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A little Luther on True and False Worship

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  • gmw
    For the edification of the reader, a little Luther on true and false worship, excerpted from Luther s Epiphany Sermon found in The Precious and Sacred Writings
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 21, 2004
      For the edification of the reader, a little Luther on true and false
      worship, excerpted from Luther's Epiphany Sermon found in The
      Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, volume 10,
      Minneapolis: Lutherans in All Lands, 1905.



      Text: Math. 2,1-12. Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in
      the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east
      to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for
      we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When
      Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all
      Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests
      and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ
      should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for
      thus it is written by the prophet,

      And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the
      princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall
      rule my people Israel.
      Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them
      diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to
      Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child;
      and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and
      worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and,
      lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it
      came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the
      star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come
      into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and
      fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their
      treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and
      myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return
      to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

      (from the sermon)

      The True And False Worship Of God.
      232. No better distinction is to be had here than God's Word. The
      worship which is there taught must surely be the true worship; but
      that which is set up beside God's Word or outside of it, as invented
      by men, must certainly be the false Herod-worship. Now the worship of
      God is nowhere established, except in his commandments. For without
      doubt he alone serves God who keeps his commandments; just as a
      servant in the house is said to serve his master only when he does,
      and attends to, whatever his master bids him to do. However, if he
      does not do this, even if he otherwise does the will of the whole
      town he is not said to serve his master. So then, whoever does not
      keep God's commandments, does not serve God, even though he keeps the
      teachings and commandments of all men.

      233. Now the worship of God consists in this: that you confess,
      honor, and love God with your whole heart, put all your trust and
      confidence in him, never doubt his goodness, either in life or in
      death, either in sins or in right living, as the first commandment
      teaches. To this we can attain through the merit and blood of Christ
      alone, who has gained for us and gives us such a heart, if we hear
      and believe his word; for our nature cannot have such a heart of
      itself. Behold, this is the chief worship of God and the greatest
      thing, to wit, an upright Christian faith and love to God through
      Christ. Therefore the first commandment is fulfilled by us through
      the precious blood of Christ, and God is faithfully served from the

      234. In the second place, if you honor God's name, and call upon it
      in need, and openly confess it before the tyrants and persecutors of
      this true worship, not fearing them, but punishing the Herodians and
      guarding, as much as you can, that they do not dishonor God's name,
      which is truly a great thing and takes the burdens of the world upon
      itself. See, this is the second article of worship which is kept in
      the commandment.

      235. Thirdly, if you bear the holy cross, and must suffer much
      because of such faith and confession, that you must risk for it body
      and life, goods and honor, friend and favor; this means rightly
      keeping and hallowing the Sabbath, since it is not you, but God only
      who works in you, for you are but a suffering, persecuted man. This
      is the third article of worship, and is included in the third
      commandment. See, here is the first table with the first three
      commandments, which are contained in the three articles, faith,
      confession, and suffering. By this the present life and the world are
      renounced and God alone is praised.

      236. Fourthly, we come into the second table, and henceforth you
      serve God, if you honor father and mother, are subject and obedient
      to them, and help them where they need it before all mankind, and if
      you do not without their consent, go into orders, when they are in
      need of your services in some other way.

      237. Fifthly, that you injure no one in body, but show kindness to
      everyone, even to your enemies, that you visit the sick and
      prisoners, and give a helping hand to all needy, and have a good,
      kind heart for all men.

      238. Sixthly, that you live chastely and temporately, or always honor
      your marriage vow, and help others to honor theirs.

      239. Seventhly, that you do not deceive or injure anyone or take
      advantage in business; but that you lend and give to everyone or
      exchange with him, as far as you can, and protect your neighbor
      against injury.

      240. Eighthly, that you guard your tongue, and injure, slander, or
      belie no one, but defend, excuse, and spare everyone.

      241. Ninthly and tenthly, that you do not covet any man's wife or

      242. See, these are the parts of truly good worship. This and nothing
      else God requires of you; if you do anything more, he does not value
      it. This is also clear and easy to be understood by everyone. Now you
      see that the true worship must be common to all classes, and to all
      men, and only this alone dare be found among God's people. And, where
      another worship is found, it must certainly be false and misleading;
      as that is what will not be common to all, but limits itself to some
      especial classes and men. Thus far we have spoken of the true,
      universal, and only worship.

      243. Now let us see the false, peculiar, factional, and multifarious
      worship which is not commanded of God, but made up by the pope and
      his priests. There you may see many kinds of monasteries, orders, and
      cloisters, of which one has nothing in common with any other. One
      monk wears a large, another a small shaven crown; one wears gray,
      another wears black, another white, another woolen, another linen
      clothing, another made of hair; this one prays on such days and time;
      this one eats flesh, that one fish; this one is a Carthusian, that
      one a barefoot monk. This one has such ceremonies; that one others;
      one prays with the stool toward Rome; another with the bench toward
      Jerusalem; this one conducts mass so, that one differently; this one
      is bound to this monastery, that one to another; this one bawls in
      this choir, that one in another, and the churches are full of their
      mutterings. They live too in celibacy and have all kinds of
      disciplines. And who can name all their countless, factional, odd,
      and sectarian practices?

      Well, now this worship has vomited forth another, yet more overgrown.
      There is neither limit nor measure to the building of churches,
      chapels, monasteries, and altars, to founding masses and vigils, to
      establishing hours of prayer, and to creating mass vestures, choir
      caps, chalices, monstrances, silver images and ornaments,
      candlesticks, tapers, lights, incense, tables, and bells. Ho, what an
      ocean, what a forest of these things there is! into this has gone all
      the devotion, tribute, money, and property of the laity; this calling
      increasing the worship of God and caring for the service of God, as
      the pope calls it in his divine right.

      244. Compare now this article with true worship, and tell me, where
      has God ever commanded anyone a letter of the article? Do you still
      doubt then that the whole clergy under the pope is nothing but the
      creature, the empty show, or the imposture of Herod, only that people
      may be hindered and turned away from the true worship? These are the
      altars and the groves over which the prophets lament regarding the
      people of Israel, that every town set up its own grove and altar, and
      forsook the true temple of God. Just so has this ungodly,
      superstitious, popish, Herodian worship filled all the corners of the
      world and has forced away and destroyed the only true worship of God.

      245. Perhaps you look about and think: What, could so many people be
      wrong all at once? Beware, and do not let their number trouble you;
      hold fast to God's word; he cannot deceive you, though all mankind be
      false, as indeed the Scriptures say, Psalm 116, 11: "All men are
      liars." Do not be astonished that so many are now in error, for in
      the days of Elijah there were only seven thousand righteous men in
      all Israel, I Kings, 19, 18. Tell me, what were seven thousand men
      over against all Israel, of whom there were more than twelve hundred
      thousand fighting men, besides women and children? What was even the
      whole people over against the whole world that was all at one time in
      sin? What then is to be now, since Christ and the apostles have
      spoken such terrible things of these times that even Christ himself
      says, Luke 18, 8: When the son of man cometh, shall he find faith on
      the earth? These must be great and terrible things and must lead a
      great many people astray, and those most of all of whom one should
      expect it the least shall be ruled by the Anti-Christ who leads the
      world astray. We should be certain, since we do not regard God's
      judgment and do not take his wrath to heart, that it would be no
      miracle, if he retained scarce one man on earth as righteous.

      246. This is the last and worst time, of which all Scriptures has
      spoken so terribly. Thank God, therefore, that you see his word,
      telling which is true and which is false worship. Then see that you
      remain therein and do not follow the mob that wanders without God's
      word. If those scarcely remain steadfast who have God's word and hold
      fast to it, where shall those stay who, without God's word, follow
      their own head? Therefore, let him doubt who will; God's word and
      worship convincingly show that the pope is the Anti-Christ and the
      priests his disciples who lead all the world astray.

      247. See now, has it not been well arranged? The Herodian worship has
      brazen bells, and these are many and large, with which they allure
      the people to such worship. As the worship is, so also are the bells
      or allurements. God has given to the true worship other and right
      bells, namely the preachers who should ring and sound such worship
      into the people. But where are they now? Those are dead, senseless
      bells, and they would be more useful if one made pots and vessels of
      them. Just so the worship is dead and useless, and it would be better
      if one carried on such a business in the field of jugglery.

      248. See, this is the worship of Herod which pretends to worship
      Christ and serve God, and is nothing but deception. Yet it plays the
      hypocrite so well that it daily deceives many good, pious people, and
      has often deceived them, as Christ says, Matth. 24, 25, that they
      shall lead astray, if possible, even the elect. As it happened to St.
      Bernard, to St. Francis, and to St. Dominic, and others, who however,
      did not perish in error, nor remained in it, since their saving faith
      kept them safe through such error and led them out.

      249. So also it happened to these pious wise men. They had a good,
      true faith and purpose; still they were mistaken in Herod, thinking
      his pretence true and believing his lies, and were ready also to do
      as they were told and to be obedient to him, had they not been
      otherwise instructed from heaven. So it happens today, and so it has
      happened, that many are obedient to the pope, and believing in simple
      faith that his existence is right and good, thus falling into error.
      However their Christian faith helps them that such poison does not in
      the end injure them, as Christ says, Mark. 16, 17-18: "And if they
      drink any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them, if they
      believe in my name." But what drink can be more deadly than such lies
      and hypocrisy of false teaching and wrong worship?

      250. According as we have now learned to know Herod's worship and
      perceived his artful hypocrisy, let us now see too his evil purpose
      and maliciousness, with which he plans to destroy not only the true
      worship, but also Christ, the King, and his whole kingdom. He
      attempts to do this in three ways. First, with the same hypocritical
      appearance of this false worship. For such an appearance of worship
      is so strong an enticement from true worship that it can be overcome
      only by especial grace, so that St. Paul well names it energiam
      erroris, a strong working of error. The people cannot defend
      themselves against such seduction, where there are not true bishops
      and preachers who preach the only true worship, hold the people to
      the pure word of God, and forbid the false worship; as the prophets
      did in Israel, and were all for that reason put to death.

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