Luther's Eight Sermons at Wittenberg

Luther’s Eight Sermons at Wittenberg, March 1522 (Part 7)

We return to Luther’s sixth sermon following his sojourn in the Wartburg Castle. In this sermon he addresses the reception of the sacrament. How should we receive the sacrament (Lord’s Supper)? ‘It is very necessary here that your hearts and consciences be well instructed and that you make a big distinction between outward reception and inner and spiritual reception. Bodily and outward reception is that in which a man receives with his mouth the body of Christ and his blood, and doubtless any man can receive the sacrament in this way, without faith and love. But this does not make a man a Christian, for if it did, even a mouse would be a Christian, for it, too, can eat the bread and perchance even drink out of the cup. It is such a simple thing to do. But the true, inner, spiritual reception is a very different thing, for it consists in the right use of the sacrament and its fruits. I would say in the first place that this reception occurs in faith and is inward and will have Christ. There is no external sign by which we Christians may be distinguished from others except this sacrament and baptism, but without faith outward reception is nothing. There must be faith to make the reception worthy and acceptable before God, otherwise it is nothing but sham and a mere external show, which is not Christianity at all. Christianity consists solely in faith, and no outward work must be attached to it.

Luther’s great discovery which played a massive role in the ignition of the reformation was that the just shall live by faith. This understanding changed everything and impacted everything. What has faith to do with the sacrament? ‘But faith (which we all must have, if we wish to go to the sacrament worthily) is a firm trust that Christ, the Son of God, stands in our place and has taken all our sins upon his shoulders and that he is the eternal satisfaction for our sin and reconciles us with God the Father. He who has this faith is the very one who takes his rightful place at this sacrament, and neither devil nor hell nor sin can harm him. Why? Because God is his protector and defender. And when I have this faith, then I am certain God is fighting for me; I can defy the devil, death, hell, and sin, and all the harm with which they threaten me. This is the great, inestimable treasure given us in Christ, which no man can describe or grasp in words. Only faith can take hold of the heart, and not every one has such faith [2 Thess. 3:2].

What comforting words these are for us when it feels like the devil and hell are calling out our name. What are we to do? Call out the name of our Lord Jesus and go to him in faith. ‘But if you believe that God steps in for you and stakes all he has and his blood for you, as if he were saying: Fall in behind me without fear or delay, and then let us see what can harm you; come devil, death, sin, and hell, and all creation, I shall go before you, for I will be your rear guard and your vanguard [Isa. 52:12]; trust me and boldly rely upon me. He who believes that can not be harmed by devil, hell, sin, or death; if God fights for him, what can you do to him? He who has such faith has his rightful place here and receives the sacrament as an assurance, or seal, or sign to assure him of God’s promise and grace.’

Think about these things next Lord’s Supper. Thanks for the much needed reminder Luther! (not that you can hear me)

LW 51:92-85




Luther on External Righteousness

From his lectures on Romans (circa 1515): ‘God does not want to redeem us through our own, but through external, righteousness and wisdom; not through one that comes from us and grows in us, but through one that comes to us from the outside; not through one that originates here on earth, but through one that comes from heaven. Therefore, we must be taught a righteousness that comes completely from the outside and is foreign. And therefore our own righteousness that is born in us must first be plucked up.’ LW 25:136

Luther means here that we need the righteousness of Christ – that righteousness by which we are justified because our own righteousness must be plucked up for the filth that it is. Our own righteousness can be compared to a blind man who is holding in his hand what he believes to be the consumable cure for his sin. He just does not realise he is holding his own dung in his hand. This is why we need an external or alien righteousness, one that comes as a gift – by faith alone – from Jesus Christ.