Faith and Love

From “Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity,” Church Postils (1544)

In the leper, this passage teaches us faith; in Christ it teaches us love. Now, as I have often said, faith and love constitute the whole character of the Christian. Faith receives; love gives. Faith brings man to God; love brings man to his fellow. Through faith he permits God to do him good, through love he does good to his brother man. For whoever believes has everything from God, and is happy and rich. Therefore he needs henceforth nothing more, but all he lives and does, he orders for the good and benefit of his neighbor, and through love he does to his neighbor as God did to him through faith. Thus he reaps good from above through faith, and gives good below through love. Against this kind of life work-righteous persons with their merits and good works terribly contend for they do works only to serve themselves, they live only unto themselves, and do good without faith.

These two principles, faith and love, we will now consider as they appear in the lepers and in Christ. In the first place it is a characteristic of faith to presume to trust God’s grace, and it forms a bright vision and refuge in God, doubting nothing it thinks God will have regard for his faith, and not forsake it. For where there is no such vision and confidence, there is no true faith, and there is also no true prayer nor any seeking after God. But where it exists it makes man bold and anxious freely to bring his troubles unto God, and earnestly to pray for help.

Therefore it is not enough for you to believe there is a God, and pray many words as the wretched custom now is. But observe here in the leper how faith is constituted, how without any teacher at all it teaches us how our prayers may be truly fruitful. You here observe how they had a good opinion of and a comforting assurance in Christ, and firmly thought he would be gracious to them. This thought made them bold and anxious to bring their troubles to him, and to cry for help with great earnestness and a loud voice. For if they had not previously possessed this fancy and expectation, they would undoubtedly have remained at home, or would not have gone forth to meet him, nor would they with raised voices have cried to him, but their doubt would have advised them thus:

What shall we do? Who knows whether he would like to have us ask him? Perhaps he will not notice us! Such wavering and doubt offer sluggish prayers, it does not raise the voice nor go forward to meet Christ! It indeed murmurs many words and chants many songs very unwillingly. But it does not pray, and only desires first to be sure it will be heard, which is nothing else than to tempt God. But true faith does not doubt the good and gracious will of God. Wherefore its prayer is strong and firm like faith itself. St. Luke does not relate three things of them in vain; first, that they went to meet him; second, they stood; third, they lifted up their voices. By these three things their strong faith is commended and presented to us as an example.

The going forth to meet him is the boldness excited by comforting assurance. The standing is the firmness and sincerity against doubt. The lifting up the voice is the great earnestness in prayer, growing out of such confidence. But powerless doubt does not go forth, nor stand, nor call, but turns and twists and hangs the head, grasps it in the hands, opens the mouth wide and stammers forth perpetually: Who knows? Who knows? If it were certain? What if it would fail? and similar faint-hearted expressions. For it has no favorable conception or thought of God, expects nothing of him, and hence will receive nothing, as James says (1:6-7): “But let him ask in faith, nothing doubting; for he that doubts is like the surge of the sea driven by the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord.” Afterwards they come like the foolish virgins who spilt their oil, with their empty lamps, that is with their works, and think God should hear them knock and open to them. But he will not.

Behold this good inclination or comforting trust, or free presumption toward God, or whatever you may call it, in the Scriptures is called Christian faith and a good conscience, which man must have if he desires to be saved. But it is not obtained by human works and precepts, as we shall see in this example, and without such a heart no work is good. Therefore be on your guard, there are many lecturers who want to teach faith and conscience, and know less about them than a common blockhead. They think it is a sleepy, lazy thing in the soul, that it is enough for the heart to believe that God is God. But here you observe what a thoroughly living and powerful thing faith is. It creates wholly a new heart, a new man, who expects all grace from God. Therefore it urges to walk, to stand, makes bold to cry and pray in every time of trouble.

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 Church Postils were expositional sermons on the Mass lectionary texts, which were intended as preaching guides for parish clergy. Martin Luther is commemorated on February 18 on the calendars of several Lutheran and Anglican Churches. 


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