At the beginning of this Reformation anniversary year, the following excerpt from a sermon by Martin Luther proclaims the role of faith, hope and love in the life of a Christian. — Editor
You have all three, faith, hope and love, together in a single package. Faith considers God’s promise and pledge. Faith holds this through the Word. So the heart holds firmly to God and believes His Word. That is the faith which you receive (fidem uistificantern — justifying faith) that makes you righteous and good. As faith acts, works and serves, it does so only considering God’s promise which comes by grace.
This faith is promised and pledged to us in God’s Word.
Saint Paul speaks of this faith when he quotes the prophet Joel (Joel 2) in the epistle to the Romans (Romans 10). “Whoever calls upon the Name of the Lord will be saved.” But how can you call upon someone in whom you do not believe? How can you believe in someone of whom you have never heard? How can you hear without a preacher, etc.? He concludes the matter when he says, so faith comes from preaching and preaching from the Word of God. He also says explicitly to the Galatians (Galatians 3) that we have received the Holy Ghost not from our works, but rather through the preaching of faith.
From this kind of promise and pledge of God, promised and pledged over and above any of our service, out of pure grace and mercy to us, springs hope. I am truly waiting for what was promised. Hope is nothing but being established steadfast in divine mercy to us and in nothing but what is promised purely out of grace. So I remain courageous and bold in this hope in order to await what He has promised. I do not let anything scare me away from it, whether sins, death, devil or hell, world or our own flesh. So now faith’s task is only to pay attention to the promises of God. So hope attends solely to what God pledges to give us exclusively in His Word and promise through this pure and alien mercy of God. As the psalm says, “Your loving kindness is before my eyes and I walk in the truth.”
So faith’s work and fruit is a happy conscience, a secure heart and a bold countenance before God. But hope holds still and waits for what God has promised, come what may. Hope guards us especially in times of adversity. Saint Paul has bound these together when he so beautifully addresses the Romans (Romans 5). “So we are justified by faith so we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we also have access in faith to this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the coming glory which God shall give. Not only this, but we also rejoice in affliction. For affliction gives patience. Patience brings experience. But experience brings hope, and hope does not let itself be disappointed. That is all because the love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Ghost which is given us.”
So hope is nothing but abandoning one’s present self and awaiting that which is not yet seen. For if you saw it, you would not have to hope, as Saint Paul says (Romans 8). Hope cannot exist without faith. It is even accounted to faith in the epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 11). Faith is the sure anticipation of what is coming in the future, what is hoped for. It judges things according to what is unseen. So that you can also distinguish between them, faith attends to the Word and the promise and believes that it is true. But hope attends to that which the Words and promises pledge. It waits upon those things and is sure that they will come.
The third part of the Christian life is love, which immediately flows out of faith and hope. Love hangs so near these that love also can never remain apart from faith or be found where there is no rightly fashioned faith. So little as fire is dependent upon its heat and smoke, so little is faith dependent upon love.
For I have come to know through faith how God has loved me, that He has sent down His own Son from heaven for my good and salvation, let Him become a man, and let Him die for my sins. By that He wants to help me, who would be eternally damned. He has given me everything with His Son so that I am made like Him in every way. I can rejoice. Because of this I can defy and mock sins, death, devil and every trouble. If that is true it is only meet and right that I shall love Him back, cling to Him, keep
His Commandments and desire everything that He desires, with ardent and active love. Such faith must win a person a friendly, sweet heart towards God, a heart which cannot remain only by itself, but must overflow and also make itself known freely in every act of thanksgiving and love.
But since God does not need our works, He has also not commanded us to do anything for Him but only to praise and thank Him. So such a man will go out and be completely devoted to his neighbor, serving him, helping and saving him, and doing it only from grace and mercy for him even if his neighbor is stuck in sins, an enemy of God and does not acknowledge God. He cannot leave him when he sees his neighbor stuck in anxiety or sins but he advises him in the right way, and leads him to God’s help and comfort, even as he has found God’s help and comfort. He preaches the Gospel to him and sees to it that he is freed from his sins. So if he sees him naked, he clothes him, hungry, he feeds him, thirsty, he gives him drink, etc.
Excerpted from Martin Luther, Festival Sermons of Martin Luther: The Church Postils: Sermons for the Main Festivals and Saints Days of the Church Year; Winter and Summer Selections, trans. Joel R. Baseley (Dearborn, Mich.: Mark V Publications), 31–37. Used with permission.
Posted January 11, 2017