The Noahic Covenant

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From the Word

17 For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 

Genesis 6:17–18, RSV

From Luther

Interpreters discuss what that covenant was. Lyra explains it as the promise to defend him against evil men who had threatened to murder him. Burgensis claims this covenant refers to the perils amid the waters, which were to be warded off. Still others believe it was the covenant of the rainbow, which the Lord made with Noah. In my opinion he speaks of a spiritual covenant, or of the promise of the seed which was to bruise the serpent’s head. The giants had this covenant, but when its abuse resulted in pride and wickedness, they fell from it. So it was afterward with the Jews, whose carnal presumption in reference to God, the law, worship and temple led to their loss of these gifts, and they perished. To Noah, however, God confirms this covenant by certainly declaring that Christ was to be born from his posterity and that God would leave, amid such great wrath, a nursery for the Church. This covenant not only includes protection of Noah’s body, the view advocated by Lyra and Burgensis, but also eternal life.

He plainly states “with thee.” He mentions not the sons, nor the wives, whom he was also to save, but he mentions Noah alone, from whom the promise was transmitted to his son Shem. This is the second promise of Christ, which is taken from all other descendants of Adam and committed to Noah alone. Afterward this promise is made clearer from time to time. It proceeded from the race to the family, and from the family to the individual. From the race of Abraham it was carried forward to David alone; from David to Nathan; from Nathan down to one virgin, Mary, who was the dead branch or root of Jesse, and in whom this covenant finds its termination and fulfilment. The establishment of such a covenant was most necessary in view of the imminence of the incredible and incalculable wrath of God.

It was no easy matter to believe that the whole human race was to perish. The world consequently judged Noah to be a dolt for believing such things and ridiculed him. In order to strengthen his mind amid such offenses God speaks with him often, and now even reminds him of his covenant.

Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 406–07.

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Your Neighbor as Yourself

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From the Word

5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Romans 15:4–7, RSV

From Luther

There are two reasons why we should receive one another. The first is because of Christ’s example. The Scriptures present Christ to us as one upon whom fell the infamy of our sins—for us he was ignominious in God’s sight—and who did not despise, reject nor revile us, but received us, that he might redeem us from our sins. We are, then, under particular obligation to receive one another. The other reason the apostle presents for our receiving one another is that thus we contribute to the praise and honor of God. This we learn from Christ. He everywhere testifies that all he does is in obedience to his Father’s will, and that he came for no other purpose than to do the will of God. It is certain, then, that he bore the ignominy of our sins simply because it was his Father’s will.

Mark the exceeding mercy of the Father’s controlling will in placing upon his beloved Son our sins, and permitting him to bear the shame of them, merely that we might escape condemnation. A true recognition of this, God’s gracious will, must evoke sincere love and praise to him and gratitude for his mercy. Christ has in himself upheld the honor of God by receiving us and bearing our sins. So should we likewise take upon ourselves the burdens, the sins and imperfections of our neighbors, and bear with them and help reform them.

When such Christian conduct is manifest before sinners and the spiritually weak, their hearts are attracted to God and forced to exclaim: Truly, he must be a great and gracious God, a righteous Father, whose people these are; for he desires them not to judge, condemn nor reject us poor, sinful and imperfect ones, but rather to receive us, to give us aid and to treat us as if our sins and imperfections were their own. Should we not love and exalt such a God? Should we not praise and honor him and give him the implicit confidence of our hearts in all things? This is the praise God would have from us, that we receive and regard our neighbor’s condition as our own. Such conduct on our part will encourage others to believe and will strengthen the faith of believers.

Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 404–05.

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Willful Wickedness

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From the Word

48 As I live, says the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49 Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, surfeit of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them, when I saw it

Ezekiel 16:48–50, RSV

From Luther

These same conditions now exist everywhere. Every peasant, burgher, nobleman is simply gathering dollars, waits and saves, eats and drinks, is insolent and mischievous as though God were nothing at all. No one cares for the despised Jesus in his poverty; nay, he is even trod under foot, until all obedience, discipline and honor are destroyed among us, as they were in Sodom and Gomorrah, and matters become so bad as to become unbearable, because all admonition and preaching seem to be of no avail. The world will not recognize that it must die and stand before God in judgment, but rages against known truth. Let us give heed and take it to heart, that the wrath of God may not also sweep us away. What else would God need to do to that end than let loose both the Turks and Satan against us. The Turk would be compelled to cease doing what he has done and is still doing, were we not so hardened in blindness and impenitence and so completely ripe for judgment. The reason is that we rage so blasphemously against God’s Word and his proffered help.

I hold that if we Lutherans, as they call us, were only dead, the whole world would immediately cry, “Victory,” as though they had already devoured every single Turk. But it shall happen to them also that a hundred shall be slain by one Turk. The younkers at Jerusalem thought, if they could only put the prophet Jeremiah out of the way they would surely be safe from the king of Babylon. What happened? After they had cast Jeremiah into the dungeon, the king came and led them all into captivity.

I can also see that God has spun a web over Germany as it is determined to be guilty of willful blindness, wickedness and ungratefulness in opposing the precious gospel. It is determined to be guilty of foolishness before God for which it will have to pay dearly.* May God preserve us and grant us and our little flock that we may escape this terrible wrath, and be found among those who honor and serve our dear Christ, and await the judgment at his right hand joyously and blissfully. Amen.

Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 403–04.

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The Right Righteousness

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From the Word

7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith

Philippians 3:7–9, RSV

From Luther

As far as the righteousness of the law is concerned, Paul dares to say that he regards it as filth and refuse; notwithstanding in its beautiful and blameless form it is unsurpassed by anything in the world. Only the righteousness of faith teaches us how to apprehend God — how confidently to console ourselves with his grace and await a future life, expecting to approach Christ in the resurrection. By “approaching” him we mean to meet him in death and at the judgment day without terror, not fleeing, but gladly drawing near and hailing him with joy as the one awaited with intense longing.

Now, the righteousness of the law cannot effect such confidence of mind. Hence, for me it avails nothing before God. What does avail is God’s imputation of righteousness for Christ’s sake through faith. God declares to us in his Word that the believer in his Son shall, for Christ’s sake, have God’s grace and eternal life. He who knows this is able to wait in hope for the last day, having no fear, no disposition to flee.

But is it not treating the righteousness of the law with irreverence and contempt to regard it as something not only useless, but loathsome and abominable? Should we not condemn as a heretic this preacher who goes beyond his prerogative and dares find fault with the law of God? Paul would say: I, too, was such a one. In my most perfect righteousness of the law I was an enemy and persecutor of the Church of Christ. It was the legitimate fruit of my righteousness that I thought I must be a party to the most horrible persecution of Christ and his Christians. Thus my holiness made me an actual enemy of Christ and a murderer of his followers.

Whence such a disposition? It naturally springs from human righteousness. Every individual who professes human righteousness, and knows nothing of Christ, holds that righteousness efficacious before God. He relies upon it and gratifies himself with it, presuming thereby to present a flattering appearance in God’s sight and to render himself especially acceptable to him. His enmity is greater and his hatred more bitter toward the preaching that dares to censure such righteousness and assert its futility to merit God’s grace and eternal life.

Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 402–03.

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The Table of Gratitude and Grace

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From the Word

17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Luke 22:17–20, RSV

From Luther

The words “my” and “you” are words of unmistakable significance. Who is it that says “my body,” “my blood”? The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who shed his blood and died for you. When he says, “my body,” “my blood,” he merely asks “you” to acknowledge and believe it, to rest in such faith and render him thanks for what cost him so bitterly. He would not have you shamefully despise his Sacrament or lightly neglect it because it is to be had without price or effort.

But you may argue that the statement of Paul is too awful, when he says, whosoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, eats and drinks judgment unto himself, and is guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. Dear friend, you must not consider yourself so much from the standpoint of worthiness or unworthiness of your person as from that of your need, which makes the grace of Christ necessary. If you recognize and feel your need, you have the requisite worthiness and preparation. The Holy Supper has been instituted by Christ, not as a poison for us and as a sign of Christ’s wrath, but as a means of comfort and salvation. Above all, you must realize that however great your unworthiness, the merit of your Lord Jesus Christ cannot be doubted. It is your duty to praise, honor and thank him, and to be one of the observers of his ordinance and institution, as he has a right to expect and as you have vowed in your baptism.

There is a twofold reason for you to receive the Lord’s Supper. It means gratitude and praise for Christ, and grace and solace for yourself. To occupy the standpoint of this twofold reason does not argue wickedness and a misuse of the Sacrament; it is the right standpoint and pleasing to God. Our relation to God is right only when we occupy the standpoint of gratitude and supplication. In rendering thanks we honor him for the blessings and grace already received, in supplication for those we crave for the future. When one goes to the Holy Supper with this disposition, what is his act but the declaration: Lord, I thank thee for all the grace I have received at thy hands, and I pray thee to supply still further my need? You cannot more highly honor God.

Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 400–01.

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Unmoved

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From the Word

3 O LORD, in the morning thou dost hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for thee, and watch. 7 But I through the abundance of thy steadfast love will enter thy house, I will worship toward thy holy temple in the fear of thee. 8 Lead me, O LORD, in thy righteousness because of my enemies; make thy way straight before me. 11 But let all who take refuge in thee rejoice, let them ever sing for joy; and do thou defend them, that those who love thy name may exult in thee. 12 For thou dost bless the righteous, O LORD; thou dost cover him with favor as with a shield.

Psalm 5:3, 7-8, 11-12, RSV

From Luther

Here we are told when and what joy is, namely, confidence and a good conscience resting in the mercy of God. They that have had experience in these things say that there is no joy above that of a pure conscience, nor any sorrow greater than that of a guilty and troubled one. A pure and joyful conscience comes in no other way than by looking steadfastly to the mercy of God. In the former part of this verse he describes the joy in tribulation; in the latter part the joy of prosperity, which cannot be true and sincere unless it be a rejoicing in God only. This verse briefly makes a distinction between prosperity and adversity. It is impossible that he who does not trust in the Lord should not be filled with sorrow when tribulation comes upon him. He who is in sorrow cannot but continually murmur, because there is no praising of God without joy of heart, and this sorrowful and impatient murmurer must displease God and be more and more forsaken of him.

On the other hand it is impossible that he should not rejoice who trusts in God. If the whole world should burst upon the head of such a one he would stand unmoved amid the falling ruins. He who is joyful in such hope cannot but think well of God, exult in his praise, and encourage himself in him. The man who thus rejoices is patient, happy and in a state to be protected of God. Nor will such a one rejoice, hope and exult in vain, for God will preserve him. If then thy soul be sad and cast down, begin some joyful song or psalm or something that brings thy God to thy memory and thou wilt find relief and wilt prove that the counsel of the wise man it good: “In the day of evil be not unmindful of good things.”

By the name of the Lord we may understand Jesus Christ, or Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All these are names of God. They who love the name of Jesus love the salvation of God, the truth, the mercy and the wisdom of God; all these are included in the name of the Lord. If a man love these he must of necessity love the name of the Lord.

Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 399–400.

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Daily Fear

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From the Word

8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.  11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.” 

Matthew 22:8–14, RSV

From Luther

God deals with us in a way to put down arrogance, that we may not become haughty and wanton, but may always remain in fear. For when temptation comes we are liable to fall into error. Peter on the water retained his pure faith as long as he unhesitatingly ventured on the water according to the word of Christ. Had he remained in this faith, he might have walked hundreds of miles on the water; but as soon as he wavered he began to sink. So Moses also had a strong faith, but at times fell from it. Thus it happens that one may have a strong faith, but doubts and falls. By faith Moses led the people of Israel through the midst of the sea and through death, and Peter boldly ventured on the sea; but they both fell, although God raised them up again. The thief on the cross laid hold on faith once for all and clung to it.

We have a beautiful parable of this in the tree which begins to blossom in the spring and is soon covered with white blossoms. But as soon as the rain falls on them, many of the blossoms are ruined and the frost utterly destroys many more of them. When the fruit begins to appear and the winds arise, much of the young fruit falls to the ground; later the caterpillars and worms make their appearance and they prick and destroy the fruit to such an extent, that scarcely the twentieth, yea, hardly a hundredth part ripens. The same thing happens to the gospel. At first everybody wants to become a Christian, and the gospel promises to do well, but as soon as the rain and wind of temptation come, large numbers fall away. Afterwards come the sects and factions, like worms and beetles, which prick and pollute the fruit of the gospel, and so much false doctrine is taught, that only a few remain faithful to the gospel.

The first thing that faith requires is that we be not secure and presumptuous, but remain in fear. We need to cling to God and pray: Merciful God, thou hast permitted me to become a Christian, help me to continue to be one and to increase daily in faith.

Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 398–99.

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Subduing the Nations

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From the Word

7 I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my son, today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 

Psalm 2:7–9, RSV

From Luther

Here the vain dreams of the flesh are to be removed, and no one is to imagine that the kingdom of Christ is either founded on or preserved by iron or arms; because it is written that he delighted not in chariots, nor in horses, nor in the legs of a man. The apostle says: “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal.” The Turks, whom at this day we never seek to conquer by any other means than the sword, we ought to conquer by increasing the number of Christians among them.

Why do we not attack with the sword also the wicked among ourselves? But God forbid. The kingdom of Christ consists in righteousness, truth and peace. By these it was obtained and by them it will be preserved. Hence, when he said above that he was appointed king, he recommended no other office whatever than that of the Word, saying, “I will declare the decree of God,” not, I will ride fine horses, I will lay waste cities, I will seek the treasures of the world; but I will do this one thing — declare those things which God has commanded, that is, that Christ is God and man, which Paul calls the gospel, saying, “Separated unto the gospel of God, which he had promised afore, concerning his Son Jesus Christ.”

You see that this whole verse is an allegory which really takes place in fact and life. As the word “Christ” is the word of salvation and peace, not in the flesh, but in the spirit, it follows of necessity that it subdues and drives out the safety, peace and easy life of the flesh. Where it does this, it appears unto the flesh harder and more unfeeling than iron itself. Wherever the carnal man is savingly touched by the Word of God, one thing is felt, another is wrought, namely, “The Lord killeth and maketh alive.” Though God is the God of life and salvation and these are his proper works, yet, in order to accomplish these, he kills and destroys, that he may come unto his proper work. He kills our will, that he may establish his own in us. He mortifies the flesh and its desires, that he may implant the Spirit and his desires; and thus “the man of God is made perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 397–98.

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The External Word

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From the Word

37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness to me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen; 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe him whom he has sent. 39 You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

John 5:37–40, RSV

From Luther

The external word or preaching belongs to Christianity as a channel or means through which we attain unto the forgiveness of sins, or the righteousness of Christ, with which Christ reveals and offers us his grace or lays it in our bosom, and without which no one would ever come to a knowledge of this treasure. Whence would any man know, or in what man’s heart would it ever come, that Christ, the Son of God, came from heaven for our sake, died for us, and rose from the dead, acquired the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and offers the same to us, without publicly having it announced and preached? Although he acquired this treasure for us through his suffering and death, no one could obtain or receive it, if Christ did not have it offered, presented, and applied. All that he had done and suffered would be to no purpose, but would be like some great and precious treasure buried in the earth, which no one could find or use.

Therefore I have always taught that the oral word must precede everything else, must be comprehended with the ears, if the Holy Ghost is to enter the heart, who through the Word enlightens it and works faith. Faith does not come except through the hearing and oral preaching of the gospel, in which it has its beginning, growth and strength. Therefore the Word must not be despised, but held in honor. We must familiarize ourselves with it and constantly practice it, so that it ever bears fruit. It can never be understood and learned too well.

Here then you have all that belongs to the article of the righteousness of Christ. It consists in the forgiveness of sins, offered to us through Christ, and received by faith in and through the Word, purely and simply without any works on our part. Yet I do not mean that Christians should not do good works, but that these are not to be mingled in the doctrine of faith and decorated with the shameless delusion that they avail before God as righteousness. After we have this righteousness of faith, works are to follow and continue here on earth. Both faith and works are to be maintained, each in its proper place, the former before God above all works, the latter in works of love to our neighbor.

Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 395–96.

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The Book of Comfort

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From the Word

1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves; 2 let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him. 3 For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached thee fell on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Romans 15:1–6, RSV

From Luther

The apostle gives us a general admonition from the Scriptures, saying that not only this passage, but the entire Scriptures were written for our learning. The Bible contains much about Christ, and also about numerous saints—Adam, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob—which was not recorded for their sakes. The Bible was written long after their time; they never saw it. Thus, however much is written about Christ, it is not for his sake; he had no need of it. It is recorded for our instruction. The record of Christ’s words and deeds is for our edification, the model for us to follow. Although the words are about Christ, they are directed to us, for our learning; we are to conduct ourselves as the Scriptures tell us Christ and his saints conducted themselves.

Mark the book the apostle here presents for the perusal and study of Christians — none other than the holy Scriptures. He tells us it contains doctrine for us. Now if our doctrine is to be found in the Bible, we certainly should not seek it elsewhere; all Christians should make daily use of this book. No other bears the title here given by Paul — book of comfort — one that can support the soul in all tribulations, helping it not to despair, but to maintain hope. For thereby the soul apprehends God’s Word and, learning his gracious will, cleaves to it and continues steadfast in life and death. He who knows not God’s will must doubt, for he does not know what relation he sustains to God.

Since the life to come is not evident to mortal sense, it is necessary for the soul to have something to which it may cling in patience, something to help it to a partial comprehension of that future life, and upon which it can rest. That something is God’s Word. Paul mentions “patience” before “comfort” to indicate that he who is unwilling to endure suffering and seeks consolation elsewhere cannot taste the comfort of the Word. It is the province of the Word alone to comfort. It must therefore meet with patience first. To maintain Christian patience under trials, the afflicted must comfort themselves with those portions of Scripture that show Christ’s example. Thus the hope of the soul continues steadfast.

Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 394–95.

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