Always Draw Works into Faith

Epiphany 5 Wednesday

Matthew 5:16

“Let your light shine before the people so that they see your good works and praise your Father in heaven.”

Look how diligently Christ exhorts the apostles, which would not be necessary if there were not great danger and need for it. He means to say here: “People want to darken your light and do not want to put up with it. But only be bold and confident against this that you keep from crawling under a bushel. Just carry out your office faithfully and I will see to it that people will not hinder it.” For this is certain: While a Christian preacher keeps going and is able to despise the scorn and persecution of the world, the office too must remain. The gospel cannot fail while those who keep going remain. Until the Last Day, some must remain. But when Christ says, “so that the people see your good works and praise your Father in heaven,” this is spoken in St. Matthew’s way who usually speaks about good works in this way. For he, along with the two evangelists Mark and Luke, does not focus his gospel so much on the high article of Christ, as St. John and Paul do. This is why those three exhort much to do good works. And this is how it is supposed to be in Christendom: Both faith and works should be urged, but each according to its nature and dignity–faith in Christ should be the first and highest teaching; then the works should be taught. Now, since the evangelist John thoroughly and most powerfully taught the chief article–this is why he is justly regarded as the highest and preeminent evangelist–Matthew, Mark, and Luke took up the other part and strongly taught it lest it be forgotten. This is why they are better than John in this part, while John is better than they in the other. But you must not look at the verses and teaching concerning works in a way that separates faith from them, as they, our blind teachers, bungle it, but must always draw the works into faith, so that they are embodied in it, proceed from faith and return to faith, and are praised and called good because of faith…
So here, where he says: “So that they see your good works,” you must not understand this to refer to bare, insignificant works, that is, works without faith (as the works so far taught by our ministers were), but must refer this to the kind of works faith does, works that cannot be done without faith. For Christ here calls good works when people practice, urge, and confess the doctrine concerning Christ and faith and when they suffer because of doing so. For he talks about the kind of works by which one lets one’s light shine. But “letting one’s light shine” is the true office of faith or teaching by which we help other people to come to faith as well. This is why these works are the highest and best works. They are the kind of works from which it must follow, as he says here, that the heavenly Father is honored and praised. For this teaching or sermon removes all boasting of holiness from us and says: “There is nothing good in us of which we could boast.” And, contrariwise, it instructs the conscience on how it is to relate to God, showing God’s grace and mercy and the whole Christ to it. This is what it means to reveal and praise God properly, which is also the true sacrifice and worship. These works are to be the first and most preeminent ones; the outward life in relation to the neighbor follows them. This  life is called works of love. They also shine, but no farther than to the extent they are kindled and energized
by faith in Christ.

St. Louis ed., 7:418-420.

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