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C.F.W. Walther gives an iNeighborhood Sermon

The Holy Desire and Duty of all
Christians to Lead Souls to Christ

By C.F.W. Walther

The 12th Sunday after Trinity Sunday, 1842

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THE YEAR OF GRACE SERMONS
On the Gospels of the Church Year
Collected from his written legacy
St. Louis, Missouri
Lutheran Concordia Publisher, A.D. 1890

Translated by Rev. Donald Pohlers

May God give you all grace and peace through the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ, our Lord! Amen!

Beloved brothers and sister in Christ Jesus!

Christ has founded a Church on earth, in which the most perfect equality should exist. It (this equality) should indeed not be established according to the model of a secular state. In the Church no one should be the highest (in rank), supreme, (or) the first; no one, the ruler; no one, the master (or commander). This is a fundamental teaching of all Christendom. Whoever is really a member of the true Church, the same is like (equal to) all of the others (Members of the true Church). Each has the same baptism, the same faith, the same Christ, the same righteousness, the same hope of eternal life, the same eternal and heavenly possession (and what pertains to it) of salvation in Christ Jesus.

As long as the world endures, an external difference between human beings will indeed prevail: one is rich, another poor; one is respected by the world, another is devalued (or disdained); one will enjoy prominent status in the world (and) one will be of humble status; one will be intelligent and one will be uneducated (the German word: simple). However, in the Kingdom of God, in the Church, this makes no difference (These differences are inconsequential). Even if the gifts, the offices (positions), the accomplishments are varied, they (Christians) all nevertheless remain equal members (of the Church) before God. All have the same power (authority). None is subordinate to another.

If a government exists within the boundaries of the Church, it certainly can command the Church (viz. Require obedience) in something. However, in such a case, Christians obey, not as members of the Church or the Kingdom of God, but as subordinates of the secular kingdom.

It is an irrevocable word, which Jesus Christ spoke and confessed before Pontius Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My Kingdom were of this world, then My servants would fight. Now, however, it is not thence (from here.).

The greatest harm has arisen from this (this situation): when a few have desire to rule. In the apostolic era the most perfect equality prevailed and, thereby, the most loving unity and the most wonderful blessings (ensued). At that time all Christian were considered to be spiritual priests, and no one was despised or put down. However, in subsequent ages, the more the spiritual (read: ecclesiastical status) asserted itself over other Christians, the more the Church degenerated and assumed the form of a secular kingdom. Shepherds became tyrants who did not provide for the sheep with nourishment by using the shepherds’ staff in a gentle manner. Instead, they ruled with an iron scepter (as if they were lords) and finally led the sheep to the slaughter. The father confessors became confessional torturers; providers of the care of souls (This is the usual German word among Lutherans for “pastor”) became tormentors of the soul; advisors of the conscience became rulers of the conscience. Finally, at the time of the Reformation, a marvelous light burst into the nocturnal darkness. God’s Word emerged. This (event) caused the children of God to throw off the shameful yoke of men and (once again) to enjoy sweet Christian liberty.

If a Christian congregation now does not wish to return again to the yoke placed upon it by men – to an ungodly dependence (the German word: immaturity), then, it must maintain its precious right of being a spiritual priesthood, which is (the common) possession of all Christians – namely, the right to sacrifice, to pray, to search the Scriptures, to test and evaluate all teachings (as its right), to teach one another, to admonish, to discipline, and to comfort one another. Where this right and duty is not recognized or practiced, there God’s Word cannot long endure. No blessing is there. No zeal can remain. Finally, everything will deteriorate into (spiritual) sleep, laziness, indifference. (In such a situation) instead of leading and carrying (one another) (Christians) will be led (astray) and carried (by another)(blindly) led but not determining (Truth). The end result will necessarily be contempt and rejection of the truth. For that reason it is my duty to instruct you zealously and repeatedly, my beloved, regarding this right and duty. Let me now speak to you about a portion of this issue – namely, about the duty of all Christians also to lead souls to Christ.

31And again, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, he came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis. 32And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. 33And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; 34And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. 35And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. 36And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it; 37And were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.

The King James Version, (Cambridge: Cambridge) 1769.

A wonderful example is laid upon our hearts in the Gospel which was read, my dearly beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord. In the region of the Sea of Galilee there was a man who was simultaneously deaf and mute. That was a sad condition. He not only could not hear the precious Gospel of Christ, but also lacked speech with which to call upon Christ for aid. Others (however) took pity on him and brought him to Christ, and, on his behalf, sought help from Christ. Christ heard their petition and helped the wretched man in a wonderful manner. Christ no longer walks visibly among us, but He still helps invisibly in (dealing with the needs of) our souls and bodies. Therefore, we can still show favor to others who are spiritually deaf mutes by bringing them to Christ. Thus, I demonstrate to you now:

“The holy desire and duty of all Christians to lead souls to Christ.” (In proclaiming this theme) we will observe two points:

1. that all Christians have this sacred desire and duty;
2. in which manner they (Christians) are to exercise this duty.

Lord Jesus Christ, You one true High Priest, Who offered Yourself on the wood of the cross in order to acquire for us sinners the royal priesthood, grant that we may learn to know it (this teaching) rightly from Your holy Word. Help us also through Your grace to fulfill our holy priestly duties by Your grace to Your honor and to the salvation of the ourselves and many (other) souls. To that end, awaken and strengthen us in this hour for Your sake. Amen.

I.

The main point, my Beloved, is that each human being should personally and correctly recognize Christ first of all and from the heart believe in Him. It would be absurd to lead others to Christ, if one himself were not close (to Him). In that case a blind man would want to show the way to (another) blind man and both would fall in the (spiritual) ditch. Thus, although it is godless in temporal matters to be selfish, in spiritual issues it is righteous – each should be neighbor to himself. No one can redeem another. Therefore, each should be concerned first of all for his (own) soul, to bring his (own) soul to safety. Then, he should see how he may bring others to grace. First, one must become acquainted with the treasures of Christ himself and enjoy them (personally) before one can boast of them to others. However, whoever has learned, by God’s grace, that the Bible is God’s eternal Word, whoever has discovered that the Gospel is a power of God to sanctify all who believe in it; whoever can say: I know the One in Whom I believe, I have found the Ground, which holds my anchor eternally – such an one will then certainly perceive a heartfelt compulsion to bring others to possess the grace in which he is so blessed. Such a Christian sees with pain and agony that so many thousands in the world are still spiritual deaf mutes who do not know Christ, do not believe in Him, do not love Him and are not yet in a state of blessedness in Him. The pitiable condition of the world strikes at his heart (because it reveals a condition) which is sometimes happy, sometimes sad, but (always) in a state of repudiating Christ and (therefore) perishing. With concern the Christian looks at his neighbor about whom he probably knows that he (the neighbor) does not know the Gospel. With sighing he looks at former friends, from whom he has had to separate because they did not wish to walk the way of grace and (divine) blessedness with him. With a sorrowful heart the Christian husband looks at his unchristian wife; the Christian wife, the unchristian husband; the parents, such children; the children, such parents; the brothers, such sisters and the sisters, such brothers – those who do not yet believe in the Gospel. Christians desire to convince the whole world to abandon sin and vanity and adopt (receive) Christ. This holy desire to lead souls to Christ originates as soon as the light of true faith – and with it the fire to true love – comes into the soul of a person. This holy desire is inseparable from true faith. Whoever does not have (this) desire to bring other human beings to the knowledge of the Gospel, which produces salvation, he surely has not yet experienced the heavenly power of it (salvation). As soon a David had prayed successfully for forgiveness and comfort from God, he (David) spoke at once in the fifty-first Psalm: “I want to teach sinners Your way so that the sinner may be converted to You.” As soon as Andrew recognized Christ, he (Andrew) hurried to his brother Simon and cried out to him (Simon): “We found the Messiah” and led him directly to Jesus. Phillip did the same. When he met his friend, Nathaniel, he said, “We have found the One of Whom Moses spoke in the law and the prophets wrote about – Jesus, Joseph’s Son, from Nazareth.” We hear a similar account of the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob: she had hardly recognized that the One Who spoke to her was the Messiah, when she abandoned her jar and hurried into town to tell people: “Come and see a man Who told me everything I ever did – see whether He is Christ.” Luther states beautifully: “When a Christian begins to recognize Christ as the his Lord and Savior, through Whom he (the Christian) has been delivered from death, then his heart is possessed by God so that he (the Christian) knows no greater joy – this is his treasure – then that someone else (also) recognizes Christ. For that reason he (the Christian) goes out, teaches and admonishes others, boasts of and confesses the same to everyone, begs and sighs with the goal that they might come to such grace. It is a restless spirit (with) in the greatest rest, that is, in God’s grace and peace. He cannot be still or listless, but always contends and strives with all his might, as his one reason for living (raison d’etre) that he might bring God’s praise and honor among people.” Thus far, Luther.

Yet, my Beloved, a Christian through faith receives not only such a desire to lead souls to Christ. He also has a sacred duty. No one should say, “I am not a minister, a teacher, a preacher. Such an one (i.e., a minister, a teacher, or a preacher) may teach, admonish, comfort, convert, and lead to Christ. I, however, wish to remain in my calling (i.e., non-professional church member).” No, my Christian, you are baptized and through holy baptism every Christian is dedicated, ordained and installed into office to teach, admonish, comfort, and discipline his neighbor. Through holy baptism a Christian has received not only power and authority and the right, but also the high and holy obligation to guard and to sustain against the loss of divine grace and to assist to the end that others are enlightened and brought to Christ, the bishop of their souls. Indeed James says, “God has begotten us according to His will through the Word of truth so that we are the first (born) of His creatures.” Again, John says, “Christ has made us kings and priests before God and His Father.” And, finally, St. Peter says, “You are a chosen generation, the royal priesthood, the holy people, the people of (God’s) possession that you should make known the virtue of the One Who has called you from darkness to His wonderful light.”

Go through all of the chief parts of the catechism. You will find in each the command that a Christian should provide for the salvation of the soul of his neighbor. The holy ten commandments require us to love our neighbor as ourselves. How can we do this, when we see his soul perishing and we are not permitted to help him out (of this predicament)? In the second chief part we confess a fellowship of the saints. How could this spiritual fellowship be preserved, if one were not able to serve the other? In the third chief part Christians are taught to pray to God as to their common Father. How could they do this, if they do not recognize each other as brethren, and, if they do not in fraternal love teach, admonish, and correct one another? How could they pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” if they themselves wished to do nothing to advance the Kingdom of God? In the fourth chief part we are instructed concerning baptism: that we all thereby have become members of the body of Jesus Christ. If we are all members of this spiritual body, isn’t it necessary for one member to serve another lest the body be torn apart? Just as (it is) with our body—the members (serve one another): the eye must serve the foot and the hand (must serve) the mouth. Thus, one congregational member must also serve another lest the whole be disrupted. According to the fifth chief part we are all fed by one bread and given to drink from one chalice in order to seal our innermost fellowship. Does not the Holy (Lord’s) Supper demand from us that one care about the soul of the other, as he does for his own? There is no doubt: while God insists on love for everyone from everyone, He thereby makes each the caretaker (provider for) of souls of others according to the calling of Christian love.

Indeed, it is true: not everyone is a minister or bishop in the Christian congregation. God is a God of order. For the sake of order it is always required that only one or a few be chosen from the congregation and they, in the name (stead) of all, administer the rights of the spiritual priesthood publicly. However, just as in the construction of a visible church (building) the building supervisors are not the only workers who organize and lead. They necessarily have many helpers.

In the same way also the invisible Church is a building (in progress) in which, not only the called servants of Christ work, but all Christians must lend a hand. Christ speaks to His Heavenly Father, “I do not pray that You take them out of the world but that You preserve them from evil.” Thus, Christ does not wish that His Christians abandon the world outwardly and conceal themselves in monasteries. No, the true Church should be right in the middle of the world, and its members should shine as lights among it (the world) and should illuminate the world. Christians should be the salt which seasons the whole world and preserves it from rottenness. The Christian Church is a huge mission launching pad (German: house), and each Christian, a missionary sent out by God in (to) his (the Christian’s) sphere (of activity) to convert other human beings to Christ, to invite them to the celestial wedding, to call them to the Kingdom of God and to woo fighters everywhere by the eternal jewels and soldiers into the army of Christ. God gives His spiritual gifts not only to preachers and teachers, but also to laymen who are not in the public office. They, too, often have the most wonderful gifts: a splendid knowledge of Christian doctrine, a superior gift of understanding and interpretation of the Scripture, a marvelous gift of testing the sprits and refuting the erring, a magnificent gift of governing, comforting, admonishing, praying, and so on. Has God given these gifts to ordinary Christians in vain? Isn’t God clearly indicating that each Christian is to be a coworker in His vineyard? Indeed, the Lord says not only to Peter, but to all Christians, “Once you are converted, then strengthen your brethren.” Speaking of all Christians St. James says, “Dear brethren, if someone errs from the truth and someone converts him, that person has delivered (German: helped) his soul from death and covered many sins.” My dear ones, if we encountered a person lying helpless in bodily misery, wounded and beaten, we would consider it our duty to offer assistance and not wait for a regular (i.e., official) doctor. We (would) bind his wounds and transport him to a place where (his needs) can be addressed. (Thus also) we consider ourselves called through the call to Christian love. If a Christian finds a person wounded in his soul and he (any Christian) is able to offer assistance, he should not think, “How does this (situation) concern me? The spiritual doctor, the preacher, may come and help him.” No, O Christian, here you have the calling of love which has been given to you. Yes, if the priest and Levite passed by the wretched man, you should show yourself all the more zealously to be a compassionate Samaritan.

Certainly and without doubt a preacher above all others has the duty to lead souls to Christ. Initially, he must show them how much they need Christ. Then, how much Christ has done for them. Finally, how they may reach Christ and abide in Him. In that duty he is never to give up, never to cease praying, admonishing and to implore, “Let yourselves be reconciled to God.” It is equally certain that parents have a special duty to lead their children to Christ and to bring them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord. If parents fulfill their obligation to provide for the bodily needs of their children and also the refinement of their understanding through good instruction—nevertheless, the main duty (of parents) is to make their children acquainted with their Savior early (in life). They must dedicate their child to the Savior already when it is in the cradle, and among everything else it experiences, it should learn to pray, “Daddy, dear Father.” God will hold parents and guardian accountable for the souls of children; for they (the children) have been entrusted to them (i.e., parents and guardians) for the purposes that they (children) be brought to the salvific knowledge of their Savior, that they may be preserved from the seduction of the world and led on the way to heaven. God has established father and mother in the home as caretakers of the souls (of their children). Especially the husband has the sacred duty to lead his wife to Christ and to keep her in Him. She is bound to his (the husband’s) soul. If he wishes to be her head, he should carry her in his heart and must be her spiritual father. The teacher also has a special obligation to his students; the master (head) of the house, to his companions at home; the superior to his subordinates; the elder to the younger. It was not in vain that God entrusted (German: loaned) certain powers to one person over others. Each should utilize (his special position/advantage) to assist souls, to proclaim Christ to them and to further His (Christ’s) honor. Yes, even a friend has a special obligation over against an old (long time) friend, if the long time friend is now perhaps going another way. God did not bring you together with others for no reason. He did not inspire the trust and love of others for you without a purpose. You are to make use of these things to lead souls to Him, Who caused your soul to find grace.

However, dear ones, if someone has a special duty (to proclaim Christ), that does not mean other Christians are excluded from it. Here there is no difference. St. Paul says, “Here there is no Jew, Greek, no servant or free man, no man or woman. You are all one in Christ Jesus.” Not only men but also women, not only the elderly but also children are spiritual priests and teachers of the world. Joel (the Prophet) had already announced in prophecy regarding the New Testament era, when he said, “And it will happen in the last days, says God, I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh. And your sons and your daughters will prophesy; your youths will see visions; your elderly will have dreams; and I will pour out My Spirit on your servants and maidens and they will prophesy.” Although the holy apostle commands that women should be silent in the public (gathering of) the congregation so that they may not forget they are to be under the authority of their husbands, nevertheless, we find many wonderful examples of women who privately taught with blessings and won many souls to Christ. Thus, Pricilla taught Appollos the way of God diligently. So also did the four daughters of Phillip, who prophesied together—that is, teaching in their houses with divine understanding (German: illumination). The holy Apostle boasted of Phoebe, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Evodia, and Syntyche that they had accomplished much in the Lord and had struggled together with him for the Gospel.

Thus, my dear ones, you see from this: the office of Preacher or Caretaker of souls has not been instituted so that no one else is responsible for teaching or the care of souls. No, the whole congregation is to be a holy people, a royal priesthood. Each Christian should bear the needs of the soul of his neighbor in his heart and assist in the advance of the salvific Gospel (in the lives) of men so that the kingdom of Satan in the world is destroyed and the Kingdom of God expanded. Oh, how differently things would look; how much greater and more wonderful would be the blessing of the Word of God, if each Christian recognized his holy calling and administered his royal priesthood. With that in mind the Apostle cries to the Corinthians, “Strive to love. Be zealous for the spiritual gifts, but primarily for the gift of prophesying Christ’s message of salvation.” (The German imperative is plural, denoting all of the people).”

Thus my dear ones, among Christians everything should be done orderly and honorably. Now, let me show you, as my second point, in which manner Christians are to practice their sacred duty to lead souls to Christ.

II

The fact that God instituted the office of preaching—beside the spiritual priesthood of all Christians—in order to teach the Gospel publicly, to administer the sacraments and to handle the keys to the Kingdom of heaven for the sake of order is beyond our disputing. There are called public servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Therefore, on the basis of this (recognized teaching) we acknowledge that no one is permitted to despise or neglect the public office of preaching because he himself is a spiritual priest. Indeed, a Christian will agree with the assertion of David: “Whatever God orders is praiseworthy and wonderful.” Furthermore, no one may even conclude: “I am a spiritual priest and, thus, also a public preacher.” On the contrary, for that to be true you must have a special and proper (orderly) call; for whatever happens in the name of all must first of all be commissioned in the name of all. The letter to the Hebrews states: “No one assumes for himself the honor, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was.” James also says: “Dear brethren, not everyone should undertake to be a teacher. Rather, you should know that we (who are) will be all the more accountable.” Whoever then presumes to be and asserts himself as a public teacher such a person acts against God; and no one should listen to him on pain of God’s disapproval.

Indeed, there are emergencies—that is, times—in which the administration of the office is necessary and yet no called servant is available. That (situation) is the first case in which each Christian, as a spiritual priest, can step forward and do the work in the name of Christ. If a woman baptizes in an emergency, if a layman absolves in a circumstance of need, then a baptism and absolution is right, godly, and valid—just as if (these acts) were done by St. Peter and, yes, by Christ Himself. Indeed, if a Christian were to come to a place where there are no (other) Christians, he is able even to step up and preach the Gospel publicly. If his listeners receive God’s Word (favorably), a true Church has begun (to exist) by (the work of) such a preacher and (it) possesses all the properties of the Church. (Furthermore,) whoever is chosen in such a Church is a true servant of Jesus Christ, an established bishop and follower of the holy apostles. Thus, we read in the history of the Christian Church that all of Ethiopia was brought to the knowledge of Christ by two enterprising (i.e., these young people took advantage of their situation for Christ) Christian young men by the names of Aedesius and Frumentius, who arrived there as a result of a maritime journey.

Yet, these are only exceptional (i.e., infrequent) cases where each Christian, as a spiritual priest, is able to lead souls to Christ. This office has a much greater role in the Church. Whoever is a Christian head of the house should also practice his spiritual priesthood at home on a continual basis over against (his) wife and child, proving his role as a true bishop (to them) on a daily basis—especially in the morning and at evening, transforming his house into a church. With his family he should pray and teach them to pray, read and interpret the Scripture with them and for them, discipline the sins of his family based on God’s Word, and encourage his family to walk accordingly (to God’s word). He should inspire them to come to Christ (the German word, “locken.” Means to lure or entice), comfort them in all terrors of conscience and show them the means they are to use in order to conduct a true Christian (life) and from which perils to the soul they are to protect themselves. Oh, my Beloved, if only every home were such a church! How mightily would the knowledge (of Christ), faith, and divine blessedness grow in the whole congregation.

Moreover, this practice of spiritual priesthood is not only possible for fathers and mothers in the home but for all Christians in their circumstances and callings. Even, if one is not a father in the home, he nevertheless has a brother, sister, acquaintance or relative, a male or female friend. When he associates with them, let him consider that he has become a spiritual priest through holy baptism, that he has entered into a covenant with God to enter His (God’s) service. Every Christian should seize the opportunity zealously to speak something good: he should tell what God has done for him. He should win over the erring. He should admonish the frivolous and lazy, disciplining those who are downcast. O my Beloved, what good is it to claim for ourselves as a right (of being Christian) the spiritual priesthood, while declining to fulfill its duties? What good is it, if we call ourselves spiritual priests, but, when we come together, (we) neglect and abandon the priestly office? How does it help to have the name without the deed?

Indeed, should it not cause a Christian to be afraid, if he has been in a group (of people) and not spoken a good word? He may have indeed seen sins but did not reproach them? He had opportunity to edify others but did not avail himself of it? Are such people priestly Christians? Do such (people) recognize their lofty calling? Today groups (of people) are pleased if we laugh and joke with them, but how will we (stand) to listen to our friends speak to us before God’s throne one day? They will say: “You saw me erring and sinning and you did not reprove (me). You saw my soul in jeopardy and you did not warn me. You should have redeemed the time with me, but you joined me in squandering it. You could have been able to assist me to progress in my Christianity, but through vain speech you seduced me and withheld from me the truth. You didn’t love me; you despised my soul You should have helped me to be saved, but, in fact, you are responsible for my (eternal) loss.”

God be praised, my dear ones, that we once again possess the correct doctrine of the spiritual priesthood. From God’s Word we know (that) each Christian is to be a teacher of the Gospel in his life situation. Therefore, let us now finally convert this doctrine into life. (Let us) reform not only doctrine but life.

Where we have a friend with whom we associate let us think in this manner: God has brought me together with him (the friend) so that I may either bring him to Christ or preserve him in Christ. When we participate in a group let us think in this way: God has called me here (hither) so that, as a priest, I may further the common growth and (so that I) should be a blessing to all who are (here) gathered together. Yes, even when we are spiritual priests in their presence, may confess by word and deed and (thereby) afford them an opportunity that they may attain to the truth. Nothing happens by accident. As often as we find ourselves among the children of the world, we should ask ourselves: Can I be of help (German: use) to their souls? After all, children of the world rejoice when we are like them, when we deny our faith, when we confirm them in their ungodly talk—even if we were to do that only with a friendly expression. However, (if we were to do that) they will one day accuse us before God and say; “I frequently was in your company; you knew how one (must) be saved, but you said nothing to me. I was a spiritual deaf mute; I didn’t know Christ; I could not pray to Him. You should have led me to Christ, but you said nothing to me about Christ. In order not to lose my favor. You were silent about the truth which makes (one) blessed. You were calling yourself a spiritual priest, but you cared nothing (did not provide) for my soul.”

Indeed, we should not throw that which is sacred to the dogs, as God’s Word says. That is, we should not push the Gospel upon (German: force it upon) anyone who despises or mocks it. However, whenever we are able to lead a soul to Christ or defend the honor of Christ, then we should not let up in (our) zeal or because of fear, cease to bear witness to the truth courageously.

Oh, what a joy it will be, when, in eternity, many a person will approach us and say to us: “O brother, O sister, you saved my soul. I came to you and you admonished, you disciplined, you enticed me with the Gospel, you comforted me, you showed me the way to Christ. And see—without you noticing, in (your) words Christ spoke the “Ephetha” into the ear of my spirit. From that moment I became a Christian and now I am saved.” Oh, what a joy that will be in all eternity to see souls around us, (souls) who through us (i.e., our efforts) came to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, (souls) who found the way to heaven through us (i.e., our witness). We ourselves, along with all the angels, will then exclaim with extreme joy: “The Lord has done all things well. To Him be honor and power forever and ever.” Amen.

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