This sermon, which does not appear in edition e., appeared in eight pamphlet editions during 1522 and 1523. The title of the first edition was as follows: “A sermon on Pentecost Monday, the Gospel of John 3, ‘God so loved the world’ etc. Preached by Dr. Martin Luther, Wittenberg,” (1522). Other editions were issued with the title: “A sermon preached at Wittenberg by Dr. M. L. on the subject, Through what means alone salvation is obtained.” The reprint in the collection of 14 sermons contains variations worthy of note.
German text: Erlangen Edition, 12:338; Walch Edition, 11:1460; St. Louis Walch, 11:1085.
Text: John 3:16-21. For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternallife. For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him. He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his works should be reproved. But he that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, that they have been wrought in God.
A SERMON, IN WHICH CHRIST PRESENTS HIMSELF AS MEDIATOR AND SAVIOR, AND PASSES JUDGMENT ON THE WORLD AND BELIEVERS.
I. HOW CHRIST PRESENTS HIMSELF IN THIS SERMON AS MEDIATOR AND SAVIOR.
1. This is another of the true Gospel lessons, such as John is accustomed to write; for he writes in a way to make him alone worthy the name of an evangelist. Now, as you have often heard, the Gospelteaches nothing but that one must learn to know Christ alone, and so the Holy Spiritteaches nothing ore. Therefore, examine Only the words themselves; they. are weighty, precious and comforting beyond measure. First Christ says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternallife.”
3. What is now the cost of redemption? Today’s Gospel points this out.
The Holy Spiritteaches everywhere that we do not possess the Father except through a mediator, and he will not allow us to approach the Father without one. Now, the schoolsteach us to approach the Father without a mediator, through our own good works. That means to rejectChrist as a mediator, as Jeremiah tells us did the godless, who thought and said: Let us send wood to him as his food, and we will root him out of the land, and there will be no remembrance of his name. But their plans did not result as they intended they should. Therefore, let us never join them. It would be at the peril of our lives, for we should be despising the priceless sacrifice which the Father made for us. But let us thank the Father for ordering it as he has, and placing between us one who is God and equal with God, and also man, on a level with man; for we are human and he is God. Where God and man oppose each other, man meets with instant destruction, for he cannot stand against God. God has intervened by placing as mediator one who is alike true God and true man. Through him we are to come to the Father; with the price we can pay nothing is accomplished.
Him he placed in our stead to suffer misery, hell and death, and let him drink our cup to the dregs. This is the way we are to be saved.
5. Now, if there were another way to heaven doubtless he would have made it known to us. There is no other. Therefore, let us cling to the words, firmly pilot our hearts along this way and keep within it, and let us close our eyes and say: If I had the merits of all the saints, the sanctity and purity of all virgins, and the piety of St. Peter besides, still I would not give a fig for all I call my own. I must have another foundation on which to build, namely, the words: God has given his Son, that whosoever believeth on him, whom the Father sent out of love, shall be saved. And let us defiantly boast that we must be sustained. Let us fearlessly establish ourselves upon his words, which neither Satan, hell nor death can overthrow, for the Fathermightily writes his Word over these terrors and all that clings to them. Come what will, let us say: Here is God’s Word; that is my rock and anchor; to that I cling and that abides; and where that abides, there I abide also. For God cannot lie; sooner would the heavens and earthperish than the smallest letter or tittle of his Word would fail.
6. Notice carefully now that man must have a mediator, and that mediator is Christ. Ascend upon him to the Father, and say: Although! cannot exist before thy majesty nor that of any angel — all must shake and tremble — yet I have here one, Christ, whom thou canst not fail to regard. I am under his protection and rely upon thy Word that thou wilt receive me through him. Thou wilt not reject me, for thou must reject him before thou dost reject me. In this way one must come to the Father through Christ, thereby gaining a beautiful and lovingrefuge in him.
7. This lifts up and cheers a timid, despairing conscience and gives it peace.
Aside from God’s Word nothing helps, neither cowls nor tonsures, neither the priesthood nor monkery. No human work, be it called ever so holy, is able to silence God’s judgment and give peace to our hearts. God has, out of love, given us his Son, through whom we shall be saved; therefore, let no one make another way than this. Guard yourself against adding to it, for so you would but render it valueless. He who adds to it, leads from the right road upon a branch road that goes into the wilderness. Hence, let not your conscience trust in any work, in any merit of saints, but alone in the Word of God. That will not lie to you, but its promise will be sufficient.
You do not seek him; rather he seeks you, and pictures his Son before you as a Savior and not as a judge. Thus there is developed for you a refuge in the Father.
9. It is a common practice to represent the gracious Savior as a judge, and from this practice has sprung a dependence upon the merits of saints, causing us to turn away from Christ and take refuge in the saints. We fancy that the saints are more gracious and more kindly disposed to us than even God himself. Therefore, one says, St. Peter is my apostle; another says, St.
Paul is my patron; and so on with St. Barbara, St. Erasmus and others. But God cannot permit this; the glory must belong to him. My conscience must rest upon the foundation, the eternal, all-knowing truth, else it is a failure.
Now, God alone is the truth, and the conscience must rest upon him and nothing else.
He who believes, cannot be lost, but will be saved, since it is true that naught accomplishes our salvation except Christ alone, who came to be our Savior. Then believe on him. In the words we are studying, he calls everybody, and even threatens as well as calls, concluding thus: “He that believeth on him is not fudged: he that believeth not hath been fudged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
II. THE JUDGMENT CHRIST PASSES UPON THE WORLD AND BELIEVERS.
12. When the learnedschools would make people godly, they hold before them the judgment, making it as hot as they possibly can; in this way they lead men into terror, where they abandon them, never pointing out a way of escape. Here Christ also presents the judgment and threatens men, but at the same time he tells them how they may flee from wrath. This is his teaching: There will be a judgment, which no one can escape except those who believe without any ifs or ands. If you add anything thereto, you have entered upon the byway into the woods and are lost; for he that believeth not, is lost already. I am the only door that opens into heaven. The way is narrow; you must become small if you wish to pass through the rock.
Those who are decorated with good works, like a workrighteous person with shells, can never force their way through. They must divest themselves and become small. One can meet the conditions only when he despairs of himself. If you come hampered with great burdens of good works, you will never be able to forge a way into heaven; you must lay them aside before you can enter.
Why do not the pope and bishops, the priests and monks, permit their deeds to be exposed and their manner of life brought to light? For the reason that their works are evil. Now, the light reveals to us that all our works amount to nothing and we must have Christ alone. When we apply the test of that light, they say: Nay, should I have fasted and prayed so long for nothing? Get out, you heretics! If men no longer believed in the efficacy of works, no one would attend vigils and the mass; then the monks’ kitchens would become small and their cellars empty. Since they cannot tolerate such a possibility, they must hate the light.
That is just what the Lord says: “For every one that doeth evil, hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest their works should be reproved.”
16. They hate the light, says Christ; because they do evil; they lead a shameful life, at the same time believing it to be a godly life. The devil, also, would be a fine fellow. He is anxious to sit in a clean place, and not lie before the door; he would come within the heart, but never to the light; he would wear the cloak of respectability, so that his injustice be not seen.
Now, let us take the light of day as an illustration. The sun will not refuse to rise because I am lazy and would gladly sleep an hour or two longer.
No, it goes forth in its course and does not hide its light, although it is not agreeable to me. Likewise will the Sun of righteousness arise; the evildoers are unwilling to come into the light, but they cover and guard their sins and evildeeds. Thereby they merit the judgment; for they have not only done wickedly, but they wish to defend their action, which is a double sin.
17. But the righteous gladly approach the light, willing that all may pass judgment upon their works, and they even let the devilexamine them. They have cultivated in good soil, because they possess faith, and they go forth in their faith to help the poor. These works are wrought in them by God, hence they cannot be evil. Thus a righteous person gladly permits all the world to act as judge upon his works. It is a beautiful thing when a believer, finding his work is rejected, says: Yes, there is no good at all in the works of my own doing, but the works that are wrought in me by Christ, my Lord, they are good. He desires no honor, but will ascribe all honor to God; will possess all in God that he should possess, and can, with a good conscience, go to the light and not be put to shame. That is what Christ means in his closing words: “But he that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, that they have been wrought in God.”
18. Now we have heard what our consolation and our final and only refuge is, upon which we should lay our foundation and build. No person who professes to be a Christiandare undertake to do any work, imagining thereby to be saved; he is not saved except through Christ alone, whom it cost his all. We must come to salvation through him and his work, with nothing else added to it. If we build upon human works, we are reckoning directly against God’s grace.
19. On the other hand, we must not abandon works, saying as do the impudent: Aye, then I will do good works no longer in order to be saved.
True, you dare do nothing with the intent of its being meritorious for salvation, for the forgiveness of sin and for the pacifying of the conscience; you have sufficient for these in your faith. But your neighbor has not sufficient; you must extend a helping hand to him. That you may perform such service, God permits you to live; if not so, your execution would soon be called for. You live for the purpose of serving by your life, not yourself, but your neighbor.
20. Christ the Lord had also sufficient; what the world had was his. He might have passed us by, but it is not the nature of true life to do so. Nay, cursed be that life into perdition that lives for self; for to so live is heathenish and not Christian. Then those who have at present their sufficiency from Christ, must follow the example of Christ and with utter sincerity do good to their neighbors, as Christ did to us; freely, without the least thought of obtaining anything thereby, only with the desire that it be pleasing to God.
21. We Christians are like a childborn in the father’s house. It brings the title to the inheritance with it, in its flesh and blood; the title to the heritagebelongs to it by virtue of its birth. A servant, however, acquires his merit, not in the family, but outside of it. When the child of the house is grown, it must, nevertheless, help to increase and improve the inheritance, making, it more valuable; but it does not, first of all, gain the inheritance by works, for that is acquired already by virtue of its birth. Just so, if we believe on God, then we are already heirs and need not to acquire inheritance by our works; yet we must be co-laborers with the Father to increase it. Paul speaks in like manner to the Philippians: “Have this mind in you, which was also in ChristJesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.” Philippians 2:5ff. That is: Lead such an outward life that it may be like the example of Christ, and help your neighbor with your life and property, thinking not of winning the birthright by your works. Guard your sonship, not by your own foolhardiness, but by faith, and be a colabore in extending the kingdom.