Thursday, March 1, 2012

Luther's Commentary on Galatians 1:3

 Galatians 1: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The apostle's greeting is strange to the world and was never heard of before the preaching of the Gospel.  These two words, grace and peace, include all that belong to Christianity.  Grace releases sin, and peace makes the conscience quiet.  The two fiends that torment us are sin and conscience.  But Christ has vanquished these two monsters and has trodden them underfoot, both in this life and in the life to come.  The world does not know this, and therefore it can teach no certainty of the overcoming of sin, conscience, and death.  Only Christians have this kind of teaching and are armed with it in order to gain the victory against sin, despair, and everlasting death.  This is a teaching that neither comes of free will, nor is invented by human wisdom or reason, but is given to us from above. 

Grace contains the remission of sins, a quiet and joyful conscience.  Peace of conscience can never be had unless sin is forgiven first.  But sin is not forgiven for fulfilling the law, for no one is able to satisfy the law.  Rather, the law shows sin, accuses and terrifies the conscience, declares God's wrath, and drives people to desperation.  Much less is sin taken away by human deeds and human ideas, such as wicked worship, strange religions, vows, and pilgrimages.  Finally, there is no work that can take sin away; rather, sin is increased by works.  The more merit-mongers labor and sweat to bring themselves out of sin, the deeper they are plunged into it.  There is no means to take sin away but grace alone.  That is why Paul, in all the greetings of his letters, sets grace and peace against sin and a bad conscience.  Note this most carefully.  The words are simple, but during temptation, to be convinced in our hearts that we have forgiveness of sins and peace with God by grace alone is the hardest thing.

The world does not understand this teaching, and therefore it cannot abide it and does not wish to; it condemns it as heretical and wicked.  It brags about free will, the light of reason, the soundness of the power and qualities of nature, and good deeds as means whereby it can discern and attain grace and peace - that is, forgiveness of sins and a quiet conscience.  But it is impossible for the conscience to be quiet and joyful unless it has peace through grace - that is, through the forgiveness of sins promised in Christ.  Many people have conscientiously labored to attain peace and quietness of conscience by seeking out various religious orders and exercises for that purpose; but by doing so, they have plunged themselves into more and greater miseries, for all such devices are only ways of increasing doubt and despair.  Therefore,  there will be no rest for my bones or yours unless we listen to the Word of grace and stick to it consistently and faithfully.  Then our conscience will certainly find grace and peace.

The apostle rightly distinguishes this grace and peace from all other kinds of grace and peace.  He wishes the Galatians grace and peace not from the emperor or kings and princes, for these often persecute godly people and rise up against the Lord and against Christ his Anointed One.  Nor does Paul wish it to come from the world, for "in this world you will have trouble," says Christ.  He wishes it from God our Father, which is like saying he wished them heavenly peace. "My peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives," the Saviour assured us.  The peace of the world gives nothing but the peace of our goods and bodies.  But in affliction and in the hour of death, the grace and favour of the world cannot help us; they cannot deliver us from affliction, despair, and death.

But when the grace and peace of God are in our hearts,  then we are strong, so that we can neither be cast down with adversity, nor puffed up with prosperity, but will walk on confidently and will stay on the King's highway, for we take heart in the victory of Christ's death, and our confidence in it begins to reign in our conscience over sin and death.  Through him we are assured of the forgiveness of sins, and once we have obtained this, our conscience is at rest, and is comforted by the word of grace.  If we are comforted and heartened by the grace of God, we are able to bear all troubles valiantly and to overcome them, even death itself.  This peace of God is not given to the world, because the world never longs for it and does not understand it; it is given to those who believe.  And this happens only by the grace of God. 

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