Saturday, April 10, 2010

"I will constrain no man by force..."

The following is from the second of Martin Luther's Invocavit sermons.
Now if I should rush in and abolish it [the Latin mass] by force, there are many who would be compelled to consent to it and yet not know where they stand, whether it is right or wrong, and they would say: I do not know if it is right or wrong, I do not know where I stand, I was compelled by force to submit to the majority. And this forcing and commanding results in a mere mockery, an external show, a fool's play, man-made ordinances, sham-saints, and hypocrites. For where the heart is not good, I care nothing at all for the work. We must first win the hearts of the people. But that is done when I teach only the word of God, preach the gospel, and say: Dear lords and pastors, abandon the Mass, it is not right, you are sinning when you do it; I cannot refrain from telling you this. But I would not make it an ordinance for them, nor urge a general law. He who would follow me could do so, and he who refused would remain outside. In the latter case the word would sink into the heart and do its work. Thus he would become convinced and acknowledge his error, and fall away from the Mass; tomorrow another would do the same, and thus God would accomplish more with His word than if you and I were to merge all our power into one heap. So when you have won the heart, you have won the man - and thus the thing must finally fall of its own weight and come to an end. And if the hearts and minds of all are agreed and united, abolish it. But if all are not heart and soul for its abolishment - leave it in God's hands, I beseech you, otherwise the result will not be good. Not that I would again set up the Mass; I let it lie in God's name. Faith must not be chained and imprisoned, nor bound by an ordinance to any work. This is the principle by which you must be governed. For I am sure you will not be able to carry out your plans. And if you should carry them out with such general laws, then I will recant everything that I have written and preached and I will not support you. This I am telling you now. What harm can it do you? You still have your faith in God, pure and strong so that this thing cannot hurt you.

Love, therefore, demands that you have compassion on the weak, as all the apostles had. Once, when Paul came to Athens (Acts 17), a mighty city, he found in the temple many ancient altars, and he went from one to the other and looked at them all, but he did not kick down a single one of them with his foot. Rather he stood up in the middle of the market place and said they were nothing but idolatrous things and begged the people to forsake them; yet he did not destroy one of them by force. When the word took hold of their hearts, they forsook them of their own accord, and in consequence the thing fell of itself. Likewise, if I had seen them holding Mass, I would have preached to them and admonished them. Had they heeded my admonition, I would have won them; if not, I would nevertheless not have torn them from it by the hair or employed any force, but simply allowed the word to act and prayed for them. For the word created heaven and earth and all things [Psalm 33:6]; the word must do this thing, and not we poor sinners.

In short, I will preach it, teach it, write it, but I will constrain no man by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God's word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philipp and Amsdorf, the word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the word did everything. Had I desired to foment trouble, I could have brought great bloodshed upon Germany; indeed, I could have started such a game that even the emperor would not have been safe. But what would it have been? Mere fool's play. I did nothing; I let the word do its work. What do you suppose is Satan's thought when one tries to do the thing by kicking up a row? He sits back in hell and thinks: Oh, what a fine game the poor fools are up to now! But when we spread the word alone and let it alone do the work, that distresses him. For it is almighty and takes captive the hearts, and when the hearts are captured the work will fall of itself.

1 comment:

  1. This kind of goes along with what you and I talked about, not trying to force ones theological convictions upon another person. I could care less if somebody is Reformed or not. As long as they believe the gospel, I can still call them brother/sister if the true work of repentance has been evidenced in their lives.

    A timely post to remind us all that the change wrought in a person is that of the Spirit and never of the person speaking. One plants, another sows, but it is God who gives the increase. Although that is in the context of salvation, I believe it is appropriate for this context since Luther focused so much on the Word of God and the Spirit being the convicter of men's consciences.

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