_A treatise on Good Works
together with the
Letter of Dedication_
by Dr. Martin Luther, 1520
_Works of Martin Luther_
Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., Trans. & Eds.
(Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915), Vol. 1, pp. 173-285.
TREATISE ON GOOD WORKS
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
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 spiritual 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 your princely Grace likewise would not despise
this my humble offering which I have felt more need of
publishing than any 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 pamphlets 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 benefited 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
DR. MARTIN LUTHER.
From Wittenberg, March 29th, A. D. 1520.