Saturday, 30 May 2009

Luther on Pentecost

Extracts from “A Sermon on Pentecost, Martin Luther, Wittenberg, 1523"
[Text: John 14:23-31]
The festival we call Pentecost originated thus: When God led the children of Israel out of Egypt, he had them to celebrate the Easter festival the same night, and commanded them to celebrate it annually, as a memorial of their exodus out of Egypt. Counting from that day, they journeyed in the desert for fifty days, to Mount Sinai, where the Law was given to them by God, through Moses. Hence they celebrated the festival we call Pentecost. For the little word “Pentecost” is derived from the Greek Pentecostes, signifying the fiftieth day... It is to this festival that Luke has reference. When the fifty days after Easter were past and the disciples had celebrated the event of God’s having given the people the Law on Mount Sinai, then the Holy Spirit came and gave them a different law. We celebrate the festival, not because of the old, but because of the new, event, because of the sending of the Holy Spirit.

Hitherto it has been preached concerning him that he alone produced and inspired what the councils decreed and what the pope commanded in ecclesiastical law, whereas the whole papistical law is only outward in effect, commands only outward observances and rules in material things.
Their claim is simply nonsensical, the reverse of their claim being true. For they turn the work of the Holy Spirit into a written, dead law, whereas it is essentially a spiritual and living law, and they make of him a Moses and a human weakling. The reason is, they do not know what the Holy Spirit is, why he is given, and what his office is. Therefore let us learn and understand well what he is, in order that we may define his office.
Here you learn that he comes down and fills the disciples, who before sat in sorrow and fear, and renders their tongues fiery and cloven; he so kindles them that they grow bold and preach freely to the multitude, and fear nothing. You see very clearly that the Holy Spirit’s office is not to write books nor to make laws, but freely to abrogate them; and that he is a God who writes only in the heart, who makes it burn, and creates new courage, so that man grows happy before God, filled with love toward him, and with a happy heart serves the people. When the office of the Holy Spirit is thus represented, it is rightly preached. Do not believe those who picture it otherwise. Now, you perceive that when he comes in this manner he abolishes the letter of the Law and desires to liberate the people from their sins and from the Law; the latter is no more needed, for he, himself, rules inwardly in the heart. They who oppose this doctrine, however, criticize him for compelling the people, like Moses, and above all for making new laws.
What means does he use and what skill does he employ thus to change the heart and make it new? He employs the proclamation and preaching of the Lord Jesus Christ; this Christ declares in John 15:26: “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall bear witness of me.”

Here we see clearly the Holy Spirit’s office, that he is bestowed only upon those who are sunk in affliction — and misery. For this is the import of the words when he declares: You must not think that I give you peace such as the world gives. The world considers that peace means the removal of trouble or affliction. For instance, when one is in poverty he esteems it a great affliction, and seeks to be rid of it, fancying that riches means peace.
Likewise, one who feels death near thinks: If I could live, and vanquish death, I would have peace. Such peace, however, Christ does not give. He allows the affliction to remain and to oppress; yet he employs different tactics to bestow peace: he changes the heart, removing it from the affliction, not the affliction from the heart. This is the way it is done: When you are sunk in affliction he so turns your mind from it and gives you such consolation that you imagine you are dwelling in a garden of roses. Thus, in the midst of dying is life; and in the midst of trouble, peace and joy. This is why it is, as St. Paul declares to the Philippians 4:7, a peace which passeth all understanding.

Thus you perceive how this Gospel lesson constantly refers to the office of the Holy Spirit, in order that we may rightly understand that he is given to us to comfort us and to bring us to love Christ. See, then, that you do not permit yourself to be deceived and to receive other teaching concerning the Holy Spirit than you have here heard.
...many papists dream that the Holy Spirit will reveal many more things to the world, besides the Gospel of Christ; but the Lord says here: “He will bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you.”

(translation in the public domain)

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