I. THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST
1. My friends in Christ, as we hear and enjoy this Gospel every year,
I hope you also understand it, and know what it teaches us, and may God
grant that the right life may also follow this knowledge! For the greater
part of the Gospel we hear only with the ear, and we know it, but do not
live according to it, whereas it should be so taught that few words and
nothing but life would be the result. But what shall we do for it? We can
do no more than preach it and no further raise it and carry it, we must
preach and urge it until God comes and gives us his grace to the end that
our words be few and that life may spring forth and grow. The first theme
here offered us is the Gospel when Christ says:
"Son, be of good cheer; thy sins are forgiven."
2. These words show and contain in brief what the kingdom of Christ
is, namely, this sweet voice, these motherly and fatherly words penetrating
our inmost soul: "Thy sins are forgiven." In no other sense are we to view
the kingdom of Christ, so far as it is understood, than how we are to live
before God. As you, beloved, well know that our highest duty is rightly
to establish the conscience that we may know how we stand before God and
our neighbor. Therefore we must also hold fast to these words and become
accustomed to the expression: "Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven",
and like sayings of which the Gospel is full.
3. From this it follows that the kingdom of Christ is realized where
nothing but comfort and the forgiveness of sins reign not only in words
to proclaim it, which is also necessary; but also in deed, as we shall
see in this example. For he did not only speak these words into the ear
of this sick man; but he also forgave his sins and comforted him. This
knowledge is proper for us Christians to know. It is indeed easily and
quickly said and heard; but when it comes to the test the light is early
extinguished, and satan soon leads us astray; as you here observe that
the scribes undertake to destroy this knowledge. I have before often said
and will always say, that you should beware and properly learn the character
and nature of the kingdom of Christ. For you know how reason is inclined
in its every movement to fall from faith and from this knowledge to works.
But here you see no works at all, no merit, here there is neither command
nor law; there is nothing more than the offering of Christ's assistance,
his comfort and his grace, only kindness meets the man sick of the palsy.
4. Therefore, if the kingdom of Christ is to grow, we must keep out
of it with the law, and not be busy with works; for it is not in harmony
with it to say: Go out and run hither and thither and atone for your sins;
you must observe and do this and that, if you will be free from sin; but
directly without any work and law, out of pure grace, your sins are forgiven.
Therefore, it is beyond the sphere of the kingdom of Christ to urge the
people with the law.
5. But we receive such things only with the ear and on the tongue, and
it enters not into the depth of the heart; for sin at all times still hangs
about our necks, it clings firmly to us, as St. Paul speaks of this in
Romans, 7, 18-19, and Heb. 12, 1. But in death we will experience it. Of
this class are at present our fanatics who boast of the Holy Spirit, and
pretend they would do better, some of whom are also in our midst, listen
to us and contend that it is not enough for us to preach only faith and
love. Yea, they say, You must do better and climb much higher. How high
then must I climb? You must destroy pictures, you must kill the ungodly,
and do whatever they propose. This filth now enters nearly every community
where the Gospel has just been planted. These tares of satan will also
come to us, as I have often warned you. Take heed that you remain sound
in your knowledge, in the true doctrine of Christ, for this knowledge and
light is soon lost.
6. Thus I say, my friends, and would beseech you not to esteem that
spirit great who proposes to you any kind of work, call it what you may,
even if it would raise the dead, which they have not yet been able to do.
And how is it that they say: we must kill the godless! Even if Moses commanded
it that you must really do it, what sort of Christians are you then? But
by this you shall truly experience which spirits are of God. and which
are not. For if you give me a work to do, it is not the Holy Spirit who
does it; but he goes and first brings me the grace of Christ, and then
leads me to works. For thus he speaks: Thy sins are forgiven, be of good
cheer, and the like. He does not first insist on works, but first leads
up to God through his sweet Word and grace, and does not immediately refer
you to do some work; but later you will find works enough to do unto your
7. But the fanatics soon torment us with works, and profess to have
a nobler spirit; they urge and insist upon our doing something first of
all, and permit faith and love to be overlooked. This of course is not
of the Holy Spirit. Christ first takes possession of the conscience, and
when it is right in faith toward God, then he also directs us to do works
toward our neighbor. But he first highly extols faith and keeps works in
the background. This they cannot understand. I would forgive them everything,
if they would only not patch and mend their good works, to which they trust
their existence, honor and fame. I would not care about their destroying
all pictures, and melting cups and bells into one mass; but that they should
make a matter of conscience out of it for those who do not destroy pictures,
just as though the Holy Spirit or faith were not present unless this work
8. I say this: Even if it were a work which God at this present hour
commanded, I would not so insist upon it and condemn those who do not immediately
obey it; and would find him some kind of protection, as that he is yet
perhaps weak, and thus spread over him the kingdom of grace. Let us be
conscious of the fact that the work among them is directed to God, and
not toward our neighbor. They make their works a necessity and say: If
you do this, then you are a Christian; if you will not do it, you are no
Christian. Where this or that is done there are Christians. And the fame
follows their work, that they want to be esteemed better than others. Now
you have the true light, therefore be warned. Prove the spirits. We do
not wish to prefer ourselves, as these persons do; but we boast in this,
that we hear the Word, "Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven."
I know that I have a gracious God; but these spirits cannot do this. Therefore
it is a mere devilish apparition that they carry from house to house. In
this they lie against the Holy Spirit, and blame the Holy Ghost that he
is the father of their cause. And even if the works were good, the forcing
and compelling must remain in the background. Let them then keep quiet
about setting us an example by their crazy works.
9. The kingdom of Christ consists in finding all our praise and boast
in grace. Other works should be free, not to be urged, nor should we wish
by them to become Christians, but condescend with them to our neighbor.
Thus we should hear this Gospel to hold fast to its expressions so that
they may be written in our hearts, that this light, this Word and lamp
may truly shine in us, by which we can judge all other doctrines. Thus
he says to the man sick with the palsy: "Thy sins are forgiven". These
and similar words are to be taken to heart and meditated upon, since they
are nothing but pure grace, and no work, by which the conscience is oppressed
and forced to do something. Thus, with these words you must protect yourselves
against false teachers.
10. We have now sowed a little of the Word, and this the devil cannot
stand, for he never sleeps; the worms and the beetles will come and infect
it. Yet so it must be, Christ will prove his Word, and examine who has
received it and who not. Therefore let us remain on the right road to the
kingdom of Christ, and not go about with works and urge and force the works
of the law, but only with the words of the Gospel which comfort the conscience:
Be happy, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven.
11. By this observe how narrow and how wide the kingdom of Christ is.
Few there be who so receive the Word that it tastes good to them and judge
themselves by it, and who understand what is said by: "Thy sins are forgiven."
If we are now in the kingdom of Christ why then does he mention sin? Are
sins always there? No one belongs to this kingdom unless his sins are revealed
to him by the Gospel, otherwise these words apply to no one: "Thy sins
are forgiven." Indeed all hear the Gospel, but it does not enter the hearts
of all, for they do not all feel their sins. But the Gospel preaches that
everything we have in us is sin. Therefore it also offers comfort; forgiveness
of sins is here. If I am to receive forgiveness of sins, I must have knowledge
12. Forgiveness of sins is nothing more than two words, in which the
whole kingdom of Christ consists. There must be sins, and if we are conscious
of them, we must confess them; when I have confessed them, forgiveness
and grace are immediately present. Before forgiveness is present there
is nothing but sin. This sin must be confessed that I may feel and know
that all that is in me is blindness; otherwise forgiveness of sins could
not exist where there is no sin. However, there is no lack of sins to confess,
but the lack is in not feeling and knowing our sins to confess them; then
only forgiveness of them follows. But it is quite a different thing when
God forgives sins, than when one man forgives another. One man forgives
another his sins in a way that he thinks of them again tomorrow, or casts
them up to him. But when God forgives sins it is quite a different thing
than when man forgives. For God condemns no more, he banishes all wrath
from him, yea, he no more thinks of the sin, as he himself says in the
prophet Isaiah, 43, 25. Now if this wrath is gone, then hell, the devil,
death and all misfortune that the devil may bring with him, must also disappear;
and instead of wrath God gives grace, comfort, salvation and everything
good that he himself is.
13. Sin is pure unhappiness, forgiveness pure happiness. The divine
majesty is great, great is also that which it forgives. As the man is,
so is also his forgiveness. But you must know in your heart how great these
words are in which you know how to trust, yea, for which you can cheerfully
die. But only few rightly receive these words, therefore there are but
few true Christians.
14. This then is the kingdom of Christ, and he who possesses it thus,
possesses it in the right way. Here there is no work, but only the acknowledgment
of all our misfortune, and the reception of all the gifts of God. Here
there is nothing but simple comfort, here the words are continually heard:
Be joyful, let not your conscience be troubled because of sin, or because
you have not done a great amount of good; I will forgive you all. Therefore
it is not by merit, but it is a simple gift. This is the Gospel, upon which
faith depends, through which you grasp and keep these words, so that they
may not have been spoken in vain. For we have no other comfort of which
God tells us to boast than that God says: "Be of good cheer, be comforted;
for I forgive thy sins; and in my forgiveness you can glory and rejoice."
Here then you have reason to boast and rejoice, but not in your own works.
15. This the workrighteous person cannot do, for honor always follows,
as they have said: Honor follows virtue as the shadow follows the man.
If it is the honor of works, whether man or God has commanded them, it
is nothing; if it is the honor of the works God does in us it is all right,
as Psalm 118, 16 says: "The right hand of Jehovah is exalted; the right
hand of Jehovah doth valiantly." As though he should say: "In this will
I boast and glory, namely, in that he has exalted me out of death, hell
and all evil." Workrighteous people have not this glory, for they have
not the Word; but as the work is, so is the praise, they urge and compel
us to depart from the Word to human work. But the Holy Spirit urges us
from our works to the Word. The former boast of their works, the latter,
where the Holy Spirit is, rejoice internally in the heart with God, that
he has done this work, and they remain clinging to grace, and attribute
nothing at all to their own works.
16. Thus the scribes do here. When they heard these words they said
among themselves: "This man blasphemeth." For this is the nature of the
holy Gospel and the true Word of God where it is truly believed, that it
is blasphemed on both sides, and the whole world would destroy it; as was
the case in the time of the Apostles, and as our raging princes now do,
who simply wish it were dead, entirely crushed and destroyed with all those
who preach and confess it. This however is the least persecution.
17. The other persecution is much worse, which takes place among us
as it also did in Apostolic times among the Apostles. So too our country
squires, who enjoy the Gospel with us, and do not want to be followers
of the Pope, but to be regarded as Christians; they must plunge into it;
so furious they are that they boast of the Gospel, and yet they trust in
their works. And here the Holy Spirit must be called the devil, there the
beautiful spirit. But we must venture to say: Their cause is not just;
then they will say again: Your cause is not right; for the wicked spirit
does not rest unless it is praised. We have a Lord of protection, he will
successfully accomplish his work.
18. Paul calls all false spirits bold and proud. Yes, in their filth
with their protectors they are proud and impudent, otherwise they are the
most cowardly villains that can be found. When they are to appear and answer
for their conduct, they cannot produce a single answer. Among themselves
they are bold, and venture to catch God in his own Word; but when it comes
to the test, they simply despair. But the Holy Spirit stands firm, checks
their buffeting, makes us bold and courageous, comforts weak consciences
and says: "Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven." The true spirit is
bashful, and becomes bashful in the sight of God, as Christians do who
bow before God, honor him and are not proud. But before tyrants the Holy
Spirit encourages them so that they fear neither tyrants nor devils, and
are not frightened even if they tore their heads from their shoulders.
But in God's presence they fear and tremble like a rustling leaf. But,
alas, I see the great mass of people are only concerned about continually
hearing without understanding what is said, and when the time comes that
they should give an answer, they stand like the pipers and can answer nothing.
And thus we also go forth to execution. We must endure such assaults and
factious spirits and cannot change it. Nevertheless, we may well comfort
ourselves with the thought that we have the true foundation, that our cause
is right and theirs wrong. This they also know well enough, and for this
reason they can never be bold except among themselves, and there they may
boast as long as they please.
19. But the kingdom of Christ consists in this and thereby grows, namely,
that the conscience be comforted with the Word. What else takes place through
works and laws, all pertains to our neighbor. For I need no works before
God, and must only be careful rightly to confess my sins. Then I have forgiveness
of sins and am one with God, all which the Holy Spirit works in me. Then
I break forth with blessings toward my neighbor, as they did here who brought
the man sick with the palsy to the Lord. Those were in the kingdom, or
show who are in the kingdom, as the Evangelist says that the Lord had respect
unto their faith. For had they not had any faith, they would not have brought
the sick to the Lord. Faith precedes works, works follow faith. Therefore,
because they are in the kingdom by faith, they bring in the sick man and
thus do the work.
20. On this earth man lives not for the sake of works, in order that
they may be profitable to him, for he is not in need of them. But if you
do good works in order thereby to obtain and merit something from God,
all is lost, and you have already fallen from this kingdom. But since you
believe and continue to live you ought to know that you live for this very
cause, namely, to carry in the sick man. God does not desire the Christian
to live for himself. Yea, cursed is the life that lives for self. For all
that one lives after he is a Christian, he lives for others. So these also
do who bring in the sick man, they no longer live for themselves, but their
lives serve others; yes, with their faith they win for the sick man a faith
of his own. For this sick man had at first no faith, but after he heard
the Word, Christ instills into him a faith of his own, and awakens him
with the Gospel; as he is accustomed to instill faith by the Word.
21. Thus all works should be done, only to the end that we may see how
they agree with the service for other people, to bring them to a true faith
and lead them to Christ. If I tear down the pictures in churches that men
may see a Christian is present, that is of no profit to the people, nor
does it preach how to become free from sin; but he only desires praise,
which does not lift up the consciences, and only makes the people gape,
with ears, eyes and mouths wide open. It is a contemptible art to demolish
pictures. But to know the kingdom of Christ that I or others may be benefited,
this is well done. But you will not accomplish this even if you tear down
all the churches, but only by hearing the words: Son, be of good cheer,
thy sins are forgiven; then by bringing others to God's Word.
22. The Word must be enforced, it must be beaten into men, here I must
eat and drink, adorn and clothe myself, not that I may live, but that I
may enforce the Word. For where the life of a Christian is not centered
in the Word, it is not right. I am required to aid the conscience with
the Word. I must give my neighbor meat and drink and do all I can for him
in order to reach the chief thing, namely, to encourage the conscience,
as they do here, who assist the sick man to recover his bodily health.
And although it is a kindness or work to his body, nevertheless they so
help him that his soul is also strengthened. Thus I feed the hungry, give
the thirsty drink, clothe the naked, and the like. Yet I do this not only
that he may eat and drink, but that I may secure the opportunity to tell
him the Word, and thus also to bring him to Christ. These works are outside
the kingdom, done to those who are not in the kingdom, in order to bring
them into the kingdom.
23. Thus the Holy Spirit preaches, but the mad spirit of the separatists
only desires to perform great wonders, to see and do miracles and signs.
It is miracle enough that people learn by our preaching to know Christ
and obtain a joyful conscience. Likewise, that I learned monachism, priestcraft,
and everything belonging to popery to be nothing, is for me a great miracle.
There is nothing in it when they make the charge that we perform no miracles.
Although they do not shine so brightly and our ministers perform no miracles,
as the Papists imagine they do, nevertheless, our light is pure and our
knowledge correct. We surely preach the Gospel, and this they must of course
conscientiously confess before each and every one, whether they desire
to do so or not. So you have learned here that the kingdom of Christ and
the Gospel are devoted to the end that you concentrate all your life, whether
you be wife, child or husband, that you may be one who brings the sick
to Christ, and thus be of assistance to others.
II. THE FAITH OF OTHERS.
24. Now we should also consider a little the faith of others and the
power to forgive sins, had we the time. I said before that it is an error
to baptize the children into the faith of the church; men preached as though
they were baptized without faith. This error enters among us by force at
present, for the devil does not sleep. They think infants have no faith.
The Pope with his subordinates has hitherto maintained that children have
no faith, but are laid into the lap of the Christian church, and were baptized
in the faith of universal Christendom. These new fanatics, like the Pope,
also say that children have no faith; but that we should wait until they
25. We say that the faith of others does not assist unto salvation,
even if two Christendoms were present. The child must itself believe in
Christ. For I have not been born in the place of the child or for the child,
nor will I die in its stead, it has a death and birth of its own. If it
is to live and become free from death, it must also come to this through
faith in Christ. However, we pray for the children as well as for all unbelievers;
and preach, pray and labor that the unbelieving and children may also come
and believe; for this we also live.
26. So these people here had also faith, but not the man of the palsy.
Yet, he must receive it if he is to get well, otherwise their faith would
not have helped him. They, however, in their faith prayed Christ to give
the man sick of the palsy a faith of his own. So the faith of others assists
to the end that I may obtain a faith of my own.
27. Yes, one might say: "How do we know whether children believe or
not?" Neither do we know who among adults believe or who do not. If I be
baptized as an adult and say: I believe; how can you know whether I believe
or not? How do you know it? How, if I were to lie? No one else can know
it, to this every one is brought by his own heart and thoughts; if it is
right, it is right. The child cannot stand on my faith, I have scarcely
enough faith for myself. Nor shall I lay it into the lap of Christendom,
but into the Word of Christ where he says: "Suffer the little children
to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven." Mat. 19, 14. Luke
18, 15. And thus I shall say: "Here, 0 Christ, I bring a little child to
thee, thou hast commanded me to bring it to thee." Now I have done my part,
Christ will also certainly do his part.
So I do not baptize the child in my own faith or in the faith of Christendom.
But my faith and Christendom bring the child to baptism, in order that
by rightly bringing it God may give it a faith of its own, that it may
believe as I believe and be preserved in the same Word that Christ has
given me. And I do not baptize the child on that it has no faith, as the
Bohemians think, that when it grows up it shall then first obtain faith,
and speak the Word of God over the child: Thy sins are forgiven thee; and
yet it does not, as they hold, believe the words. Is not this to charge
the Word of God as being false? Now to sum up: I can of course by my prayers
and faith help another that he may also believe, but I cannot believe for
THE POWER ON EARTH TO FORGIVE SINS.
28. The Pharisees knew very well that to forgive sins was the work of
God, and belonged to him alone. For this reason they regarded Christ as
a blasphemer, who as a man pretended to forgive sins. The forgiveness of
sin is of two kinds: The first is to drive sin from the heart and infuse
grace into it; this is the work of God alone. The second kind is the declaration
of the forgiveness of sin; this man can do to his fellowman. But here Christ
does both. He instills the Spirit into the heart and externally he declares
forgiveness with the word, which is a declaration and public preaching
of the internal forgiveness.
29. All men who are Christians and have been baptized, have this power.
For with this they praise Christ, and the word is put into their mouth,
so that they may and are able to say, if they wish, and as often as it
is necessary: Behold, 0 Man! God offers thee his grace, forgives thee all
thy sins; be comforted, thy sins are forgiven; only believe and thou wilt
surely have forgiveness. This word of consolation shall not cease among
Christians until the last day: "Thy sins are forgiven, be of good cheer."
Such language a Christian always uses and openly declares the forgiveness
of sins. For this reason and in this manner a Christian has power to forgive
30. Therefore if I say to you: Thy sins are forgiven, then believe it
as surely as though God himself had said it to you. But who could do this
if Christ had not descended, had not instructed me and said that we should
forgive one another our trespasses? As when he says, John 20, 22-23: "Receive
ye the Holy Ghost; whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them,
and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained unto them." And at another
place, Mat. 18, 19-20, he says: "If two of you shall agree on earth as
touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my
Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together
in my name, there I am in the midst of them." The word penetrates and performs
31. Now if there were no man on earth to forgive sins, and there were
only law and works what a weak, and miserable thing a poor troubled conscience
would be. But now when God adequately instructs every one, so that he is
able to say to others: Thy sins are forgiven thee, whereever thou art;
the golden age has arrived. On this account we are to be defiant and boastful
against sin, so that we can say to our brother, who is in anxiety and distress
on account of his sins: Be of good cheer, my brother, thy sins are forgiven;
although I cannot give thee the Holy Ghost and faith, I can yet declare
them unto thee; if thou believest, thou hast them. They who thus believe
these words, praise and glorify God, even as they do here in the Gospel.
That is, God has given man power to forgive sins, and thus the kingdom
of Christ is spread, the conscience is strengthened and comforted. This
we do now through the Word. God grant that we may also thus understand