A Sermon by Martin Luther; taken from his Church Postil.
THE CHRISTIAN RACE FOR THE PRIZE.
1. This lesson is a part of the long four-
2. Now, running is hindered in two ways; for one, by indolence. When faith is not strenuously exercised, when we are indolent in good works, our progress is hindered, so that the prize is not attained. But to such hindrance I do not think Paul here refers. He is not alluding to those who indolently run, but to them who run in vain because missing their object; individuals, for instance, who pursue their aim at full speed, but, deluded by a phantom, miss their aim and rush to ruin or run up against fearful obstacles. Hence Paul enjoins men to run successfully while in the race, that they may seize the prize and not lose it by default. In consequence the race is hindered when a false goal is set up or the true one removed. The apostle says (Col 2, 18), "Let no man rob you of your prize." It is true, however, that an indolent, negligent life will eventually bring about loss of the prize. While men sleep, the enemy very soon sows tares among the wheat.
3. The goal is removed when the Word of God is falsified and creations of the human mind are preached under the name of God's Word. And these things readily come about when we are not careful to keep the unity of the Spirit, when each follows his own ideas and yields to no other, because he prefers his own conceit. Such must be the course of events where love is lacking. The strong and the learned desire to be looked upon as peculiarly commendable, while the weak in the faith are despised. Thus the devil has abundant opportunity to sow tares. Paul calls love the unity of the Spirit, and admonishes (Eph 4, 3) that we endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. In Second Thessalonians 2, 10 he proclaims the coming of Antichrist "because they received not the love of the truth"; that is, true love. "And every man that striveth in the games [that striveth for the mastery]."
4. Were he who competes in a race to attempt other things or to make a success of other matters at the same time, he would not gain much; rather he would soon be defeated, lose the race and everything. If he would truly strive, he must attend to no other thing. All else must be neglected and attention centred upon the contest alone. Even then the winner must have fortune's favour; for they who neglect all to run do not all gain the prize. Likewise in the Christian contest it is necessary, and in an even higher degree, to renounce everything and to devote oneself only to the contest. He who would in addition seek his own glory and profit, who would find in the Word and Spirit of God occasion for his own praise and advantage after the manner of the dissenters and schismatics-
"I therefore so run, as not uncertainly; so fight I, as not beating the air."
5. Paul here points to himself as exemplar and hints at the cause of failure, viz., lapse from love and the use of the divine word in a wilful, ambitious and covetous spirit, whereas the faith which worketh by love is lacking. Under such conditions, false and indolent Christians run indeed a merry race; yet God's Word and ways in which they are so alert and speedy are merely a show, because they make them subserve their own interests and glory. They fail, however, to see that they race uncertainly and beat the air. They never make a serious attempt, nor do they ever hit the mark. While it is theirs to mortify ambition, to restrain their self-
"But I buffet [keep under] my body, and bring it into bondage [subjection]."
6. The apostle's thought is the same as in his statement above, "Every man that striveth in the games exerciseth self-
EXAMPLES FROM SCRIPTURE.
"For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant, that our fathers were all under the cloud."
7. Paul cites a terrible example from Scripture to prove that not all obtain the prize who run. There were about six hundred thousand of them, all of whom walked in the way of God and enjoyed his word and his confidence so completely as to be protected under the cloud and miraculously to pass through the sea; yet among the vast number who ran at that time only two, Joshua and Caleb, obtained the prize. They alone of all that multitude reached the promised land. Later on in the chapter (verses 11-
8. How many great and noble men may have been among the six hundred thousand, men to whom we would have been unworthy to hand a cup of water! They included the twelve princes of the twelve tribes, one of whom, Nahshon, Matthew (ch. 1, 4) numbers in the holy lineage of Christ. There were also the seventy elders who shared in the spirit of Moses, Eldad and Medad in particular (Num 11, 27), and all the other great men aside from the faction of Korah. All these, mark you, strove in the race. They did and suffered much. They witnessed many miracles of God. They aided in erecting a grand tabernacle and in instituting divine worship. They were full of good works. Yet they failed, and died in the wilderness. Who is so daring and haughty he will not be restrained and humbled by so remarkable an example of divine judgment? Well may it be said, "Let him that . . . standeth take heed lest he fall."
9. Well, the example of Israel is one readily understood. God grant we may heed it! Let us examine the apostle's text yet further-
10. Such signs were repeated again and again at various times, the last sign being given by Christ in his own person-
11. Thus the children of Israel had God's word that they should inherit the promised land. In addition to that word they were given many signs, in particular those Paul here names-
12. Such is Paul's meaning when he says the fathers did eat the same meat, and drink the same drink as we. He, however, qualifies with the word "spiritual." Externally and individually Israel had signs and revelations different from ours; but the Spirit and their faith in Christ was identical with our own. Spiritual eating and drinking is simply believing in God's Word and sign. Christ says (Jn 6, 56), "He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me, and I in him." And in the preceding verse, "My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed." That is, He that believeth in me shall live.
"For they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them."
13. In other words, they believed in the same Christ in whom we believe, though he was yet to come in the flesh; and the sign of their faith was the material rock, from which they physically drank water, just as we in partaking of the material bread and wine at the altar spiritually eat and drink the true Christ. With the outward act of eating and drinking we exercise inward faith. Had the Israelites not possessed the word of God and faith as they drank from the rock, the act of drinking would not have benefited their souls. Neither would it profit us to receive bread and wine at the altar if we were without faith. Indeed, had not the Word of God come first, the rock would not have yielded water and command faith. Likewise, if God's Word did not accompany bread and wine, they would not be spiritual food nor exercise faith.
14. So it is ever the same spiritual meat and drink which God embodies in his word and sign, whatever its material and external form may be. Were he to command me to lift up a mere straw, immediately the straw would hold for me spiritual food and drink. Not because of any virtue in the straw, but because it is a revelation and sign of the divine truth and presence. Again, if God's Word and his sign be lacking or unrecognized, the very presence of God himself has no effect. Christ says of himself (Jn 6, 63), "The flesh profiteth nothing." He makes that statement because his hearers pay no heed to the words in which he speaks of his flesh, though it is these which make his body the true meat, according to his declaration (v. 58), "This is the bread which came down out of heaven." Therefore we are not to regard unduly, as blind reason does, the works, signs and miracles of God; rather we are to recognize his message therein. This is the act of faith.
15. The apostle refers to a single type-
16. According to the general principle here laid down by Paul, by using the rock as illustration, we may say the Israelites partook of the same bread of heaven whereof we eat; and they ate of the spiritual bread of heaven which followed them-
17. We may say the same concerning the sea and the cloud. The children of Israel walked under the same cloud that shadows us; that means, they walked under the spiritual cloud that followed them-
18. Some take the words "which followed them" to mean that the spiritual rock accompanied the children of Israel, companioning them-
19. Again, some say the common noun in the clause "and the rock was Christ" means the material rock; and since Christ cannot be material rock they explain the inconsistency by saying the rock signifies Christ. They here make the word "was" equivalent to "signifies." The same reasoning they apply to certain words of Christ; for instance, they say where Christ, referring to the Holy Supper (Mt 26, 26), commands, "Take, eat; this is my body"-
20. The explanations and distortions of such false reasoners, are not needed here. The words are true as they read; they are to be understood in substance and not figuratively. So in John 15, 1, Christ's reference is not to a material but a spiritual vine. How would this read, "I am signified by a spiritual vine"? Christ is speaking of that which exists, and must so be understood-
21. Christ has been typified by various signs and objects in the Old Testament, and the rock is one of them. Note first, the material rock spoken of had place independently of man's labour and far from man's domain, in the wilderness, in desolate solitude. So Christ is a truly insignificant object in the world, disregarded, unnoticed; nor is he indebted to human labour.
22. Further, water flowing from the rock is contrary to nature; it is purely miraculous. The water typifies the quickening Spirit of God, who proceeds from the condemned, crucified and dead Christ. Thus life is drawn from death, and this by the power of God. Christ's death is our life, and if we would live we must die with him.
23. Moses strikes the rock at the command of God and points to it, thus prefiguring the ministerial office which by word of mouth strikes from the spiritual rock the Spirit. For God will give his Spirit to none without the instrumentality of the Word and the ministerial office instituted by him for this purpose, adding the command that nothing be preached but Christ. Had not Moses obeyed the command of God to smite the rock with his rod, no water would ever have flowed therefrom. His rod represents rod of the mouth whereof Isaiah speaks (ch. 11, 4): "He shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked." "A sceptre of equity is the sceptre of thy kingdom."
Ps 45, 6.