Firmly Fixed

From Sermons on St. John’s Gospel (1537)

“I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” The dear Lord was eager to strengthen the disciples, to arm them against what would befall them after his departure, and to console them by telling them what the Holy Spirit would accomplish through them. But Christ realizes that his words cannot make this impression on their hearts until the Holy Spirit himself comes and installs the disciples in their office. Then they will really learn and experience this. Therefore he wants to break off now and entrust what he cannot accomplish at the present time to the Holy Spirit, who will achieve this in rich measure and will give them thorough instruction in what they would not be able to understand or bear now and will keep them in the truth until the end.

This texts has had to submit to violent twisting and distortion… These consoling words in which Christ speaks about the suffering of his Christians and their comfort have been applied to human precepts… Christ is speaking here only to those who suffer want and hardship, who are oppressed, persecuted, and tormented in the world… He says, “I have yet many things to say to you.” Many things about what? About much suffering, grief, persecution, and heartache from the devil and the world… He has spoken exclusively about the suffering which they must experience.

It is clear that these “many things” which Christ does not reveal now and entrusts to the Holy Spirit do not deal with a new or different doctrine, with new or different laws, but with the sufferings which the apostles will experience and which await them because of the Gospel, and with how they will be comforted and strengthened in their trouble.

The doctrine is there; they know what they are to believe and suffer, and how they are to adjust themselves. But the Holy Spirit will give them further instruction as to how to be patient and have comfort in suffering when their affliction comes. He will remind them of things which Christ points out only briefly at this time. This is the office of the Holy Spirit and for this reason the Spirit is also called a comforter…

Christ calls the Holy Spirit a Spirit of truth in contrast with the spirit of lies. He also spoke about this in the fourteenth chapter, verse 17. The Holy Spirit will teach the disciples and show them that everything Christ told them is the truth; for he is a Spirit who confirms the truth in one’s heart…

Christ says, “For he [i.e. the Holy Spirit] will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak.” Here Christ makes the Holy Spirit a preacher. He does so to prevent one from gaping toward heaven in search of him as the fluttering spirits and enthusiasts do, and from divorcing Christ from the word or ministry. One should know that Christ will be in and with the word [i.e. scripture], that it will guide us into all truth, in order that we may believe it, use it as a weapon, be preserved by it against all lies and deception of the devil, and prevail in all trials and temptations. For there is after all no other way and no other means of perceiving the Holy Spirit’s consolation and power, as I have often demonstrated from Holy Writ and have often experienced myself. For I, too, am a half-baked theologian. This I say lest I exalt myself over the great minds who have long ago ascended into the clouds beyond all scripture and have nestled under the wings of the Holy Spirit [n.b. this is similar to Luther’s more famous expression that some enthusiasts have “swallowed the Holy Spirit feathers and all”]. Experience has taught me all too often that whenever the devil catches me outside scripture and sees that my thoughts are rambling and that I too am fluttering toward heaven, the devil brings me to the point of not knowing where God is or where I am.

The Holy Spirit wants this truth which he is to impress into our hearts to be so firmly fixed that reason and all one’s own thought and feelings are relegated to the background. He wants us to adhere solely to the word and to regard it as the only truth…. Thus the Spirit will speak exclusively of Christ and will glorify Christ so that people will believe in Christ.

Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a German priest and theologian, a seminal figure of the Protestant Reformation. His teaching about justification by faith, revealed in his study of the Pauline Epistles, became the core of Protestant teaching about salvation, and inspired a wide-reaching series of reform in Christian ministry, worship, and spiritual practice. His sermons on the latter part of St. John’s Gospel were preached during his later ministry at Wittenberg Martin Luther is commemorated on February 18 on the calendars of several Lutheran and Anglican Churches.  This translation of the text is from Jaroslav Pelikan, ed., Luther’s Works (St. Louis: Concordia, 1961), Vol 24.

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