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Conversion of St. Paul, Jan. 25 (Johann Heermann)

by Rev. Dr. Benjamin T. G. Mayes ~ January 27th, 2012

On the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.

Sermon by Johann Heermann, from his Labores Sacri.

Translated and abbreviated by Matthew Carver, 2012.

Repentance and conversion do us show
How sinful man to heaven’s bliss may go.

OPENING

In the name of Christ Jesus, our good Savior, who will grant the forgiveness of sins mercy be encountered by all who join Paul and turn to Him with their heart; most blessed forever with His heavenly Father and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

“Repentance and conversion is the right way that leads men to the angels, and gives the creature back to his Creator,” says Augustine, the ancient doctor of the Church. Propriety therefore demands that we should at all times, and especially this day, be converted to God, that we too may attain to the heavenly fellowship of the angels and find the grace of God.

Whoever desires this, let him sing in true repentance: “Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott” [ “Have mercy on me, Lord my God”, cf. ], and hereupon pray a devout Our Father.

Attend diligently the story of the Conversion of St. Paul, from the Acts of the Apostles, the 9th chapter. [vv. 1–22 are read]

***

INTRODUCTION

When the Patriarch Jacob was about to die, he told his sons what would befall them in the time to come, and finally spoke of his youngest son: “Benjamin is a savage wolf; in the morning he will devour the spoil, but in the evening he will divide the spoil.” On these words Luther writes as follows: “What the text means, I do not know for sure. It might be understood as referring to King Saul, or else St. Paul, for both were of this seed. But since the blessing sounds benevolent, I think that most simply he is speaking of King Saul, who was the first king, and strove with Amalek, and defeated him, and divided the spoil. Whoever wants it to be spiritual and to connect it to St. Paul may do so in the sense that he was a savage wolf first when he persecuted the Church, but then was converted, devoured the spoil and divided it, that is, despoiled the devil and the world of their souls, and brought them to Christ, and wrought much good in the Church, yea, preached to and made Christians of almost the whole world by himself; so it does not seem bad to me to read the text as concerning him.”

Now, that Paul, of the tribe of Benjamin, devoured the spoil in the morning, that is, raged against the Christ’s sheep with threats and murder at the start, persecuting, scattering, attacking, and slaying them; and divided the spoil in the evening, that is, wrested the souls of men from Satan’s jaws by speaking and writing, and converted them to Christ,—this we have seen in the lesson that was just read.

At this time, however, let us briefly treat the crucial doctrines of repentance and conversion. And that this may be done with all the more enjoyment, let us take pleasure in the meditations of the blessed ancients and discuss somewhat after their guidance.

***

SERMON (OUTLINE)

“Concerning the Ladder of Repentance on which all Christian hearts are able to ascend God’s grace and climb into heaven.”

—The spiritual Ladder of Conversion, O devout Christian hearts, has seven rungs on which we may ascend God’s grace and mercy.

I. Fear of punishment…

[Relates part of the lesson; God’s wrath against sin: Deut. 28; David; The flood; Sodom; ]

…How frightfully for the sake of sin God punished the first world with the flood, and the Sodomites with fire from heaven, the rebellious crowd with earth, by which they were swallowed alive. The Lord your God even now has His winnowing-fork in hand. He will winnow His grain and gather the wheat into His bar, but the chaff He will burn with everlasting fire. Whoever hears this, whoever ponders this, will certainly fear the wrath of the Lord and turn with his heart.

II. Sorrow and contrition for sin…

[Relates text; Jeremiah; Daniel; the sinful woman; the prodigal son; Peter’s tears]

…If you do this also, O my child, then you are again one rung nearer the grace of God and blessedness, and shall obtain the forgiveness of sins; for the sacrifices that please God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart God will not despise. He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. So says the High and Exalted One Himself, who dwells forever, whose name is holy: “I dwell on high in the sanctuary, and with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, that I may quicken the spirit of the humbled, and the heart of the downcast. I will not always chide nor hold My anger forever, but a spirit shall go from my presence, and I will give breath, that tis, I will quicken the afflicted.

III. Strong hope that you will obtain grace…

[Relevant text; Why doubt? The Lord is gracious; Though your sins be as scarlet; As surely as I live…; Micah: Where is such a God…?; Ex.: Lot’s incest; Rahab; David; Manasses; Mary Magdalene; Matthew the publican; the murderer on the cross…]

…Therefore say with Bernard, if my sin is great, I think of Your great and manifold mercy, and am revived. “This is the very sugar of true repentance by which the sinner is reconciled to God, if he bids farewell to all creatures and created things and with all his heart relies solely on God’s lovingkindness,” writes Tauler.

IV. Desire and love for purity, or a proper, earnest resolve to amend one’s life…

[Relates text; David: “I do not sit with the idolatrous…”; a little leaven…; A new commandment…; King Saul: “I have sinned…”; Chrys.; Bern.;

…Therefore follow the admonition of St. Paul, who says, “Do not devote your members to sin as weapons of unrighteousness, but devote yourselves to God, as those which have from the dead are made alive, and your members to God as weapons of righteousness.” Those who have come to believe in God are to be found in a state of good works. If out of inherited weakness you happen to err, the Lord Jesus will cover such straying steps with the robes of His grace. Simply sigh daily with King David and say, “Create in me, O God, a clean heart, and give me a new, certain spirit; cast me not away from Your presence, and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Comfort me again with Your salvation, and let the fearless Spirit uphold me.”

V. Longing for the heavenly fatherland…

[Relates text; “For me to live is Christ…”; love of earthly things; St. John: “The world and its pleasures…”; pilgrim and stranger; camel disturbs the water; Babylas under Decius; Maximilian II in Vienna; Roland’s epitaph;

VI. Distrust of one’s own righteousness…

[Relates text; Isa.: “They seek Me daily…”; Pharisees; “What do you have that you did not receive…”; Ambrose: “Works are from faith, not v.v.”; David: “None living is righteous…”; Abraham; “I am an unworthy servant”;]

…”My merit is the mercy of the Lord,” says Bernard. To sum up, what St. Paul wrote still obtains: “By grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is God’s gift, not of works, lest any man boast.”

VII. Trust in another’s righteousness, viz., the Lord Jesus’. On this St. Paul stood firmly and immovably, and said, “We are justified apart from merit out of His grace, through the redemption which has come to be through Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a mercy-seat through faith in His blood.” Follow this example, O repentant heart. No man on earth, no angel in heaven, can free you from your sins; All thy debt Christ Jesus alone hath paid, so that “peace with God once more is made.” — “He hath for us the law obeyed / And thus the father’s vengeance stayed, / Which over us impended.” “Surely He bore our sickness and put upon Himself our sorrows. He was wounded for our iniquity and smitten for our sin; the punishment lay upon Him that we might have peace, and by His wounds we are healed.” He suffered once for our sin, the Righteous for the unrighteous; He was obedient to His heavenly Father unto death, even the death of the cross. Take hold of this precious merit of His and take comfort in all that He suffered and did, that it was done for your sake and your good. Say with the Apostle Paul, “Christ died for our (even my) sin, and was raised again for our (and above al for my) righteousness.” He is the end of the law for righteousness to all who believe in Him. When you do this, the heavenly Father reckons to you, without any merit or worthiness of your own, the righteousness, holiness, godliness, and obedience of His beloved Son, your precious Savior, as if you yourself had fulfilled the law perfectly. After Adam and Eve fell in sin, and the Lord God received them back into His favor by the intercession of His most beloved Son, He clothed them with the skins of slaughtered lambs, by which their nakedness was covered, indicating how His beloved Son, at the appointed time, would be slaughtered as the true Lamb of God for the sin of the whole world, and clothe us with the robe of His innocence and righteousness, that the hideous shame of our sin might not be seen.

On this St. Augustine confided with all his confidence, saying, “We obtain the forgiveness of sins through the Mediator of God and man, the Man Christ Jesus, through whom we are cleansed from sins, reconciled to God.”

Justin Martyr likewise knew no better consolation, but said, “Jesus Christ is my righteousness. What else can cover our sin but the righteousness of Christ? In whom else can we, the unrighteous and ungodly, be accounted righteous, except in the Son of God alone? O blessed exchange! O inscrutable work of art! O great benefits revealed to us, beyond all expectation! That many unrighteous things should be hidden in one righteous, and one single righteousness make many unrighteous to be esteemed righteous!”

In the same way, any afflicted sinner who turns to Christ today and believes in Him,—the same is justified and shall not perish but have eternal life.

CONCLUSION

So much concerning the item of doctrine that we undertook to discuss.

Now let every one of us turn with a repentant heart to our most worthy Savior and pray with me as follows:

O faithful Savior, Jesus Christ
Whose life for all my sins sufficed:
Thou by Thy dying broughtest me
The life that lasts eternally.
Thou with Thy precious blood as well
Didst free me from the fire of hell
On Thee my whole salvation stays,
To Thee be endless thanks and praise.
Amen, Amen.

 

1 Response to Conversion of St. Paul, Jan. 25 (Johann Heermann)

  1. Rev. Dr. Benjamin T. G. Mayes

    Sorry I’m a bit late in posting this one. I hope it will be helpful for next year, Jan. 25!

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