Friday, September 12, 2008

Finishing up Luther on the Sermon on the Mount--Fruits

You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.

Luther connects this to the previous section, applying it to false teachers.

"Having warned His followers to hold fast to His teaching and to be careful that they are not seduced by others who are ravenous wolves under sheep's clothing, Christ, the Lord, now uses another warning to teach them how to recognize such people by their fruits. He cites an example in plain and simple words that even a child can understand. The most important thing is to understand what he calls a good or a bad tree and good or bad fruit. It is easy to say that this is a fig tree or a thistle or a good apple tree or a sour plum tree... But what Christ is pointing to here cannot be located except by a spiritual understanding on the basis of the Word of God. We heard earlier that these same false teachers put on such an appearance and are so glib in their speech that reason is not capable of evaluating them or of defending itself against them. As a matter of fact, this sort of teaching springs from reason and is completely compatible with it. Naturally it pleases us, for it teaches about our own actions and works, which lie withing our understanding and our capacity.

A brief definition of "a sound tree that bears good fruit" is this: one who conducts his life, existence, and behavior according to the Word of God, pure and unadulterated...

Thus the words "You will know them by their fruits" are set down as a distinguishing mark and a standard for judging and recognizing these prophets. If we are taken in, that is no one's fault by our own... You may say: "all right, but how do I recognize these? they may fool me too." Answer: You know what God's commandments are. See whether they agree with them. I will guarantee that no schismatic spirit will come without making his own special mark and leaving a stench behind so that you can tell that the devil has been there. No false teaching or heresy has ever arisen without bringing along the distinguishing mark He points to here: that it has set forth works different from the ones which God has commanded and ordained. The world is seduced simply because it follows insane reason and leaves the Word of God lying under the bench. It does not notice what He commands, and meanwhile it stares at the masks in the hope of seeing something special."

Luther wants to make the point that any of these false preachers will set up rules/commands/works that are not commanded. They will always go beyond God's word and ignore it, doing their own thing. This is their bad fruit: doing things they themselves invented to set themselves apart.

"It all depends, therefore, on really knowing and maintaining the definition of what Christ calls good works or fruits: a good work is one that is required or commanded by the Word of God and proceeds on the basis of that commandment. So a wife who is pious and faithful in her marriage can claim and boast that her station is commanded by God, that it is supported by the true, pure, and unadulterated Word of God, and that it heartily pleases God. Hence her works are all good fruit... Since they despise the real fruit and works for their lack of any special show, He despises the rotten works that they undertake so ostentatiously in their presumption that they are improving on what He has done...

If you measure them up against the commandment of God and ask whether God has commanded and required such works and whether they have served and benefited the neighbor, it is clear that they are valueless and only a hindrance to the genuine good fruit. The other stations, by contrast, put on no special outward appearance by glittering and glistening. Still they yield the finest and best fruit and are the most useful things on earth--but in the sight of God and of those who are illumined with spiritual vision so that they can see correctly and judge correctly... The regrettable thing is that this ghostly invention of the devil deceives and seduces even the sharpest mind that does not have the Word of God and a sound understanding. It follows its own supposition and devotion, and it imagines that if it find these pleasing, God must find them pleasing too. But this should be reversed so that I find pleasing what I hear is pleasing to Him, even though all of God's stations have their annoyances and many bad people in them who corrupt this fruit, just the way the bad worms do.

... The purpose of Christ's saying is to comfort and strengthen people who are in the stations that conflict with the feelings and attitudes of reason--stations which have many annoyances and evil incidents in them so that people are taken aback and regard them as dangerous and as unsuitable for the service of God.

Nothing but good fruit can come from the station that God has created and ordained, and from the man who works and lives in this station on the basis of the Word of God. With this you can now comfort your heart against thoughts like these: "Oh, it was this person or that who got me into this station. It causes me nothing but disgust and trouble." I have often been tempted this way in connection with my own office, and still am. If it had not been for the Word of God, I would have stopped preaching a long time ago and would have said farewell to the world, the way the monks used to do. It is the devil himself doing this and making everyone's station hard for him. Though God has assigned this office and work to us and is heartily pleased with it as the good fruit of a good heart, the devil so confuses foolish human reason that it fails to recognize this and thus destroys its own station and fruit. Because it does not see that this is a good tree and a good station, it is an obstacle to itself and therefore cannot yield good fruit.

And everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.

The outward masks of special works and worship are so dazzling that an ordinary Christian life seems pale by comparison. So they have no shortage of doing, teaching, and believing. "The difference is,' Christ says, "that they hear My teaching, but all they want to do is what they themselves have invented. I cannot keep them on the track of doing what I teach them." If we Christians were as diligent in our works as they are in theirs, we would be nothing but saints. Still neither side really gets anywhere: we are lazy and indolent; they are entirely too active, but never in doing genuine works. And so, thank God, we still have the advantage, in that we have started believing and loving a little and are on the right track, however weak our progress may be.

Now He closes this with a beautiful analogy, showing the final outcome of both: "Everyone who hears and practices My teaching is a fine, smart builder, who does not build on sand but first finds a strong rock as a foundation. Once he has this, he builds on it so that his house may last and stand firm. Then when the storms and rains strike around it and above it, and when the floods and wind strike beneath it to wash away the ground and upset the house, it stands immovable against all of them as though it were defying them. But everyone who erects his building on sand will discover that it will stand only until the rain and the floods wash it away and the wind upsets it, so that it lies in a heap or collapses by itself." With this analogy He intends to give us faithful warning to be careful that we hold tight to His teaching and do not let go of Christ in our hearts, as our only sure Foundation (1 Cor. 3:11) and the Cornerstone of our salvation and blessedness (1 Peter 2:6), ans St. Paul and St. Peter call Him on the basis of Isaiah 28:16. If we stand grounded and built on that, we shall remain impregnable."

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