Home

Directory Index

 

  Martin Luther

 

 

_A treatise on Good Works

together with the

Letter of Dedication_

by Dr. Martin Luther, 1520

Published in:

_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.

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 creature.

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 Majesty; in no wise dare he trust his

worthiness, or because of his unworthiness grow faint;

but he must heed God's command and cast this up to Him,

and hold it before the devil, and say: "Because of my

worthiness I do nothing, because of my unworthiness I

cease from nothing. I pray and work only because God of

His pure mercy has promised to hear and to be gracious to

all unworthy men, and not only promised it, but He has

also most sternly, on pain of His everlasting displeasure

and wrath, commanded us to pray, to trust and to receive.

If it has not been too much for that high Majesty so

solemnly and highly to obligate His unworthy worms to

pray, to trust, and to receive from Him, how shall it be

too much for me to take such command upon myself with all

joy, however worthy or unworthy I may be?" Thus we must

drive out the devil's suggestion with God's command. Thus

will he cease, and in no other way whatever.

IX. But what are the things which we must bring before

Almighty God in prayer and lamentation, to exercise faith

thereby? Answer: First, every man's own besetting need

and trouble, of which David says, Psalm xxxii: "Thou art

my refuge in all trouble which compasseth me about; Thou

art my comfort, to preserve me from all evil which

surrounds me." Likewise, Psalm cxlii: "I cried unto the

Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I

make my supplication. I poured out my complaint before

Him; I showed before Him my trouble." In the mass a

Christian shall keep in mind the short-comings or

excesses he feels, and pour out all these freely before

God with weeping and groaning, as woefully as he can, as

to his faithful Father, who is ready to help him. And if

you do not know or recognise your need, or have no

trouble, then you shall know that you are in the worst

possible plight. For this is the greatest trouble, that

you find yourself so hardened, hard-hearted and

insensible that no trouble moves you.

There is no better mirror in which to see your need than

simply the Ten Commandments, in which you will find what

you lack and what you should seek. If, therefore, you

find in yourself a weak faith, small hope and little love

toward God; and that you do not praise and honor God, but

love your own honor and fame, think much of the favor of

men, do not gladly hear mass and sermon, are indolent in

prayer, in which things every one has faults, then you

shall think more of these faults than of all bodily harm

to goods, honor and life, and believe that they are worse

than death and all mortal sickness. These you shall

earnestly lay before God, lament and ask for help, and

with all confidence expect help, and believe that you are

heard and shall obtain help and mercy.

Then go forward into the Second Table of the

Commandments, and see how disobedient you have been and

still are toward father and mother and all in authority;

how you sin against your neighbor with anger, hatred and

evil words; how you are tempted to unchastity,

covetousness and injustice in word and deed against your

neighbor; and you will doubtless find that you are full

of all need and misery, and have reason enough to weep

even drops of blood, if you could.

X. But I know well that many are so foolish as not to

want to ask for such things, unless they first be

conscious that they are pure, and believe that God hears

no one who is a sinner. All this is the work of those

false preachers, who teach men to begin, not with faith

and trust in God's favor, but with their own works.

Look you, wretched man! if you have broken a leg, or the

peril of death overtakes you, you call upon God, this

Saint and that, and do not wait until your leg is healed,

or the danger is past: you are not so foolish as to think

that God hears no one whose leg is broken, or who is in

bodily danger. Nay, you believe that God shall hear most

of all when you are in the greatest need and fear. Why,

then, are you so foolish here, where there is

immeasurably greater need and eternal hurt, and do not

want to ask for faith, hope, love, humility, obedience,

chastity, gentleness, peace, righteousness, unless you

are already free of all your unbelief, doubt, pride,

disobedience, unchastity, anger, covetousness and

unrighteousness. Although the more you find yourself

lacking in these things, the more and more diligently you

ought to pray or cry.

So blind are we: with our bodily sickness and need we run

to God; with the soul's sickness we run from Him, and are

unwilling to come back before we are well, exactly as if

there could be one God who could help the body, and

another God who could help the soul; or as if we would

help ourselves in spiritual need, although it really is

greater than the bodily need. Such plan and counsel is of

the devil.

Not so, my good man! If you wish to be cured of sin, you

must not withdraw from God, but run to Him, and pray with

much more confidence than if a bodily need had overtaken

you. God is not hostile to sinners, but only to

unbelievers, that is, to such as do not recognize and

lament their sin, nor seek help against it from God, but

in their own presumption wish first to purify themselves,

are unwilling to be in need of His grace, and will not

suffer Him to be a God Who gives to everyone and takes

nothing in return.

XI. All this has been said of prayer for personal needs,

and of prayer in general. But the prayer which really

belongs to this Commandment and is called a work of the

Holy Day, is far better and greater, and is to be made

for all Christendom, for all the need of all men, of foe

and friend, especially for those who belong to the parish

or bishopric.

Thus St. Paul commanded his disciple Timothy: exhort

thee, that thou see to it, that prayers and intercessions

be made for all men, for kings, and for all that are in

authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in

all godliness and honesty. For this is good and

acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour." For this

reason Jeremiah, chapter xxix, commanded the people of

Israel to pray for the city and land of Babylon, because

in the peace thereof they should have peace. And Baruch

i: "Pray for the life of the king of Babylon and for the

life of his son, that we may live in peace under their

rule."

This common prayer is precious and the most powerful, and

it is for its sake that we come together. For this reason

also the Church is called a House of Prayer, because in

it we are as a congregation with one accord to consider

our need and the needs of all men, present them before

God, and call upon Him for mercy. But this must be done

with heart-felt emotion and sincerity, so that we feel in

our hearts the need of all men, and that we pray with

true sympathy for them, in true faith and confidence.

Where such prayers are not made in the mass, it were

better to omit the mass. For what sense is there in our

coming together into a House of Prayer, which coming

together shows that we should make common prayer and

petition for the entire congregation, if we scatter these

prayers, and so distribute them that everyone prays only

for himself, and no one has regard for the other, nor

concerns himself for another's need? How can that prayer

be of help, good, acceptable and a common prayer, or a

work of the Holy Day and of the assembled congregation,

which they make who make their own petty prayers, one for

this, the other for that, and have nothing but

self-seeking, selfish prayers, which God hates?

XII. A suggestion of this common prayer has been retained

from ancient practice, when at the end of the sermon the

Confession of Sins is said and prayer is made on the

pulpit for all Christendom. But this should not be the

end of the matter, as is now the custom and fashion; it

should be an exhortation to pray throughout the entire

mass for such need as the preacher makes us feel; and in

order that we may pray worthily, he first exhorts us

because of our sin, and thereby makes us humble. This

should be done as briefly as possible, that then the

entire congregation may confess their own sin and pray

for every one with earnestness and faith.

Oh, if God granted that any congregation at all heard

mass and prayed in this way, so that a common earnest

heart-cry of the entire people would rise up to God, what

immeasurable virtue and help would result from such a

prayer! What more terrible thing could happen to all the

evil spirits? What greater work could be done on earth,

whereby so many pious souls would be preserved, so many

sinners converted?

For, indeed, the Christian Church on earth has no greater

power or work than such common prayer against everything

that may oppose it. This the evil spirit knows well, and

therefore he does all that he can to prevent such prayer.

Gleefully he lets us go on building churches, endowing

many monastic houses, making music, reading, singing,

observing many masses, and multiplying ceremonies beyond

all measure. This does not grieve him, nay, he helps us

do it, that we may consider such things the very best,

and think that thereby we have done our whole duty. But

in that meanwhile this common, effectual and fruitful

prayer perishes and its omission is unnoticed because of

such display, in this he has what he seeks. For when

prayer languishes, no one will take anything from him,

and no one will withstand him. But if he noticed that we

wished to practise this prayer, even if it were under a

straw roof or in a pig-sty, he would indeed not endure

it, but would fear such a pig-sty far more than all the

high, big and beautiful churches, towers and bells in

existence, if such prayer be not in them. It is indeed

not a question of the places and buildings in which we

assemble, but only of this unconquerable prayer, that we

pray it and bring it before God as a truly common prayer.

XIII. The power of this prayer we see in the fact that in

olden times Abraham prayed for the five cities, Sodom,

Gomorrah, etc., Genesis xviii, and accomplished so much,

that if there had been ten righteous people in them, two

in each city, God would not have destroyed them. What

then could many men do, if they united in calling upon

God earnestly and with sincere confidence?

St. James also says: "Dear brethren, pray for one

another, that ye may be saved. For the prayer of a

righteous man availeth much, a prayer that perseveres and

does not cease" (that is, which does not cease asking

ever more and more, although what it asks is not

immediately granted, as some timid men do). And as an

example in this matter he sets before us Elijah, the

Prophet, "who was a man," he says, "as we are, and

prayed, that it might not rain; and it rained not by the

space of three years and six months. And he prayed again,

and it rained, and everything became fruitful." There are

many texts and examples in the Scriptures which urge us

to pray, only that it be done with earnestness and faith.

As David says, "The eyes of the Lord are upon the

righteous, and His ears are open unto their cry." Again,

"The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon Him, to

all that call upon Him in truth." Why does he add, "call

upon Him in truth"? Because that is not prayer nor

calling upon God when the mouth alone mumbles.

What should God do, if you come along with your mouth,

book or Paternoster, and think of nothing except that you

may finish the words and complete the number? So that if

some one were to ask you what it all was about, or what

it was that you prayed for, you yourself would not know;

for you had not thought of laying this or that matter

before God or desiring it. Your only reason for praying

is that you are commanded to pray this and so much, and

this you intend to do in full. What wonder that thunder

and lightning frequently set churches on fire, because we

thus make of the House of Prayer a house of mockery, and

call that prayer in which we bring nothing before God and

desire nothing from Him.

But we should do as they do who wish to ask a favor of

great princes. These do not plan merely to babble a

certain number of words, for the prince would think they

mocked him, or were insane; but they put their request

very plainly, and present their need earnestly, and then

leave it to his mercy, in good confidence that he will

grant it. So we must deal with God of definite things,

namely, mention some present need, commend it to His

mercy and good-will, and not doubt that it is heard; for

He has promised to hear such prayer, which no earthly

lord has done.

XIV. We are masters in this form of prayer when we suffer

bodily need; when we are sick we call here upon St.

Christopher, there upon St. Barbara; we vow a pilgrimage

to St. James, to this place and to that; then we make

earnest prayer, have a good confidence and every good

kind of prayer. But when we are in our churches during

mass, we stand like images of saints; know nothing to

speak of or to lament; the beads rattle, the pages rustle

and the mouth babbles; and that is all there is to it.

But if you ask what you shall speak of and lament in your

prayer, you can easily learn from the Ten Commandments

and the Lord's Prayer. Open your eyes and look into your

life and the life of all Christians, especially of the

spiritual estate, and you will find how faith, hope,

love, obedience, chastity and every virtue languish, and

all manner of heinous vices reign; what a lack there is

of good preachers and prelates; how only knaves,

children, fools and women rule. Then you will see that

there were need every hour without ceasing to pray

everywhere with tears of blood to God, Who is so terribly

angry with men. And it is true that it has never been

more necessary to pray than at this time, and it will be

more so from now on to the end of the world. If such

terrible crimes do not move you to lament and complain,

do not permit yourself to be led astray by your rank,

station, good works or prayer: there is no Christian vein

or trait in you, however righteous you may be. But it has

all been foretold, that when God's anger is greatest and

Christendom suffers the greatest need, then petitioners

and supplicants before God shall not be found, as Isaiah

says with tears, chapter lxiv: "Thou art angry with us,

and there is none that calleth upon Thy Name, that

stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee." Likewise,

Ezekiel xxii: "I sought for a man among them, that should

make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the

land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none.

Therefore have I poured out Mine indignation upon them; I

have consumed them with the fire of My wrath." With these

words God indicates how He wants us to withstand Him and

turn away His anger from one another, as it is frequently

written of the Prophet Moses, that he restrained God,

lest His anger should overwhelm the people of Israel.

XV. But what will they do, who not only do not regard

such misfortune of Christendom, and do not pray against

it, but laugh at it, take pleasure in it, condemn,

malign, sing and talk of their neighbor's sins, and yet

dare, unafraid and unashamed, go to church, hear mass,

say prayers, and regard themselves and are regarded as

pious Christians? These truly are in need that we pray

twice for them, if we pray once for those whom they

condemn, talk about and laugh at. That there would be

such is also prophesied by the thief on Christ's left

hand, who blasphemed Him in His suffering, weakness and

need; also by all those who reviled Christ on the Cross,

when they should most of all have helped Him.

O God, how blind, nay, how insane have we Christians

become! When will there be an end of wrath, O heavenly

Father? That we mock at the misfortune of Christendom, to

pray for which we gather together in Church and at the

mass, that we blaspheme and condemn men, this is the

fruit of our mad materialism. If the Turk destroys

cities, country and people, and ruins churches, we think

a great injury has been done Christendom. Then we

complain, and urge kings and princes to war. But when

faith perishes, love grows cold, God's Word is neglected,

and all manner of sin flourishes, then no one thinks of

fighting, nay, pope, bishops, priests and clergy, who

ought to be generals, captains and standard-bearers in

this spiritual warfare against these spiritual and many

times worse Turks, these are themselves the very princes

and leaders of such Turks and of the devil host, just as

Judas was the leader of the Jews when they took Christ.

It had to be an apostle, a bishop, a priest, one of the

number of the best, who began the work of slaying Christ.

So also must Christendom be laid waste by no others than

those who ought to protect it, and yet are so insane that

they are ready to eat up the Turks and at home themselves

set house and sheep-cote on fire and let them burn up

with the sheep and all other contents, and none the less

worry about the wolf in the woods. Such are our times,

and this is the reward we have earned by our ingratitude

toward the endless grace which Christ has won for us

freely with His precious blood, grievous labor and bitter

death.

XVI. Lo! where are the idle ones, who do not know how to

do good works? Where are they who run to Rome, to St.

James, hither and thither? Take up this one singl work

of the mass, look on your neighbor's sin and ruin, and

have pity on him; let it grieve you, tell it to God, and

pray over it. Do the same for every other need of

Christendom, especially of the rulers, whom God, for the

intolerable punishment and torment of us all, allows to

fall and be misled so terribly. If you do this

diligently, be assured you are one of the best fighters

and captains, not only against the Turks, but also

against the devils and the powers of hell. But if you do

it not, what would it help you though you performed all

the miracles of the saints, and murdered all the Turks,

and yet were found guilty of having disregarded your

neighbor's need and of having thereby sinned against

love? For Christ at the last day will not ask how much

you have prayed, fasted, pilgrimaged, done this or that

for yourself, but how much good you have done to others,

even the very least.

Now without doubt among the "least" are also those who

are in sin and spiritual poverty, captivity and need, of

whom there are at present far more than of those who

suffer bodily need. Therefore tke heed: our own

self-assumed good works lead us to and into ourselves,

that we seek only our own benefit and salvation; but

God's commandments drive us to our neighbor, that we may

thereby benefit others to their salvation. Just as Christ

on the Cross prayed not for Himself alone, but rather for

us, when He said, "Father, forgive them, fort they know

not what they do," so we also must pray for one another.

From which every man may know that the slanderers,

frivolous judges and despisers of other people are a

perverted, evil race, who do nothing else than heap abuse

on those for whom they ought to pray; in which vice no

one is sunk so deep as those very men who do many good

works of their own, and seem to men to be something

extraordinary, and are honored because of their

beautiful, splendid life in manifold good works.

XVII. Spiritually understood, this Commandment has a yet

far higher work, which embraces the whole nature of man.

Here it must be known that in Hebrew " Sabbath " means "

rest," because on the seventh day God rested and ceased

from all His works, which He had made. Genesis ii.

Therefore He commanded also that the seventh day should

be kept holy and that we cease from our works which we do

the other six days. This Sabbath has now for us been

changed into the Sunday, and the other days are called

work-days; the Sunday is called rest-day or holiday or

holy day. And would to God that in Christendom there were

no holiday except the Sunday; that the festivals of Our

Lady and of the Saints were all transferred to Sunday;

then would many evil vices be done away with through the

labor of the work-days, and lands would not be so drained

and impoverished. But now we are plagued with many

holidays, to the destruction of souls, bodies and goods;

of which matter much might be said.

This rest or ceasing from labors is of two kinds, bodily

and spiritual. For this reason this Commandment is also

to be understood in two ways.

The bodily rest is that of which we have spoken above,

namely, that we omit our business and work, in order that

we may gather in the church, see mass, hear God's Word

and make common prayer. This rest is indeed bodily and in

Christendom no longer commanded by God, as the Apostle

says, Colossians ii, "Let no man obligate you to any

holiday whatever" -- for they were of old a figure, but

now the truth has been fulfilled, so that all days are

holy days, as Isaiah says, chapter lxvi, "One holy day

shall follow the other"; on the other hand, all days are

workdays. Yet it is a necessity and ordained by the

Church for the sake of the imperfect laity and working

people, that they also may be able to come to hear God's

Word. For, as we see, the priests and clergy celebrate

mass every day, pray at all hours and train themselves in

God's Word by study, reading and hearing. For this reason

also they are freed from work before others, supported by

tithes and have holy-day every day, and every day do the

works of the holy-day, and have no work-day, but for them

one day is as the other. And if we were all perfect, and

knew the Gospel, we might work every day if we wished, or

rest if we could. For a day of rest is at present not

necessary nor commanded except only for the teaching of

God's Word and prayer.

The spiritual rest, which God particularly intends in

this Commandment, is this: that we not only cease from

our labor and trade, but much more, that we let God alone

work in us and that we do nothing of our own with all our

powers. But how is this done? In this way: Man, corrupted

by sin, has much wicked love and inclination toward all

sins, as the Scriptures say, Genesis viii, "Man's heart

and senses incline always to the evil," that is, to

pride, disobedience, anger, hatred, covetousness,

unchastity, etc., and summa summarum, in all that he does

and leaves undone, he seeks his own profit, will and

honor rather than God's and his neighbor's. Therefore all

his works, all his words, all his thoughts, all his life

are evil and not godly.

Now if God is to work and to live in him, all this vice

and wickedness must be choked and up-rooted, so that

there may be rest and a cessation of all our works,

thoughts and life, and that henceforth (as St. Paul says,

Galatians ii.) it may be no longer we who live, but

Christ Who lives, works and speaks in us. This is not

accomplished with comfortable, pleasant days, but here we

must hurt our nature and let it be hurt. Here begins the

strife between the spirit and the flesh; here the spirit

resists anger, lust, pride, while the flesh wants to be

in pleasure, honor and comfort. Of this St. Paul says,

Galatians v, "They that are our Lord Christ's have

crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts." Then

follow the good works, -- fasting, watching, labor, of

which some say and write so much, although they know

neither the source nor the purpose of these good works.

Therefore we will now also speak of them.

XVIII. This rest, namely, that our work cease and God

alone work in us, is accomplished in two ways. First,

through our own effort, secondly, through the effort or

urging of others.

Our own effort is to be so made and ordered that, in the

first place, when we see our flesh, senses, will and

thoughts tempting us, we resist them and do not heed

them, as the Wise Man says: "Follow not thine own

desires." And Moses, Deuteronomy xii: "Thou shalt not do

what is right in thine own eyes."

Here a man must make daily use of those prayers which

David prays: "Lord, lead me in Thy path, and let me not

walk in my own ways," and many like prayers, which are

all summed up in the prayer, "Thy kingdom come." For the

desires are so many, so various, and besides at times so

nimble, so subtile and specious, through the suggestions

of the evil one, that it is not possible for a man to

control himself in his own ways. He must let hands and

feet go, commend himself to God's governance, and entrust

nothing to his reason, as Jeremiah says, "O Lord, I know

that the way of man is not in his own power." We see

proof of this, when the children of Israel went out of

Egypt through the Wilderness, where there was no way, no

food, no drink, no help. Therefore God went before them,

by day in a bright: cloud, by night in a fiery pillar,

fed them with manna from heaven, and kept their garments

and shoes that they waxed not old, as we read in the

Books of Moses. For this reason we pray: "Thy kingdom

come, that Thou rule us, and not: we ourselves," for

there is nothing more perilous in us than our reason and

will. And this is the first and highest work of God in us

and the best training, that we cease from our works, that

we let our reason and will be idle, that we rest and

commend ourselves to God in all things, especially when

they seem to be spiritual and good.

XIX. After this comes the discipline of the flesh, to

kill its gross, evil lust, to give it rest and relief.

This we must kill and quiet with fasting, watching and

labor, and from this we learn how much and why we shall

fast, watch and labor.

There are, alas! many blind men, who practise their

castigation, whether it be fasting, watching or labor,

only because they think these are good works, intending

by them to gain much merit. Far blinder still are they

who measure their fasting not only by the quantity or

duration, as these do, but also by the nature of the

food, thinking that it is of far greater worth if they do

not eat meat, eggs or butter. Beyond these are those who

fast according to the saints, and according to the days;

one fasting on Wednesday, another on Saturday, another on

St. Barbara's day, another on St. Sebastian's day, and so

on. These all seek in their fasting nothing beyond the

work itself: when they have performed that, they think

they have done a good work. I will here say nothing of

the fact that some fast in such a way that they none the

less drink themselves full; some fast by eating fish and

other foods so lavishly that they would come much nearer

to fasting if they ate meat, eggs and butter, and by so

doing would obtain far better results from their fasting.

For such fasting is not fasting, but a mockery of fasting

and of God.

Therefore I allow everyone to choose his day, food and

quantity for fasting, as he will, on condition that he do

not stop with that, but have regard to his flesh; let him

put upon it fasting, watching and labor according to its

lust and wantonness, and no more, although pope, Church,

bishop, father-confessor or any one else whosoever have

commanded it. For no one should measure and regulate

fasting, watching and labor according to the character or

quantity of the food, or according to the days, but

according to the withdrawal or approach of the lust and

wantonness of the flesh, for the sake of which alone the

fasting, watching and labor is ordained, that is, to kill

and to subdue them. If it were not for this lust, eating

were as meritorious as fasting, sleeping as watching,

idleness as labor, and each were as good as the other

without all distinction.

XX. Now, if some one should find that more wantonness

arose in his flesh from eating fish than from eating eggs

and meat, let him eat meat and not fish. Again, if he

find that his head becomes confused and crazed or his

body and stomach injured through fasting, or that it is

not needful to kill the wantonness of his flesh, he shall

let fasting alone entirely, and eat, sleep, be idle as is

necessary for his health, regardless whether it be

against the command of the Church, or the rules of

monastic orders: for no commandment of the Church, no law

of an order can make fasting, watching and labor of more

value than it has in serving to repress or to kill the

flesh and its lusts. Where men go beyond this, and the

fasting, eating, sleeping, watching are practised beyond

the strength of the body, and more than is necessary to

the killing of the lust, so that through it the natural

strength is ruined and the head is racked; then let no

one imagine that he has done good works, or excuse

himself by citing the commandment of the Church or the

law of his order. He will be regarded as a man who takes

no care of himself, and, as far as in him lies, has

become his own murderer.

For the body is not given us that we should kill its

natural life or work, but only that we kill its

wantonness; unless its wantonness were so strong and

great that we could not sufficiently resist it without

ruin and harm to the natural life. For, as has been said,

in the practice of fasting, watching and labor, we are

not to look upon the works in themselves, not on the

days, not on the number, not on the food, but only on the

wanton and lustful Adam, that through them he may be

cured of his evil appetite.

XXI. From this we can judge how wisely or foolishly some

women act when they are with child, and how the sick are

to be treated. For the foolish women cling so firmly to

their fasting that they run the risk of great danger to

the fruit of their womb and to themselves, rather than

not to fast when the others fast. They make a matter of

conscience where there is none, and where there is matter

of conscience they make none. This is all the fault of

the preachers, because they continually prate of fasting,

and never point out its true use, limit, fruit, cause and

purpose. So also the sick should be allowed to eat and to

drink every day whatever they wish. In brief, where the

wantonness of the flesh ceases, there every reason for

fasting, watching, laboring, eating this or that, has

already ceased, and there no longer is any binding

commandment at all.

But then care must be taken, lest out of this freedom

there grow a lazy indifference about killing the

wantonness of the flesh; for the roguish Adam is

exceedingly tricky in looking for permission for himself,

and in pleading the ruin of the body or of the mind; so

some men jump right in and say it is neither necessary

nor commanded to fast or to mortify the flesh, and are

ready to eat this and that without fear, just as if they

had for a long time had much experience of fasting,

although they have never tried it.

No less are we to guard against offending those who, not

sufficiently informed, regard it a great sin if we do not

fast or eat as they do. These we must kindly instruct,

and not haughtily despise, nor eat this or that in

despite of them, but we must tell them the reason why it

is right to do so, and thus gradually lead them to a

correct understanding. But if they are stubborn and will

not listen, we must let them alone, and do as we know it

is right to do.

XXII. The second form of discipline which we receive at

the hands of others, is when men or devils cause us

suffering, as when our property is taken, our body sick,

and our honor taken away; and everything that may move us

to anger, impatience and unrest. For God's work rules in

us according to His wisdom, not according to our wisdom,

according to His purity and chastity, not according to

the wantonness of our flesh; for God's work is wisdom and

purity, our work is foolishness and impurity, and these

shall rest: so in like manner it should rule in us

according to His peace, not our anger, impatience and

lack of peace. For peace too is God's work, impatience is

the work of our flesh; this shall rest and be dead, that

we thus in every way keep a spiritual holiday, let our

works stand idle, and let God work in us.

Therefore in order to kill our works and the Adam in us,

God heaps many temptations upon us, which move us to

anger, many sufferings, which rouse us to impatience, and

last of all death and the world's abuse; whereby He seeks

nothing else than that He may drive out anger, impatience

and lack of peace, and attain to His work, that is, to

peace, in us. Thus says Isaiah xxviii, "He does the work

of another that He may come to His own work." What does

this mean? He sends us suffering and trouble that He may

teach us to have patience and peace; He bids us die that

He may make us live, until a man, thoroughly trained,

becomes so peaceful and quiet that he is not disturbed,

whether it go well or ill with him, whether he die or

live, be honored or dishonored. There God Himself dwells

alone, and there are no works of men. This is rightly

keeping and hallowing the day of rest; then a man does

not guide himself, then he desires nothing for himself,

then nothing troubles him; but God Himself leads him,

there is naught but godly pleasure, joy and peace with

all other works and virtues.

XXIII. These works He considers so great that He commands

us not only to keep the day of rest, but also to hallow

it or regard it as holy, whereby He declares that there

are no more precious things than suffering, dying, and

all manner of misfortune. For they are holy and sanctify

a man from his works to God's works, just as a church is

consecrated from natural works to the worship of God.

Therefore a man shall also recognise them as holy things,

be glad and thank God when they come upon him. For when

they come they make him holy, so that he fulfils this

Commandment and is saved, redeemed from all his sinful

works. Thus says David: "Precious in the sight of the

Lord is the death of His saints."

In order to strengthen us thereto He has not only

commanded us to keep such a rest (for nature is very

unwilling to die and to suffer, and it is a bitter day of

rest for it to cease from its works and be dead); but He

has also comforted us in the Scriptures with many words

and told us, Psalm xci, "I will be with him in all his

trouble, and will deliver him." Likewise Psalm xxxiv:

"The Lord is nigh unto all them that suffer, and will

help them."

As if this were not enough, He has given us a powerful,

strong example of it, His only, dear Son, Jesus Christ,

our Lord, who on the Sabbath lay in the tomb the entire

day of rest, free from all His works, and was the first

to fulfil this Commandment, although He needed it not for

Himself, but only for our comfort, that we also in all

suffering and death should be quiet and have peace.

Since, as Christ was raised up after His rest and

henceforth lives only in God and God in Him, so also

shall we by the death of our Adam, which is perfectly

accomplished only through natural death and burial, be

lifted up into God, that God may live and work in us

forever. Lo! these are the three parts of man: reason,

desire, aversion; in which all his works are done. These,

therefore, must be slain by these three exercises, God's

governance, our self-mortification, the hurt done to us

by others; and so they must spiritually rest before God,

and give Him room for His works.

XXIV. But such works are to be done and such sufferings

to be endured in faith and in sure confidence of God's

favor, in order that, as has been said, all works remain

in the First Commandment and in faith, and that faith,

for the sake of which all other commandments and works

are ordained, exercise and strengthen itself in them.

See, therefore, what a pretty, golden ring these three

Commandments and their works naturally form, and how from

the First Commandment and faith the Second flows on to

the Third, and the Third in turn drives through the

Second up into the First. For the first work is to

believe, to have a good heart and confidence toward God.

From this flows the second good work, to praise God's

Name, to confess His grace, to give all honor to Him

alone. Then follows the third, to worship by praying,

hearing God's Word, thinking of and considering God's

benefits, and in addition chastising one's self, and

keeping the body under.

But when the evil spirit perceives such faith, such

honoring of God and such worship, he rages and stirs up

persecution, attacks body, goods, honor and life, brings

upon us sickness, poverty, shame and death, which God so

permits and ordains. See, here begins the second work, or

the second rest of the Third Commandment; by this faith

is very greatly tried, even as gold in the fire. For it

is a great thing to retain a sure confidence in God,

although He sends us death, shame, sickness, poverty; and

in this cruel form of wrath to regard Him as our

all-gracious Father, as must be done in this work of the

Third Commandment. Here suffering contains faith, that it

must call upon God's Name and praise it in such

suffering, and so it comes through the Third Commandment

into the Second again; and through that very calling on

the Name of God and praise, faith grows, and becomes

conscious of itself, and so strengthens itself, through

the two works of the Third and of the Second Commandment.

Thus faith goes out into the works and through the works

comes to itself again; just as the sun goes forth unto

its setting and comes again unto its rising. For this

reason the Scriptures associate the day with peaceful

living in works, the night with passive living in

adversity, and faith lives and works, goes out and comes

in, in both, as Christ says, John ix.

XXV. This order of good works we pray in the Lord's

Prayer. The first is this, that we say: "Our Father, Who

art in heaven"; these are the words of the first work of

faith, which, according to the First Commandment, does

not doubt that it has a gracious Father in heaven. The

second: "Hallowed be Thy Name," in which faith asks that

God's Name, praise and honor be glorified, and calls upon

it in every need, as the Second Commandment says. The

third: "Thy kingdom come," in which we pray for the true

Sabbath and rest, peaceful cessation of our works, that

God's work alone be done in us, and so God rule in us as

in His own kingdom, as He says, Luke xvii, "Behold, God's

kingdom is nowhere else except within you." The fourth

petition is "Thy will be done"; in which we pray that we

may keep and have the Seven Commandments of the Second

Table, in which faith is exercised toward our neighbor;

just as in the first three it is exercised in works

toward God alone. And these are the petitions in which

stands the word "Thou, Thy, Thy, Thy," because they seek

only what belongs to God; all the others say "our, us,

our," etc; for in them we pray for our goods and

blessedness.

Let this, then, suffice as a plain, hasty explanation of

the First Table of Moses, pointing out to simple folk

what are the highest of good works.