A treatise on Good Works
Dr. Martin Luther

Part 1 out of 2

A treatise on Good Works
together with the
Letter of Dedication
by Dr. Martin Luther, 1520


1. The Occasion of the Work. -- Luther did not impose himself as
reformer upon the Church. In the course of a conscientious
performance of the duties of his office, to which he had been
regularly and divinely called, and without any urging on his
part, he attained to this position by inward necessity. In 1515
he received his appointment as the standing substitute for the
sickly city pastor, Simon Heinse, from the city council of
Wittenberg. Before this time he was obliged to preach only
occasionally in the convent, apart from his activity as teacher
in the University and convent. Through this appointment he was
in duty bound, by divine and human right, to lead and direct the
congregation at Wittenberg on the true way to life, and it would
have been a denial of the knowledge of salvation which God had
led him to acquire, by way of ardent inner struggles, if he had
led the congregation on any other way than the one God had
revealed to him in His Word. He could not deny before the
congregation which had been intrusted to his care, what up to
this time he had taught with ever increasing clearness in his
lectures at the University -- for in the lectures on the Psalms,
which he began to deliver in 1513, he declares his conviction
that faith alone justifies, as can be seen from the complete
manuscript, published since 1885, and with still greater
clearness from his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
(1515-1516), which is accessible since 1908; nor what he had
urged as spiritual adviser of his convent brethren when in deep
distress -- compare the charming letter to Georg Spenlein, dated
April 8, 1516.

Luther's first literary works to appear in print were also
occasioned by the work of his calling and of his office in the
Wittenberg congregation. He had no other object in view than to
edify his congregation and to lead it to Christ when, in 1517,
he published his first independent work, the Explanation of the
Seven Penitential Psalms. On Oct 31 of the same year he published
his 95 Theses against Indulgences. These were indeed intended as
controversial theses for theologians, but at the same time it is
well known that Luther was moved by his duty toward his
congregation to declare his position in this matter and to put
in issue the whole question as to the right and wrong of
indulgences by means of his theses. His sermon Of Indulgences and
Grace, occasioned by Tetzel's attack and delivered in the latter
part of March, 1518, as well as his sermon Of Penitence,
delivered about the same time, were also intended for his
congregation. Before his congregation (Sept., 1516-Feb., 1517)
he delivered the Sermons on the Ten Commandments, which were
published in 1518 and the Sermons on the Lord's Prayer, which
were also published in 1518 by Agricola. Though Luther in the
same year published a series of controversial writings, which
were occasioned by attacks from outside sources, viz., the
Resolutiones disputationis de Virtute indulgentiarum, the
Asterisci adversus obeliscos Joh. Eccii, and the Ad dialogum
Silv. Prieriatis responsio, still he never was diverted by this
necessary rebuttal from his paramount duty, the edification of
the congregation. The autumn of the year 1518, when he was
confronted with Cajetan, as well as the whole year of 1519, when
he held his disputations with Eck, etc., were replete with
disquietude and pressing labors; still Luther served his
congregation with a whole series of writings during this time,
and only regretted that he was not entirely at its disposal. Of
such writings we mention: Explanation of the Lord's Prayer for
the simple Laity (an elaboration of the sermons of 1517); Brief
Explanation of the Ten Commandments; Instruction concerning
certain Articles, which might be ascribed and imputed to him by
his adversaries; Brief Instruction how to Confess; Of Meditation
on the Sacred Passion of Christ; Of Twofold Righteousness; Of the
Matrimonial Estate; Brief Form to understand and to pray the
Lord's Prayer; Explanation of the Lord's Prayer "vor sich und
hinter sich"; Of Prayer and Processions in Rogation Week; Of
Usury; Of the Sacrament of Penitence; Of Preparation for Death;
Of the Sacrament of Baptism; Of the Sacrament of the Sacred Body;
Of Excommunication. With but few exceptions these writings all
appeared in print in the year 1519, and again it was the
congregation which Luther sought primarily to serve. If the
bounds of his congregation spread ever wider beyond Wittenberg,
so that his writings found a surprisingly ready sale, even afar,
that was not Luther's fault. Even the Tessaradecas consolatoria,
written in 1519 and printed in 1520, a book of consolation, which
was originally intended for the sick Elector of Saxony, was
written by him only upon solicitation from outside sources.

To this circle of writings the treatise Of Good Works also
belongs Though the incentive for its composition came from George
Spalatin, court-preacher to the Elector, who reminded Luther of
a promise he had given, still Luther was willing to undertake it
only when he recalled that in a previous sermon to his
congregation he occasionally had made a similar promise to
deliver a sermon on good works; and when Luther actually
commenced the composition he had nothing else in view but the
preparation of a sermon for his congregation on this important

But while the work was in progress the material so accumulated
that it far outgrew the bounds of a sermon for his congregation.
On March 25. he wrote to Spalatin that it would become a whole
booklet instead of a sermon; on May 5. he again emphasizes the
growth of the material; on May 13. he speaks of its completion
at an early date, and on June 8. he could send Melanchthon a
printed copy. It was entitled: Von den guten werckenn: D. M. L.
Vuittenberg. On the last page it bore the printer's mark: Getruck
zu Wittenberg bey dem iungen Melchior Lotther. Im Tausent
funfhundert vnnd zweyntzigsten Jar. It filled not less than 58
leaves, quarto. In spite of its volume, however, the intention
of the book for the congregation remained, now however, not only
for the narrow circle of the Wittenberg congregation, but for the
Christian layman in general. In the dedicatory preface Luther
lays the greatest stress upon this, for he writes: "Though I know
of a great many, and must hear it daily, who think lightly of my
poverty and say that I write only small Sexternlein (tracts of
small volume) and German sermons for the untaught laity, I will
not permit that to move me. Would to God that during my life I
had served but one layman for his betterment with all my powers;
it would be sufficient for me, I would thank God and suffer all
my books to perish thereafter.... Most willingly I will leave the
honor of greater things to others, and not at all will I be
ashamed of preaching and writing German to the untaught laity."

Since Luther had dedicated the afore-mentioned Tessaradecas
consolatoria to the reigning Prince, he now, probably on
Spalatin's recommendation, dedicated the Treatise on Good Works
to his brother John, who afterward, in 1525, succeeded Frederick
in the Electorate. There was probably good reason for dedicating
the book to a member of the reigning house. Princes have reason
to take a special interest in the fact that preaching on good
works should occur within their realm, for the safety and sane
development of their kingdom depend largely upon the cultivation
of morality on the part of their subjects. Time and again the
papal church had commended herself to princes and statesmen by
her emphatic teaching of good works. Luther, on the other hand,
had been accused -- like the Apostle Paul before him (Rom. 3 31)
-- that the zealous performance of good works had abated, that
the bonds of discipline had slackened and that, as a necessary
consequence, lawlessness and shameless immorality were being
promoted by his doctrine of justification by faith alone. Before
1517 the rumor had already spread that Luther intended to do away
with good works. Duke George of Saxony had received no good
impression from a sermon Luther had delivered at Dresden, because
he feared the consequences which Luther's doctrine of
justification by faith alone might have upon the morals of the
masses. Under these circumstances it would not have been
surprising if a member of the Electoral house should harbor like
scruples, especially since the full comprehension of Luther's
preaching on good works depended on an evangelical understanding
of faith, as deep as was Luther's own. The Middle Ages had
differentiated between fides informis, a formless faith, and
fides formata or informata, a formed or ornate faith. The former
was held to be a knowledge without any life or effect, the latter
to be identical with love for, as they said, love which proves
itself and is effective in good works must be added to the
formless faith, as its complement and its content, well pleasing
to God. In Luther's time every one who was seriously interested
in religious questions was reared under the influence of these

Now, since Luther had opposed the doctrine of justification by
love and its good works, he was in danger of being misunderstood
by strangers, as though he held the bare knowledge and assent to
be sufficient for justification, and such preaching would indeed
have led to frivolity and disorderly conduct. But even apart from
the question whether or not the brother of the Elector was
disturbed by such scruples, Luther must have welcomed the
opportunity, when the summons came to him, to dedicate his book
Of Good Works to a member of the Electoral house. At any rate the
book could serve to acquaint him with the thoughts of his
much-abused pastor and professor at Wittenberg, for never before
had Luther expressed himself on the important question of good
works in such a fundamental, thorough and profound way.

2. The Contents of the Work. -- A perusal of the contents shows
that the book, in the course of its production, attained a
greater length than was originally intended. To this fact it must
be attributed that a new numeration of sections begins with the
argument on the Third Commandment, and is repeated at every
Commandment thereafter, while before this the sections were
consecutively numbered. But in spite of this, the plan of the
whole is clear and lucid. Evidently the whole treatise is divided
into two parts: the first comprising sections 1-17, while the
second comprises all the following sections. The first, being
fundamental, is the more important part. Luther well knew of the
charges made against him that "faith is so highly elevated" and
"works are rejected" by him; but he knew, too, that "neither
silver, gold and precious stone, nor any other precious thing had
experienced so much augmentation and diminution" as had good
works "which should all have but one simple goodness, or they are
nothing but color, glitter and deception." But especially was he
aware of the fact that the Church was urging nothing but the
so-called self-elected works, such as "running to the convent,
singing, reading, playing the organ, saying the mass, praying
matins, vespers, and other hours, founding and ornamenting
churches, altars, convents, gathering chimes, jewels, vestments,
gems and treasures, going to Rome and to the saints, curtsying
and bowing the knees, praying the rosary and the psalter," etc.,
and that she designated these alone as truly good works, while
she represented the faithful performance of the duties of one's
calling as a morality of a lower order. For these reasons it is
Luther's highest object in this treatise to make it perfectly
clear what is the essence of good works. Whenever the essence
of good works has been understood, then the accusations against
him will quickly collapse.

In the fundamental part he therefore argues: Truly good works are
not self-elected works of monastic or any other holiness, but
such only as God has commanded, and as are comprehended within
the bounds of one's particular calling, and all works, let their
name be what it may, become good only when they flow from faith,
the first, greatest, and noblest of good works." (John 6:29.) In
this connection the essence of faith, that only source of all
truly good works, must of course be rightly understood. It is the
sure confidence in God, that all my doing is wellpleasing to Him;
it is trust in His mercy, even though He appears angry and puts
sufferings and adversities upon us; it is the assurance of the
divine good will even though "God should reprove the conscience
with sin, death and hell, and deny it all grace and mercy, as
though He would condemn and show His wrath eternally." Where such
faith lives in the heart, there the works are good "even though
they were as insignificant as the picking up of a straw"; but
where it is wanting, there are only such works as "heathen, Jew
and Turk" may have and do. Where such faith possesses the man,
he needs no teacher in good works, as little as does the husband
or the wife, who only look for love and favor from one another,
nor need any instruction therein "how they are to stand toward
each other, what they are to do, to leave undone, to say, to
leave unsaid, to think."

This faith, Luther continues, is "the true fulfilment of the
First Commandment, apart from which there is no work that could
do justice to this Commandment." With this sentence he combines,
on the one hand, the whole argument on faith, as the best and
noblest of good works, with his opening proposition (there are
no good works besides those commanded of God), and, on the other
hand, he prepares the way for the following argument, wherein he
proposes to exhibit the good works according to the Ten
Commandments. For the First Commandment does not forbid this and
that, nor does it require this and that; it forbids but one
thing, unbelief; it requires but one thing, faith, "that
confidence in God's good will at all times." Without this faith
the best works are as nothing, and if man should think that by
them he could be well-pleasing to God, he would be lowering God
to the level of a "broker or a laborer who will not dispense his
grace and kindness gratis."

This understanding of faith and good works, so Luther now
addresses his opponents, should in fairness be kept in view by
those who accuse him of declaiming against good works, and they
should learn from it, that though he has preached against "good
works," it was against such as are falsely so called and as
contribute toward the confusion of consciences, because they are
self-elected, do not flow from faith, and are done with the
pretension of doing works well-pleasing to God.

This brings us to the end of the fundamental part of the
treatise. It was not Luther's intention, however, to speak only
on the essence of good works and their fundamental relation to
faith; he would show, too, how the "best work," faith, must prove
itself in every way a living faith, according to the other
commandments. Luther does not proceed to this part, however,
until in the fundamental part he has said with emphasis, that the
believer, the spiritual man, needs no such instruction (1.
Timothy 1:9), but that he of his own accord and at all times does
good works "as his faith, his confidence, teaches him." Only
"because we do not all have such faith, or are unmindful of it,"
does such instruction become necessary.

Nor does he proceed until he has applied his oft repeated words
concerning the relation of faith to good works to the relation
of the First to the other Commandments. From the fact, that
according to the First Commandment, we acquire a pure heart and
confidence toward God, he derives the good work of the Second
Commandment, namely, "to praise God, to acknowledge His grace,
to render all honor to Him alone." From the same source he
derives the good work of the Third Commandment, namely, "to
observe divine services with prayer and the hearing of preaching,
to incline the imagination of our hearts toward God's benefits,
and, to that end, to mortify and overcome the flesh." From the
same source he derives the works of the Second Table.

The argument on the Third and Fourth Commandments claims nearly
one-half of the entire treatise. Among the good works which,
according to the Third Commandment, should be an exercise and
proof of faith, Luther especially mentions the proper hearing of
mass and of preaching, common prayer, bodily discipline and the
mortification of the flesh, and he joins the former and the
latter by an important fundamental discussion of the New
Testament conception of Sabbath rest.

Luther discusses the Fourth Commandment as fully as the Third.
The exercise of faith, according to this Commandment, consists
in the faithful performance of the duties of children toward
their parents, of parents toward their children, and of
subordinates toward their superiors in the ecclesiastical as well
as in the common civil sphere. The various duties issue from the
various callings, for faithful performance of the duties of one's
calling, with the help of God and for God's sake, is the true
"good work."

As he now proceeds to speak of the spiritual powers, the
government of the Church, he frankly reveals their faults and
demands a reform of the present rulers. Honor and obedience in
all things should be rendered unto the Church, the spiritual
mother, as it is due to natural parents, unless it be contrary
to the first Three Commandments. But as matters stand now the
spiritual magistrates neglect their peculiar work, namely, the
fostering of godliness and discipline, like a mother who runs
away from her children and follows a lover, and instead they
undertake strange and evil works, like parents whose commands are
contrary to God. In this case members of the Church must do as
godly children do whose parents have become mad and insane.
Kings, princes, the nobility, municipalities and communities must
begin of their own accord and put a check to these conditions,
so that the bishops and the clergy, who are now too timid, may
be induced to follow. But even the civil magistrates must also
suffer reforms to be enacted in their particular spheres;
especially are they called on to do away with the rude "gluttony
and drunkenness," luxury in clothing, the usurious sale of rents
and the common brothels. This, by divine and human right, is a
part of their enjoined works according to the Fourth Commandment.

Luther, at last, briefly treats of the Second Table of the
Commandments, but in speaking of the works of these Commandments
he never forgets to point out their relation to faith, thus
holding fast this fundamental thought of the book to the end.
Faith which does not doubt that God is gracious, he says, will
find it an easy matter to be graciously and favorably minded
toward one's neighbor and to overcome all angry and wrathful
desires. In this faith in God the Spirit will teach us to avoid
unchaste thoughts and thus to keep the Sixth Commandment. When
the heart trusts in the divine favor, it cannot seek after the
temporal goods of others, nor cleave to money, but according to
the Seventh Commandment, will use it with cheerful liberality for
the benefit of the neighbor. Where such confidence is present
there is also a courageous, strong and intrepid heart, which will
at all times defend the truth, as the Eighth Commandment demands,
whether neck or coat be at stake, whether it be against pope or
kings. Where such faith is present there is also strife against
the evil lust, as forbidden in the Ninth and Tenth Commandments,
and that even unto death.

3. The Importance of the Work. -- Inquiring now into the
importance of the book, we note that Luther's impression
evidently was perfectly correct, when he wrote to Spalatin, long
before its completion -- as early as March 2 5. -- that he
believed it to be better than anything he had heretofore written.
The book, indeed, surpasses all his previous German writings in
volume, as well as all his Latin and German ones in clearness,
richness and the fundamental importance of its content. In
comparison with the prevalent urging of self-elected works of
monkish holiness, which had arisen from a complete
misunderstanding of the so-called evangelical counsels (comp.
esp. Matthew 19:16-22) and which were at that time accepted as
self-evident and zealously urged by the whole church, Luther's
argument must have appeared to all thoughtful and earnest souls
as a revelation, when he so clearly amplified the proposition
that only those works are to be regarded as good works which God
has commanded, and that therefore, not the abandoning of one's
earthly calling, but the faithful keeping of the Ten Commandments
in the course of one's calling, is the work which God requires
of us. Over against the wide-spread opinion, as though the will
of God as declared in the Ten Commandments referred only to the
outward work always especially mentioned, Luther's argument must
have called to mind the explanation of the Law, which the Lord
had given in the Sermon on the Mount, when he taught men to
recognize only the extreme point and manifestation of a whole
trend of thought in the work prohibited by the text, and when he
directed Christians not to rest in the keeping of the literal
requirement of each Commandment, but from this point of vantage
to inquire into the whole depth and breadth of God's will --
positively and negatively -- and to do His will in its full
extent as the heart has perceived it. Though this thought may
have been occasionally expressed in the expositions of the Ten
Commandments which appeared at the dawn of the Reformation, still
it had never before been so clearly recognized as the only
correct principle, much less had it been so energetically carried
out from beginning to end, as is done in this treatise. Over
against the deep-rooted view that the works of love must bestow
upon faith its form, its content and its worth before God, it
must have appeared as the dawn of a new era (Galatians 3:22-25)
when Luther in this treatise declared, and with victorious
certainty carried out the thought, that it is true faith which
invests the works, even the best and greatest of works, with
their content and worth before God.

This proposition, which Luther here amplifies more clearly than
ever before, demanded nothing less than a breach with the whole
of prevalent religious views, and at that time must have been
perceived as the discovery of a new world, though it was no more
than a return to the clear teaching of the New Testament
Scriptures concerning the way of salvation. This, too, accounts
for the fact that in this writing the accusation is more
impressively repelled than before, that the doctrine of
justification by faith alone resulted in moral laxity, and that,
on the other hand, the fundamental and radical importance of
righteousness by faith for the whole moral life is revealed in
such a heart-refreshing manner. Luther's appeal in this treatise
to kings, princes, the nobility, municipalities and communities,
to declare against the misuse of spiritual powers and to abolish
various abuses in civil life, marks this treatise as a forerunner
of the great Reformation writings, which appeared in the same
year (1520), while, on the other hand, his espousal of the rights
of the "poor man" -- to be met with here for the first time --
shows that the Monk of Witttenberg, coming from the narrow limits
of the convent, had an intimate and sympathetic knowledge of the
social needs of his time. Thus he proved by his own example that
to take s stand in the center of the Gospel does not narrow the
vision nor harden the heart, but rather produces courage in the
truth and sympathy for all manner of misery.

Luther's contemporaries at once recognized the great importance
of the Treatise, for within the period of seven months it passed
through eight editions; these were followed by six more editions
between the years of 1521 and 1525; in 1521 it was translated
into Latin, and in this form passed through three editions up to
the year 1525; and all this in spite of the fact that in those
years the so-called three great Reformation writings of 1520 were
casting all else into the shadow. Melanchthon, in a
contemporaneous letter to John Hess, called it Luther's best
book. John Mathesius, the well-known pastor at Joachimsthal and
Luther's biographer, acknowledged that he had learned the
"rudiments of Christianity" from it.

Even to-day this book has its peculiar mission to the Church. The
seeking after self-elected works, the indolence regarding the
works commanded of God, the foolish opinion, that the path of
works leads to God's grace and good-will, are even to-day widely
prevalent within the kingdom of God. To all this Luther's
treatise answers: Be diligent in the works of your earthly
calling as commanded of God, but only after having first
strengthened, by the consideration of God's mercy, the faith
within you, which is the only source of all truly good works and
well-pleasing to God.






To the Illustrious, High-born Prince and Lord, John Duke of
Saxony, Landgrave of Thuringia, Margrave of Meissen, my gracious
Lord and Patron.

Illustrious, High-born Prince, gracious Lord! My humble duty and
my feeble prayer for your Grace always remembered!

For a long time, gracious Prince and Lord, I have wished to show
my humble respect and duty toward your princely Grace, by the
exhibition of some such spirtual wares as are at my disposal; but
I have always considered my powers too feeble to undertake
anything worthy of being offered to your princely Grace.

Since, however, my most gracious Lord Frederick, Duke of Saxony,
Elector and Vicar of the Holy Roman Empire, your Grace's brother,
has not despised, but graciously accepted my slight book,
dedicated to his electoral Grace, and now published -- though
such was not my intention, I have taken courage from his gracious
example and ventured to think that the princely spirit, like the
princely blood, may be the same in both of you, especially in
gracious kindness and good will. I have hoped that yout princely
Grace likewise would not despise this my humble offering which
I have felt more need of publishing than an other of my sermons
or tracts. For the greatest of all questions has been raised, the
question of Good Works; in which is practised immeasurably more
trickery and deception than in anything else, and in which the
simpleminded man is so easily misled that our Lord Christ has
commanded us to watch carefully for the sheep's clothings under
which the wolves hide themselves.

Neither silver, gold, precious stones, nor any rare thing has
such manifold alloys and flaws as have good works, which ought
to have a single simple goodness, and without it are mere color,
show and deceit.

And although I know and daily hear many people, who think
slightingly of my poverty, and say that I write only little
pamphletst and German sermons for the unlearned laity, this shall
not disturb me. Would to God I had in all my life, with all the
ability I have, helped one layman to be better! I would be
satisfied, thank God, and be quite willing then to let all my
little books perish.

Whether the making of many great books is an art and a benefit
to the Church, I leave others to judge. But I believe that if I
were minded to make great books according to their art, I could,
with God's help, do it more readily perhaps than they could
prepare a little discourse after my fashion. If accomplishment
were as easy as persecution, Christ would long since have been
cast out of heaven again, and God's throne itself overturned.
Although we cannot all be writers, we all want to be critics.

I will most gladly leave to any one else the honor of greater
things, and not be at all ashamed to preach and to write in
German for the unlearned laymen. Although I too have little skill
in it, I believe that if we had hitherto done, and should
henceforth do more of it, Christendom would have reaped no small
advantage, and have been more bene fited by this than by the
great, deep books and quaestiones, which are used only in the
schools, among the learned.

Then, too, I have never forced or begged any one to hear me, or
to read my sermons. I have freely ministered in the Church of
that which God has given me and which I owe the Church. Whoever
likes it not, may hear and read what others have to say. And if
they are not willing to be my debtors, it matters little. For me
it is enough, and even more than too much, that some laymen
condescend to read what I say. Even though there were nothing
else to urge me, it should be more than sufficient that I have
learned that your princely Grace is pleased with such German
books and is eager to receive instruction in Good Works and the
Faith, with which instruction it was my duty, humbly and with all
diligence to serve you.

Therefore, in dutiful humility I pray that your princely Grace
may accept this offering of mine with a gracious mind, until, if
God grant me time, I prepare a German exposition of the Faith in
its entirety. For at this time I have wished to show how in all
good works we should practice and make use of faith, and let
faith be the chief work. If God permit, I will treat at another
time of the Faith itself -- how we are daily to pray or recite

I humbly commend myself herewith to your princely Grace, Your
Princely Grace's Humble Chaplain,

From Wittenberg, March 29th, A. D. 1520.

I. We ought first to know that there are no good works except
those which God has commanded, even as there is no sin except
that which God has forbidden. Therefore whoever wishes to know
and to do good works needs nothing else than to know God's
commandments. Thus Christ says, Matthew xix, "If thou wilt enter
into life, keep the commandments." And when the young man asks
Him, Matthew xix, what he shall do that he may inherit eternal
life, Christ sets before him naught else but the Ten
Commandments. Accordingly, we must learn how to distinguish among
good works from the Commandments of God, and not from the
appearance, the magnitude, or the number of the works themselves,
nor from the judgment of men or of human law or custom, as we see
has been done and still is done, because we are blind and despise
the divine Commandments.

II. The first and highest, the most precious of all good works
is faith in Christ, as He says, John vi. When the Jews asked Him:
"What shall we do that we may work the works of God?" He
answered: "This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him Whom
He hath sent." When we hear or preach this word, we hasten over
it and deem it a very little thing and easy to do, whereas we
ought here to pause a long time and to ponder it well. For in
this work all good works must be done and receive from it the
inflow of their goodness, like a loan. This we must put bluntly,
that men may understand it.

We find many who pray, fast, establish endowments, do this or
that, lead a good life before men, and yet if you should ask them
whether they are sure that what they do pleases God, they say,
"No"; they do not know, or they doubt. And there are some very
learned men, who mislead them, and say that it is not necessary
to be sure of this; and yet, on the other hand, these same men
do nothing else but teach good works. Now all these works are
done outside of faith, therefore they are nothing and altogether
dead. For as their conscience stands toward God and as it
believes, so also are the works which grow out of it. Now they
have no faith, no good conscience toward God, therefore the works
lack their head, and all their life and goodness is nothing.
Hence it comes that when I exalt faith and reject such works done
without faith, they accuse me of forbidding good works, when in
truth I am trying hard to teach real good works of faith.

III. If you ask further, whether they count it also a good work
when they work at their trade, walk, stand, eat, drink, sleep,
and do all kinds of works for the nourishment of the body or for
the common welfare, and whether they believe that God takes
pleasure in them because of such works, you will find that they
say, "No"; and they define good works so narrowly that they are
made to consist only of praying in church, fasting, and
almsgiving. Other works they consider to be in vain, and think
that God cares nothing for them. So through their damnable
unbelief they curtail and lessen the service of God, Who is
served by all things whatsoever that are done, spoken or thought
in faith.

So teaches Ecclesiastes ix: "Go thy way with joy, eat and drink,
and know that God accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always
white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the
wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity."
"Let thy garments be always white," that is, let all our works
be good, whatever they may be, without any distinction. And they
are white when I am certain and believe that they please God.
Then shall the head of my soul never lack the ointment of a
joyful conscience.

So Christ says, John viii: "I do always those things that please
Him." And St. John says, I. John iii: "Hereby we know that we are
of the truth, if we can comfort our hearts before Him and have
a good confidence. And if our heart condemns or frets us, God is
greater than our heart, and we have confidence, that whatsoever
we ask, we shall receive of Him, because we keep His
Commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His
sight." Again: "Whosoever is born of God, that is, whoever
believes and trusts God, doth not commit sin, and cannot sin."
Again, Psalm xxxiv: "None of them that trust in Him shall do
sin." And in Psalm ii: "Blessed are all they that put their trust
in Him." If this be true, then all that they do must be good, or
the evil that they do must be quickly forgiven. Behold, then, why
I exalt faith so greatly, draw all works into it, and reject all
works which do not flow from it.

IV. Now every one can note and tell for himself when he does what
is good or what is not good; for if he finds his heart confident
that it pleases God, the work is good, even if it were so small
a thing as picking up a straw. If confidence is absent, or if he
doubts, the work is not good, although it should raise all the
dead and the man should give himself to be burned. This is the
teaching of St. Paul, Romans xiv: "Whatsoever is not done of or
in faith is sin." Faith, as the chief work, and no other work,
has given us the name of "believers on Christ." For all other
works a heathen, a Jew, a Turk, a sinner, may also do; but to
trust firmly that he pleases God, is possible only for a
Christian who is enlightened and strengthened by grace.

That these words seem strange, and that some call me a heretic
because of them, is due to the fact that men have followed blind
reason and heathen ways, have set faith not above, but beside
other virtues, and have given it a work of its own, apart from
all works of the other virtues; although faith alone makes all
other works good, acceptable and worthy, in that it trusts God
and does not doubt that for it all things that a man does are
well done. Indeed, they have not let faith remain a work, but
have made a habitus of it, as they say, although Scripture gives
the name of a good, divine work to no work except to faith alone.
Therefore it is no wonder that they have become blind and leaders
of the blind. And this faith brings with it at once love, peace,
joy and hope. For God gives His Spirit at once to him who trusts
Him, as St. Paul says to the Galatians: "You received the Spirit
not because of your good works, but when you believed the Word
of God."

V. In this faith all works become equal, and one is like the
other; all distinctions between works fall away, whether they be
great, small, short, long, few or many. For the works are
acceptable not for their own sake, but because of the faith which
alone is, works and lives in each and every work without
distinction, however numerous and various they are, just as all
the members of the body live, work and have their name from the
head, and without the head no member can live, work and have a

From which it further follows that a Christian who lives in this
faith has no need of a teacher of good works, but whatever he
finds to do he does, and all is well done; as Samuel said to
Saul: "The Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee, and thou shalt
be turned into another man; then do thou as occasion serves thee;
for God is with thee." So also we read of St. Anna, Samuel's
mother: "When she believed the priest Eli who promised her God's
grace, she went home in joy and peace, and from that time no more
turned hither and thither," that is, whatever occurred, it was
all one to her. St. Paul also says: "Where the Spirit of Christ
is, there all is free." For faith does not permit itself to be
bound to any work, nor does it allow any work to be taken from
it, but, as the First Psalm says, "He bringeth forth his fruit
in his season," that is, as a matter of course.

VI. This we may see in a common human example. When a man and a
woman love and are pleased with each other, and thoroughly
believe in their love, who teaches them how they are to behave,
what they are to do, leave undone, say, not say, think?
Confidence alone teaches them all this, and more. They make no
difference in works: they do the great, the long, the much, as
gladly as the small, the short, the little, and vice versa; and
that too with joyful, peaceful, confident hearts, and each is a
free companion of the other. But where there is a doubt, search
is made for what is best; then a distinction of works is imagined
whereby a man may win favor; and yet he goes about it with a
heavy heart, and great disrelish; he is, as it were, taken
captive, more than half in despair, and often makes a fool of

So a Christian who lives in this confidence toward God, a knows
all things, can do all things, undertakes all things that are to
be done, and does everything cheerfully and freely; not that he
may gather many merits and good works, but because it is a
pleasure for him to please God thereby, and he serves God purely
for nothing, content that his service pleases God. On the other
hand, he who is not at one with God, or doubts, hunts and worries
in what way he may do enough and with many works move God. He
runs to St. James of Compostella, to Rome, to Jerusalem, hither
and yon, prays St. Bridget's prayer and the rest, fasts on this
day and on that, makes confession here, and makes confession
there, questions this man and that, and yet finds no peace. He
does all this with great effort, despair and disrelish of heart,
so that the Scriptures rightly call such works in Hebrew Avenama,
that is, labor and travail. And even then they are not good
works, and are all lost. Many have been crazed thereby; their
fear has brought them into all manner of misery. Of these it is
written, Wisdom of Solomon v: "We have wearied ourselves in the
wrong way; and have gone through deserts, where there lay no way;
but as for the way of the Lord, we have not known it, and the sun
of righteousness rose not upon us."

VII. In these works faith is still slight and weak; let us ask
further, whether they believe that they are well-pleasing to God
when they suffer in body, property, honor, friends, or whatever
they have, and believe that God of His mercy appoints their
sufferings and difficulties for them, whether they be small or
great. This is real strength, to trust in God when to all our
senses and reason He appears to be angry; and to have greater
confidence in Him than we feel. Here He is hidden, as the bride
says in the Song of Songs: "Behold he standeth behind our wall,
he looketh forth at the windows"; that is, He stands hidden among
the sufferings, which would separate us from Him like a wall,
yea, like a wall of stone, and yet He looks upon me and does not
leave me, for He is standing and is ready graciously to help, and
through the window of dim faith He permits Himself to be seen.
And Jeremiah says in Lamentations, "He casts off men, but He does
it not willingly."

This faith they do not know at all, and give up, thinking that
God has forsaken them and is become their enemy; they even lay
the blame of their ills on men and devils, and have no confidence
at all in God. For this reason, too, their suffering is always
an offence and harmful to them, and yet they go and do some good
works, as they think, and are not aware of their unbelief. But
they who in such suffering trust God and retain a good, firm
confidence in Him, and believe that He is pleased with them,
these see in their sufferings and afflictions nothing but
precious merits and the rarest possessions, the value of which
no one can estimate. For faith and confidence make precious
before God all that which others think most shameful, so that it
is written even of death in Psalm cxvi, "Precious in the sight
of the Lord is the death of His saints." And just as the
confidence and faith are better, higher and stronger at this
stage than in the first stage, so and to the same degree do the
sufferings which are borne in this faith excel all works of
faith. Therefore between such works and sufferings there is an
immeasurable difference and the sufferings are infinitely better.

VIII. Beyond all this is the highest stage of faith, when; God
punishes the conscience not only with temporal sufferings, but
with death, hell, and sin, and refuses grace and mercy, as though
it were His will to condemn and to be angry eternally. This few
men experience, but David cries out in Psalm vi, "O Lord, rebuke
me not in Thine anger." To believe at such times that God, in His
mercy, is pleased with us, is the highest work that can be done
by and in the creature; but of this the work-righteous and doers
of good works know nothing at all. For how could they here look
for good things and grace from God, as long as they are not
certain in their works, and doubt even on the lowest step of

In this way I have, as I said, always praised faith, and rejected
all works which are done without such faith, in order thereby to
lead men from the false, pretentious, pharisaic, unbelieving good
works, with which all monastic houses, churches, homes, low and
higher classes are overfilled, and lead them to the true,
genuine, thoroughly good, believing works. In this no one opposes
me except the unclean beasts, which do not divide the hoof, as
the Law of Moses decrees; who will suffer no distinction among
good works, but go lumbering along: if only they pray, fast,
establish endowments, go to confession, and do enough, everything
shall be good, although in all this they have had no faith in
God's grace and approval. Indeed, they consider the works best
of all, when they have done many, great and long works without
any such confidence, and they look for good only after the works
are done; and so they build their confidence not on divine favor,
but on the works they have done, that is, on sand and water, from
which they must at last take a cruel fall, as Christ says,
Matthew vii. This good-will and favor, on which our confidence
rests, was proclaimed by the angels from heaven, when they sang
on Christmas night: "Gloria in excelsis Deo, Glory to God in the
highest, peace to earth, gracious favor to man."

IX. Now this is the work of the First Commandment, which
commands: "Thou shalt have no other gods," which means: "Since
I alone am God, thou shalt place all thy confidence, trust and
faith on Me alone, and on no one else." For that is not to have
a god, if you call him God only with your lips, or worship him
with the knees or bodily gestures; but if you trust Him with the
heart, and look to Him for all good, grace and favor, whether in
works or sufferings, in life or death, in joy or sorrow; as the
Lord Christ says to the heathen woman, John iv: "I say unto thee,
they that worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth."
And this faith, faithfulness, confidence deep in the heart, is
the true fulfilling of the First Commandment; without this there
is no other work that is able to satisfy this Commandment. And
as this Commandment is the very first, highest and best, from
which all the others proceed, in which they exist, and by which
they are directed and measured, so also its work, that is, the
faith or confidence in God's favor at all times, is the very
first, highest and best, from which all others must proceed,
exist, remain, be directed and measured. Compared with this,
other works are just as if the other Commandments were without
the First, and there were no God, Therefore St. Augustine well
says that the works of the First Commandment are faith, hope and
love. As I said above, such faith and confidence bring love and
hope with them. Nay, if we see it aright, love is the first, or
comes at the same instant with faith. For I could not trust God,
if I did not think that He wished to be favorable and to love me,
which leads me, in turn, to love Him and to trust Him heartily
and to look to Him for all good things.

X. Now you see for yourself that all those who do not at at all
times trust God and do not in all their works or sufferings, life
and death, trust in His favor, grace and good-will, but seek His
favor in other things or in themselves, do not keep this
Commandment, and practise real idolatry, even if they were to do
the works of all the other Commandments, and in addition had all
the prayers, fasting, obedience, patience, chastity, and
innocence of all the saints combined. For the chief work is not
present, without which all the others are nothing but mere sham,
show and pretence, with nothing back of them; against which
Christ warns us, Matthew vii: "Beware of false prophets, which
come to you in sheep's clothing." Such are all who wish with
their many good works, as they say, to make God favorable to
themselves, and to buy God's grace from Him, as if He were a
huckster or a day-laborer, unwilling to give His grace and favor
for nothing. These are the most perverse people on earth, who
will hardly or never be converted to the right way. Such too are
all who in adversity run hither and thither, and look for counsel
and help everywhere except from God, from Whom they are most
urgently commanded to seek it; whom the Prophet Isaiah reproves
thus, Isaiah ix: "The mad people turneth not to Him that smiteth
them"; that is, God smote them and sent them sufferings and all
kinds of adversity, that they should run to Him and trust Him.
But they run away from Him to men, now to Egypt, now to Assyria,
perchance also to the devil; and of such idolatry much is written
in the same Prophet and in the Books of the Kings. This is also
the way of all holy hypocrites when they are in trouble: they do
not run to God, but flee from Him, and only think of how they may
get rid of their trouble through their own efforts or through
human help, and yet they consider themselves and let others
consider them pious people.

XI. This is what St. Paul means in many places, where he ascribes
so much to faith, that he says: Justus ex fide sua vivit, "the
righteous man draws his life out of his faith," and faith is that
because of which he is counted righteous before God. If
righteousness consists of faith, it is clear that faith fulfils
all commandments and makes all works righteous, since no one is
justified except he keep all the commands of God. Again, the
works can justify no one before God without faith. So utterly and
roundly does the Apostle reject works and praise faith, that some
have taken offence at his words and say: "Well, then, we will do
no more good works," although he condemns such men as erring and

So men still do. When we reject the great, pretentious works of
our time, which are done entirely without faith, they say: Men
are only to believe and not to do anything good. For nowadays
they say that the works of the First Commandment are singing,
reading, organ-playing, reading the mass, saying matins and
vespers and the other hours, the founding and decorating of
churches, altars, and monastic houses, the gathering of bells,
jewels, garments, trinkets and treasures, running to Rome and to
the saints. Further, when we are dressed up and bow, kneel, pray
the rosary and the Psalter, and all this not before an idol, but
before the holy cross of God or the pictures of His saints: this
we call honoring and worshiping God, and, according to the First
Commandment, "having no other gods"; although these things
usurers, adulterers and all manner of sinners can do too, and do
them daily.

Of course, if these things are done with such faith that we
believe that they please God, then they are praiseworthy, not
because of their virtue, but because of such faith, for which all
works are of equal value, as has been said. But if we doubt or
do not believe that God is gracious to us and is pleased with us,
or if we presumptuously expect to please Him only through and
after our works, then it is all pure deception, outwardly
honoring God, but inwardly setting up self as a false god. This
is the reason why I have so often spoken against the display,
magnificence and multitude of such works and have rejected them,
because it is as clear as day that they are not only done in
doubt or without faith, but there is not one in a thousand who
does not set his confidence upon the works, expecting by them to
win God's favor and anticipate His grace; and so they make a fair
of them, a thing which God cannot endure, since He has promised
His grace freely, and wills that we begin by trusting that grace,
and in it perform all works, whatever they may be.

XII. Note for yourself, then, how far apart these two are:
keeping the First Commandment with outward works only, and
keeping it with inward trust. For this last makes true, living
children of God, the other only makes worse idolatry and the most
mischievous hypocrites on earth, who with their apparent
righteousness lead unnumbered people into their way, and yet
allow them to be without faith, so that they are miserably
misled, and are caught in the pitiable babbling and mummery. Of
such Christ says, Matthew xxiv: "Beware, if any man shall say
unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there"; and John iv: "I say unto
thee, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain nor
yet at Jerusalem worship God, for the Father seeketh spiritual

These and similar passages have moved me and ought to move
everyone to reject the great display of bulls, seals, flags,
indulgences, by which the poor folk are led to build churches,
to give, to endow, to pray, and yet faith is not mentioned, and
is even suppressed. For since faith knows no distinction among
works, such exaltation and urging of one work above another
cannot exist beside faith. For faith desires to be the only
service of God, and will grant this name and honor to no other
work, except in so far as faith imparts it, as it does when the
work is done in faith and by faith. This perversion is indicated
in the Old Testament, when the Jews left the Temple and
sacrificed at other places, in the green parks and on the
mountains. This is what these men also do: they are zealous to
do all works, but this chief work of faith they regard not at

XIII. Where now are they who ask, what works are good; what they
shall do; how they shall be religious? Yes, and where are they
who say that when we preach of faith, we shall neither teach nor
do works? Does not this First Commandment give us more work to
do than any man can do? If a man were a thousand men, or all men,
or all creatures, this Commandment would yet ask enough of him,
and more than enough, since he is commanded to live and walk at
all times in faith and confidence toward God, to place such faith
in no one else, and so to have only one, the true God, and none

Now, since the being and nature of man cannot for an instant be
without doing or not doing something, enduring or running away
from something (for, as we see, life never rests), let him who
will be pious and filled with good works, begin and in all his
life and works at all times exercise himself in this faith; let
him learn to do and to leave undone all things in such continual
faith; then will he find how much work he has to do, and how
completely all things are included in faith; how he dare never
grow idle, because his very idling must be the exercise and work
of faith. In brief, nothing can be in or about us and nothing can
happen to us but that it must be good and meritorious, if we
believe (as we ought) that all things please God. So says St.
Paul: "Dear brethren, all that ye do, whether ye eat or drink,
do all in the Name of Jesus Christ, our Lord." Now it cannot be
done in this Name except it be done in this faith. Likewise,
Romans vii: "We know that all things work together for good to
the saints of God."

Therefore, when some say that good works are forbidden when we
preach faith alone, it is as if I said to a sick man: "If you had
health, you would have the use of all your limbs; but without
health, the works of all your limbs are nothing"; and he wanted
to infer that I had forbidden the works of all his limbs;
whereas, on the contrary, I meant that he must first have health,
which will work all the works of all the members. So faith also
must be in all works the master-workman and captain, or they are
nothing at all.

XIV. You might say: "Why then do we have so many laws of the
Church and of the State, and many ceremonies of churches,
monastic houses, holy places, which urge and tempt men to good
works, if faith does all things through the First Commandment?"
I answer: Simply because we do not all have faith or do not heed
it. If every man had faith, we would need no more laws, but every
one would of himself at all times do good works, as his
confidence in God teaches him.

But now there are four kinds of men: the first, just mentioned,
who need no law, of whom St. Paul says, I. Timothy i, "The law
is not made for a righteous man," that is, for the believer, but
believers of themselves do what they know and can do, only
because they firmly trust that God's favor and grace rests upon
them in all things. The second class want to abuse this freedom,
put a false confidence in it, and grow lazy; of whom St. Peter
says, I. Peter ii, "Ye shall live as free men, but not using your
liberty for a cloak of maliciousness," as if he said: The freedom
of faith does not permit sins, nor will it cover them, but it
sets us free to do all manner of good works and to endure all
things as they happen to us, so that a man is not bound only to
one work or to a few. So also St. Paul, Galatians v: "Use not
your liberty for an occasion to the flesh." Such men must be
urged by laws and hemmed in by teaching and exhortation. The
third class are wicked men, always ready for sins; these must be
constrained by spiritual and temporal laws, like wild horses and
dogs, and where this does not help, they must be put to death by
the worldly sword, as St. Paul says, Romans xiii: "The worldly
ruler bears the sword, and serves God with it, not as a terror
to the good, but to the evil." The fourth class, who are still
lusty, and childish in their understanding of faith and of the
spiritual life, must be coaxed like young children and tempted
with external, definite and prescribed decorations, with reading,
praying, fasting, singing, adorning of churches, organ playing,
and such other things as are commanded and observed in monastic
houses and churches, until they also learn to know the faith.
Although there is great danger here, when the rulers, as is now,
alas! the case, busy themselves with and insist upon such
ceremonies and external works as if they were the true works, and
neglect faith, which they ought always to teach along with these
works, just as a mother gives her child other food along with the
milk, until the child can eat the strong food by itself.

XV. Since, then, we are not all alike, we must tolerate such
people, share their observances and burdens, and not despise
them, but teach them the true way of faith. So St. Paul teaches,
Romans xiv: "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, to teach
him." And so he did himself, I. Corinthians ix: "To them that are
under the law, I became as under the law, although I was not
under the law." And Christ, Matthew xvii, when He was asked to
pay tribute, which He was not obligated to pay, argues with St.
Peter, whether the children of kings must give tribute, or only
other people. St. Peter answers: "Only other people." Christ
said: "Then are the children of kings free; notwithstanding, lest
we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and
take up the fish that first cometh up; and in his mouth thou
shalt find a piece of money; take that and give it for me and

Here we see that all works and things are free to a Christian
through his faith; and yet, because the others do not yet
believe, he observes and bears with them what he is not obligated
to do. But this he does freely, for he is certain that this is
pleasing to God, and he does it willingly, accepts it as any
other free work which comes to his hand without his choice,
because he desires and seeks no more than that he may in his
faith do works to please God.

But since in this discourse we have undertaken to teach what
righteous and good works are, and are now speaking of the highest
work, it is clear that we do not speak of the second, third and
fourth classes of men, but of the first, into whose likeness all
the others are to grow, and until they do so the first class must
endure and instruct them. Therefore we must not despise, as if
they were hopeless, these men of weak faith, who would gladly do
right and learn, and yet cannot understand because of the
ceremonies to which they cling; we must rather blame their
ignorant, blind teachers, who have never taught them the faith,
and have led them so deeply into works. They must be gently and
gradually led back again to faith, as a sick man is treated, and
must be allowed for a time, for their conscience sake, to cling
to some works and do them as necessary to salvation, so long as
they rightly grasp the faith; lest if we try to tear them out so
suddenly, their weak consciences be quite shattered and confused,
and retain neither faith nor works. But the hardheaded, who,
hardened in their works, give no heed to what is said of faith,
and fight against it, these we must, as Christ did and taught,
let go their way, that the blind may lead the blind.

XVI. But you say: How can I trust surely that all my works are
pleasing to God, when at times I fall, and talk, eat, drink and
sleep too much, or otherwise transgress, as I cannot help doing?
Answer: This question shows that you still regard faith as a work
among other works, and do not set it above all works. For it is
the highest work for this very reason, because it remains and
blots out these daily sins by not doubting that God is so kind
to you as to wink at such daily transgression and weakness. Aye,
even if a deadly sin should occur (which, however, never or
rarely happens to those who live in faith and trust toward God),
yet faith rises again and does not doubt that its sin is already
gone; as it is written I. John ii: "My little children, these
things I write unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we
have an Advocate with God the Father, Jesus Christ, Who is the
propitiation of all our sins." And Wisdom xv: "For if we sin, we
are Thine, knowing Thy power." And Proverbs xxiv: "For a just man
falleth seven times, and riseth up again." Yes, this confidence
and faith must be so high and strong that the man knows that all
his life and works are nothing but damnable sins before God's
judgment, as it is written, Psalm cxliii: "In thy sight shall no
man living be justified"; and he must entirely despair of his
works, believing that they cannot be good except through this
faith, which looks for no judgment, but only for pure grace,
favor, kindness and mercy, like David, Psalm xxvi: "Thy loving
kindness is ever before mine eyes, and I have trusted in Thy
truth"; Psalm iv: "The light of Thy countenance is lift up upon
us (that is, the knowledge of Thy grace through faith), and
thereby hast Thou put gladness in my heart"; for as faith trusts,
so it receives.

See, thus are works forgiven, are without guilt and are good, not
by their own nature, but by the mercy and grace of God because
of the faith which trusts on the mercy of God. Therefore we must
fear because of the works, but comfort ourselves because of the
grace of God, as it is written, Psalm cxlvii: "The Lord taketh
pleasure in them that I fear Him, in those that hope in His
mercy." So we pray with perfect confidence: "Our Father," and yet
petition: "Forgive us our trespasses"; we are children and yet
sinners; are acceptable and yet do not do enough; and all this
is the work of faith, firmly grounded in God's grace.

XVII. But if you ask, where the faith and the confidence can be
found and whence they come, this it is certainly most necessary
to know. First: Without doubt faith does not come from your works
or merit, but alone from Jesus Christ, and is freely promised and
given; as St. Paul writes, Romans v: "God commendeth His love to
us as exceeding sweet and kindly, in that, while we were yet
sinners, Christ died for us"; as if he said: "Ought not this give
us a strong unconquerable confidence, that before we prayed or
cared for it, yes, while we still continually walked in sins,
Christ dies for our sin?" St. Paul concludes: "If while we were
yet sinners Christ died for us, how much more then, being
justified by His blood, shall we be saved from wrath through Him;
and if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the
death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved
by His life."

Lo! thus must thou form Christ within thyself and see how in Him
God holds before thee and offers thee His mercy without any
previous merits of thine own, and from such a view of His grace
must thou draw faith and confidence of the forgiveness of all thy
sins. Faith, therefore, does not begin with works, neither do
they create it, but it must spring up and flow from the blood,
wounds and death of Christ. If thou see in these that God is so
kindly affectioned toward thee that He gives even His Son for
thee, then thy heart also must in its turn grow sweet and kindly
affectioned toward God, and so thy confidence must grow out of
pure good-will and love -- God's love toward thee and thine
toward God. We never read that the Holy Spirit was given to any
one when he did works, but always when men have heard the Gospel
of Christ and the mercy of God. From this same Word and from no
other source must faith still come, even in our day and always.
For Christ is the rock out of which men suck oil and honey, as
Moses says, Deuteronomy xxxii.

XVIII. So far we have treated of the first work and of the First
Commandment, but very briefly, plainly and hastily, for very much
might be said of it. We will now trace the works farther through
the following Commandments.

The second work, next to faith, is the work of the Second
Commandment, that we shall honor God's Name and not take it in
vain. This, like all the other works, cannot be done without
faith; and if it is done without faith, it is all sham and show.
After faith we can do no greater work than to praise, preach,
sing and in every way exalt and magnify God's glory, honor and

And although I have said above, and it is true, that there is no
difference in works where faith is and does the work, yet this
is true only when they are compared with faith and its works.
Measured by one another there is a difference, and one is higher
than the other. Just as in the body the members do not differ
when compared with health, and health works in the one as much
as in the other; yet the works of the members are different, and
one is higher, nobler, more useful than the other; so, here also,
to praise God's glory and Name is better than the works of the
other Commandments which follow; and yet it must be done in the
same faith as all the others.

But I know well that this work is lightly esteemed, and has
indeed become unknown. Therefore we must examine it further, and
will say no more about the necessity of doing it in the faith and
confidence that it pleases God. Indeed there is no work in which
confidence and faith are so much experienced and felt as in
honoring God's Name; and it greatly helps to strengthen and
increase faith, although all works also help to do this, as St.
Peter says, II. Peter i: "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give
diligence through good works to make your calling and election

XIX. The First Commandment forbids us to have other gods, and
thereby commands that we have a God, the true God, by a firm
faith, trust, confidence, hope and love, which are the only works
whereby a man can have, honor and keep a God; for by no other
work can one find or lose God except by faith or unbelief, by
trusting or doubting; of the other works none reaches quite to
God. So also in the Second Commandment we are forbidden to use
His Name in vain. Yet this is not to be enough, but we are
thereby also commanded to honor, call upon, glorify, preach and
praise His Name. And indeed it is impossible that God's Name
should not be dishonored where it is not rightly honored. For
although it be honored with the lips, bending of the knees,
kissing and other postures, if this is not done in the heart by
faith, in confident trust in God's grace, it is nothing else than
an evidence and badge of hypocrisy.

See now, how many kinds of good works a man can do under this
Commandment at all times and never be without the good works of
this Commandment, if he will; so that he truly need not make a
long pilgrimage or seek holy places. For, tell me, what moment
can pass in which we do not without ceasing receive God's
blessings, or, on the other hand, suffer adversity? But what else
are God's blessings and adversities than a constant urging and
stirring up to praise, honor, and bless God, and to call upon His
Name? Now if you had nothing else at all to do, would you not
have enough to do with this Commandment alone, that you without
ceasing bless, sing, praise and honor God's Name? And for what
other purpose have tongue, voice, language and mouth been
created? As Psalm li. says: "Lord, open Thou my lips, and my
mouth shall show forth Thy praise." Again: "My tongue shall sing
aloud of Thy mercy."

What work is there in heaven except that of this Second
Commandment? As it is written in Psalm Ixxxiv: "Blessed are they
that dwell in Thy house: they will be for ever praising Thee."
So also David says in Psalm xxxiv: "God's praise shall be
continually in my mouth." And St. Paul, I. Corinthians x:
"Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all
to the glory of God." Also Colossians iii: "Whatsoever ye do in
word or deed, do all in the Name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks
to God and the Father." If we were to observe this work, we would
have a heaven here on earth and always have enough to do, as have
the saints in heaven.

XX. On this is based the wonderful and righteous judgment of God,
that at times a poor man, in whom no one can see many great
works, in the privacy of his home joyfully praises God when he
fares well, or with entire confidence calls upon Him when he
fares ill, and thereby does a greater and more acceptable work
than another, who fasts much, prays much, endows churches, makes
pilgrimages, and burdens himself with great deeds in this place
and in that. Such a fool opens wide his mouth, looks for great
works to do, and is so blinded that he does not at all notice
this greatest work, and praising God is in his eyes a very small
matter compared with the great idea he has formed of the works
of his own devising, in which he perhaps praises himself more
than God, or takes more pleasure in them than he does in God; and
thus with his good works he storms against the Second Commandment
and its works. Of all this we have an illustration in the case
of the Pharisee and the Publican in the Gospel. For the sinner
calls upon God in his sins, and praises Him, and so has hit upon
the two highest Commandments, faith and God's honor. The
hypocrite misses both and struts about with other good works by
which he praises himself and not God, and puts his trust in
himself more than in God. Therefore he is justly rejected and the
other chosen.

The reason of all this is that the higher and better the works
are, the less show they make; and that every one thinks they are
easy, because it is evident that no one pretends to praise God's
Name and honor so much as the very men who never do it and with
their show of doing it, while the heart is without faith, cause
the precious work to be despised. So that the Apostle St. Paul
dare say boldly, Romans ii, that they blaspheme God's Name who
make their boast of God's Law. For to name the Name of God and
to write His honor on paper and on the walls is an easy matter;
but genuinely to praise and bless Him in His good deeds and
confidently to call upon Him in all adversities, these are truly
the most rare, highest works, next to faith, so that if we were
to see how few of them there are in Christendom, we might despair
for very sorrow. And yet there is a constant increase of high,
pretty, shining works of men's devising, or of works which look
like these true works, but at bottom are all without faith and
without faithfulness; in short, there is nothing good back of
them. Thus also Isaiah xlviii. rebukes the people of Israel:
"Hear ye this, ye which are called by the name of Israel, which
swear by the Name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of
Israel neither in truth, nor in righteousness"; that is, they did
it not in the true faith and confidence, which is the real truth
and righteousness, but trusted in themselves, their works and
powers, and yet called upon God's Name and praised Him, two
things which do not fit together.

XXI. The first work of this Commandment then is, to praise God
in all His benefits, which are innumerable, so that such praise
and thanksgiving ought also of right never to cease or end. For
who can praise Him perfectly for the gift of natural life, not
to mention all other temporal and eternal blessings? And so
through this one part of the Commandment man is overwhelmed with
good and precious works; if he do these in true faith, he has
indeed not lived in vain. And in this matter none sin so much as
the most resplendent saints, who are pleased with themselves and
like to praise themselves or to hear themselves praised, honored
and glorified before men.

Therefore the second work of this Commandment is, to be on one's
guard, to flee from and to avoid all temporal honor and praise,
and never to seek a name for oneself, or fame and a great
reputation, that every one sing of him and tell of him; which is
an exceedingly dangerous sin, and yet the most common of all,
and, alas! little regarded. Every one wants to be of importance
and not to be the least, however small he may be; so deeply is
nature sunk in the evil of its own conceit and in its
self-confidence contrary to these two first Commandments.

Now the world regards this terrible vice as the highest virtue,
and this makes it exceedingly dangerous for those who do not
understand and have not had experience of God's Commandments and
the histories of the Holy Scriptures, to read or hear the heathen
books and histories. For all heathen books are poisoned through
and through with this striving after praise and honor; in them
men are taught by blind reason that they were not nor could be
men of power and worth, who are not moved by praise and honor;
but those are counted the best, who disregard body and life,
friend and property and everything in the effort to win praise
and honor. All the holy Fathers have complained of this vice and
with one mind conclude that it is the very last vice to be
overcome. St. Augustine says: "All other vices are practised in
evil works; only honor and self-satisfaction are practised in and
by means of good works."

Therefore if a man had nothing else to do except this second work
of this Commandment, he would yet have to work all his life-time
in order to fight this vice and drive it out, so common, so
subtile, so quick and insidious is it. Now we all pass by this
good work and exercise ourselves in many other lesser good works,
nay, through other good works we overthrow this and forget it
entirely. So the holy Name of God, which alone should be honored,
is taken in vain and dishonored through our own cursed name,
self-approval and honor-seeking. And this sin is more grievous
before God than murder and adultery; but its wickedness is not
so clearly seen as that of murder, because of its subtilty, for
it is not accomplished in the coarse flesh, but in the spirit.

XXII. Some think it is good for young people that they be enticed
by reputation and honor, and again by shame of and dishonor, and
so be induced to do good. For there are many who do the good and
leave the evil undone out of fear of shame and love of honor, and
so do what they would otherwise by no means do or leave undone.
These I leave to their opinion. But at present we are seeking how
true good works are to be done, and they who are inclined to do
them surely do not need to be driven by the fear of shame and the
love of honor; they have, and are to have a higher and far nobler
incentive, namely, God's commandment, God's fear, God's approval,
and their faith and love toward God. They who have not, or regard
not this motive, and let shame and honor drive them, these also
have their reward, as the Lord says, Matthew vi; and as the
motive, so is also the work and the reward: none of them is good,
except only in the eyes of the world.

Now I hold that a young person could be more easily trained and
incited by God's fear and commandments than by any other means.
Yet where these do not help, we must endure that they do the good
and leave the evil for the sake of shame and of honor, just as
we must also endure wicked men or the imperfect, of whom we spoke
above; nor can we do more than tell them that their works are not
satisfactory and right before God, and so leave them until they
learn to do right for the sake of God's commandments also. Just
as young children are induced to pray, fast, learn, etc., by
gifts and promises of the parents, even though it would not be
good to treat them so all their lives, so that they never learn
to do good in the fear of God: far worse, if they become
accustomed to do good for the sake of praise and honor.

XXIII. But this is true, that we must none the less have a good
name and honor, and every one ought so to live that nothing evil
can be said of him, and that he give offence to no one, as St.
Paul says, Romans xii: "We are to be zealous to do good, not only
before God, but also before all men." And II. Corinthians iv: "We
walk so honestly that no man knows anything against us." But
there must be great diligence and care, lest such honor and good
name puff up the heart, and the heart find pleasure in them. Here
the saying of Solomon holds: "As the fire in the furnace proveth
the gold, so man is proved by the mouth of him that praises him."
Few and most spiritual men must they be, who, when honored and
praised, remain indifferent and unchanged, so that they do not
care for it, nor feel pride and pleasure in it, but remain
entirely free, ascribe all their honor and fame to God, offering
it to Him alone, and using it only to the glory of God, to the
edification of their neighbors, and in no way to their own
benefit or advantage; so that a man trust not in his own honor,
nor exalt himself above the most incapable, despised man on
earth, but acknowledge himself a servant of God, Who has given
him the honor in order that with it he may serve God and his
neighbor, just as if He had commanded him to distribute some
gulden to the poor for His sake. So He says, Matthew v: "Your
light shall shine before men, so that they may see your good
works and glorify your Father Who is in heaven." He does not say,
"they shall praise you," but "your works shall only serve them
to edification, that through them they may praise God in you and
in themselves." This is the correct use of God's Name and honor,
when God is thereby praised through the edification of others.
And if men want to praise us and not God in us, we are not to
endure it, but with all our powers forbid it and flee from it as
from the most grievous sin and robbery of divine honor.

XXIV. Hence it comes that God frequently permits a man to fall
into or remain in grievous sin, in order that he may be put to
shame in his own eyes and in the eyes of all men, who otherwise
could not have kept himself from this great vice of vain honor
and fame, if he had remained constant in his great gifts and
virtues; so God must ward off this sin by means of other grievous
sins, that His Name alone may be honored; and thus one sin
becomes the other's medicine, because of our perverse wickedness,
which not only does the evil, but also misuses all that is good.

Now see how much a man has to do, if he would do good works,
which always are at hand in great number, and with which he is
surrounded on all sides; but, alas! because of his blindness, he
passes them by and seeks and runs after others of his own
devising and pleasure, against which no man can sufficiently
speak and no man can sufficiently guard. With this all the
prophets had to contend, and for this reason they were all slain,
only because they rejected such self-devised works and preached
only God's commandments, as one of them says, Jeremiah vii: "Thus
saith the God of Israel unto you: Take your burnt offerings unto
all your sacrifices and eat your burnt-offerings and your flesh
yourselves; for concerning these things I have commanded you
nothing, but this thing commanded I you: Obey My voice (that is,
not what seems right and good to you, but what I bid you), and
walk in the way that I have commanded you." And Deuteronomy xii:
"Thou shalt not do whatsoever is right in thine own eyes, but
what thy God has commanded thee."

These and numberless like passages of Scripture are spoken to
tear man not only from sins, but also from the works which seem
to men to be good and right, and to turn men, with a single mind,
to the simple meaning of God's commandment only, that they shall
diligently observe this only and always, as it is written, Exodus
xiii: "These commandments shall be for a sign unto thee upon
thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes." And Psalm i:
"A godly man meditates in God's Law day and night." For we have
more than enough and too much to do, if we are to satisfy only
God's commandments. He has given us such commandments that if we
understand them aright, we dare not for a moment be idle, and
might easily forget all other works. But the evil spirit, who
never rests, when he cannot lead us to the left into evil works,
fights on our right through self-devised works that seem good,
but against which God has commanded, Deuteronomy xxviii, and
Joshua xxiii, "Ye shall not go aside from My commandments to the
right hand or to the left."

XXV. The third work of this Commandment is to call upon God's
Name in every need. For this God regards as keeping His Name holy
and greatly honoring it, if we name and call upon it in adversity
and need. And this is really why He sends us so much trouble,
suffering, adversity and even death, and lets us live in many
wicked, sinful affections, that He may thereby urge man and give
him much reason to run to Him, to cry aloud to Him, to call upon
His holy Name, and thus to fulfil this work of the Second
Commandment, as He says in Psalm 1: "Call upon Me in the day of
trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me; for I
desire the sacrifice of praise." And this is the way whereby thou
canst come unto salvation; for through such works man perceives
and learns what God's Name is, how powerful it is to help all who
call upon it; and whereby confidence and faith grow mightily, and
these are the fulfilling of the first and highest Commandment.
This is the experience of David, Psalm liv: "Thou hast delivered
me out of all trouble, therefore will I praise Thy Name and
confess that it is lovely and sweet." And Psalm xci says,
"Because he hath set his hope upon Me, therefore will I deliver
him: I will help him, because he hath known My Name."

Lo! what man is there on earth, who would not all his life long
have enough to do with this work? For who lives an hour without
trials? I will not mention the trials of adversity, which are
innumerable. For this is the most dangerous trial of all, when
there is no trial and every thing is and goes well; for then a
man is tempted to forget God, to become too bold and to misuse
the times of prosperity. Yea, here he has ten times more need to
call upon God's Name than when in adversity. Since it is written,
Psalm xci, "A thousand shall fall on the left hand and ten
thousand on the right hand."

So too we see in broad day, in all men's daily experience, that
more heinous sins and vice occur when there is peace, when all
things are cheap and there are good times, than when war,
pestilence, sicknesses and all manner of misfortune burden us;
so that Moses also fears for his people, lest they forsake God's
commandment for no other reason than because they are too full,
too well provided for and have too much peace, as he says,
Deuteronomy xxxii "My people is waxed rich, full and fat;
therefore has it forsaken its God." Wherefore also God let many
of its enemies remain and would not drive them out, in order that
they should not have peace and must exercise themselves in the
keeping of God's commandments, as it is written, Judges iii. So
He deals with us also, when He sends us all kinds of misfortune:
so exceedingly careful is He of us, that He may teach us and
drive us to honor and call upon His Name, to gain confidence and
faith toward Him, and so to fulfil the first two Commandments.

XXVI. Here foolish men run into danger, and especially the
work-righteous saints, and those who want to be more than others;
they teach men to make the sign of the cross; one arms himself
with letters, another runs to the fortunetellers; one seeks this,
another that, if only they may thereby escape misfortune and be
secure. It is beyond telling what a devilish allurement attaches
to this trifling with sorcery, conjuring and superstition, all
of which is done only that men may not need God's Name and put
no trust in it. Here great dishonor is done the Name of God and
the first two Commandments, in that men look to the devil, men
or creatures for that which should be sought and found in God
alone, through naught but a pure faith and confidence, and a
cheerful meditation of and calling upon His holy Name.

Now examine this closely for yourself and see whether this is not
a gross, mad perversion: the devil, men and creatures they must
believe, and trust to them for the best; without such faith and
confidence nothing holds or helps. How shall the good and
faithful God reward us for not believing and trusting Him as much
or more than man and the devil, although He not only promises
help and sure assistance, but also commands us confidently to
look for it, and gives and urges all manner of reasons why we
should place such faith and confidence in Him? Is it not
lamentable and pitiable that the devil or man, who commands
nothing and does not urge, but only promises, is set above God,
Who promises, urges and commands; and that more is thought of
them than of God Himself? We ought truly to be ashamed of
ourselves and learn from the example of those who trust the devil
or men. For if the devil, who is a wicked, lying spirit, keeps
faith with all those who ally themselves with him, how much more
will not the most gracious, all-truthful God keep faith, if a man
trusts Him? Nay, is it not rather He alone Who will keep faith?
A rich man trusts and relies upon his money and possessions, and
they help him; and we are not willing to trust and rely upon the
living God, that He is willing and able to help us? We say: Gold
makes bold; and it is true, as Baruch iii. says, "Gold is a thing
wherein men trust." But far greater is the courage which the
highest eternal Good gives, wherein trust, not men, but only
God's children.

XXVII. Even if none of these adversities constrain us to call
upon God's Name and to trust Him, yet were sin alone more than
sufficient to train and to urge us on in this work. For sin has
hemmed us in with three strong, mighty armies. The first is our
own flesh, the second the world, the third the evil spirit, by
which three we are without ceasing oppressed and troubled;
whereby God gives us occasion to do good works without ceasing,
namely, to fight with these enemies and sins. The flesh seeks
pleasure and peace, the world seeks riches, favor, power and
honor, the evil spirit seeks pride, glory, that a man be well
thought of, and other men be despised.

And these three are all so powerful that each one of them is
alone sufficient to fight a man, and yet there is no way we can
overcome them, except only by calling upon the holy Name of God
in a firm faith, as Solomon says, Proverbs xviii: "The Name of
the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it, and
is set aloft." And David, Psalm cxvi: "I will drink the cup of
salvation, and call upon the Name of the Lord." Again, Psalm
xviii: "I will call upon the Lord with praise: so shall I be
saved from all mine enemies." These works and the power of God's
Name have become unknown to us, because we are not accustomed to
it, and have never seriously fought with sins, and have not
needed His Name, because we are trained only in our self devised
works, which we were able to do with our own powers.

XXVIII. Further works of this Commandment are: that we shall not
swear, curse, lie, deceive and conjure with the holy Name of God,
and otherwise misuse it; which are very simple matters and well
known to every one, being the sins which have been almost
exclusively preached and proclaimed under this Commandment. These
also include, that we shall prevent others from making sinful use
of God's Name by lying, swearing, deceiving, cursing, conjuring,
and otherwise. Herein again much occasion is given for doing good
and warding off evil.

But the greatest and most difficult work of this Commandment is
to protect the holy Name of God against all who misuse it in a
spiritual manner, and to proclaim it to all men. For it is not
enough that I, for myself and in myself, praise and call upon
God's Name in prosperity and adversity. I must step forth and for
the sake of God's honor and Name bring upon myself the enmity of
all men, as Christ said to His disciples: "Ye shall be hated of
all men for My Name's sake." Here we must provoke to anger
father, mother, and the best of friends. Here we must strive
against spiritual and temporal powers, and be accused of
disobedience. Here we must stir up against us the rich, learned,
holy, and all that is of repute in the world. And although this
is especially the duty of those who are commanded to preach God's
Word, yet every Christian is also obligated to do so when time
and place demand. For we must for the holy Name of God risk and
give up all that we have and can do, and show by our deeds that
we love God and His Name, His honor and His praise above all
things, and trust Him above all things, and expect good from Him;
thereby confessing that we regard Him as the highest good, for
the sake of which we let go and give up all other goods.

XXIX. Here we must first of all resist all wrong, where truth or
righteousness suffers violence or need, and dare make no
distinction of persons, as some do, who fight most actively and
busily against the wrong which is done to the rich, the powerful,
and their own friends; but when it is done to the poor, or the
despised or their own enemy, they are quiet and patient. These
see the Name and the honor of God not as it is, but through a
painted glass, and measure truth or righteousness according to
the persons, and do not consider their deceiving eye, which looks
more on the person than on the thing. These are hypocrites within
and have only the appearance of defending the truth. For they
well know that there is no danger when one helps the rich, the
powerful, the learned and one's own friends, and can in turn
enjoy their protection and be honored by them.

Thus it is very easy to fight against the wrong which is done to
popes, kings, princes, bishops and other big-wigs. Here each
wants to be the most pious, where there is no great need. O how
sly is here the deceitful Adam with his demand; how finely does
he cover his greed of profit with the name of truth and
righteousness and God's honor! But when something happens to a
poor and insignificant man, there the deceitful eye does not find
much profit, but cannot help seeing the disfavor of the powerful;
therefore he lets the poor man remain unhelped. And who could
tell the extent of this vice in Christendom? God says in the
lxxxii. Psalm, "How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the
persons of the wicked? Judge the matter of the poor and
fatherless, demand justice for the poor and needy; deliver the
poor and rid the forsaken out of the hand of the wicked." But it
is not done, and therefore the text continues: "They know not,
neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness"; that is,
the truth they do not see, but they stop at the reputation of the
great, however unrighteous they are; and do not consider the
poor, however righteous they are.

XXX. See, here would be many good works. For the greater portion
of the powerful, rich and friends do injustice and oppress the
poor, the lowly, and their own opponents; and the greater the
men, the worse the deeds; and where we cannot by force prevent
it and help the truth, we should at least confess it, and do what
we can with words, not take the part of the unrighteous, not
approve them, but speak the truth boldly.

What would it help a man if he did all manner of good, made
pilgrimages to Rome and to all holy places, acquired all
indulgences, built all churches and endowed houses, if he were
found guilty of sin against the Name and honor of God, not
speaking of them and neglecting them, and regarding his
possessions, honor, favor and friends more than the truth (which
is God's Name and honor)? Or who is he, before whose door and
into whose house such good works do not daily come, so that he
would have no need to travel far or to ask after good works? And
if we consider the life of men, how in every place men act so
very rashly and lightly in this respect, we must cry out with the
prophet, Omnis homo mendax, "All men are liars, lie and deceive";
for the real good works they neglect, and adorn and paint
themselves with the most insignificant, and want to be pious, to
mount to heaven in peaceful security.

But if you should say: "Why does not God do it alone and Himself,
since He can and knows how to help each one?" Yes, He can do it;
but He does not want to do it alone; He wants us to work with
Him, and does us the honor to want to work His work with us and
through us. And if we are not willing to accept such honor, He
will, after all, perform the work alone, and help the poor; and
those who were unwilling to help Him and have despised the great
honor of doing His work, He will condemn with the unrighteous,
because they have made common cause with the unrighteous. Just
as He alone is blessed, but He wants to do us the honor and not
be alone in His blessedness, but have us to be blessed with Him.
And if He were to do it alone, His Commandments would be given
us in vain, because no one would have occasion to exercise
himself in the great works of these Commandments, and no one
would test himself to see whether he regards God and His Name as
the highest good, and for His sake risks everything.

XXXI. It also belongs to this work to resist all false,
seductive, erroneous, heretical doctrines, every misuse of
spiritual power. Now this is much higher, for these use the holy
Name of God itself to fight against the Name of God. For this
reason it seems a great thing and a dangerous to resist them,
because they assert that he who resists them resists God and all
His saints, in whose place they sit and whose power they use,
saying that Christ said of them, "He that heareth you, heareth
Me, and he that despiseth you, despiseth Me." On which words they
lean heavily, become insolent and bold to say, to do, and to
leave undone what they please; put to the ban, accurse, rob,
murder, and practise all their wickedness, in whatever way they
please and can invent, without any hindrance.

Now Christ did not mean that we should listen to them in
everything they might say and do, but only then when they present
to us His Word, the Gospel, not their word, His work, and not
their work. How else could we know whether their lies and sins
were to be avoided? There must be some rule, to what extent we
are to hear and to follow them, and this rule cannot be given by
them, but must be established by God over them, that it may serve
us as a guide, as we shall hear in the Fourth Commandment.

It must be, indeed, that even in the spiritual estate the greater
part preach false doctrine and misuse spiritual power, so that
thus occasion may be given us to do the works of this
Commandment, and that we be tried, to see what we are willing to
do and to leave undone against such blasphemers for the sake of
God's honor.

Oh, if we were God-fearing in this matter, how often would the
knaves of officiales have to decree their papal and episcopal ban
in vain! How weak the Roman thunderbolts would become! How often
would many a one have to hold his tongue, to whom the world must
now give ear! How few preachers would be found in Christendom!
But it has gotten the upper hand: whatever they assert and in
whatever way, that must be right. Here no one fights for God's
Name and honor, and I hold that no greater or more frequent sin
is done in external works than under this head. It is a matter
so high that few understand it, and, besides, adorned with God's
Name and power, dangerous to touch. But the prophets of old were
masters in this; also the apostles, especially St. Paul, who did
not allow it to trouble them whether the highest or the lowest
priest had said it, or had done it in God's Name or in his own.
They looked on the works and words, and held them up to God's
Commandment, no matter whether big John or little Nick said it,
or whether they had done it in God's Name or in man's. And for
this they had to die, and of such dying there would be much more
to say in our time, for things are much worse now. But Christ and
St. Peter and Paul must cover all this with their holy names, so
that no more infamous cover for infamy has been found on earth
than the most holy and most blessed Name of Jesus Christ!

One might shudder to be alive, simply because of the misuse and
blasphemy of the holy Name of God; through which, if it shall
last much longer, we will, as I fear, openly worship the devil
as a god; so completely do the spiritual authorities and the
learned lack all understanding in these things. It is high time
that we pray God earnestly that He hallow His Name. But it will
cost blood, and they who enjoy the inheritance of the holy
martyrs and are won with their blood, must again make martyrs.
Of this more another time.

I. We have now seen how many good works there are in the Second
Commandment, which however are not good in themselves, unless
they are done in faith and in the assurance of divine favor; and
how much we must do, if we take heed to this Commandment alone,
and how we, alas! busy ourselves much with other works, which
have no agreement at all with it. Now follows the Third
Commandment: "Thou shalt hallow the day of rest." In the First
Commandment is prescribed our heart's attitude toward God in
thoughts, in the Second, that of our mouth in words, in this
Third is prescribed our attitude toward God in works; and it is
the first and right table of Moses, on which these three
Commandments are written, and they govern man on the right side,
namely, in the things which concern God, and in which God has to
do with man and man with God, without the mediation of any

The first works of this Commandment are plain and outward, which
we commonly call worship, such as going to mass, praying, and
hearing a sermon on holy days. So understood there are very few
works in this Commandment; and these, if they are not done in
assurance of and with faith in God's favor, are nothing, as was
said above. Hence it would also be a good thing if there were
fewer saint's days, since in our times the works done on them are
for the greater part worse than those of the work days, what with
loafing, gluttony, and drunkenness, gambling and other evil
deeds; and then, the mass and the sermon are listened to without
edification, the prayer is spoken without faith. It almost
happens that men think it is sufficient that we look on at the
mass with our eyes, hear the preaching with our ears, and say the
prayers with our mouths. It is all so formal and superficial! We
do not think that we might receive something out of the mass into
our hearts, learn and remember something out of the preaching,
seek, desire and expect something in our prayer. Although in this
matter the bishops and priests, or they to whom the work of
preaching is entrusted, are most at fault, because they do not
preach the Gospel, and do not teach the people how they ought to
look on at mass, hear preaching and pray. Therefore, we will
briefly explain these three works.

II. In the mass it is necessary that we attend with our a hearts
also; and we do attend, when we exercise faith in our hearts.
Here we must repeat the words of Christ, when He institutes the
mass and says, "Take and eat, this is My Body, which is given for
you"; in like manner over the cup, "Take and drink ye all of it:
this is a new, everlasting Testament in My Blood, which is shed
for you and for many for the remission of sins. This shall ye do,
as oft as ye do it, in remembrance of Me." In these words Christ
has made for Himself a memorial or anniversary, to be daily
observed in all Christendom, and has added to it a glorious,
rich, great testament, in which no interest, money or temporal
possessions are bequeathed and distributed, but the forgiveness
of all sins, grace and mercy unto eternal life, that all who come
to this memorial shall have the same testament; and then He died,
whereby this testament has become permanent and irrevocable. In
proof and evidence of which, instead of letter and seal, He has
left with us His own Body and Blood under the bread and wine.

Here there is need that a man practise the first works of this
Commandment right well, that he doubt not that what Christ has
said is true, and consider the testament sure, so that he make
not Christ a liar. For if you are present at mass and do not
consider nor believe that here Christ through His testament has
bequeathed and given you forgiveness of all your sins, what else
is it, than as if you said: "I do not know or do not believe that
it is true that forgiveness of my sins is here bequeathed and
given me"? Oh, how many masses there are in the world at present!
but how few who hear them with such faith and benefit! Most
grievously is God provoked to anger thereby. For this reason also
no one shall or can reap any benefit from the mass except he be
in trouble of soul and long for divine mercy, and desire to be
rid of his sins; or, if he have an evil intention, he must be
changed during the mass, and come to have a desire for this
testament. For this reason in olden times no open sinner was
allowed to be present at the mass.

When this faith is rightly present, the heart must be made joyful
by the testament, and grow warm and melt in God's love. Then will
follow praise and thanksgiving with a pure heart, from which the
mass is called in Greek Eucharistia, that is, "thanksgiving,"
because we praise and thank God for this comforting, rich,
blessed testament, just as he gives thanks, praises and is
joyful, to whom a good friend has presented a thousand and more
gulden. Although Christ often fares like those who make several
persons rich by their testament, and these persons never think
of them, nor praise or thank them. So our masses at present are
merely celebrated, without our knowing why or wherefore, and
consequently we neither give thanks nor love nor praise, remain
parched and hard, and have enough with our little prayer. Of this
more another time.

III. The sermon ought to be nothing else than the proclamation
of this testament. But who can hear it if no one preaches it?
Now, they who ought to preach it, themselves do not know it. This
is why the sermons ramble off into other unprofitable stories,
and thus Christ is forgotten, while we fare like the man in II.
Kings vii: we see our riches but do not enjoy them. Of which the
Preacher also says, "This is a great evil, when God giveth a man
riches, and giveth him not power to enjoy them." So we look on
at unnumbered masses and do not know whether the mass be a
testament, or what it be, just as if it were any other common
good work by itself. O God, how exceeding blind we are! But where
this is rightly preached, it is necessary that it be diligently
heard, grasped, retained, often thought of, and that the faith
be thus strengthened against all the temptation of sin, whether
past, or present, or to come.

Lo! this is the only ceremony or practice which Christ has
instituted, in which His Christians shall assemble, exercise
themselves and keep it with one accord; and this He did not make
to be a mere work like other ceremonies, but placed into it a
rich, exceeding great treasure, to be offered and bestowed upon
all who believe on it.

This preaching should induce sinners to grieve over their sins,
and should kindle in them a longing for the treasure. It must,
therefore, be a grievous sin not to hear the Gospel, and to
despise such a treasure and so rich a feast to which we are
bidden; but a much greater sin not to preach the Gospel, and to
let so many people who would gladly hear it perish, since Christ
has so strictly commanded that the Gospel and this testament be
preached, that He does not wish even the mass to be celebrated,
unless the Gospel be preached, as He says: "As oft as ye do this,
remember me"; that is, as St. Paul says, "Ye shall preach of His
death." For this reason it is dreadful and horrible in our times
to be a bishop, pastor and preacher; for no one any longer knows
this testament, to say nothing of their preaching it, although
this is their highest and only duty and obligation. How heavily
must they give account for so many souls who must perish because
of this lack in preaching.

IV. We should pray, not as the custom is, counting many pages or
beads, but fixing our mind upon some pressing need, desire it
with all earnestness, and exercise faith and confidence toward
God in the matter, in such wise that we do not doubt that we
shall be heard. So St. Bernard instructs his brethren and says:
"Dear brethren, you shall by no means despise your prayer, as if
it were in vain, for I tell you of a truth that, before you have
uttered the words, the prayer is already recorded in heaven; and
you shall confidently expect from God one of two things: either
that your prayer will be granted, or that, if it will not be
granted, the granting of it would not be good for you."

Prayer is, therefore, a special exercise of faith, and faith
makes the prayer so acceptable that either it will surely be
granted, or something better than we ask will be given in its
stead. So also says St. James: "Let him who asketh of God not
waver in faith; for if he wavers, let not that man think that he
shall receive any thing of the Lord." This is a clear statement,
which says directly: he who does not trust, receives nothing,
neither that which he asks, nor anything better.

And to call forth such faith, Christ Himself has said, Mark xi:
"Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye
pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall surely have
them." And Luke xi: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and
ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; for every
one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to
him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what father is there of
you, who, if his son shall ask bread, will he give him a stone?
or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? or if he ask an
egg, will he give him a scorpion? But if you know how to give
good gifts to your children, and you yourselves are not naturally
good, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give a
good spirit to all them that ask Him!"

V. Who is so hard and stone-like, that such mighty words ought
not to move him to pray with all confidence! joyfully and gladly?
But how many prayers must be reformed, if we are to pray aright
according to these words! Now, indeed, all churches and monastic
houses are full of praying and singing, but how does it happen
that so little improvement and benefit result from it, and things
daily grow worse? The reason is none other than that which St.
James indicates when he says: "You ask much and receive not,
because ye ask amiss." For where this faith and confidence is not
in the prayer, the prayer is dead, and nothing more than a
grievous labor and work. If anything is given for it, it is none
the less only temporal benefit without any blessing and help for
the soul; nay, to the great injury and blinding of souls, so that
they go their way, babbling much with their mouths, regardless
of whether they receive, or desire, or trust; and in this
unbelief, the state of mind most opposed to the exercise of faith
and to the nature of prayer, they remain hardened.

From this it follows that one who prays aright never doubts that
his prayer is surely acceptable and heard, although the very
thing for which he prays be not given him. For we are to lay our
need before God in prayer, but not prescribe to Him a measure,
manner, time or place; but if He wills to give it to us better
or in another way than we think, we are to leave it to Him; for
frequently we do not know what we pray, as St. Paul says, Romans
viii; and God works and gives above all that we understand, as
he says, Ephesians iii, so that there be no doubt that the prayer
is acceptable and heard, and we yet leave to God the time, place,
measure and limit; He will surely do what is right. They are the
true worshipers, who worship God in spirit and in truth. For they
who believe not that they will be heard, sin upon the left hand
against this Commandment, and go far astray with their unbelief.
But they who set a limit for Him, sin upon the other side, and
come too close with their tempting of God. So He has forbidden
both, that we should err from His Commandment neither to the left
nor to the right, that is, neither with unbelief nor with
tempting, but with simple faith remain on the straight road,
trusting Him, and yet setting Him no bounds.

VI. Thus we see that this Commandment, like the Second, is to be
nothing else than a doing and keeping of the First Commandment,
that is, of faith, trust, confidence, hope and love to God, so
that in all the Commandments the First may be the captain, and
faith the chief work and the life of all other works, without
which, as was said, they cannot be good.

But if you say: "What if I cannot believe that my prayer is heard
and accepted?" I answer: For this very reason faith, prayer and
all other good works are commanded, that you shall know what you
can and what you cannot do. And when you find that you cannot so
believe and do, then you are humbly to confess it to God, and so
begin with a weak spark of faith and daily strengthen it more and
more by exercising it in all your living and doing. For as
touching infirmity of faith (that is, of the First and highest
Commandment), there is no one on earth who does not have his good
share of it. For even the holy Apostles in the Gospel, and
especially St. Peter, were weak in faith, so that they also
prayed Christ and said: "Lord, increase our faith "; and He very
frequently rebukes them because they have so little faith.

Therefore you shall not despair, nor give up, even if you find
that you do not believe as firmly as you ought and wish, in your
prayer or in other works. Nay, you shall thank God with all your
heart that He thus reveals to you your weakness, through which
He daily teaches and admonishes you how much you need to exercise
yourself and daily strengthen yourself in faith. For how many do
you see who habitually pray, sing, read, work and seem to be
great saints, and yet never get so far as to know where they
stand in respect of the chief work, faith; and so in their
blindness they lead astray themselves and others; think they are
very well off, and so unknowingly build on the sand of their
works without any faith, not on God's mercy and promise through
a firm, pure faith.

Therefore, however long we live, we shall always have our hands
full to remain, with all our works and sufferings, pupils of the
First Commandment and of faith, and not to cease to learn. No one
knows what a great thing it is to trust God alone, except he who
attempts it with his works.

VII. Again: if no other work were commanded, would not prayer
alone suffice to exercise the whole life of man in faith? For
this work the spiritual estate has been specially established,
as indeed in olden times some Fathers prayed day and night. Nay,
there is no Christian who does not have time to pray without
ceasing. But I mean the spiritual praying, that is: no one is so
heavily burdened with his labor, but that if he will he can,
while working, speak with God in his heart, lay before Him his
need and that of other men, ask for help, make petition, and in
all this exercise and strengthen his faith.

This is what the Lord means, Luke xviii, when He says, "Men ought
always to pray, and never cease," although in Matthew vi. He
forbids the use of much speaking and long prayers, because of
which He rebukes the hypocrites; not because the lengthy prayer
of the lips is evil, but because it is not that true prayer which
can be made at all times, and without the inner prayer of faith
is nothing. For we must also practise the outward prayer in its
proper time, especially in the mass, as this Commandment
requires, and wherever it is helpful to the inner prayer and
faith, whether in the house or in the field, in this work or in
that; of which we have no time now to speak more. For this
belongs to the Lord's Prayer, in which all petitions and spoken
prayer are summed up in brief words.

VIII. Where now are they who desire to know and to do good works?
Let them undertake prayer alone, and rightly exercise themselves
in faith, and they will find that it is true, as the holy Fathers
have said, that there is no work like prayer. Mumbling with the
mouth is easy, or at least considered easy, but with earnestness
of heart to follow the words in deep devotion, that is, with
desire and faith, so that one earnestly desires what the words
say, and not to doubt that it will be heard: that is a great deed
in God's eyes.

Here the evil spirit hinders men with all his powers. Oh, how
often will he here prevent the desire to pray, not allow us to
find time and place, nay, often also raise doubts, whether a man
is worthy to ask anything of such a Majesty as God is, and so
confuse us that a man himself does not know whether it is really
true that he prays or not; whether it is possible that his prayer
is acceptable, and other such strange thoughts. For the evil
spirit knows well how powerful one man's truly believing prayer
is, and how it hurts him, and how it benefits all men. Therefore
he does not willingly let it happen.

When so tempted, a man must indeed be wise, and not doubt that
he and his prayer are, indeed, unworthy before such infinite


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