By Martin Luther
The following was translated from Das dritte Theil der Hauspostillen Doct. Martini Lutheri, von den fürnehmesten Festen durchs Jahr, nach der Wittenbergischen Kirchenordnung. Predigten am Weihnachten, oder heiligen Christfest. Von dem Kindlin Jhesu und seinen sechs Namen, aus dem 9. Kapitel des Propheten Isaiä (Vers 1-7) (Part Three of the Devotional Sermons of Doctor Martin Luther, from the chief festivals of the church year, according to the Wittenberg Church Order. Sermons on Christmas, or the Holy Festival of Christ. On the baby Jesus and his six names, from Isaiah 9:1-7), taken from Dr. Martin Luther’s sämmtliche Werke, vol. 6, 2nd ed. (Frankfurt am Main und Erlangen: Verlag von Heyder & Zimmer, 1865), pp. 295-305.
This, the fifth in a five-sermon series, Luther preached in the Wittenberg parish church in the morning of the Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, December 27, 1531. Once again the Weimar edition proved useful in confirming, streamlining, and correcting the Erlangen version (see WA 34/2:530-536).
See the “Translator’s Preface” to the First Sermon on Isaiah’s Six Names for Jesus for more information on the sources of these sermons.
God willing, now that I am finished I will reformat all five into one book of devotions for Advent or Christmas and present it to a confessional Lutheran publishing house for publication. I leave it in the Lord’s hands whether they will find such a book useful to my synod at large.
May Christ’s name Champion fortify our hearts, may his name Everlasting Father revive our souls, and may his name Prince of Peace make us his willing citizens while on earth and point us ahead to our heavenly reward.
The Fifth Sermon
Isaiah 9:1-7. (Luther Bibel 1545, alt.)
But it will not stay dark on those in anxiety. If in former times he has made the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali insignificant, then he will bring it to honor afterward, the way along the sea, the land on the other side of the Jordan, Galilee of the gentiles. The people who wander in darkness see a great light, and on those who dwell in the dark land it shines brightly. You make the people great; you make great its joy. Before you people will rejoice, as they rejoice in the harvest, as they are glad when they divide spoils. For you have broken to pieces the yoke of their burden and the rod of their shoulders and the staff of their driver, as at the time of Midian. For all the armaments of those who arm themselves with violence and the bloody garments will be burned up and consumed with fire. For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, whose government is upon his shoulder—his name is Wonderful, Counsel, Strength, Champion, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace—so that his government may become great and there may be no end of peace on the throne of David and in his kingdom, so that he readies and strengthens it with justice and righteousness from now on until forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
You have heard it spoken about the child through Isaiah that he should be called Wonderful, Counsel, and Strength. You have also heard what those names mean. Now follows the fourth name, “Champion,” that is, a warrior. We Germans use the word giant for such a man, a man strong and fit for battle.1
With this name the prophet shows how this king and Lord faces his foes. The first three names apply to us; they teach how he rules, comforts, upholds, and defends us. First he leads us into various sorts of cross and suffering. Then he gives us counsel and comfort through the Word. Thirdly, he stands by us with his power, so that we get through safely. So these three names concern us.
But this fourth name applies to him. It teaches how he wants to enlarge and spread his kingdom, how he wants to attack his enemies, to fling them around and pound them into a heap, so that we who are led by him in a strange way, comforted by his counsel, and upheld and protected by his strength, might advance and not always remain so small. He is therefore called Champion, because he is a giant and the kind of warrior who has his way with his enemies. This too is a strength and power, but not whereby he helps us; that’s what the third name teaches. But with this strength and power he beats up and throws down others, whom he also wants to make his subjects.
He accomplishes this without a single swing of the sword. For just as his government with which he rules his Church is carried out in a wonderful way, so also this victory against his enemies, through which he makes the people his subjects, takes place in wonderful way – without armor, without drawing a sword, without firing a shot. He simply hurls his gospel into the world. That is his sword with which he subdues the world. It happens just as the passage in Isaiah 11 says: “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he will kill the godless.” His only sword is the rod of his mouth and the breath of his lips. The gospel he has put into the apostles’ mouths is his word with which he strikes into the world, as with lightning and thunder.
The apostles did nothing but confidently preach the gospel into the world and seize people at their softest spot, at the heart.2 They did not strike anyone with a physical sword, did not take what belonged to anyone else, did not compel anyone with force. But they confidently armed themselves with the spiritual sword, which is the word of God, against all the world’s reason, wisdom, intellect, holiness, power, and riches. They took captive human hearts and brought them to the kingdom of Christ. They tore apart and demolished the devil’s kingdom in every nation.
St. Peter stepped forward on Pentecost after the sending of the Holy Spirit and struck with the sword of the gospel into the Jews. He fought such a great battle that in one day and with one sermon he repelled three thousand souls from the devil. And because he was entrusted with preaching the gospel to the Jews, he advanced even further and struck at the Jews until still others came forward, were converted, and became Christians. The persecutors, however, went down, and in the end all Judaism, which sets itself against the gospel and does not want to tolerate this champion and warrior, Christ, fell into a heap.
Similarly St. Paul, soon after his conversion, invaded the high priests, scribes, and the Jews. Then, because he was entrusted with preaching the gospel to the gentiles, he carried the name of Jesus to the heathens and to their kings. He taught that all humans, Jews and gentiles, were sinners, and had to be justified without merit, by God’s grace, through the redemption that had happened through Christ Jesus. That seems to be a trivial message, but it was such a mighty thunderbolt that the entire Roman Empire was struck into a heap, along with its idols, holiness, and wisdom. There lay all their gods – Minerva, Mars, the whole pantheon. Thus this Champion struck down everything among Jews and gentiles through the amazing power of his word in the apostles.
So also today, what have I done to the pope? I have never drawn any sword, but I have struck only with the mouth and the gospel. And I am still striking at the pope, bishops, monks, and priests, at idols, errors, and sects. And by doing that I have accomplished more than all the emperors and kings could have accomplished with all their power. We have only taken the staff of his mouth and struck at hearts, letting God do as he pleases, letting the Word do its work. That has caused such a stir in the papacy and torn such a big hole in it that, if the peasants hadn’t gone fishing for the net, things would certainly be much different with the papacy right now.3
So you can see this champion’s power in this, that such a great giant as he wields no weapons other than the Word. He has it preached into the world that all humans, with all their wisdom, righteousness, and piety, are in the wrong and condemned before God, and that whoever wishes to be saved must repent and believe in the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name. When this sermon advances into the world, indulgences, purgatory, private masses, monkery, and the papacy fall in defeat, without any physical defenses or weapons. That is one amazing and unusual giant, who destroys the devil’s fair with such a seemingly modest and chintzy instrument.
But the Jews and heathens say, “Sure, but it is not right that the apostles cause such a stir in Judaism and in the Roman Empire. Peter and Paul are really nothing but rebels who lead both nation and people astray and stir up rebellion all over the earth. How then can that be God’s power?” The pope says the same thing about our gospel today, that it is not God’s work, but the devil’s. Good. No one should understand this name, Champion, unless he has faith. Human reason does not say it’s right that masses, pilgrimages, worship of the saints, and indulgences cease through the preaching of the gospel being done today. For reason does not recognize this fearsome warrior and giant. Instead it says that he is a rebel, even as his own people, the Jews, have crucified him as a rebel.
But we, we who march along in the first name, Wonderful, know that we place our confidence in the trustworthy Counsel, Christ, and that we should wait on his strength. And because we do that, we see and experience that he is the true conqueror who carries away so many people from the devil’s kingdom in victory, and he does it so lightly armed, without one swing of the sword, using only the breath of his lips. And he shows this struggle not only in his enemies, whom he snatches from the devil and brings to the kingdom of heaven, but he also shows it daily in us by killing the devil in our hearts, that is, sin and death. For sins are the devil’s fiery arrows. When they terrify my conscience and cause it to despair, then it is time for me to strike the devil dead. How? Through the Word, which Christ puts into my heart as a reliable counselor. For wherever Christ is preached and his name is spoken earnestly, the devil must flee.
This is the struggle in which this champion is engaged. When the gospel commences in battle, it does not let up with swinging and hacking, so that many people are won and Christ’s kingdom gets larger. This is a blessed combat and war, because through it humans are repelled from the devil and brought into Christ’s kingdom. What a champion and giant he is! So it stands written in Psalm 149 that the saints “should have sharp swords in their hands to practice vengeance among the heathens [and] punishment among the peoples, to bind their kings with fetters and their nobles with iron shackles, so that the saints do the justice to them about which it is written. All his saints will have this honor.” Here’s how that happens: Our sword is not the physical sword of the world, but the spiritual sword of the mouth of Christ. The saints take this sword in hand and enter the fray. This results in a vengeance being practiced among the heathens and the peoples being punished, in the kings being thrown into the stocks. All of them with all their wisdom and holiness are taken captive and made subject to Christ. This is the honor that belongs to such warriors.
So too in the present day our gospel punishes the peoples and avenges our Lord God and all the blasphemy that has been heaped on him with the services and masses in the papacy. The Word sneaks in and puts our adversaries to shame. It captures and holds them in a saving prison, so that they are freed from sin, death, and the devil and saved eternally. That is a precious captivity. If only all the world were thus captive! – for it is the kind of captivity that guards and protects people from the devil.
The sword is drawn and advances, and it will continue to advance until the Last Day. It was first drawn over the Jews by the apostles. There it hacked away until Judaism was destroyed. Next it was drawn over the gentiles and over the Roman Empire. It hacked away until the idolatry had to cease. Now it is drawn over the papacy. There it will hack away without ceasing until the entire papacy goes down. The dregs of the papacy will remain, but the sword of the gospel shall not stop condemning the papacy with its idolatry. Even though the papacy will catch its breath at times, the Spirit of the mouth of Christ will continue slaying it until Christ brings it to an end through the appearance of his coming.
The prophet lines up theses first four names as those which pertain to the authority he exercises on our behalf and against his enemies. Now follows the fifth name:
This name applies to us in our relationship with him and is a very lovely name, full of comfort. For with this name it is shown that those who are under Christ are not servants, but children and free people, who have come out of the servile right into the right of children, and are not under the law, but under grace. For the word father is the opposite of the words tyrant and judge. Moses with his law is a judge and tyrant. Wherever the law strikes in a person’s heart, it terrifies him so that he wants to go to court with God. But it is recorded, in the words of David, “Do not enter into judgment with your servant, for no one living is right before you.”
We should pay close attention to this name, that Christ is not called a tyrant or judge. He is called Father, one who shows and conducts himself toward us in a fatherly way. And he is not called Father for just one moment, as the sophists have taught, but he is called Everlasting Father. In the papacy, when I wanted to go to the Sacrament, I would think, “If only it were possible for someone to remain pure for a single hour after confession! Then I might be able to receive the Sacrament in a worthy manner.” Accordingly I did not know what the forgiveness of sins really was, nor did I understand why Christ was called Everlasting Father.
Therefore learn what this name Everlasting Father means. If you are under Christ in his kingdom, then he removes the law and the servile yoke from you, not just for one hour, not just for one day, but all the way to the Last Day and into eternity. For he is your Father Everlasting, as the prophet calls him here. So you can never be under the law. Christ himself says so in John 3: “God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not judged.” If he does not judge the world, then the law must be gone. If a believer is not judged, then his servitude to the law must be over. In short, a Christian is not under the law, for Christ is called Everlasting Father.
Now that’s real forgiveness of sins, that in Christ’s kingdom the absolution is spoken not on account of our works, but on account of the fact that Christ bears the name Everlasting Father. When you believe in Christ, the law never has anything to say to you. Christ wants to be your father into eternity, to exercise no right against you, but to treat you like his child. If you have sinned and you repent and believe in the forgiveness of sins in his name, he will have compassion on you as a father has compassion on his children.
We should learn this well, that under Christ in his kingdom neither judgment nor justice are in force, but only forgiving sin and being an Everlasting Father. Let the unbelievers, who do not belong to Christ’s kingdom, go to the judge and executioner. But if you believe in Christ, you are an everlasting child, and Christ will always and eternally be your father. Or, if you must have the law, apply it to your flesh and old Adam to keep it in check, and conduct yourself according to the Ten Commandments. But your faith, heart, and conscience should be free from the law. In your heart the law should completely melt away before this name, like ice does in the summer heat.
Therefore a Christian should be prepared, when the devil wants to summon him to court, to say in his heart, “I know of no court, for it is written, ‘Whoever believes in the Son is not judged.’ The law is gone and has ceased to carry any weight, for I am under a lord who is called Father, not for one hour, not for one day, but into eternity. Therefore I am not under the law of servants, but am under the grace of children and free people. I want to have the right of sons.” A father gives his children everything they require, out of fatherly love. But if a servant wants to get anything from his lord, he must earn it through service.
So now Christ is not just a Champion against his foes, but also an Everlasting Father to his friends, to Christians. He rules them so that they need pay attention to no law according to the heart and conscience. In my heart the law should put nothing between me and Christ; forgiveness of sins should be all that’s there. When it comes to my faith and my conscience, rod, judge, bench, court, plaintiff, executioner, and everything else should be set aside, and this alone should be in force: Christ is Father, and an everlasting one. I should not imagine Christ to be standing behind me with club in hand; that belongs to the judge and executioner, not to a father. And Christ is called Father, and Everlasting Father at that. He will therefore not be my judge, if I believe in him.
Isn’t that a comforting kingdom, that has this little child? Isn’t that a great grace, that we wretched humans and sinners should be in a kingdom where there is no wrath, but only forgiveness? Certainly, let your old Adam be oppressed and tormented by the law so that he is kept in check and is obedient. Just make sure that your heart has joy and your conscience is glad and assured toward God. For Christ should be there, and he intercedes for us. He says that he doesn’t know of any judge’s bench; he is only an Everlasting Father. He removes the law from our hearts and lays it on our old Adam.
When the heart is thus set at peace, Satan comes and tries to torment us with Christ’s name. He asks us, “Didn’t Christ say in Matthew that many would be condemned on the Last Day who had prophesied and driven out demons and performed many miracles in his name? Is he really your Lord?”
But you should reply, “Bug off, devil! You try to use Christ’s name for yourself, but you are worthless. Christ is the kind who does not wish to take me to court, but is an Everlasting Father. He himself says, ‘I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world,’ and, ‘Whoever believes in him is not judged.’ ”
That’s what Everlasting Father means, that those who are under Christ are not under the law according to the conscience, heart, and spirit, even if they are under the law according to the flesh and old Adam.
The sixth name is: “Prince of Peace.”
This king will be a king and prince who will rule happily and peacefully. Peace, happiness, and prosperity will abound in the land for his citizens. In 2 Kings King Joram greets King Jehu by asking, “Is there peace, Jehu?” And in 1 Samuel David has his men greet Nabal by saying, “Prosper well! Peace be with you and your household, and with all that you have!” Christ is called Prince of Peace because there will be all abundance and wealth in his kingdom, sufficient to the utmost, as one could only wish to have. He will have a kingdom packed with riches and joy. That’s what peace means here. For if we stand in his good graces because he is an Everlasting Father, if sin, death, and the devil cannot accuse us, then, over and above that, there will be every kind of happiness and an abundance of all things in his kingdom.
But just as we cannot see with the eyes of reason how he is an Everlasting Father, so we also cannot see how he is a Prince of Peace. All of this must be believed, if we want to understand and apprehend any of it. This peace, these blessings, this wealth we have in Christ’s kingdom is the kind that no human can perceive with physical eyes or comprehend with reason. We have the gospel, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Psalms, God, Christ, his Spirit, and understanding. We have such understanding of Scripture as to make all people rich in spirit. Who can see and tell of these riches and this happiness, except the pious?
So now Christ is called Prince of Peace, because everything in his kingdom proceeds happily and successfully. He rules his own happily, gently, and peacefully and makes them rich and blessed in all sorts of spiritual gifts. But there must be faith if one is going to really perceive and treasure these gifts. Whoever could lay a single passage from the gospel on the gold-scale and see what great riches were bestowed upon us there, he would regard all the kingdoms of the earth as nothing but crap by comparison. Yes, whoever could just see what a gift and treasure holy baptism is would elevate it above the entire world’s possessions. But because we don’t see it, we don’t care about it.
But in reality these blessings surpass everything that’s in the world. For when you have the word of God, his grace, his baptism, and his holy Supper, you have all wisdom and can advise, help, and free people from death, sin, and error, so that you and others cannot help but rejoice in God in time and in eternity. These treasures are so great and priceless that no one can express their worth. And such blessings are in full effect under this king in his kingdom, where he rules with his gospel.
But what is in effect under the pope, where he rules with the precepts and dreams of men? What happens there we ourselves have experienced to our detriment. We did not know what baptism was, who Christ was, what faith was. We did not understand a single word of the Lord’s Prayer, did not really know how to pray. We did not understand a single one of God’s commandments, nor a single part of the Creed. We could not really explain a single verse in the entire Psalter. We were not able to say how many sacraments there were. We did not know what the duties of father, mother, manservant, and maidservant were, nor that their stations were blessed ones. When someone was supposed to preach about good works, he did not teach how everyone should obey God in his particular station and serve his neighbor. Instead he said, “If you want to do good works, go to St. James in Spain, go to Rome, run to a cloister, become a monk for all to see.” That is a gross and glaring wrong compared to the great riches we now have under the gospel.
This little child is the kind of king who is a gentle father, rules his own gently and fatherly, and is a rich prince who can and will make us rich and bless us “with all sorts of spiritual blessing in heavenly possessions,” as St. Paul says in Ephesians 1. In his kingdom everything is filled to the brim, and there is blessing in abundance. But it is “spiritual blessing in heavenly possessions,” which cannot be seen with the eyes of reason. One must rather perceive and apprehend them through faith, just as with all the other names, since they are entirely spiritual.
Therefore we should not be troubled, even if the world hates, slanders, persecutes, and strangles us, as long us this wealth of spiritual blessing and heavenly possessions in Christ remains firmly ours. If I have this treasure, I can defy the pope, emperor, and all the world, and say, “You all may be great lords, and I may be a poor beggar compared to you, but I still have a heller4 in my pocket that you do not have. I understand this passage from Holy Scripture which you neither understand nor care about. This passage I would not give up for all your wealth, nay, for the whole world.”
This, then, is how this little child rules his Church, as these six names teach. He is a king who is wonderful, has good counsel, is mighty, can wage war and be such an eternally tender-hearted father too, and is a rich prince, who makes his children into nothing but kings and princes, rich in spiritual and heavenly gifts.
1 Today we similarly identify such a man by calling him “huge.”
2 The Erlangen edition makes Luther a little more graphic here, describing the heart as the spot “under the left nipple,” but there is no support for this addition in either the Rörer or Nuremburg copies.
3 Luther is referring to the German Peasants’ War (1524-1526).
4 A small copper coin once current in several German states, worth less than a farthing.