Now, the majority of the Jews, misled by the priests, observed the sacrifices with the idea that through them they obtained forgiveness of sins. This was to put the blood of a bull on the same level as the blood of Christ, and the sacrifice of a brute on the same level as the sacrifice of the Son of God. Because such wickedness was confirmed by these wicked opinions about the sacrifices of the Law, the Prophets so seriously inveighed against sacrifices—not because of their formal cause but because of their final cause. The sacrifices were mostly in the place assigned by God and according to the commandment of God, so that as far as the form was concerned there was nothing to criticize. But the final cause was diabolical. Thus we condemned the Masses of our opponents not because it is wicked to celebrate the Lord’s Supper—we also celebrate it religiously—but because they attach their wicked notions about the value of performing the act itself, about its application to the living and the dead, and the like. Thus in Baptism we do not leave anything to the performance of the act itself, but we say that faith is required, which accepts the grace that is offered in Baptism. Just as David had his enemies who opposed him because of this teaching, so also we are forced to bear our opponents’ insults, hate, excommunications, and the like, all because of this teaching.
Our theology should remain fixed and firm also in this teaching. We teach that in the matter of justification, when the issue is how to strengthen consciences and take away sin, neither the ceremonial nor the moral laws avail. They were not established with the purpose of attaining righteousness through them, as Paul generalizes (Gal. 3:21): “No law was given which could make alive, therefore righteousness cannot be by the Law.” Here only mercy avails, which God has revealed in the sacrifice of Christ, and faith, which takes hold of that mercy or sacrifice of Christ. Therefore ceremonies, whether the Law’s or ours, are holy and good, but for their purpose. Moral works are also very good, but for their purpose. But for the purpose of justification they are not only useless but absolutely nothing, because this purpose belongs only to the sacrifice of Christ. In comparison with its worthiness, all ceremonies of the Law, all moral works, are nothing.
This excellent exposition of the Fifty-first Psalm by the
Reverend Father Dr. Martin Luther has been published for the
glory of Christ and the good of the church
Luther’s works, vol. 12: