22nd Sunday after Trinity.
"For they being ignorant of God's righteousness and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God." Romans 10: 3.
Saint Paul has shown in many places that there is not even one living righteous before God, and that not one person will be saved through the works of the law. This doctrine of Paul was especially against the Jews who imagined that they were able to fulfill the law and thereby become righteous before God. Many still have this faith of the Jews, especially the naturally meek, who do not feel a person's corruption, nor do they feel God's severe righteousness. Such people think that meekness repays itself, and will be more broadly rewarded; they have that false faith that a person's meekness should be acceptable to God. The pagans also have this faith, who do not know any other foundation of salvation than only that natural meekness; for that reason Pilate washed himself clean of all iniquity, before he proclaimed one wrong judgement. In that way he wanted to cleanse his conscience, so that God could not reproach him of iniquity, when he because of worldly honor and because of fear of the people, contrary to his conscience, condemned one righteous Man to death. Such is the foundation of natural meekness, that under the shadow of the law they can condemn an innocent man to death although their conscience battles against it. Pilate thought that he had cleansed his conscience when he had washed his hands and said, "I am innocent of the death of this righteous man." This paganish faith, that man's meekness must be acceptable to God, the Jews also had, who tried to build up their own righteousness and become saved through the works of the law. But the Jews' righteousness is no better than the pagan's meekness. But where does the righteousness of the Jews demand more than the law of God demands? The self-righteousness of the Jews demands keeping the Sabbath holy to such an extent that not one Christian can fulfill it. They kept it a great sin that the Saviour healed the sick on the Sabbath and that the disciples plucked a few grain heads with their hands. And the Jews were so strict about keeping the Sabbath holy that; they do not snuff out a candle on Sunday, but on the other hand are so blind that they hate and persecute the Christians, they grit their teeth and stop their ears when one Christian reproves them of iniquity and an ungodly life. Because of this self-righteousness, the devil has given the Jews sharp eyes to see faults in the lives of the Christians; the Saviour says, "They strain at gnats and swallow camels," they surely see small faults in the Christians, but leave out the weighty parts of the law, namely, righteousness and judgement, and so go about to establish their own righteousness. And this is one reason why the Jews cannot confess the Christianity to be right, that they see so many faults in the lives of the Christians. The devil has set them up as the Christians' guard posts. If one of them snuffs out a candle on Sunday, they keep that to be Sabbath-breaking; but if the Jews make Sunday a drinking day and a fighting day, that is not sabbath-breaking; although the king's law condemns drinking as sabbath-breaking. However, the Jews do not obey the king's law.
But Paul writes these words to the Christians, amongst which are some who are ignorant of God's righteousness but go about to establish their own righteousness and have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. This is one dangerous place if Christians begin to establish their own righteousness, they then drown the simple ones in doubts and press them so deeply into the law that it is not easy for them to rise up again. We know that self-righteousness is that devil who changes himself into an angel of light; he is supposedly so sincere that a person cannot understand his cunningness, he is one secret devil who comes upon a penitent one in the form of truth and effects so much, that some penitent ones try with their own repentance to be acceptable to God. Some want to earn grace with deeper tribulation and torment of conscience. Some cleanse their conscience themselves with self-righteousness but not with Christ's righteousness, and if self-righteousness comes before grace, then he becomes a terrible Christian who rises up on Mount Sinai or on the pinnacle of the temple and overlooks all others who are lower. And when self-righteousness rises to the pinnacle of the temple, he becomes the best Christian, he becomes overly rich in love and he depends only on movements and high feelings of grace and takes from there that supposition, that since others do not have such high feelings, they are still far from the Saviour. Some depend only on the cleansing of the conscience, which they themselves have cleansed with their own repentance and in that way gained peace, so that he has repaid all his wrongs and reconciled with all, he no more longs for cleansing of the conscience or heart in the Saviour's blood. Those who thus through self-righteousness have cleansed their conscience, overlook the movements of the heart, are angry at those pups of grace who whine and imagine that all movements of the heart are effected by the devil or one's own doing. Some also who have become Christians through self-righteousness, in that way, that self-righteousness himself has become graced by owning grace in a half-awakened state; he cannot bear to hear the law, but only promises of the gospel, for self-righteousness is such that he himself does not want to hear the judgement, although he judges others. But they who have owned grace although the heart has never been broken are so without conscience that neither the law nor the gospel touches the heart. They flee far from that place where the pups of grace whine, they become angry if severe law is preached, such thieves of grace are so blind that they do not recognize that spiritual hatred, which rules in their hearts. And since self-righteousness is so secret and so unknown that he changes himself into an angel of light so nicely that not many recognize it, for that reason it is necessary to remember what Paul has written to the Christians, "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God," He wants to say that some do not understand how severe God's righteousness is, that not one person can be acceptable to God with self-righteousness, but even all saints are faulty and guilty before Him; but self-righteousness is so rooted that many want to be saved through it, self-righteousness induces even the awakened to earn something in some way. But we see from Judas' example that he did not get peace of conscience although he threw the ill-gotten money back, but his conscience forced him to do that, so must every person also do, who has an awakened conscience; he must throw back the ill-gotten money but he still thereby does not get peace of conscience, for God is not yet reconciled. The ill-gotten money he surely had to throw back, but he earned nothing thereby, for sin will not be paid with money and therefore a person himself cannot cleanse his conscience. And if someone thinks that he now has a clean conscience when he has reconciled all and however is not reconciled with God, he has become a Christian through self-righteousness; and such a one becomes a terrible Christian, who has cleansed his conscience himself with self-righteousness. But he is a still more terrible Christian, where self-righteousness himself has become a Christian through owning grace, such a Christian is without conscience and is angry with the pups of grace who whine; and such a thief of grace cannot bear to hear judgement, these are not submissive to God's righteousness. But they also want to establish self-righteousness, who do not want to come and beg for grace as penitent devils, such ones self-righteousness drives and presses into doubts and finally they return to the world.
And now when self-righteousness has become as a dam in the Christianity, so that the Lord of glory no longer can get to travel as in the first awakening, then it would be necessary that those few souls who have a broken and a contrite heart would pray to that great cross bearer and thorn-crowned King, that He would destroy this dam of self-righteousness and would teach us on which side of the boat we should cast the net, and in which hand we should hold the sword of the spirit, at which tree's roots the axe could be laid, and in which way the field is taken care of, and how this dam of self-righteousness is destroyed so that the Lord of glory would get to travel. Hear, Oh merciful King, the prayer of that servant who has come under a great debt, Our Father, etc.
Gospel: Matthew 18:23.
Consideration: about self-righteousness. First: What does self-righteousness effect in the sorrowless state? Second: What does self-righteousness effect in the awakened state? Third: What does self-righteousness effect in a graced state?
First: What does self-righteousness effect in the sorrowless state? It effects so much that one sorrowless sinner becomes indebted to the king for many thousand talents; but in the sorrowless state he does not worry about paying it, but some think that it is not entered into the book of account, some do not at all remember what they have taken on credit, and some deny entirely that they have taken anything on credit. Some take from the king on credit and promise that they will pay at the first opportunity, but do not at all worry how this debt will be paid: some are such rogues that they take many thousand talents on credit from the king, but bring their goods to another, namely to the enemies of the king.
Now some of the king's debtors are of that kinds they take on credit many thousand talents from the king and bring their goods to the king's enemies and finally say to the king, "Let the devil repay you." Some surely take debt upon their own accounting and if some fellow servant asks of them, "How much do you owe my Lord?" then they answer proudly, "What does it concern you?" I will answer for myself, you will not pay in my behalf; and pay your own debt." In this answer is one terrible pride and self-righteousness, which the devil has given to all naturally meek, for the devil has such great pride and self-righteousness that he will not take any sin upon himself, but reproaches God as wrong, Who condemns such a meek and pious man. And all the slaves of the devil seem to have that nature, that they will not take any sin upon themselves, for self-righteousness, which is the foundation: for natural meekness, gives the drunkards that enlightenment that the flowing devil's dung is God's blessings and for that reason moderate drinking is not a sin. The same devil of self-righteousness has given the whores that enlightenment that adultery is love; and to the whiskey merchant the devil has given such assurances that the Whiskey trade is an honorable business. Now if a Christian reproves a drunkard of drunkenness, he then answers, "You are not God. If I have drunk, it is not on your accounting; I have not stolen whiskey, I have received it honorably or bought it." If it is said to the whiskey merchant, "With the whiskey business you have shoved many souls into hell before the allotted time, you have made many poor, you have drunk the sweat and tribulation of the poor, because of you the poor women nad children could weep in hunger and nakedness and all these tears will become burning in hell," then the whiskey merchant answers, "It is not upon my accounting, they themselves have bought, they themselves have drunk." And in this way the whiskey business becomes a work of grace and showing of love, and not a sin. It is love for one's neighbor, it is not for misfortune. From grace and love the whiskey merchant has measured out devil's dung to the people, so also has one meek whore shown grace and her love to her companion in adultery, through that she has done wrong to no one, and if some Christian reproves her of adultery, she soon shows her pass with which she can freely travel to the kingdom of adultery, and says to the reprover, "Look at your butt. If I am gaudily dressed, I have received my finery honorably, I have not anyway stolen it, and if I have lain with the boys, it is not on your accounting, I will answer myself if harm comes to my soul." Thus has the devil of self-righteousness made adultery, drunkenness, and whiskey trade allowable, he has made the drunkard temperate, the whiskey merchant honorable and whore meek so that they have no sin to repent of; how can such ones confess that they owe ten thousand talents. Some debtors confess to the unjust stewards that they owe a debt, when namely the unjust steward asks, "How much do you owe ray Lord?" Then one says, a hundred measures of oil, another says, a hundred measures of wheat, but the unjust steward teaches them to write the sin debt off as less, when he says, take the book, sit down quickly and write fifty. Self-righteousness has discovered this trick. When the conscience awakens, he tells the debtors rightly how great the debt is, but the unjust steward, who has wasted the Lord's goods and thereby come under such a great debt himself, teaches the awakened also to write the debt of sin to be lesser, so that the wounds of the conscience will not begin to stink and bleed until in eternity. And we know that the devil of self-righteousness does not increase, but lessens the sin debt as much as possible, but if the conscience rightly awakens and in that condition he shows to the sinner how great the debt of sin is, then the devil of self-righteousness puts rocks upon the load and says to the penitent, "Your sins will not be forgiven, not in this life nor in the world to come." But in the sorrowless condition, the devil of self-righteousness carries the load of sin like a sack of feathers: namely, natural meekness carries from one end and dead faith from the other end and the devil from the middle; how can the load of sin become heavy to such a person? To him the load of sin is so light as a sack of feathers and with this load of sin he runs very quickly to hell.
Second: What does self-righteousness effect in the awakened state? It effects so much that an awakened person intends to pay the debt of sin himself. We hear from today's gospel that the servant who had a debt of ten thousand talents prayed to the king and said, "Lord, have patience with me and I will pay thee all. With what do you intend to pay it? With tar, no doubt: How do they pay their debt, who take large debts from the merchants, depending on their own selves? They depend upon that, that they have a large tar-making pile in the woods. But it is unknown if the king cares for tar. The debt of the whiskey merchant might become paid with tar, but the debt of sin cannot be paid with tar. Nevertheless, this servant had such a trust and reliance upon himself that he can pay that great sin debt if he can have extended time. For it often happens that one sorrowless person postpones his repentance from day to day, until that time that death begins to press his heart; then the fear of death comes when the book of the conscience opens, he knows then that the debt of ten thousand talents has accumulated, but self-righteousness teaches him to pray very wrongly: he prays, namely, that time of grace would be extended to him? he makes such promises on his sick bed, that if God would allow him to live a longer time in the world, then he would make penitence and repentance. But it has also more often happened, that such people, who make promises of penitence and repentance on their sick beds, do not remember their promises any more after they become well; in the fear of death they cry out, "Lord, have patience with me and I will pay Thee all," but when they are well they cry out, "Let the devil pay you; you have nothing coming from me."
Behold now, good and bad, what self-righteousness effects in you: it effects So much that awakened people think that they can pay the sin debt, providing they could have extended time from the Lord. And no doubt, upon some future repaying you are now depending, all awakened and half-awakened, who have suffered so many years with an evil and gnawing conscience, You have for many years been rendering an accounting with the king, have surely confessed your debt partly, but the sin debt is not yet wiped away from the book of account. With what do you intend to pay your debt? Do you have so much tar stumps that you think that you will get your debt paid providing the Lord gives you extended time? You have already prayed many times, "Lord, have patience with me and I will pay Thee all." With what do you intend to pay your debt? with your own repentance? or better penitence? I fear that the king will command you and your wife and children's souls be sold at auction, if you do not soon fall down at your Lord's feet and prays Merciful Lord Jesus, You crucified and thorn-crowned King, I have nothing with which to pay that great debt of sin, if You do not have mercy on me and wipe away my great debt of sin, I must perish everlastingly. If you would pray in this way, you would get along better with your fellow servant, than that servant who took him by the throat because of one small debt. But self-righteousness will not allow you to pray so; but he says, "It is impossible that you could receive such a large debt forgiven, it is better to pay the debt, if you first beg for extended time and then pay a little at a time." Look, thus the devil of self-righteousness teaches the awakened ones to pray entirely wrongly, that he would finally get them to consent to the world and to forget their promises. There is no depending upon that, that this servant received his debt forgiven although he prayed wrongly, because the Lord looked at the prayer of his heart and forgave him his debt for the reason that he prayed. The Lord could see it impossible that the servant could have paid the debt although he himself thought he could. But not one awakened person needs to follow his example in those deceiving works, but it is set forth for us to shun, that other servants would not be deceived onto the wrong road of self-righteousness. That same servant had namely, awakened from the sleep of sin, and because of the fear of death he began to pray that the Lord would extend to him yet time of grace and would wait until he with his own repentance would pay the sin debt, but self-righteousness put him to pray like that, through which he strayed from the right order of grace, nevertheless the Lord forgave him that great debt because he prayed. And therefore we must believe that he received his sins forgiven and through that became a child of God; but what faith did he have now, when he had received his sins forgiven? It is impossible to believe that he had dead faith, because no one can receive his sins forgiven with dead faith. Therefore he had living faith at that time, but living faith soon changes to dead faith if the conscience is not watching.
Third: This servant had now received this groat sin debt forgiven, had so come into a graced state, he then had living faith and the child-right of a child of God. But he did not remain in that condition long, for when he was released from that first terror of death and became well, the world began to steal his heart, the conscience began to sleep, living faith changed into dead faith although he himself did not know how and when his faith would have changed, for he always built upon that former Christianity and thought he was still in a state of grace and that he was always steadfast in his faith. But we now understand of his works that he did not have fruits of living faith when he came out and met one of his fellow servants and began to take him by the throat because of one small debt, and self-righteousness had effected this great change in him, for in a natural state self-righteousness will not allow the pagans to believe that they are condemned. Self-righteousness does not concede that the Christians have the power to judge the pagans and that the Christians have the child-right of God's children.
In an awakened state, when the conscience condemns a person because of that great debt of sin which presses into destruction, self-righteousness does not allow one to ask forgiveness, but he puts the awakened one to ask for extended time that he supposedly, through his own repentance, would get to earn grace; but in the graced state self-righteousness rises to the head in some, and on the other side he casts them to the ground through unbelief, for when six devils beat a Christian with terrible temptations, but the seventh, which is self-righteousness, changes himself into an angel of light and preaches there in the skull that such a one is not a Christian, who feels so much evil with him and who had so many evil thoughts, lusts, and desires, as though Christianity stood there, that a Christian would be like an angel.
But on the other hand, self-righteousness raises some to the pinnacle of the temple or onto a high mountain and there he shows them all the honor of the world and exalts some as the "best Christians and fathers in the Christianity; and then they begin to take their fellow servant by the throat because of a small debt, some through the harshness of the natural law, some spiritually by merciless judgement, for when self-righteousness himself gets to be a Christian, he becomes a terrible Christians he does not allow grace any more to any others, only himself. What self-righteousness effected already in the first Christians, we see in Paul's epistle to the Corinthians, where he rebukes them of that strife between themselves: one said, I am of Paul, another said, I am of Apollos, a third said, I am of Cephas, and a fourth said I am of Christ. Here already self-righteousness had exalted some to be the best Christians, not one of these wanted to be the poorest among the apostles. And this arguing amongst themselves remained in Christendom as long as the Christianity was living; but that was not the work of the Holy Spirit — that discord between themselves, but it was the devils of self-righteousness, honor, and self-love, who already then cane between the Christians, and the pagans took occasion from that to trample the Christianity, for the pagans of that tine said then as the pagans of this time now say, "The Christians do not get along between themselves, do they not persecute one the other." And the pagans of this tine should hear what the former pagans have spoken so that they would better believe that Christianity is one wildness and remarkable superstition. But although the pagans now get to trample the Christianity because of discord, and it is also the fault of the Christians, for Paul says, "For the name of Christ is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you," we do not therefore believe that the Christianity is one remarkable superstition, although the pagans say so, but our hope is, that the Christianity must prosper and go forward no matter how the Jews gritted their teeth and stopped their ears. But we must pray to that great cross-bearer and thorn-crowned King, Who has come to make strife upon the earth between the pagans and the Christians, and drove out the devils of self-righteousness, selfishness and honor, greed and envy, anger and adultery from their hearts, so that they would become one heart and one soul as the first Christians were, that they were one-minded in faith and love, that they would be strengthened in their most precious faith and would remain watching to the end, that they would give their lives for Christ, if that merciful Saviour has so foreseen in His wisdom, that we must suffer hatred and persecution for His name's sake. For He has not spared one drop of blood which He has not shed for our sake. Then if His love so demands, we must be prepared to give our lives and blood for His name's sake, that we would win the crown of life and could rejoice with Him in that new Jerusalem and on Mount Zion where the hundred and forty-four thousand sealed sing the new song. Although we cannot yet follow their tune, but anyway it would be joyous to hear that heavenly sound which is more beautiful than the angel's voice. There is that goal to which we must strive, hasten and long for in our endeavoring, our tribulation, if we want to finally reach that blessed place, where all redeemed souls now rejoice and are exceedingly glad until that time when that great day of the Lord comes. Amen.