The Two Sermons which must be Preached

Pentecost Wednesday

John 7:37

“But on the last day of the feast which was the most glorious one Jesus appeared and cried and said: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.””

A person who is well able to distinguish between the law and the gospel may well be called a doctor. For the law and the gospel must be distinguished. The law is to frighten and render people timid and desperate, especially the coarse and crude people until they realize that they cannot do what the law wants done or obtain grace, so that they despair. For it will not happen that they can obtain grace. As Dr. Staupitz once said to me: “I have lied to God more than a thousand times that I wanted to become good but never did it. This is why I will not propose to become good because I see that I cannot keep that proposition; I do no longer want to lie.” This is also how it went for me: Under the papacy, I was serious about becoming good – but for how long did that last? Only until I had celebrated the mass. An hour later, I was worse than before. This goes until one becomes completely exhausted and must say: “I will put being good, Moses, and the law in a different place and stick with a different preacher who says: ‘Come to me you who labor; I will refresh you'” – and let the words “come to me” be dear to you. This preacher does not teach that you are able to love God. He does not tell you what you are to do and how you should live. When you cannot do it, he tells you how you nonetheless must become good and be saved. This is a sermon that is different than the teaching of the law of Moses that only deals with works. The law says: “You shall not sin. Go forth and be good. Do this and that.” But Christ says: “Take. You are not good, but I have done it for you. Your sins are forgiven.” One must teach these two sermons and practice them at the same time. For if one remains with one of them, it is not right. For the law makes only thirsty and has no other purpose than terrifying the hearts. But the gospel only makes full, joyful and alive, and comforts the consciences. Now, lest the gospel create only lazy, gluttonous Christians who think that they need not do good, the law says to the old Adam: “Do not sin! Be good! Stop doing this! Do that!” But when the conscience feels this and knows that the law is more than nothing, the person is frightened. Then you must hear the teaching of the gospel. When you have sinned, hear the teacher Christ who says: “Come to me. I will not let you die of thirst but will give you drink.” The pious hearts certainly very much liked this sermon so that the people said: “Alas, if we had only known this earlier!” Indeed, had this been preached to me in my youth, I, Dr. Luther, would have spared my body much torture and would not have become a monk. But now that we have this sermon, the godless world despises it. For they have not endured the hot bath and the sweat which I and others had undergone in the papacy. Therefore, since they have not experienced the distress of conscience, they despise it because they are not thirsty. This is why they starts sects and enthusiasm. It is true: He who did not taste bitter things does not remember sweet things. That is, those who have never endured thirst do not like the taste of this drink. Thirst is a good steward, and hunger is a good cook. But when there is no thirst, nothing tastes good, not matter how good it may be. Accordingly, the law’s teaching is given so that people are bathed in it and may sweat in the law like in a sauna and endure fear and distress. Otherwise, the sated and satisfied do not like the taste of the gospel. But let go of these. They are not addressed in this sermon. For it is a sermon for the thirsty who are told: “Let them come to me. Them I will refresh and give drink.”


St. Louis ed., 8:82-83.

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