2. Let us come into His presence. This is explained, in the first place, concerning His advent, both the first and the second. In the second place, and more appropriately, as explained in the gloss. For it has often been said, on the basis of the apostle’s teaching, how we behold the glory of the Lord with open face (2 Cor. 3:18). Therefore in this life no one sees the face of the Lord except by faith. Therefore “to come before His face” means to come before by faith in His divinity, as Ps. 4:6 says: “The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us.” Briefly, then, “the Lord’s face” is the very revelation of the divinity of Christ, which was veiled under the letter and the humanity, as was the face of Moses under a veil (2 Cor. 3:13). But after His ascension into heaven He revealed it through the Holy Spirit, as He promised, saying: “He will glorify Me” (John 16:14). Hence he rightly adds “with thanksgiving” (in confessione), to express how His face could be taken hold of, namely, not in clear sight, but by faith and thanksgiving. Faith confesses to the Lord. And it is to be noted that
1. “Take hold of” is put, first, as in the gloss, against the devil, lest we be taken hold of by him. 2. Second, it means: Let us hasten to take hold of this faith before and above all things, as if to say: “Let us watch out in every way that we do not prefer anything to it or busy ourselves with anything else or rather be taken up by anything else, as did they who said, ‘I have bought a field, have me excused’ (Luke 14:18). They wanted first to be busy with their own affairs and only at long last seek the things that are Christ’s. Against them is directed the word of the Lord: ‘Seek first the kingdom of heaven, and all these things will be added to you’ ” (Matt. 6:33). So also the Jews sought their own things before the spiritual. And this is what the apostle seems to have in mind when he admonishes us in keeping with this psalm in Heb. 4:11: “Let us hasten therefore to enter into that rest,” as if to say, “Let us postpone everything and before everything else let us take hold of this face, even if we never get around to taking hold of the rest.” For this is just and right. But it is wrong first to busy oneself with the back (that is, the letter) and with ignorance of Christ. As the face of Christ is the knowledge of Christ, which is by faith in Him and by the light of the Spirit, so His back is ignorance of Him, which is by unfaith and the blindness of the letter. Therefore let us before all things take hold of this knowledge, this faith, this face, this light of the Spirit, this brightness. Thus Ps. 88:13 reads: “My prayer comes before Thee.” 3. Third, it means that everyone should try to come before another, and thus let there be a holy rivalry and a happy incitement, and this comes about in the fervor of the spirit, as Heb. 10:24 says: “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” And so it is an urgent and a most earnest invitation.
Luther’s works, vol. 11: First Lectures 2