of
the civil government requiring that force be employed; he did not inquire
whether a person felt willing or not, but he simply issued the order, that
whosoever does not confess at this time shall not have burial in the cemetery.
But God cares not whether a thing is done or not, as long as it is not
done with pleasure. It is better, therefore, to postpone a duty than to
perform it unwillingly. For no one can come to God unless he come gladly
and of his own free will; hence, no one can compel you to come. If you
come because of the command and in order to show obedience to the pope,
you do wrong. Yet it is the custom in the whole world that everybody runs
to the Lord's Supper solely because it is commanded; hence this is very
properly called the week of torture, since in it the consciences of the
people are tortured and tormented so that they are really to be pitied,
besides the injury and destruction of souls. Moreover, Christ himself is
also tortured far more shamefully than when he hung upon the cross. Therefore,
we may well lift up our hands and thank God for giving us such light. For
although we do not bear much fruit and amend, still we have the right knowledge.
Hence, it is much better to stay away from confession and communion than
to go unwillingly: then at least our consciences remain untortured.
8. Hence we say of private confession, that no one is compelled to observe
it. Still it is for this reason a commendable and good thing. Wherever
and whenever you are able to hear God's Word you ought not to despise it,
but receive it with heartfelt desire. Now, God has caused his Word to go
forth through all the world, so that it fills every nook and corner, and
wherever you go you find God's Word. If I preach the forgiveness of sins,
I preach the true Gospel. For the sum of the Gospel is: Whosoever believeth
in Christ shall receive the forgiveness of his sins. Thus a Christian preacher
cannot open his mouth unless he pronounces an absolution. Christ also does
the same in the Gospel lesson when he says, "Pax vobiscum," Peace be unto
you. That is, I proclaim unto you, as of God, that you have peace and forgiveness
of sins; this is even the Gospel itself, and absolution. So also the words
of the Lord's Supper, "This is my body which is given for you; this is
my blood which is shed for you for the remission of sins etc." If I were
to say, I will not go to confession because I have the Word in the Lord's
Supper, I will be like him who declares, Neither am I going to hear the
preaching. The Gospel must ring and echo without ceasing in every Christian's
mouth. Therefore we are to accept it with joy wherever and whenever we
can hear it, lift up our hands, and thank God that we can hear it everywhere.
9. Therefore, when you go to private confession give more heed to the
priest's word than to your own confessing; and make this distinction, What
you say is one thing, and what he says who hears you is another. Do not
place much value on what you do, but give heed to what he says, to wit,
that in God's stead he proclaims to you the forgiveness of sins. It makes
no difference whatever whether he be a priest, called to preach, or merely
a Christian. The word which he speaks is not his, but God's Word; and God
will keep it as surely as if he had spoken it. This is the way he has placed
his holy Word into every corner of the world. Since, therefore, we find
it everywhere, we ought to receive it with great thankfulness, and not
cast it to the winds.
10. For in Confession as in the Lord's Supper you have the additional
advantage, that the Word is applied to your person alone. For in preaching
it flies out into the whole congregation, and although it strikes you also,
yet you are not so sure of it; but here it does not apply to anyone except
to you. Ought it not to fill your heart with joy to know a place where
God is ready to speak to you personally? Yea, if we had a chance to hear
an angel speak we would surely run to the ends of the earth. Are we not
then foolish, wretched and ungrateful people not to listen to what is told
us? Here the Scriptures stand, and testify that God speaks through us,
and that this is as valid as though he were to speak it with his own mouth;
even as Christ declares in Mt 18, 20, "Where two or three are gathered
together in my name, there am I in the midst of them;" again in Jn 20,23,
"Whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whose soever
sins ye retain, they are retained." Here God himself pronounces the absolution,
just as he himself baptizes the child; and do you say we don't need Confession?
For although you hear the same thing in the Lord's Supper you ought not
on that account to reject it, especially since it applies to you, as already
11. Besides this you have another advantage, in Confession you are enabled
to disclose all your failings, and to obtain counsel regarding them. And
if there were no other reason, and God did not himself speak in Confession,
I would not willingly give it up for this one reason, that here I am permitted
to open my heart to my brother and tell him what troubles me. For it is
a deplorable thing to have the conscience burdened and prostrate with fear,
and to know neither counsel nor consolation.
This is why it is such an excellent and comforting thing for two to
come together, and the one to offer advice, help and consolation to the
other, proceeding in a fine brotherly and affectionate manner. The one
reveals his ailment; whereupon the other heals his wounds. Therefore I
would not give Confession up for all the treasure of the world. Still it
dare not be made a command, lest it be turned into a matter of conscience,
as though a person would not dare to commune without first making confession;
nevertheless, we ought never to despise Confession, you cannot hear God's
Word too frequently, nor impress it so deeply upon your heart that it could
not be done still better.
12. Therefore I said that confession and absolution must be carefully
distinguished from each other, that you give attention chiefly to the absolution,
and that you attend confession not because of the command, or in order
to do a good work by your confessing, thinking that because of this good
work your sins are forgiven; on the contrary, we are to go only because
we there hear God's Word and by it receive consolation. To this incline
your ears, and be persuaded that God speaks through men and forgives you
your sins; this, of course, requires faith.
Hitherto the manner of our Confession was as follows: when people were
absolved so many works were required of them as to render satisfaction
for their sins. This was called absolving, whereas in truth it meant binding
worse than ever. Sins ought to be completely removed by the absolution;
but they first imposed the task of rendering satisfaction for them, and
thus force people away from faith and absolution, and induce them to rely
upon their own works.
They should be taught thus, Behold, this word which I speak to you in
God's stead you must embrace in true faith. If you have not this faith
postpone your confession; yet this does not mean that when your faith is
too weak you are not to come and demand consolation and strength. If you
cannot believe, tell the brother to whom you would confess of it, and say
to him, I do indeed feel that I have need of confession and absolution,
but I find I am too cold and too weak in faith. For to whom are you going
to confide your weakness if not to God? And where can you find him except
in your brother? He can strengthen and help you by his words. This is confessing
in the right way; and would to God the whole world were brought far enough
at least for everyone to confess that he cannot believe.
13. Let it be said now concerning Confession that everything ought to
be free, so that each person attends without constraint, of his own accord.
But what ought one to confess? Here is where our preachers in the past
have pounded a great deal into us by means of the five senses, the seven
deadly sins, the ten commandments, etc., thereby perplexing our consciences.
But it should be, that you first of all feel that which weighs you down,
and the sins that pain you most and burden your conscience you ought to
declare and confess to your brother. Then you need not search long nor
seek all kinds of sins; just take the ones that come to your mind, and
say, This is how frail I am and how I have fallen; this is where I crave
consolation and counsel. For confession ought to be brief. If you recall
something that you have forgotten, it is not to trouble you; for you confessed
not in order to do a good work, or because you were compelled, but in order
to be comforted by the word of absolution. Moreover, you can easily confess
to God in secret what was forgotten, or you can hear the absolution for
it during the communion service.
We are therefore not to worry even if sins have been forgotten; though
forgotten they are still forgiven; for God looks, not to the excellence
or completeness of your confession, but to his Word and how you believe
it. So also the absolution does not state that some sins are forgiven and
others not; on the contrary, it is a free proclamation declaring that God
is merciful to you. But it God is merciful to you all your sins must be
blotted out. Therefore, hold fast to the absolution alone and not to your
confession; whether or not you have forgotten anything makes no difference;
as much as you believe so much are you forgiven. This is the way we must
ever trust in God's Word in spite of sin and an evil conscience.
III. OF THE LORD'S SUPPER.
14. In the third place we must speak of the Lord's Supper. We said above
that no one should be compelled to commune at any special time, but that
this should be left free. It remains for us to speak of the two elements
in the Lord's Supper. I have already said that among us one element alone
is not to be offered to the communicant; he who wants the Lord's Supper
should receive the whole of it. For we have preached and practiced this
long enough and cannot assume that there should be anyone unable to understand
it; yet if there be one so dense, or claiming to be so weak that he cannot
grasp the true meaning of it, we will excuse him; it is just as well that
he remains away. For anyone to hear God's Word so long, to have himself
coddled like a child, and after all to continue saying, I do not understand,
is no good sign. For it is impossible for you to hear so long and still
be unenlightened; since then you remain blind it is better for you not
to receive the Lord's Supper. If you cannot grasp the Word that is bright,
clear and certain, you need not grasp the sacrament; for the sacrament
would be nothing if there were no Word.
Moreover, this Word has now resounded again and again throughout the
whole world, so that even they who oppose it know it. These, however, are
not weak but obdurate and hardened; they set their heads against the doctrine
they hear us prove from the Scriptures with such clearness that they are
unable to reply or establish the contrary; yet they simply remain in the
Romish Church and try to force us to follow them. Therefore, it is out
of the question for us any longer to yield or to endure them, since they
defy us and maintain as their right what they teach and practice. Hence
we wish to receive both elements in the Lord's Supper, just because they
wish to prevent us from having them. The thought of causing offense no
longer applies to those people.
But if there were a locality where the Gospel had not been heard, it
would be proper and Christian to adapt one's self for a time to those who
are weak; as also we did in the beginning when our cause was entirely new.
Now, however, since so much opposition is offered, and so many efforts
at violent suppression are made, forbearance is out of the question.
15. It is, moreover, a fine example of God's providential ruling and
guidance that the Lord's Supper is not devoid of persecution, for in instituting
it he intended it to be a token and mark whereby we might be identified
as Christians. For if we were without it, it would be impossible to tell
where to find Christians, and who are Christians, and where the Gospel
has borne fruit. But when we go to the Lord's Supper people can see who
they are that have heard the Gospel; moreover, they can observe whether
we lead Christian lives. So this is a distinctive mark whereby we are recognized,
whereby we also confess the name of God and show that we are not ashamed
of his Word.
When now the pope sees me going to the Lord's Supper and receiving both
elements, the bread and the wine, according to the Gospel, it is a testimony
that I am determined to cling to the Gospel. If then he grows angry and
endeavors to slay me, it is just as it was in the early days of Christianity
when the Christians confessed God in the same way by this token of the
Lord's Supper. Our bishops have forbidden both elements as contrary to
God's ordinance and command. If now we mean to confess Christ we must receive
both elements, so that people may know that we are Christians and abide
by the Word of God. If for this cause they slay us we ought to bear it,
knowing that God will abundantly restore life to us again. Hence it is
proper for us to suffer persecution on this account; otherwise, if everything
were to go smoothly, there would be no real confession. In this way we
remain in the right state, always expecting shame and disgrace, yea, even
death for the Lord's sake, as it was in the ancient church.
16. Furthermore, I said it is not enough to go to the Lord's Supper,
unless you are assured and know a defense to which you can refer as the
foundation and reason that you do right in going; in order that you may
be armed when attacked, and able to defend yourself with the Word of God
against the devil and the world. On this account you dare not commune on
the strength of another's faith; for you must believe for yourself, even
as I must, just as you must defend yourself as well as I must defend myself.
Therefore, above all you must know the words Christ used in instituting
the Lord's Supper. They are these:
"Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which he was betrayed, took
bread; and when he had given thanks. he broke it and gave it to his disciples
and said, Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you: this do in
remembrance of me."
"After the same manner also he took the cap, when he had supped, gave
thanks and gave it to them, saying: Take, drink ye all of it; this cup
is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the remission
of sins: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me."
17. These are the words which neither our opponents nor Satan are able
to deny, on them we must stand. Let them make whatever comments they please;
we have the clear Word of God, saying, the bread is Christ's body given
for us; and the cup his blood shed for us. This he bids us do in remembrance
of him; but the pope commands that it be not done.
Well, they say, we are only erring laymen, we do not understand, nor
are we able to explain the words. But we reply: it is for us to explain
just as much as it is for them; for we are commanded to believe in Christ,
to confess our faith, and to keep all the commandments of God, just as
well as they are. For we have the same God they claim to have. How then
are we to believe without knowing and understanding his Word? Since I am
commanded to believe I must know the words I am to believe; for how can
I believe without the words? Moreover, it is my duty to stand firm, and
I must know how to defend myself and how to refute the arguments to the
contrary. This is how you can stop their mouths and bring them to silence.
My faith must be as good as yours, therefore I must have and must know
the Word as well as you. For example the Evangelist here says, "Jesus took
the cup and gave it to his disciples, saying, Drink ye all of it; this
is my blood of the New Testament which is shed for you," etc. These words
are certainly clear enough; and there is no one so stupid that he cannot
understand what is meant by, "Take, drink ye all of it; this is the cup
of the New Testament in my blood" etc. Therefore we reply, Unless they
prove to us that drinking here signifies something different from what
all the world understands by the term, we shall stick to the interpretation,
that we are all to drink of the cup. Let them bring forward what they please,
custom or councils, we reply, God is older and greater than all things.
18. Likewise, the words are clear, "This do in remembrance of me." Tell
me, who is to remember the Lord? Is this said to the priests alone, and
not to all Christians? And to remember the Lord, what is that but to preach
him and to confess him? Now if we are all to remember the Lord in his Supper
we must certainly be permitted to receive both elements, to eat the bread
and to drink the cup; this surely no one can deny. Therefore, there is
no use for you to cover up these words and tell us that we are not to know
them. If we are not to know them, what are you here for? You claim to be
a shepherd, and therefore you ought to be here to teach these words and
preach them to me, and now by your own rotten defense you are forced to
confess your own shame and bite your own tongue, having so shamefully spoken
in contradiction of the truth.
19. Thus you see how we are to understand the words of the institution
of the Lord's Supper and firmly hold to them; for in them all the virtue
is centered, we all must know them, understand them, and cling to them
in faith, so as to be able to defend ourselves and to repulse the foe.
When you wish to go to the Lord's Supper listen to the words spoken, and
be assured that they contain the whole treasure on which you are to stand
and rely, for they are really spoken to you. My body is given, my blood
is shed, Christ declares. Why? Just for you to eat and drink? No; but for
the remission of sins. This is what strikes you; and everything else that
is done and said has no other purpose than that your sins may be forgiven.
But if it is to serve for the forgiveness of sins, it must be able also
to overcome death. For where sin is gone, there death is gone, and hell
besides; where these are gone, all sorrow is gone and all blessedness has
Therefore, you must act so that the words mean you. This will be when
you feel the sting and terror of your sin, the assault of the flesh, the
world, and the devil. At one time you are angry and impatient; at another
you are assailed by the love of money and the cares of life, etc.; so that
you are constantly attacked, and at times even gross sins arise, and you
fall and injure your soul. Thus you are a poor and wretched creature, afraid
of death, despondent, and unable to be happy. Then it is time, and you
have reason enough to go, make confession, and confide your distress to
God, saying, Lord, thou has instituted and left us the sacrament of thy
body and blood that in it we may find the forgiveness of sin. I now feel
that I need it. I have fallen into sin. I am full of fear and despair.
I am not bold to confess thy Word. I have all these failings, and these.
Therefore, I come now that thou mayest heal, comfort, and strengthen me
21. For this reason I made the statement that the Lord' Supper is to
be given only to him who is able to say that this is his condition; that
is, he must state what troubles him, and must long to obtain strength and
consolation by means of the Word and the symbol. Let him who is unable
to use the Lord's Supper in this way remain away, nor let him do like those
who wretchedly torture themselves at this time, when they come to the sacrament,
and have no idea what they are doing.
Now when you receive the Lord's Supper, go forth and exercise your faith.
The sacrament serves to the end that you may be able to say, I have the
public declaration that my sins are forgiven; besides my mouth has received
the public symbol, this I can testify, as also I have testified before
the devil and all the world. When death now and an evil conscience assail
you, you can rely on this and defy the devil and sin, and thus strengthen
your faith and gladden your conscience towards God, and amend your life
day by day, where otherwise you would be slothful and cold, and the longer
you remained away the more unfit you would be. But if you feel that you
are unfit, weak and lacking, where will you obtain strength here? Do you
mean to wait until you have grown pure and strong, then indeed you will
never come and you will never obtain any benefit from the holy communion.
22. This is the right use of the Lord's Supper, serving not to torture,
but to comfort and gladden the conscience. For by instituting it for us,
God did not intend it to be poison and torture to frighten us; this is
what we made of it by our false doctrine, when we imagined we were to bring
the offering of our piety to God, and hid the words that were to give comfort
and salvation, strengthen our consciences, refresh, gladden and free them
from every distress. This is the meaning of the Lord's Supper, and we are
to look upon it only as containing sweet grace, consolation, and life.
It is poison and death to those who approach it with insolence, who feel
no weakness, frailty, or distress to impel them, who act as if they were
pure and pious from the start. The Lord's Supper welcomes those who perceive
their frailties and feel that they are not pious, yet would like to be.
Thus it all depends on this feeling, for we are all frail and sinful, only
we do not all confess it.
23. Let this suffice on how we ought to prepare ourselves to receive
the communion and conduct ourselves toward it, namely, that we are to exercise
and strengthen our faith by the words of the institution of the Supper
which say that Christ's body and blood are given and shed for the remission
of sins. These words sufficiently show the benefit, fruit and use of the
Lord's Supper as far as partaking of it for ourselves is concerned.
But the second thought springing from the first is Christian love, and
this also deserves attention. It is our duty to let the benefit and fruit
of the Lord's Supper become manifest, and we ought to show that we have
received it with profit. We at present see it received throughout all the
world in so many celebrations of the mass, but where do you see the least
fruit following from it?
24. Now this is the fruit, that even as we have eaten and drunk the
body and blood of Christ the Lord, we in turn permit ourselves to be eaten
and drunk, and say the same words to our neighbor, Take, eat and drink;
and this by no means in jest, but in all seriousness, meaning to offer
yourself with all your life, even as Christ did with all that he had, in
the sacramental words. As if to say, Here am I myself, given for you, and
this treasure do I give to you; what I have you shall have; when you are
in want, then will I also be in want; here, take my righteousness, life,
and salvation, that neither sin, nor death, nor hell, nor any sorrow may
overcome you; as long as I am righteous and alive, so long shall you also
be righteous and alive.
These are the words he speaks to us; these we must take, and repeat
them to our neighbor, not by the mouth alone, but by our actions, saying,
Behold, my dear brother, I have received my Lord; he is mine, and I have
more than enough and great abundance. Now you take what I have, it shall
be yours, and I place it at your disposal. Is it necessary for me to die
for you, I will even do that. The goal placed before us in the Lord's Supper
is that the attainment of such conduct toward our neighbor may appear in
25. Of course, it is true, we will not become so perfect that one places
his soul and body, goods and honor at the disposal of the other. We still
live in the flesh, and this is so deeply rooted in us that we are unable
to furnish this symbol and evidence as perfectly as we should. On account
of these our shortcomings Christ has instituted the Lord's Supper for our
training, that here we may obtain what we lack. For what will you do when
you miss in yourself what we have described? You must even come and tell
him, Behold, this is what I need. Thou dost give thyself to me so richly
and abundantly, but I am unable to do likewise toward my neighbor; this
I lament before thee, and I pray thee, let me grow rich and strong enough
to accomplish it. Though it is impossible for us to reach such perfection,
we are nevertheless to sigh for it, and not to despair when we fall short,
only so the desire to obtain it continue in our hearts.
26. Yet the least part of love and devotion is not the sacrifice of
my pride. I can indeed give my neighbor temporal goods and bodily service
by my efforts and labor; I can also render him service by offering instruction
and intercession; likewise I can visit and comfort him when he is sick
and in sorrow, feed him when hungry, loose him when bound, etc. But to
bear my neighbor's weakness is far greater than all these. Yet with us
the trouble will always be that we will not be able to do it as perfectly
as Christ did. He is the bright, radiant sun without a single shadow, whereas
our light, compared with this sun, is only a gleaming bit of lighted straw.
Yonder a glowing oven full of fire and perfect love; and he is satisfied
if we light only a little taper and endeavor somewhat to let love shine
forth and burn.
This is the shortcoming we all see and feel in each other. But never
let anyone conclude and say, This is not Christ. On the contrary, see what
he did in the Gospel story when so often he suffered his disciples to stray
and stumble, making his wisdom yield and serve their folly. He condemns
them not, but endures their weakness and tells them in Jn 13,7-33: "Whither
I go, ye cannot come." Likewise, to Peter, "What I do, thou knowest not
now." By such love he abandons his righteousness, judgment, power, vengeance,
and punishment, and his authority over us and our sins. He could indeed
condemn us for our folly, but all he does is to say, You do wrong, you
do not know; yet casts us not away, but comforts us. Therefore I said,
it is no small evidence of love to be able to bear with one's neighbor
when he is weak in faith or in love.
27. On the other hand, Christ dealing so kindly with his disciples is
no permission for us to approve of human weaknesses or of sin. For later
he tells Peter, "What I do thou shalt understand hereafter." Here he merely
gives his weakness time and bears with it. It is as though he said, I will
bear with your ignorance and weak faith for your sake and will spare you
as long as you understand that you must do better, and intend to later
on; not that you may grow idle and secure.
28. Therefore, when we have received the Lord's Supper we must not allow
ourselves to become indolent, but must be diligent and attentive to increase
in love, aid our neighbor in distress, and lend him a helping hand when
he suffers affliction and requires assistance. When you fail to do this
you are not a Christian, or only a weak Christian, though you boast of
having received the Lord and all that he is, in the Lord's Supper.
29. If, however, you would be sure of partaking profitably of the Lord's
Supper, there is no better way than to observe your conduct toward your
neighbor. You need not reflect on the great devoutness you experienced,
or on the sweetness of the words in your heart. These indeed are good thoughts,
but they will not give you assurance, they may deceive you. However, you
will be sure as to whether the sacrament is efficacious in your heart,
if you watch your conduct toward your neighbor. If you discover that the
words and the symbol soften and move you to be friendly to your enemy,
to take an interest in your neighbor's welfare, and to help him bear his
suffering and affliction, then it is well.
On the other hand, if you do not find it so, you continue uncertain
even if you were to commune a hundred times a day with devotions so great
as to move you to tears for very joy; for wonderful devotions like this,
very sweet to experience, yet as dangerous as sweet, amount to nothing
before God. Therefore we must above all be certain for ourselves, as Peter
writes in 2 Pet. 1, 10, "Give the more diligence to make your calling and
election sure." The Word and the sacrament are indeed certain in themselves;
for God himself, together with all the angels and saints, testify to this;
the question is in regard to yourself whether you furnish the same testimony.
Therefore, even if all the angels and the whole world were to testify that
you had received the Lord's Supper profitably, it would be weaker testimony
than that furnished by yourself. This you cannot reach unless you consider
your conduct whether it shines forth, works in you, and bears fruit.
30. Now when fruit fails to appear, when you feel that constantly you
remain just as you were, and when you care nothing for your neighbor, then
you have reason to take a different attitude in these things; for this
is no good sign. Even Peter had to hear the same who was godly and ready
to die and to do wonderful deeds for Christ. What then will you do? If
you still experience evil desires, anger, impatience etc., you are again
in trouble and that should urge and impel you to go to Christ and lay it
before him, saying. I partake of the Lord's Supper, still I remain as I
was, without fruit. I have received the great treasure, yet it remains
inactive and dormant within me: This I lament before thee., As thou hast
bestowed this treasure upon me, grant now that it may also produce fruit
and a new life within me, manifesting themselves toward my neighbor. Now
when you begin a little to prove this, you will continually grow stronger
and break forth in good deeds to your neighbor more from day to day.
31. For this life is nothing more than a life of faith, of love, and
of sanctified affliction. But these three will never be perfect in us while
we live here on earth, and no one possesses them in perfection except Christ.
He is the sun and is set for our example, which we must imitate. For this
reason there will always be found among us some that are weak, others that
are strong, and again some that are stronger; these are able to suffer
less, those more; and so they must all continue in the imitation of Christ.
For this life is a constant progress from faith to faith, from love to
love, from patience to patience, and from affliction to affliction. It
is not righteousness, but justification; not purity, but purification;
we have not yet arrived at our destination, but we are all on the road,
and some are farther advanced than others. God is satisfied to find us
busy at work and full of determination. When he is ready he will come quickly,
strengthen faith and love, and in an instant take us from this life to
heaven. But while we live on earth we must bear with one another, as Christ
also bore with us, seeing that none of us is perfect.
32. Christ has shown this to us not only by his own example and by his
Word, but he has also pictured it to us in the form of the Sacrament of
the Altar, namely, by means of the bread and the wine. We believe that
the true body and blood of Christ is under the bread and wine, even as
it is. Here we see one thing and believe another, which describes faith.
For when we hear the Word and receive the Lord's Supper we have merely
a word and an act, yet by it we embrace life and every treasure, even God
himself. Likewise love is pictured in these signs and elements. First of
all in the bread. For as long as the grains of wheat are in a pile before
they are ground, each is a body separate for itself, and is not mingled
with the others; but when they are ground they all become one body. The
same thing takes place with the wine. As long as the berries are not crushed
each retains its own form, but when they are crushed they all flow together
and become one drink. You cannot say, this is the flour from this grain,
or this is a drop from that berry; for each has entered the form of the
other, and thus was formed one bread and one drink.
This is the interpretation of St. Paul in 1 Cor 10, 17: "Seeing that
we, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we all partake of the one
bread." We eat the Lord by the faith of the Word which the soul consumes
and enjoys. In this way my neighbor also eats me: I give him my goods,
body, and life and all that I have, and let him consume and use it in his
want. Likewise, I also need my neighbor; I too am poor and afflicted, and
suffer him to help and serve me in turn. Thus we are woven one into the
other, helping one another even as Christ helped us. This is what it means
spiritually to eat and drink one another.
33. Let me say now in conclusion in regard to the Lord's Supper that
when we have received it we ought to give heed to love, and in this way
assure ourselves that we have received the sacrament profitably, and at
the same time furnish evidence to others; so that we may not always come
and still continue unchanged. Therefore, as I said, we must turn from our
devotions and thoughts to our conduct toward our neighbor, and examine
ourselves in this mirror with all seriousness. The sacrament is to act
upon us so that we may be transformed and become different people. For
God's word and work do not intend to be idle, but are bound to produce
great things, to wit, set us free from sin, death, and the devil, and every
kind of fear, and make us servants even of the least among men on earth,
and this without the slightest complaint on our part, rejoicing rather
to find someone in need of our help, and fearing only lest after receiving
so much we may not apply it all.
34. Whenever the Lord's Supper fails to produce this result there is
reason to fear it has wrought injury. Nevertheless, even if the result
is not great, we are not to reject those that are imperfect and weak, but
those that are indolent and insolent, who imagine they have done enough
when they have partaken of the sacrament. A change must take place in you,
and there must be evidence of it, then you will be able to perceive through
the symbol that God is with you, and your faith will grow sure and strong.
For you can easily feel whether you have grown more joyous and bold than
you were before. Formerly the world seemed too narrow for us when we heard
of death and thought of sin. If now we feel different it is not because
of our own strength, for in the past we could not get so far, although
we put forth greater exertions and endeavored to help ourselves by means
of works. Likewise, you can feel whether you are kind to him who injured
you, and whether you are merciful to him who is sick. Thus you can discover,
whether the Lord's Supper is producing any fruit through your own life.
If you experience nothing, go to God and tell him of your shortcomings
and troubles; we all must do the same thing as long as we live, for, as
we have said, not one of us is perfect. For the present let this suffice
on this subject.