Part I. Concerning Faith
1. Beloved friends, I hope you thoroughly understand this Gospel; for
you are now sufficiently established in the truth to know what we should
expect in the Gospel and what is presented to us there, namely, the true
nature and life of faith. Because of this Christ is pictured and represented
so lovingly in all the Gospel lessons. Although his history and works are
ever changing, yet the plain, simple faith remains the same. Today's Gospel
paints to us the Lord in a way that we may fully know how we should esteem
him, namely, that he is merciful, meek and loving; that he gladly helps
everybody and freely associates and deals with all people. And such a picture
as this faith really craves.
2. Therefore the Scriptures present to us a double picture; one is that
of fear or the overpowering picture of the severe wrath of God, before
which no one can stand, but must despair unless has faith. In contrast
with this the picture of grace is presented to us in order that faith may
behold it and obtain for itself an agreeable and comforting refuge in God,
with the hope that man cannot expect so much from God, that there is not
still much more to be had from him.
3. You have often heard that there are also two kinds of possessions,
spiritual and temporal. Today's Gospel treats of the temporal and bodily
blessings, teaches us the faith of the child, and it is a picture for the
weak, in that they should look to God for everything good and that they
might thus later learn to trust God and depend upon him for spiritual blessings.
For if we are instructed in the Gospel how Christ feeds our stomachs, we
can then conclude that he will also feed and clothe our souls. For if I
cannot trust him to sustain my body, much less can I trust him to sustain
my soul forever. For example, if I cannot trust a person that he will give
me one dollar, how can I trust him that he will give me ten? If I cannot
expect from a person that he will give me a piece of bread; much less could
I have any hope that he would give me a house and yard, and the whole earth.
4. Now, he who cannot, like the babe on its mother's breast, have a
child faith, will hardly hope that God will forgive him his sins and save
his soul forever; for the soul is inexpressibly more than the stomach,
for which also Christ has compassion as the Gospel today proves. Therefore
St. Peter said correctly in 1 Pet. 2:1-3: "Beloved
brethren: Putting away therefore all wickedness, and all guile, and
hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, long
for the spiritual milk which is without guile, that ye may grow thereby
unto Salvation; if ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious." For it is
not enough that a babe should imbibe milk, but it must also grow large
and strong, that it may learn later to eat bread and hard food.
5. But "to feed on milk" means, to taste the favor and the kind grace
of God. "To taste the goodness of God" means, to experience it in ones
life. For should I preach a hundred years of God, how kind, sweet and good
he is, that he condescends to help man, and I have not yet myself tasted
it through experience; thus all is still in vain and no one is in this
way taught to trust God rightly. From this you can conclude what a rare
person a true Christian is. For there are many who say they trust In God
daily bread; but that floats only upon the tongue and hangs in the
ears; it never enters the heart where it belongs.
6. Now let us observe in this example, what the life and nature of faith
are. The apostle in the Epistle to the Hebrews, 11:1, writes thus: "Now
faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen."
That is as much as to say, faith is the means by which one trusts in possessions
he does not see, namely, that I should expect temporal things which I can
neither see nor hear, but I must only hope for them; as in the case in
today's Gospel. There were many people together, about four thousand, who
with their wives and children had had nothing to eat for the space of three
days (I judge that can be called fasting), but were extremely hungry, far
from home, without any provisions on which the body lives. Now the, apostle
says, faith is that through which I hope for things I cannot see. Such
a faith the great multitude of people here has; they see no food and yet
they hope that God will nourish them.
7. Now, what does Christ do in this case? What attitude does he take
to this transaction? He must not have had much tact for he goes to the
disciples and asks, how shall one feed all these? They reply, Oh, who will
be able to feed such a great multitude of people with bread in the wilderness?
But here you see how little human thoughts and faith harmonize; here you
see, the wiser reason is, the less it accomplishes in the works of God.
Therefore Christ asked his disciples that everyone might learn to know
by experience what reason is, and acknowledge how reason and faith in no
way agree. Here we learn to blindfold reason, when we begin to believe,
and then give reason a permanent furlough.
8. Take an example: If I were a man who had a wife and children, and
had nothing for them and no one gave me anything; then I should believe
and hope that God would sustain me. But if I see that it amounts to nothing
and I am not helped with food and clothing, what takes place? Then, as
an unbelieving fool, I begin to doubt, and go and take whatever is at hand,
steal, deceive, cheat the people and make my way the best I can and may.
See this is what shameless unbelief does. But if I am a believer then I
close my eyes and say: 0 God, I am thy creature and thy handiwork and thou
hast from the beginning created me. I will depend entirely upon you who
cares more for me, how I shall be sustained, than I do myself; thou wilt
indeed nourish me, feed, clothe and help me, where and when you know best.
9. Thus, faith is a sure foundation, through which I expect that which
l see not. Therefore, faith must always have sufficient, for before it
should fail the angels would have to come from heaven and dig bread out
of the earth in order that believing persons should be fed. Yes, the heavens
and the earth would have to pass away before God would let his believers
lack clothing and the other necessaries of life. The comforting and powerful
Word of the divine promise requires and demands this. David boasts of this
in Psalm 37:25: "I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen
the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread." And in the verses
just preceding in Psalm 37:18-19 he says: "Jehovah knoweth the days of
the perfect; and their inheritance shall be forever. They shall not be
put to shame in the time of evil; and in the days of famine they shall
10. But when one inquires of reason for counsel it soon says: It is
not possible. Yes, you must wait a long time until roasted ducks fly into
your mouth, for reason sees nothing, grasps nothing, and nothing is present.
Just so the apostles do also here who thought: Yes, who will provide food
for so many, no one is able to do that; but had they seen a great pile
of money and in addition tables laden with bread and meat, they would soon
have discovered good counsel and been able to give good consolation; that
would have gone according to their thinking very reasonably. However, since
they saw nothing they could find no counsel, but held it to be impossible
that one should thus feed so many people, and especially since no provisions
were at hand.
11. We have said enough concerning faith through which we entrust the
stomach to God for his care, and believe that he will not allow us to come
to distress because of the lack of temporal things. Now concerning spiritual
blessings, when we are about to die, I wish also to say: then we will find
and see before our eyes very death, and yet we would gladly wish to live;
then we will see before us very hell, and yet we would gladly wish to possess
heaven; then we will see God's judgment, and yet we would gladly see his
grace; In brief, we will not see a single one of the things we would like
to have. No created thing can help us In the presence of death, hell and
the judgment of God; and if I believe I will say: Yes, faith is the fundamental
principle by which I secure what I do not see; hence, if I believe, nothing
can harm me. Although I see nothing now but death, hell and the judgment
of God before my eyes, yet I must not look at them; but fully trust that
God, by virtue of the power of his promise, not because of my worthiness,
will give me life, salvation and grace. That is cleaving to God by faith
in the right way.
12. This is here beautifully painted in the visible picture of the four
thousand men who hang on God alone through the faith that says: yes, God
will indeed feed us. Had they judged according to reason, they would have
said: Oh, we are so many, we are here in the desert, we have empty and
hungry stomachs; nothing can help our condition. There was nothing of which
they could speak, but they had a good refuge without any human disputing
with God, they commended themselves to him and freely laid all their need
upon him. Then Christ comes before they have any care and before they ask
him to come, and takes all more to heart than they do themselves, and says
to his disciples:
"I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me
now three days and have nothing to eat; and if I send them away fasting
to their homes, they will faint on the way."
13. Behold, what a sympathetic Christ we have, who even provides food
for our poor stomachs. Here new hope is awakened and man is comforted through
the words of Christ; as he says: They lie there and wait for me until the
third day. I must give them also what they need. Here you see that all
who thus faithfully cling to the Word of God will be fed by God himself;
for that is the nature and the power of faith, which flows alone out of
the Word of God.
14. Therefore, beloved friends, let us once make a beginning to believe;
for unbelief is the cause of all sin and vice, which now have taken the
upper hand in all stations of life. How does it come to pass that everywhere
there are so many foolish women and rogues, so many rank imposters, thieves,
robbers, usurers, murderers and sellers of indulgences? It all comes from
unbelief. For such men judge alone according to human reason, and the reason
judges only according to that which it sees; but what it does not see,
it does not wish to lay hold of. Therefore, if it does not place its confidence
in God through faith, then it must despair in itself and develop rogues
and rascals. Observe, thus it comes to pass wherever men permit their reason
to govern them and are not ruled by faith.
Part II. Concerning Love.
15. Now just as you have learned faith, so should we learn love; for
Christ, wishes to set before us a twofold picture, namely, a picture of
faith, that we should not be over anxious; also a picture of love, that,
as he does to us, is anxious about our welfare, feeds us and gives us to
drink and clothes us, only out of free love, not for the sake of his own
advantage or because of our worthiness; so should we also do good unto
our neighbor, freely and gratuitously, out of pure love, by which, as he
is a Christ to you, you should thus also be a Christ to your neighbor.
16. Therefore you see that all the works of the priests, monks and nuns
are vain and cursed; for they are not directed to the end to serve their
neighbors; but only that they may merit much before God through their works.
For true Christian works must be directed entirely and freely to the end
that they be done for the good of our neighbor, only freely given and scattered,
broadcast among the masses; as Christ also did who cast his good deeds
away freely for the people to scramble after, and gave his doctrine, word
and life for the Church. Blessed are they who accept this giving with thanksgiving.
17. I say this only for the reason that you may see how all parts of
the Gospel lessons tend in the direction and will have nothing more, and
God also requires nothing more from us, than that we surrender ourselves
to the service of our neighbor, and accordingly sustain him in the name
of God and in the place of God, do him good and show him a service; for
God does not need our good works as Psalm 50.7-13 says: "Hear, O my people,
and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify unto thee: I am God, even
thy God. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices; and thy burnt-offerings
are continually before me. I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor
he goats out of thy folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, and the
cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains; and
the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell
thee; for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof. Will I eat the flesh
of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?"
18. Just so he says to us also; behold, Israel, that is, thou believing
one, I am thy God and thou art not my God; I will give to you and not you
to me. Hear, Israel, I will not be angry with thee that thou dost not offer
me any sacrifices; for what thou hast in thy barn, house and yard, that
was all mine before it was thine; for I have stored it away there. Here
he spoke very pointedly to the Jews who prided themselves highly on their
sacrifices. Now, since be rejects our offering, what will he then have?
The Psalmist in the verses immediately following says: "Offer unto God
the sacrifice of thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the Most High; and
call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt
glorify me." That means, I wish to have thy heart, rest thou in me and
believe me to be a kind and gracious God, that I am thy God: then you will
have enough. Therefore he says also in the following Psalm, 51:14-19: "Deliver
me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation; and my tongue
shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. O Lord, open thou my lips; and my
mouth shall show forth thy praise. For thou delightest not in sacrifice;
else would I give it: thou has no pleasure in burnt-offering. The sacrifices
of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart , O God, thou wilt
19. In this confidence and hope let thy faith run its course, to acknowledge
God as thy friend, to cleave to him in the greatest need, to flee to him,
and to no one else. Believe it and expect it, then he will help thee, this
thou shouldst not doubt; therefore in harmony with this, thou shouldst
serve thy neighbor freely and gratuitously. These two thoughts are presented
to us in this Gospel.