By Johannes Brenz
The following sermon comes from Evangelion quod inscribitur Secundum Ioannem, Centum Quinquagintaquatuor Homiliis explicatum (The Gospel Which Is Titled “According to John,” Expounded in 154 Homilies) by Johannes Brenz (Frankfurt: Ex Officina Typographica Petri Brubachii, 1559).
This volume is a compilation of two groups of sermons. The first group of 82 sermons on John 1-10 had already been published by the same publisher in 1549. A second group of 72 sermons on John 11-21 was added to and published together with the first group in 1554. The present sermon on John 15:26-27, found on pages 791-795 of the above-cited volume, is Homily 39 from the second group, or Brenz’s 121st sermon in the entire series on the Gospel of John.
Read a biography of the author here.
I prepared this translation in connection with a writing assignment for the Northwestern Publishing House-produced Meditations. It just so happened to work out that I could also submit it to the editors of a forthcoming Brenz anthology to be published, God willing, in connection with the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.
Brenz follows a clear and simple outline in this sermon. First, he reviews the doctrine of the Trinity, “the substance of the whole of Christian doctrine,” presented here so concisely by the apostle John. Secondly, he preaches on the Holy Spirit’s nature. Finally and at greatest length, he preaches on the Holy Spirit’s office, or sphere of responsibility and activity, using three of the Holy Spirit’s names, his most familiar name and the two names appearing in his sermon text – a) the Holy Spirit, b) the Spirit of truth, and c) the Paraclete.
May the Holy Spirit through the gospel of Jesus restrain the wickedness of our flesh, confirm for us the certainty of our religion, and fill our hearts with the comfort of forgiveness and the assurance of our salvation in Christ.
Homily on John 15:26-27
Christ has said that he is fiercely hated by the world, but that his apostles were not going to be hated any less. Therefore any one of the apostles could easily wonder how these facts are going to help reveal the majesty of Christ’s name throughout the world. For the prophets preached about Christ that his majesty would be proclaimed throughout the earth. “Blessed,” says the Psalm, “is the name of his majesty into eternity, and the whole earth will be filled with his majesty” (Ps 72:19). And Isaiah says, “The whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa 6:3). And Malachi says, “From the rising of the sun all the way to the place where it sets, [his] name is great among the nations” (Mal 1:11). If therefore Christ and his apostles are running up against fierce and bitter hatred by preaching about him, how will the glory of Christ be proclaimed in the world?
Christ now preaches about this matter and he repeats the promise about the Holy Spirit, which he has also previously related several times:
But when the Paraclete comes [he says], whom I will send you from my Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will furnish testimony about me. Yes, you too are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning.
What he means is this: “Do not be worried about the glory of my name. For even though the world regards both me and you with fierce hatred, I will not let my name remain obscure. For I will send you the Holy Spirit, who will both reveal me and incite you to bear witness to my doctrine and majesty openly and boldly.”
We have indeed already treated this promise about the Holy Spirit. But since this passage advises us to do so, let us make a few certain points about this subject once more, that we might become thoroughly acquainted with the benefits of the Holy Spirit and may be incited to pursue them.
Plus, in the beginning of these verses the substance of the whole of Christian doctrine is contained here in very few words. This summary not only distinguishes us Christians from all the religions of other nations, but it is also the only truth by which we obtain true and eternal salvation. For although there is only one true and eternal God, Christ preaches in this passage about three persons in the one divine nature, who are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
“From the Father,” he says. Here you have the person of the Father.
“I will send,” he says. Here you have the person of the Son.
“The Spirit of truth,” he says. Here you have the person of the Holy Spirit.
Yet there is but one omnipotent God, the creator of heaven and earth. Here we are distinguished from all other religions, some of which imagine that there is only one person in the divinity, namely the Jews and the Muslim Turks, while others imagine that there are many gods and many persons, namely the pagans. But all of these ideas about the true divinity are impious. For there is only one God, but in this one divinity there are three persons. This is the true and catholic1 faith about God.
Next we must give our consideration to the Holy Spirit. We want to consider his nature and his office. For by his nature the Holy Spirit is true and eternal God, not indeed from himself, but from the Father and the Son. He is not born (natus) from the Father, like the Son, nor does he proceed from the Father alone, but he proceeds from the Father and the Son. For Christ says, “I will send [him],” and he adds, “who proceeds from the Father.” And the Creed of Athanasius says, “The Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son – not made by them, nor created by them, nor begotten (genitus) from them, but proceeding from them.”2 How exactly this takes place, human reason is unable to understand in this life. Nor does Scripture declare this truth that we might grasp it with reason, but that we might believe it in faith. But when we reach the heavenly kingdom, not only will we acquire a perfect knowledge of these mysteries, but we will also derive supreme and eternal happiness from them. We shall therefore defer these matters to the coming age.
And now let us learn the Holy Spirit’s office, that we might become thoroughly acquainted with his benefits. If we want to know the Holy Spirit’s office, we need look no further than his names. For in the first place, he is called “the Holy Spirit.” He is called this in contrast to the unholy, unclean, and impure spirit, who is Satan. For this spirit is the author of all impiety, foulness, shamefulness, savageness, and all evils. And when mankind sinned, this spirit became the lord and prince of the world (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). That is why he incites all kinds of impiety and evils in the world, both publicly and privately.
Consider the religious world, for heaven’s sake. Consider the sacred rites he has persuaded the pagans to pursue – how very shameful, how foul, how savage they are! They are not even able to be mentioned in church in an honorable way. The Jews used to have the true religion instituted by the word of God. Yet among them now it is not unknown with how many abominations Satan has corrupted their religion. What shall I say about the terrible and savage heresies which Satan has incited within Christianity? And who could count up the godless and manifest nonsense and deceits which Satan palms off on the Muslim Turks, modern-day Jews, and papists as facts to be embraced as absolute religious truth? This is what he has done in the religious world.
And what about in the everyday life of men? Here there is neither end nor limit of horrible evils. Here Satan incites acts of homicide, fratricide, infanticide, parricide, fornication, and adultery, and those sexual desires which is it not even proper to mention. In short, there is nothing so foul or abominable that the impure spirit will not seduce the human race to engage in it.
But the Holy Spirit sets himself against this impure spirit. For he has instituted on earth, first of all, the ministry of preaching the word of God. Through this ministry he gives those who obediently accept the word of God new birth, so that they become new humans, and he restrains the impious, foul, and abominable thoughts in their flesh, and he keeps them attentive to their duty. For unless the Holy Spirit stations himself in a person against the impure spirit, it is impossible for a person to pursue a holy vocation of God.
When Christ the Son of God was still living on earth, he drove out many unclean spirits from the demon-possessed. The apostles also did the same in Christ’s name. But even if it is not part of our vocation to drive out unclean spirits by an external miracle, the necessity of our salvation still requires us to command unclean spirits in God’s name and drive them out from our hearts. For by nature Satan rules in our flesh. Sometimes he tempts us to doubt God, to doubt the clemency and mercy God has shown us in Christ his Son. Yes, he even tempts us to deny God and Christ his Son. “The senseless person has said in his heart, ‘God does not exist’” (Ps 14:1; 53:1). At other times, he urges us on to intrigues, to deceits, to sexual desires, to jealousies, and to other evils. When this happens, it is time for us to issue a stern command to the unclean spirit and drive him out, by the power of the Holy Spirit. And how does the Holy Spirit exercise his power? Through his ministry that he has instituted, namely through the word of God. That is why we need to become thoroughly acquainted with the word of God and take it up, so that the Holy Spirit may have an instrument with which to exercise his power against the unclean spirit.
Secondly, the Holy Spirit has instituted and ordained civil government, so that, just as the ministry of the word of God keeps the pious attentive to their duty, so the civil government keeps the impious attentive to their duty, as much as is possible on this earth, lest the unclean spirit leave no place whatsoever void of foul desires, murders, and other evils. “Law,” Paul says, “was not ordained for a just person, but for unjust, disobedient people, for the impious and sinners, for the irreverent and unholy, for those who murder father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, those who sleep with others of the same sex, kidnappers, liars, and whatever else there is that is opposed to sound doctrine” (1Ti 1:9-10).
These two ministries, the ecclesiastical and political, are the divine arrangement by which the Holy Spirit restrains the unclean spirit. And these two ministries cannot be preserved unless they are preserved from heaven by the Holy Spirit. For even if the pious apply their efforts to upholding the ministry of the word of God and the civil government, so great is the power of the unclean spirit and so great is the multitude of impious men that, unless God himself upheld these ministries, they would not be able to endure among men for long.
But let us proceed to another office of the Holy Spirit. For he is not only called “the Holy Spirit,” but also “the Spirit of truth.” This name explains the Holy Spirit’s office too, and it is once again contrasted with the spirit of Satan, who is a lying spirit and the father of the liar (Jn 8:44). For this spirit has contrived the impious and deceptive religion of the pagans, the Muslim Turks, and the Jews (namely the modern day ones who are no longer the people of God, but rejected by God). He has also contrived all the heresies, and the ungodly teachings of the papists. The religion of all these people is unreliable and deceptive.
The pagans worshipped a number of different gods whose origin is either unknown or shameful. The Muslim Turks acknowledge the hollow teaching of Mohammed, who falsely asserted that he conversed with the angel Gabriel, but could not prove it with reliable arguments or evidence. The Jews acknowledge the fables of the Talmud, which even human reason cannot approve. There is no lie so shameless that the heart blinded by Satan will not embrace it as the truth.
The papists have masses for the deceased, invocations of the saints, pilgrimages to venerate the relics of saints, the cleansing fire of purgatory, and many other such things whose origin is either unknown or rests upon either a faulty interpretation of God’s word or a distorted echoing of the church fathers.
But the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. He has instituted and established a true and reliable religion, which centers on Jesus Christ the Son of God. Christ says, “He will furnish testimony about me. Yes, you too are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning.”
For first of all, although Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, few people were acquainted with this before the day of Pentecost. That is why the Holy Spirit performed such great and remarkable miracles in Christ’s name on the day of Pentecost and afterward. He wanted to demonstrate that Christ had truly risen from the dead and was ruling in heaven. Peter says, “Exalted at the right hand of God and having received the promised Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you now see and hear” (Ac 2:33). And again: “Men of Israel, why are you astonished at this? Or why are you looking at us as though we had made this man walk by our own power or piety?” (Ac 3:12). And just a little later: “You all killed the author of life, whom God raised from the dead. We are witnesses of this. It is through faith in Jesus’ name that his very name has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith which comes through Jesus has given him this soundness in the sight of you all” (Ac 3:15-16).
The Holy Spirit performed these and other miracles, not secretly, but in the sight of all to whom Christ’s name was thus revealed, as Peter says. He did this so that no one could deny that God himself was responsible for these things.
Secondly, the Holy Spirit not only performed miracles by which he might truly and publicly reveal the majesty of Christ, but he also incited the apostles and sent them into the world to testify publicly about Christ and his majesty. These apostles were with Christ not just for one day nor on just one occasion, but they stayed with him for the entire time that officially began, as Peter says, with the baptism of John, all the way up to the day when he was taken back into heaven (Ac 1:21-22). They also heard all his sermons and saw all his miracles, and so they had the most mature reflection on everything he had done. That it why it also says in this passage: “You have been with me from the beginning.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “If you had just come to me yesterday or the day before that, your testimony could be perceived as hollow. But now you have been my constant companions from the time I began to preach my gospel, and you have become thoroughly acquainted with all my words and works. You are therefore able to provide firm and reliable testimony about me.”
And the testimony that the apostles provided about Jesus is this: “God has made this Jesus, whom the Jews crucified, Lord and Christ” (cf. Ac 2:36). “There is no other name under heaven given to men in which we must be saved” (Ac 4:12). This apostolic testimony is so firm and reliable that it must not be yielded or entrusted to the Jews, to the Muslim Turks, to kings, to bishops, to demons, or even to angels who might tell us differently.
Enough about how the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth, has given testimony for Jesus Christ. Let us also talk about another office of the Holy Spirit. For he is called “the Paraclete,” which means comforter and advocate. This too he is called in contrast to the spirit of Satan. For even if Satan also comforts people at times – for Satan makes people secure in their sins and into those who think little of supplications – yet he only comforts that he may terrify even more. For with every thought he has, Satan is bent on this desire – to alarm and terrify mankind and to hurl them into perpetual despair and damnation.
When you think or do something sinful, he soothes you and gives you a sort of comfort: “Go ahead,” he says. “What are you afraid of? The devil is not as horrible as he is usually pictured, and the fire of hell does not blaze the way people commonly say it does.” This is the comfort that Satan provides the sinner, not in order to save him, but to destroy him.
For after the sin has been perpetrated and God’s judgment is revealed, then Satan holds before the sinner all sorts of terrifying things. “You have sinned!” he says. “All you can do now is despair. No hope of salvation remains for you. You have rejected the mercy of God so often that you no longer have any access to it. Christ has indeed atoned for sins, but not yours, because you do not believe as perfectly as you should, and you have so often denied the faith by your wicked deeds. And even if you do still believe, you are believing in vain, because you have not been predestined from eternity to be a son of God. There is therefore nothing left for you but to give up any hope of salvation.” These are the fiery darts of Satan. With them he strikes so much terror into feeble mankind that, if left to their own powers, they would have nowhere to turn.
But the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete, that is, the Comforter and Advocate. Those who believe in the gospel of Christ he comforts and defends in all terrors, whether of sin, death, or hell. Indeed this Spirit is also accustomed to terrify from time to time, namely through the law, through which we become conscious of sin, as Paul says (Ro 3:20), and which kills (2Co 3:6). But he does not terrify in order to destroy. Destruction is Satan’s intent. The Holy Spirit terrifies in order to save and comfort. He does the alien work in order that he might perform his native work. He kills man in order that he might bring him to life. He leads him down to hell in order that he might set him in heaven. For the Holy Spirit’s proper office and work is to comfort and defend in all adversities.
And so if sins tempt a person to despair, the Holy Spirit puts Christ on display, the one who has atoned for sins. He teaches that the mercy of God is always accessible to those who call on him in Christ’s name. He teaches that even if our faith is imperfect, Christ, whom we have received by faith, is perfect. “A bruised reed,” he says, “he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Isa 42:3; Mt 12:20). He teaches that Christ is faithful, even when we have violated our faith (2Ti 2:13). He teaches that the predestination of God is revealed in Christ, so that whoever believes in Christ may know that he is predestined by God from eternity to be his son for Christ’s sake, and that Christ therefore has atoned not only for the sins of others, but also for ours, yes, for my sins, and has chosen me to be his fellow heir.
This is the comfort of the Holy Spirit when sins and death are terrifying us. And he exercises this comfort in us through the ministry of the gospel about Christ. For he has instituted and established the preaching of the gospel of Christ on the day of Pentecost to this advantage, that he might have an instrument with which to exercise his office of comforting and defending, publicly in church and privately in pious individuals. The Bible says that Christ gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, that the number of the saints might be filled up, that the Word (of God) might be taught, and that the body of Christ might be built up (cf. Eph 4:11-13).
Let us then expend all our energy in becoming thoroughly acquainted with the gospel of Christ, that we might present to the Holy Spirit his instrument for bestowing his benefits on us and defending us in all adversities, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is God, blessed forevermore. Amen.
1 In the sense of universal.
2 The modern translation in Christian Worship is more concise, but perhaps less precise: “The Holy Spirit is neither made nor created nor begotten, but proceeds from the Father and the Son.”