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How to Derive True Benediction from Beholding Oneself in the Mirror of the Word

James 1:22 to the End

Fifth Sunday After Easter



Kierkegaard prefaces his discourse with a note about the necessary “eloquence” of Christian preaching: it must be an eloquence of word and action:

He who is to preach ought to live in the thoughts and conceptions of Christianity; this should be his daily life — if such is the case, then (as Christianity teaches) thou shalt have eloquence enough, and just what is needed, when thou dost speak straightforwardly without special preparation. On the other hand, it is a false eloquence,  if without being concerned with these thoughts or living in them, one sits down from time to time to make a collection of such thoughts, culling them perhaps from the field of literature, and working them up together into a well-developed discourse, which then is learned perfectly  by rote and is admirably delivered, both with respect to elocution and with respect to movement of arms. No, just as in a well-appointed house one is not obligated to go downstairs to fetch water, but by pressure already has it on the upper floors merely by turning the tap, so too is with real the Christian orator, who, just because Christianity is his life, has eloquence, and precisely the right eloquence, close at ham, immediately present with him ….

For the sermon ought not to establish an invidious distinction between the talented and the untalented, it ought rather in the unity of the Holy Ghost fix attention exclusively upon the requirement that actions must correspond to words.

This idea of correspondence between actions and words is worked in the subsequent discourse on the correspondence between faith and action. There must be an integrity between what is said, and what is done.

The Sermon

Kiekegaard preaches on the following text:

James 1:22–27 (ESV)

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Kierkegaard begins his consideration of these words with the apparent contradiction of Martin Luther: we are saved by faith alone. He then notes the nature of human depravity when it comes to works:

yet every man has a disposition either to want to have merit from works when they are to be done; or, when faith and grace are to be stressed, to want to be as far as possible liberated entirely from works.

Luther sought to work around that dual tendency:

Luther wanted to take away the meritoriousness from works and apply it in a somewhat different place, namely to witnessing for truth. Worldliness, which understood Luther radically, did away entirely with meritoriousness — and with works along with it.

Luther also notes that “faith is a perturbing thing”. Well, then if faith is a perturbing thing, “To what effect has faith, which thou sayest thou hast, perturbed thee?”

That is the trouble. And what sort of disquiet should come from faith? The disquiet of faith will seek to change things to conform to the faith — whether it is the religious order or a disquiet of “inward order.”  “A true love-affair is a disquieting thing, but it does not occur to the lover to want to change the established order.”

Kierkegaard mentioning Luther’s trouble with James suggests that perhaps Luther did not realize how easily one could twist “faith alone” to mean faith apart from effect upon one. “That does not apply to the Lutheran doctrine, but it applies to me: I have reason to know that I am not an upright soul, but a crafty fellow.”

Since I am a crafty fellow, I think to think more carefully about what is meant by this “faith alone”. “So it doubtless would be well to examine a little more carefully the subordinate clauses (works, existence, witnessing and suffering for the truth, works of love, & c.), the subordinating clauses of Lutheranism.”

It is that examination of what faith must do that occupies the discourse proper.