THE OFFICE OF PREACHING AND OF PREACHERS AND HEARERS
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me, if any man enters in, he shall be saved and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. (John 10:1-11)
TRUE PREACHERS OF THE WORD MUST BE REGULARLY CALLED
1. This Gospel treats the office of the ministry, how it is constituted, what it accomplishes and how it is misused. It is indeed very necessary to know these things, for the office of preaching is second to none in Christendom. St. Paul highly esteemed this office for the reason that through it the Word of God was proclaimed which is effective to the salvation of all who believe it. He says to the Romans (1:16): “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” We must now consider this theme since our Gospel lesson presents and includes it. It will, however, be a stench in the nostrils of the pope!
But how shall I deal differently with him? The text says: “He that entereth not by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber (murderer).”
2. This verse has been explained as having reference to those who climb, by their presumption, into the best church livings through favour and wealth, recommendations or their own power, not obtaining them by regular appointment and authority. And at present, the most pious jurists are punishing people for running to Rome after fees and benefices, or after ecclesiastical preferment and offices. This they call simony. The practice is truly deplorable, for much depends upon being regularly called and appointed. No one should step into the office and preach from his own presumption and without a commission from those having the authority. But under present conditions, if we should wait until we received a commission to preach and to administer the sacraments, we would never perform those offices as long as we live. For the bishops in our daily press into their offices by force, and those who have the power of preferment are influenced by friendship and rank. But I pass this by and will speak of the true office, into which no one forces his way (even though his devotion urges him) without being called by others having the authority.
3. True, we all have authority to preach, yea, we must preach God’s name; we are commanded to do so. Peter says in his first Epistle, (2:9-10) “But ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” Nevertheless, Paul establishes order in 1 Corinthians 14:40 and says: “In whatever you do among yourselves, let everything is done decently and in order.” In a family, there must be order. If all the heirs strive for lordship, anarchy will reign in the family. If, however, by common consent, one of the numbers is selected for the heirship, the others withdrawing, harmony will obtain. Likewise, in the matter of preaching, we must make a selection that order may be preserved…
PREACHERS OF THE WORD TO PREACH NOTHING BUT THE WORD
4. So much for the call into the office. But Christ is not speaking of that here; for something more is required, namely, that no rival or supplementary doctrine be introduced, nor another word be taught that Christ has taught. Christ says in Matthew 23:2-4: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat: all things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe: but do not ye after their works; for they say and do not. Yea, they bind heavy burdens too grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.” Although these of whom Christ here speaks were regularly appointed, yet they were thieves and murderers; for they taught variations from Christ’s teaching. Christ reproves them in another place, in Matthew 15:3, where he holds up before them their traditions and tells them how, through their own inventions, they have transgressed the commandments of God, yea, totally abolished them. We have also many prophets who were regularly appointed and still were misled, like Balaam, of whom we read in Numbers 22; also Nathan, described in 2 Samuel 7:3. Similarly, many bishops have erred.
5. Here Christ says: He who would enter by the door must be ready to speak the Word concerning Christ and his word must centre in Christ. Let it be called “coming” when one preaches aright; the approaching is spiritual, and through the Word–upon the ears of his hearers, the preacher comes at last into the sheepfold–the heart of believers. Christ says that the shepherd must enter by the door; that is, preach nothing but Christ, for Christ is the door into the sheepfold.
6. But where there are intruders, who make their own door, their own hole to crawl through, their own addition different from that which Christ taught, they are thieves. Of these Paul says to the Romans (16:17-18): “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly; and by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent.” Paul does not speak of opposing or antagonistic doctrines, but of those placed beside the true doctrine; they are additions, making divisions. Paul calls it a rival doctrine, in addition, an occasion of stumbling, an offence and a byway when one establishes the conscience upon his own goodness or deeds.
7. Now, the Gospel is sensitive, complete and pre-eminent: it must be intolerant of additions and rival teachings. The doctrine of earning entrance into heaven by virtue of fastings, prayers and penance is a branch road, which the Gospel will not tolerate. But our Church authorities endorse these things, hence they are thieves and murderers; for they do violence to our consciences, which is slaying and destroying the sheep. How is this accomplished? If only I am directed to a branch or parallel road, then my soul is turned from God upon that road, where I must perish. Thus this road is the cause of my death. The conscience and heart of man must be founded upon one single Word or they will come to grief. “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field” (Isaiah 40:6).
8. The doctrines of men, however admirable, fall to the ground, and with them the conscience that has built upon them. There is no help nor remedy. But the Word of God is eternal and must endure forever; no devil can overthrow it. The foundation is laid upon which the conscience may be established forever. The words of men must perish and everything that cleaves to them. Those who enter not by the door–that is, those who do not speak the true and pure Word of God, without any addition–do not lay the right foundation; they destroy and torture and slaughter the sheep. Therefore, Christ says further in this Gospel: “But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his Voice.
A TRUE PREACHER SHOULD FIRST USE THE LAW ARIGHT AND THEN PREACH THE GOSPEL
9. The porter here is the preacher who rightly teaches the Law–shows that the Law exists and must reveal to us our helplessness; that the works of the Law do not help us, and yet they are insistent. He then opens to the shepherd, that is, to Christ the Lord, and lets him alone feed the sheep. For the office of the Law is at an end; it has accomplished its mission of revealing to the heart its sins until it is completely humbled. Then Christ comes and makes a lamb out of the sheep–feeds it with his Gospel and directs it how to regain cheer for the heart so hopelessly troubled and crushed by the Law.
10. The lamb then hears Christ’s voice and follows it. It has the choicest of pastures and knows the voice of the shepherd. But the voice of a stranger it never hears and never follows. Just as soon as one preaches to it about works, it is worried and its heart cannot receive the teaching with joy. It knows very well that nothing is accomplished by means of works; for one may do as much as he will, still he carries a heavy spirit and he thinks he has not done enough, nor done rightly. But when the Gospel comes–the voice of the shepherd–it says: God gave to the world his only Son, that all who believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Then is the heart happy; it feeds upon these words and finds them good. The lamb has found its satisfying pasture; it wants none other. Yea, when it is given other pasture, it flees from it and will not feed therein. This pasture always attracts the sheep, and the sheep also find it. God says in the prophecy of Isaiah: “So shall my Word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish all in the things whereto, I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).