Luther’s Notes on the Gospel: St. Nicholas of Myra (December 6)

Mark 10:13-16
New King James Version

13 Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” 16 And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.

Luther’s Explanatory Notes:

They brought unto him little children. This is one of the texts which the devil and the heretics, especially the Anabaptists, have vigorously opposed. They argue with great wisdom and say: It is written, “Whosoever believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” From this they draw the false conclusion:

1. One who has no reason cannot believe;

2. Therefore we should not baptize children.

Against this must be replied: If we cannot be saved before we have understood everything by our reason, then we would have to be saved very slowly; we must not brew faith and reason together. When you lie down to sleep, and commit yourself to Christ, and when you lie upon your bed like an irrational animal, and there is in you no indication of faith and the Holy Ghost, are you not then a believer and upheld in the grace of God, and are you not then still a child of eternal life?

In verse 15 Christ will have us to be like little children, if we would enter into the kingdom of heaven; that is, as in little children, all reason and understanding, so to speak, is very much confused, so also, in all Christian believers reason must be mortified, otherwise faith has no place in them. For reason opposes faith. If you will therefore believe nothing but what your reason teaches you, then you must cast away all the articles of faith; for there is not one of them, but what your reason will tell you, it is impossible to believe. You must become a child and say: I do not understand it; I see, indeed, only water, and how this is poured over a child; but when he says that baptism has the power and strength of regeneration and forgiveness of sin through the word, I will believe that and willingly be a child.

“Yes,” they say, “but children do not believe.” But it does not follow that they do not believe, because you do not see or feel it. It is enough that Christ sees and knows that they believe. Even therefore they can do it the better, because they are not rational and reason is straight against faith.

So we also say that the children are not baptized in the faith of the sponsors or the church (as the Papists allege,) but the faith of the sponsors and the prayers of the church acquire faith for them in which they are baptized and believe for themselves. We bring the little children to baptism and bring them to Christ. The minister speaks the words of baptism and pours the water upon the child; but God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are present and they themselves baptize. (Matthew 3:16-17) Now, when the Holy Trinity baptizes, blesses and touches, why should not everything take place that is mentioned in the text, (Titus 3) especially when Christ says, “of such is the kingdom of heaven?”

Yes, say the Anabaptists, but I can not see how they are unbound from the devil’s cords and consecrated into eternal life. Yes, what you cannot decide and judge by your own reason, faith tells you; faith closes the eyes of reason and says that it is not man that baptizes but God himself is the baptist; and again faith says, here is the external water and the divine word. In order that they may abolish the baptism of children entirely, they pretend that this text does not refer to natural children, but in general to all Christians, who are humble and childlike, simple in heart and believe in Christ. They do not perceive that Christ speaks here of those who are children in age and are carried on the arms, for grown up people are not accustomed to carry each other.

We must also not rebaptize. We see here that little children have faith, therefore the baptism is right, for Christ says here, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Therefore the first baptism should not be condemned.

Though one may not believe just now, he may afterwards become a believer; therefore let one remain by his first baptism and revile it not, for it is God’s work, who baptizes and gives the sacraments; therefore it is a true baptism.

If only the fanatic and foolish blockheads would teach thus: This little child did not believe when it was baptized, therefore as thou art now grown up, begin now to believe and be a Christian. Therefore the child shall not be baptized again, but it should be instructed in the faith. God is true, therefore his word also remains true, also baptism, Lord’s Supper and absolution. If he who receives them does not believe, it does him harm, but it does not follow from this, that baptism should not be effective.

Luther’s Explanatory Notes on the Gospels, pp. 168-169.

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