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´╗┐Title: Concerning Christian Liberty
Author: Luther, Martin, 1483-1546
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Concerning Christian Liberty" ***

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by Martin Luther


Among those monstrous evils of this age with which I have now for three
years been waging war, I am sometimes compelled to look to you and to
call you to mind, most blessed father Leo. In truth, since you alone are
everywhere considered as being the cause of my engaging in war, I cannot
at any time fail to remember you; and although I have been compelled
by the causeless raging of your impious flatterers against me to appeal
from your seat to a future council--fearless of the futile decrees
of your predecessors Pius and Julius, who in their foolish tyranny
prohibited such an action--yet I have never been so alienated in feeling
from your Blessedness as not to have sought with all my might, in
diligent prayer and crying to God, all the best gifts for you and for
your see. But those who have hitherto endeavoured to terrify me with the
majesty of your name and authority, I have begun quite to despise and
triumph over. One thing I see remaining which I cannot despise, and this
has been the reason of my writing anew to your Blessedness: namely, that
I find that blame is cast on me, and that it is imputed to me as a great
offence, that in my rashness I am judged to have spared not even your

Now, to confess the truth openly, I am conscious that, whenever I have
had to mention your person, I have said nothing of you but what was
honourable and good. If I had done otherwise, I could by no means have
approved my own conduct, but should have supported with all my power the
judgment of those men concerning me, nor would anything have pleased
me better, than to recant such rashness and impiety. I have called
you Daniel in Babylon; and every reader thoroughly knows with what
distinguished zeal I defended your conspicuous innocence against
Silvester, who tried to stain it. Indeed, the published opinion of so
many great men and the repute of your blameless life are too widely
famed and too much reverenced throughout the world to be assailable by
any man, of however great name, or by any arts. I am not so foolish as
to attack one whom everybody praises; nay, it has been and always will
be my desire not to attack even those whom public repute disgraces. I am
not delighted at the faults of any man, since I am very conscious myself
of the great beam in my own eye, nor can I be the first to cast a stone
at the adulteress.

I have indeed inveighed sharply against impious doctrines, and I have
not been slack to censure my adversaries on account, not of their bad
morals, but of their impiety. And for this I am so far from being sorry
that I have brought my mind to despise the judgments of men and to
persevere in this vehement zeal, according to the example of Christ,
who, in His zeal, calls His adversaries a generation of vipers, blind,
hypocrites, and children of the devil. Paul, too, charges the sorcerer
with being a child of the devil, full of all subtlety and all malice;
and defames certain persons as evil workers, dogs, and deceivers. In the
opinion of those delicate-eared persons, nothing could be more bitter or
intemperate than Paul's language. What can be more bitter than the words
of the prophets? The ears of our generation have been made so delicate
by the senseless multitude of flatterers that, as soon as we perceive
that anything of ours is not approved of, we cry out that we are being
bitterly assailed; and when we can repel the truth by no other pretence,
we escape by attributing bitterness, impatience, intemperance, to our
adversaries. What would be the use of salt if it were not pungent, or of
the edge of the sword if it did not slay? Accursed is the man who does
the work of the Lord deceitfully.

Wherefore, most excellent Leo, I beseech you to accept my vindication,
made in this letter, and to persuade yourself that I have never thought
any evil concerning your person; further, that I am one who desires that
eternal blessing may fall to your lot, and that I have no dispute with
any man concerning morals, but only concerning the word of truth. In all
other things I will yield to any one, but I neither can nor will forsake
and deny the word. He who thinks otherwise of me, or has taken in my
words in another sense, does not think rightly, and has not taken in the

Your see, however, which is called the Court of Rome, and which neither
you nor any man can deny to be more corrupt than any Babylon or Sodom,
and quite, as I believe, of a lost, desperate, and hopeless impiety,
this I have verily abominated, and have felt indignant that the people
of Christ should be cheated under your name and the pretext of the
Church of Rome; and so I have resisted, and will resist, as long as
the spirit of faith shall live in me. Not that I am striving after
impossibilities, or hoping that by my labours alone, against the furious
opposition of so many flatterers, any good can be done in that most
disordered Babylon; but that I feel myself a debtor to my brethren, and
am bound to take thought for them, that fewer of them may be ruined, or
that their ruin may be less complete, by the plagues of Rome. For many
years now, nothing else has overflowed from Rome into the world--as
you are not ignorant--than the laying waste of goods, of bodies, and of
souls, and the worst examples of all the worst things. These things are
clearer than the light to all men; and the Church of Rome, formerly the
most holy of all Churches, has become the most lawless den of thieves,
the most shameless of all brothels, the very kingdom of sin, death, and
hell; so that not even antichrist, if he were to come, could devise any
addition to its wickedness.

Meanwhile you, Leo, are sitting like a lamb in the midst of wolves,
like Daniel in the midst of lions, and, with Ezekiel, you dwell among
scorpions. What opposition can you alone make to these monstrous evils?
Take to yourself three or four of the most learned and best of the
cardinals. What are these among so many? You would all perish by poison
before you could undertake to decide on a remedy. It is all over with
the Court of Rome; the wrath of God has come upon her to the uttermost.
She hates councils; she dreads to be reformed; she cannot restrain the
madness of her impiety; she fills up the sentence passed on her mother,
of whom it is said, "We would have healed Babylon, but she is not
healed; let us forsake her." It had been your duty and that of your
cardinals to apply a remedy to these evils, but this gout laughs at the
physician's hand, and the chariot does not obey the reins. Under the
influence of these feelings, I have always grieved that you, most
excellent Leo, who were worthy of a better age, have been made pontiff
in this. For the Roman Court is not worthy of you and those like you,
but of Satan himself, who in truth is more the ruler in that Babylon
than you are.

Oh, would that, having laid aside that glory which your most abandoned
enemies declare to be yours, you were living rather in the office of a
private priest or on your paternal inheritance! In that glory none are
worthy to glory, except the race of Iscariot, the children of perdition.
For what happens in your court, Leo, except that, the more wicked and
execrable any man is, the more prosperously he can use your name
and authority for the ruin of the property and souls of men, for the
multiplication of crimes, for the oppression of faith and truth and
of the whole Church of God? Oh, Leo! in reality most unfortunate, and
sitting on a most perilous throne, I tell you the truth, because I wish
you well; for if Bernard felt compassion for his Anastasius at a time
when the Roman see, though even then most corrupt, was as yet ruling
with better hope than now, why should not we lament, to whom so much
further corruption and ruin has been added in three hundred years?

Is it not true that there is nothing under the vast heavens more
corrupt, more pestilential, more hateful, than the Court of Rome? She
incomparably surpasses the impiety of the Turks, so that in very truth
she, who was formerly the gate of heaven, is now a sort of open mouth
of hell, and such a mouth as, under the urgent wrath of God, cannot be
blocked up; one course alone being left to us wretched men: to call back
and save some few, if we can, from that Roman gulf.

Behold, Leo, my father, with what purpose and on what principle it is
that I have stormed against that seat of pestilence. I am so far from
having felt any rage against your person that I even hoped to gain
favour with you and to aid you in your welfare by striking actively and
vigorously at that your prison, nay, your hell. For whatever the efforts
of all minds can contrive against the confusion of that impious Court
will be advantageous to you and to your welfare, and to many others with
you. Those who do harm to her are doing your office; those who in every
way abhor her are glorifying Christ; in short, those are Christians who
are not Romans.

But, to say yet more, even this never entered my heart: to inveigh
against the Court of Rome or to dispute at all about her. For, seeing
all remedies for her health to be desperate, I looked on her with
contempt, and, giving her a bill of divorcement, said to her, "He that
is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he that is filthy, let him
be filthy still," giving myself up to the peaceful and quiet study of
sacred literature, that by this I might be of use to the brethren living
about me.

While I was making some advance in these studies, Satan opened his
eyes and goaded on his servant John Eccius, that notorious adversary of
Christ, by the unchecked lust for fame, to drag me unexpectedly into the
arena, trying to catch me in one little word concerning the primacy of
the Church of Rome, which had fallen from me in passing. That boastful
Thraso, foaming and gnashing his teeth, proclaimed that he would dare
all things for the glory of God and for the honour of the holy apostolic
seat; and, being puffed up respecting your power, which he was about
to misuse, he looked forward with all certainty to victory; seeking to
promote, not so much the primacy of Peter, as his own pre-eminence among
the theologians of this age; for he thought it would contribute in no
slight degree to this, if he were to lead Luther in triumph. The result
having proved unfortunate for the sophist, an incredible rage torments
him; for he feels that whatever discredit to Rome has arisen through me
has been caused by the fault of himself alone.

Suffer me, I pray you, most excellent Leo, both to plead my own cause,
and to accuse your true enemies. I believe it is known to you in what
way Cardinal Cajetan, your imprudent and unfortunate, nay unfaithful,
legate, acted towards me. When, on account of my reverence for your
name, I had placed myself and all that was mine in his hands, he did not
so act as to establish peace, which he could easily have established by
one little word, since I at that time promised to be silent and to make
an end of my case, if he would command my adversaries to do the same.
But that man of pride, not content with this agreement, began to justify
my adversaries, to give them free licence, and to order me to recant, a
thing which was certainly not in his commission. Thus indeed, when the
case was in the best position, it came through his vexatious tyranny
into a much worse one. Therefore whatever has followed upon this is the
fault not of Luther, but entirely of Cajetan, since he did not suffer me
to be silent and remain quiet, which at that time I was entreating for
with all my might. What more was it my duty to do?

Next came Charles Miltitz, also a nuncio from your Blessedness. He,
though he went up and down with much and varied exertion, and omitted
nothing which could tend to restore the position of the cause thrown
into confusion by the rashness and pride of Cajetan, had difficulty,
even with the help of that very illustrious prince the Elector
Frederick, in at last bringing about more than one familiar conference
with me. In these I again yielded to your great name, and was prepared
to keep silence, and to accept as my judge either the Archbishop of
Treves, or the Bishop of Naumburg; and thus it was done and concluded.
While this was being done with good hope of success, lo! that other and
greater enemy of yours, Eccius, rushed in with his Leipsic disputation,
which he had undertaken against Carlstadt, and, having taken up a
new question concerning the primacy of the Pope, turned his arms
unexpectedly against me, and completely overthrew the plan for peace.
Meanwhile Charles Miltitz was waiting, disputations were held, judges
were being chosen, but no decision was arrived at. And no wonder! for
by the falsehoods, pretences, and arts of Eccius the whole business was
brought into such thorough disorder, confusion, and festering soreness,
that, whichever way the sentence might lean, a greater conflagration was
sure to arise; for he was seeking, not after truth, but after his own
credit. In this case too I omitted nothing which it was right that I
should do.

I confess that on this occasion no small part of the corruptions of Rome
came to light; but, if there was any offence in this, it was the fault
of Eccius, who, in taking on him a burden beyond his strength, and in
furiously aiming at credit for himself, unveiled to the whole world the
disgrace of Rome.

Here is that enemy of yours, Leo, or rather of your Court; by his
example alone we may learn that an enemy is not more baneful than a
flatterer. For what did he bring about by his flattery, except evils
which no king could have brought about? At this day the name of the
Court of Rome stinks in the nostrils of the world, the papal authority
is growing weak, and its notorious ignorance is evil spoken of. We
should hear none of these things, if Eccius had not disturbed the plans
of Miltitz and myself for peace. He feels this clearly enough himself in
the indignation he shows, too late and in vain, against the publication
of my books. He ought to have reflected on this at the time when he was
all mad for renown, and was seeking in your cause nothing but his own
objects, and that with the greatest peril to you. The foolish man hoped
that, from fear of your name, I should yield and keep silence; for I
do not think he presumed on his talents and learning. Now, when he sees
that I am very confident and speak aloud, he repents too late of his
rashness, and sees--if indeed he does see it--that there is One in
heaven who resists the proud, and humbles the presumptuous.

Since then we were bringing about by this disputation nothing but the
greater confusion of the cause of Rome, Charles Miltitz for the third
time addressed the Fathers of the Order, assembled in chapter, and
sought their advice for the settlement of the case, as being now in a
most troubled and perilous state. Since, by the favour of God, there
was no hope of proceeding against me by force, some of the more noted of
their number were sent to me, and begged me at least to show respect to
your person and to vindicate in a humble letter both your innocence
and my own. They said that the affair was not as yet in a position of
extreme hopelessness, if Leo X., in his inborn kindliness, would put his
hand to it. On this I, who have always offered and wished for peace, in
order that I might devote myself to calmer and more useful pursuits, and
who for this very purpose have acted with so much spirit and vehemence,
in order to put down by the strength and impetuosity of my words, as
well as of my feelings, men whom I saw to be very far from equal to
myself--I, I say, not only gladly yielded, but even accepted it with joy
and gratitude, as the greatest kindness and benefit, if you should think
it right to satisfy my hopes.

Thus I come, most blessed Father, and in all abasement beseech you
to put to your hand, if it is possible, and impose a curb to those
flatterers who are enemies of peace, while they pretend peace. But there
is no reason, most blessed Father, why any one should assume that I am
to utter a recantation, unless he prefers to involve the case in
still greater confusion. Moreover, I cannot bear with laws for the
interpretation of the word of God, since the word of God, which teaches
liberty in all other things, ought not to be bound. Saving these two
things, there is nothing which I am not able, and most heartily willing,
to do or to suffer. I hate contention; I will challenge no one; in
return I wish not to be challenged; but, being challenged, I will not be
dumb in the cause of Christ my Master. For your Blessedness will be able
by one short and easy word to call these controversies before you and
suppress them, and to impose silence and peace on both sides--a word
which I have ever longed to hear.

Therefore, Leo, my Father, beware of listening to those sirens who
make you out to be not simply a man, but partly a god, so that you can
command and require whatever you will. It will not happen so, nor will
you prevail. You are the servant of servants, and more than any other
man, in a most pitiable and perilous position. Let not those men deceive
you who pretend that you are lord of the world; who will not allow any
one to be a Christian without your authority; who babble of your having
power over heaven, hell, and purgatory. These men are your enemies and
are seeking your soul to destroy it, as Isaiah says, "My people, they
that call thee blessed are themselves deceiving thee." They are in error
who raise you above councils and the universal Church; they are in error
who attribute to you alone the right of interpreting Scripture. All
these men are seeking to set up their own impieties in the Church under
your name, and alas! Satan has gained much through them in the time of
your predecessors.

In brief, trust not in any who exalt you, but in those who humiliate
you. For this is the judgment of God: "He hath cast down the mighty from
their seat, and hath exalted the humble." See how unlike Christ was to
His successors, though all will have it that they are His vicars. I fear
that in truth very many of them have been in too serious a sense His
vicars, for a vicar represents a prince who is absent. Now if a pontiff
rules while Christ is absent and does not dwell in his heart, what
else is he but a vicar of Christ? And then what is that Church but a
multitude without Christ? What indeed is such a vicar but antichrist
and an idol? How much more rightly did the Apostles speak, who call
themselves servants of a present Christ, not the vicars of an absent

Perhaps I am shamelessly bold in seeming to teach so great a head, by
whom all men ought to be taught, and from whom, as those plagues of
yours boast, the thrones of judges receive their sentence; but I imitate
St. Bernard in his book concerning Considerations addressed to Eugenius,
a book which ought to be known by heart by every pontiff. I do this, not
from any desire to teach, but as a duty, from that simple and faithful
solicitude which teaches us to be anxious for all that is safe for
our neighbours, and does not allow considerations of worthiness or
unworthiness to be entertained, being intent only on the dangers or
advantage of others. For since I know that your Blessedness is driven
and tossed by the waves at Rome, so that the depths of the sea press
on you with infinite perils, and that you are labouring under such a
condition of misery that you need even the least help from any the least
brother, I do not seem to myself to be acting unsuitably if I forget
your majesty till I shall have fulfilled the office of charity. I will
not flatter in so serious and perilous a matter; and if in this you do
not see that I am your friend and most thoroughly your subject, there is
One to see and judge.

In fine, that I may not approach you empty-handed, blessed Father, I
bring with me this little treatise, published under your name, as a good
omen of the establishment of peace and of good hope. By this you may
perceive in what pursuits I should prefer and be able to occupy myself
to more profit, if I were allowed, or had been hitherto allowed, by your
impious flatterers. It is a small matter, if you look to its exterior,
but, unless I mistake, it is a summary of the Christian life put
together in small compass, if you apprehend its meaning. I, in my
poverty, have no other present to make you, nor do you need anything
else than to be enriched by a spiritual gift. I commend myself to your
Paternity and Blessedness, whom may the Lord Jesus preserve for ever.

Wittenberg, 6th September, 1520.


Christian faith has appeared to many an easy thing; nay, not a few even
reckon it among the social virtues, as it were; and this they do because
they have not made proof of it experimentally, and have never tasted of
what efficacy it is. For it is not possible for any man to write well
about it, or to understand well what is rightly written, who has not at
some time tasted of its spirit, under the pressure of tribulation; while
he who has tasted of it, even to a very small extent, can never
write, speak, think, or hear about it sufficiently. For it is a living
fountain, springing up into eternal life, as Christ calls it in John iv.

Now, though I cannot boast of my abundance, and though I know how poorly
I am furnished, yet I hope that, after having been vexed by various
temptations, I have attained some little drop of faith, and that I can
speak of this matter, if not with more elegance, certainly with more
solidity, than those literal and too subtle disputants who have hitherto
discoursed upon it without understanding their own words. That I may
open then an easier way for the ignorant--for these alone I am trying
to serve--I first lay down these two propositions, concerning spiritual
liberty and servitude:--

A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a
Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every

Although these statements appear contradictory, yet, when they are found
to agree together, they will make excellently for my purpose. They are
both the statements of Paul himself, who says, "Though I be free from
all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all" (1 Cor. ix. 19), and
"Owe no man anything, but to love one another" (Rom. xiii. 8). Now love
is by its own nature dutiful and obedient to the beloved object. Thus
even Christ, though Lord of all things, was yet made of a woman; made
under the law; at once free and a servant; at once in the form of God
and in the form of a servant.

Let us examine the subject on a deeper and less simple principle. Man is
composed of a twofold nature, a spiritual and a bodily. As regards the
spiritual nature, which they name the soul, he is called the spiritual,
inward, new man; as regards the bodily nature, which they name the
flesh, he is called the fleshly, outward, old man. The Apostle speaks of
this: "Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day
by day" (2 Cor. iv. 16). The result of this diversity is that in the
Scriptures opposing statements are made concerning the same man,
the fact being that in the same man these two men are opposed to one
another; the flesh lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against
the flesh (Gal. v. 17).

We first approach the subject of the inward man, that we may see by what
means a man becomes justified, free, and a true Christian; that is, a
spiritual, new, and inward man. It is certain that absolutely none
among outward things, under whatever name they may be reckoned, has any
influence in producing Christian righteousness or liberty, nor, on the
other hand, unrighteousness or slavery. This can be shown by an easy

What can it profit the soul that the body should be in good condition,
free, and full of life; that it should eat, drink, and act according to
its pleasure; when even the most impious slaves of every kind of vice
are prosperous in these matters? Again, what harm can ill-health,
bondage, hunger, thirst, or any other outward evil, do to the soul,
when even the most pious of men and the freest in the purity of their
conscience, are harassed by these things? Neither of these states of
things has to do with the liberty or the slavery of the soul.

And so it will profit nothing that the body should be adorned with
sacred vestments, or dwell in holy places, or be occupied in sacred
offices, or pray, fast, and abstain from certain meats, or do whatever
works can be done through the body and in the body. Something widely
different will be necessary for the justification and liberty of the
soul, since the things I have spoken of can be done by any impious
person, and only hypocrites are produced by devotion to these things. On
the other hand, it will not at all injure the soul that the body should
be clothed in profane raiment, should dwell in profane places, should
eat and drink in the ordinary fashion, should not pray aloud, and
should leave undone all the things above mentioned, which may be done by

And, to cast everything aside, even speculation, meditations, and
whatever things can be performed by the exertions of the soul itself,
are of no profit. One thing, and one alone, is necessary for life,
justification, and Christian liberty; and that is the most holy word of
God, the Gospel of Christ, as He says, "I am the resurrection and the
life; he that believeth in Me shall not die eternally" (John xi. 25),
and also, "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed"
(John viii. 36), and, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every
word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matt. iv. 4).

Let us therefore hold it for certain and firmly established that the
soul can do without everything except the word of God, without which
none at all of its wants are provided for. But, having the word, it is
rich and wants for nothing, since that is the word of life, of truth, of
light, of peace, of justification, of salvation, of joy, of liberty, of
wisdom, of virtue, of grace, of glory, and of every good thing. It is
on this account that the prophet in a whole Psalm (Psalm cxix.), and in
many other places, sighs for and calls upon the word of God with so many
groanings and words.

Again, there is no more cruel stroke of the wrath of God than when He
sends a famine of hearing His words (Amos viii. 11), just as there is
no greater favour from Him than the sending forth of His word, as it is
said, "He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their
destructions" (Psalm cvii. 20). Christ was sent for no other office than
that of the word; and the order of Apostles, that of bishops, and that
of the whole body of the clergy, have been called and instituted for no
object but the ministry of the word.

But you will ask, What is this word, and by what means is it to be used,
since there are so many words of God? I answer, The Apostle Paul (Rom.
i.) explains what it is, namely the Gospel of God, concerning His Son,
incarnate, suffering, risen, and glorified, through the Spirit, the
Sanctifier. To preach Christ is to feed the soul, to justify it, to set
it free, and to save it, if it believes the preaching. For faith alone
and the efficacious use of the word of God, bring salvation. "If thou
shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine
heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (Rom.
x. 9); and again, "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to
every one that believeth" (Rom. x. 4), and "The just shall live by
faith" (Rom. i. 17). For the word of God cannot be received and honoured
by any works, but by faith alone. Hence it is clear that as the soul
needs the word alone for life and justification, so it is justified by
faith alone, and not by any works. For if it could be justified by any
other means, it would have no need of the word, nor consequently of

But this faith cannot consist at all with works; that is, if you imagine
that you can be justified by those works, whatever they are, along with
it. For this would be to halt between two opinions, to worship Baal, and
to kiss the hand to him, which is a very great iniquity, as Job says.
Therefore, when you begin to believe, you learn at the same time that
all that is in you is utterly guilty, sinful, and damnable, according to
that saying, "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom.
iii. 23), and also: "There is none righteous, no, not one; they are all
gone out of the way; they are together become unprofitable: there is
none that doeth good, no, not one" (Rom. iii. 10-12). When you have
learnt this, you will know that Christ is necessary for you, since He
has suffered and risen again for you, that, believing on Him, you might
by this faith become another man, all your sins being remitted, and you
being justified by the merits of another, namely of Christ alone.

Since then this faith can reign only in the inward man, as it is said,
"With the heart man believeth unto righteousness" (Rom. x. 10); and
since it alone justifies, it is evident that by no outward work or
labour can the inward man be at all justified, made free, and saved; and
that no works whatever have any relation to him. And so, on the other
hand, it is solely by impiety and incredulity of heart that he becomes
guilty and a slave of sin, deserving condemnation, not by any outward
sin or work. Therefore the first care of every Christian ought to be to
lay aside all reliance on works, and strengthen his faith alone more
and more, and by it grow in the knowledge, not of works, but of Christ
Jesus, who has suffered and risen again for him, as Peter teaches
(1 Peter v.) when he makes no other work to be a Christian one. Thus
Christ, when the Jews asked Him what they should do that they might work
the works of God, rejected the multitude of works, with which He saw
that they were puffed up, and commanded them one thing only, saying,
"This is the work of God: that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent, for
Him hath God the Father sealed" (John vi. 27, 29).

Hence a right faith in Christ is an incomparable treasure, carrying with
it universal salvation and preserving from all evil, as it is said, "He
that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; but he that believeth
not shall be damned" (Mark xvi. 16). Isaiah, looking to this treasure,
predicted, "The consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness.
For the Lord God of hosts shall make a consumption, even determined
(verbum abbreviatum et consummans), in the midst of the land" (Isa.
x. 22, 23). As if he said, "Faith, which is the brief and complete
fulfilling of the law, will fill those who believe with such
righteousness that they will need nothing else for justification." Thus,
too, Paul says, "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness"
(Rom. x. 10).

But you ask how it can be the fact that faith alone justifies, and
affords without works so great a treasure of good things, when so many
works, ceremonies, and laws are prescribed to us in the Scriptures?
I answer, Before all things bear in mind what I have said: that faith
alone without works justifies, sets free, and saves, as I shall show
more clearly below.

Meanwhile it is to be noted that the whole Scripture of God is divided
into two parts: precepts and promises. The precepts certainly teach us
what is good, but what they teach is not forthwith done. For they show
us what we ought to do, but do not give us the power to do it. They
were ordained, however, for the purpose of showing man to himself, that
through them he may learn his own impotence for good and may despair of
his own strength. For this reason they are called the Old Testament, and
are so.

For example, "Thou shalt not covet," is a precept by which we are all
convicted of sin, since no man can help coveting, whatever efforts to
the contrary he may make. In order therefore that he may fulfil the
precept, and not covet, he is constrained to despair of himself and
to seek elsewhere and through another the help which he cannot find in
himself; as it is said, "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in
Me is thine help" (Hosea xiii. 9). Now what is done by this one precept
is done by all; for all are equally impossible of fulfilment by us.

Now when a man has through the precepts been taught his own impotence,
and become anxious by what means he may satisfy the law--for the
law must be satisfied, so that no jot or tittle of it may pass away,
otherwise he must be hopelessly condemned--then, being truly humbled and
brought to nothing in his own eyes, he finds in himself no resource for
justification and salvation.

Then comes in that other part of Scripture, the promises of God, which
declare the glory of God, and say, "If you wish to fulfil the law, and,
as the law requires, not to covet, lo! believe in Christ, in whom are
promised to you grace, justification, peace, and liberty." All these
things you shall have, if you believe, and shall be without them if you
do not believe. For what is impossible for you by all the works of the
law, which are many and yet useless, you shall fulfil in an easy and
summary way through faith, because God the Father has made everything to
depend on faith, so that whosoever has it has all things, and he who has
it not has nothing. "For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that
He might have mercy upon all" (Rom. xi. 32). Thus the promises of God
give that which the precepts exact, and fulfil what the law commands;
so that all is of God alone, both the precepts and their fulfilment. He
alone commands; He alone also fulfils. Hence the promises of God belong
to the New Testament; nay, are the New Testament.

Now, since these promises of God are words of holiness, truth,
righteousness, liberty, and peace, and are full of universal goodness,
the soul, which cleaves to them with a firm faith, is so united to them,
nay, thoroughly absorbed by them, that it not only partakes in, but
is penetrated and saturated by, all their virtues. For if the touch of
Christ was healing, how much more does that most tender spiritual touch,
nay, absorption of the word, communicate to the soul all that belongs to
the word! In this way therefore the soul, through faith alone, without
works, is from the word of God justified, sanctified, endued with truth,
peace, and liberty, and filled full with every good thing, and is truly
made the child of God, as it is said, "To them gave He power to become
the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name" (John i. 12).

From all this it is easy to understand why faith has such great power,
and why no good works, nor even all good works put together, can compare
with it, since no work can cleave to the word of God or be in the soul.
Faith alone and the word reign in it; and such as is the word, such is
the soul made by it, just as iron exposed to fire glows like fire, on
account of its union with the fire. It is clear then that to a Christian
man his faith suffices for everything, and that he has no need of works
for justification. But if he has no need of works, neither has he need
of the law; and if he has no need of the law, he is certainly free from
the law, and the saying is true, "The law is not made for a righteous
man" (1 Tim. i. 9). This is that Christian liberty, our faith, the
effect of which is, not that we should be careless or lead a bad life,
but that no one should need the law or works for justification and

Let us consider this as the first virtue of faith; and let us look also
to the second. This also is an office of faith: that it honours with the
utmost veneration and the highest reputation Him in whom it believes,
inasmuch as it holds Him to be truthful and worthy of belief. For there
is no honour like that reputation of truth and righteousness with which
we honour Him in whom we believe. What higher credit can we attribute
to any one than truth and righteousness, and absolute goodness? On
the other hand, it is the greatest insult to brand any one with the
reputation of falsehood and unrighteousness, or to suspect him of these,
as we do when we disbelieve him.

Thus the soul, in firmly believing the promises of God, holds Him to be
true and righteous; and it can attribute to God no higher glory than
the credit of being so. The highest worship of God is to ascribe to Him
truth, righteousness, and whatever qualities we must ascribe to one in
whom we believe. In doing this the soul shows itself prepared to do His
whole will; in doing this it hallows His name, and gives itself up to
be dealt with as it may please God. For it cleaves to His promises, and
never doubts that He is true, just, and wise, and will do, dispose, and
provide for all things in the best way. Is not such a soul, in this its
faith, most obedient to God in all things? What commandment does there
remain which has not been amply fulfilled by such an obedience? What
fulfilment can be more full than universal obedience? Now this is not
accomplished by works, but by faith alone.

On the other hand, what greater rebellion, impiety, or insult to God
can there be, than not to believe His promises? What else is this, than
either to make God a liar, or to doubt His truth--that is, to attribute
truth to ourselves, but to God falsehood and levity? In doing this,
is not a man denying God and setting himself up as an idol in his own
heart? What then can works, done in such a state of impiety, profit us,
were they even angelic or apostolic works? Rightly hath God shut up
all, not in wrath nor in lust, but in unbelief, in order that those
who pretend that they are fulfilling the law by works of purity and
benevolence (which are social and human virtues) may not presume
that they will therefore be saved, but, being included in the sin of
unbelief, may either seek mercy, or be justly condemned.

But when God sees that truth is ascribed to Him, and that in the faith
of our hearts He is honoured with all the honour of which He is worthy,
then in return He honours us on account of that faith, attributing to
us truth and righteousness. For faith does truth and righteousness in
rendering to God what is His; and therefore in return God gives glory
to our righteousness. It is true and righteous that God is true and
righteous; and to confess this and ascribe these attributes to Him, this
it is to be true and righteous. Thus He says, "Them that honour Me I
will honour, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed" (1 Sam.
ii. 30). And so Paul says that Abraham's faith was imputed to him for
righteousness, because by it he gave glory to God; and that to us
also, for the same reason, it shall be imputed for righteousness, if we
believe (Rom. iv.).

The third incomparable grace of faith is this: that it unites the soul
to Christ, as the wife to the husband, by which mystery, as the Apostle
teaches, Christ and the soul are made one flesh. Now if they are one
flesh, and if a true marriage--nay, by far the most perfect of all
marriages--is accomplished between them (for human marriages are but
feeble types of this one great marriage), then it follows that all they
have becomes theirs in common, as well good things as evil things; so
that whatsoever Christ possesses, that the believing soul may take to
itself and boast of as its own, and whatever belongs to the soul, that
Christ claims as His.

If we compare these possessions, we shall see how inestimable is the
gain. Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation; the soul is full of
sin, death, and condemnation. Let faith step in, and then sin, death,
and hell will belong to Christ, and grace, life, and salvation to the
soul. For, if He is a Husband, He must needs take to Himself that which
is His wife's, and at the same time, impart to His wife that which is
His. For, in giving her His own body and Himself, how can He but give
her all that is His? And, in taking to Himself the body of His wife, how
can He but take to Himself all that is hers?

In this is displayed the delightful sight, not only of communion, but of
a prosperous warfare, of victory, salvation, and redemption. For, since
Christ is God and man, and is such a Person as neither has sinned, nor
dies, nor is condemned, nay, cannot sin, die, or be condemned, and since
His righteousness, life, and salvation are invincible, eternal, and
almighty,--when I say, such a Person, by the wedding-ring of faith,
takes a share in the sins, death, and hell of His wife, nay, makes them
His own, and deals with them no otherwise than as if they were His, and
as if He Himself had sinned; and when He suffers, dies, and descends to
hell, that He may overcome all things, and since sin, death, and
hell cannot swallow Him up, they must needs be swallowed up by Him in
stupendous conflict. For His righteousness rises above the sins of all
men; His life is more powerful than all death; His salvation is more
unconquerable than all hell.

Thus the believing soul, by the pledge of its faith in Christ, becomes
free from all sin, fearless of death, safe from hell, and endowed with
the eternal righteousness, life, and salvation of its Husband Christ.
Thus He presents to Himself a glorious bride, without spot or wrinkle,
cleansing her with the washing of water by the word; that is, by faith
in the word of life, righteousness, and salvation. Thus He betrothes her
unto Himself "in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in judgment, and in
loving-kindness, and in mercies" (Hosea ii. 19, 20).

Who then can value highly enough these royal nuptials? Who can
comprehend the riches of the glory of this grace? Christ, that rich and
pious Husband, takes as a wife a needy and impious harlot, redeeming
her from all her evils and supplying her with all His good things. It
is impossible now that her sins should destroy her, since they have
been laid upon Christ and swallowed up in Him, and since she has in her
Husband Christ a righteousness which she may claim as her own, and which
she can set up with confidence against all her sins, against death and
hell, saying, "If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not
sinned; all mine is His, and all His is mine," as it is written, "My
beloved is mine, and I am His" (Cant. ii. 16). This is what Paul says:
"Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus
Christ," victory over sin and death, as he says, "The sting of death is
sin, and the strength of sin is the law" (1 Cor. xv. 56, 57).

From all this you will again understand why so much importance is
attributed to faith, so that it alone can fulfil the law and justify
without any works. For you see that the First Commandment, which says,
"Thou shalt worship one God only," is fulfilled by faith alone. If you
were nothing but good works from the soles of your feet to the crown of
your head, you would not be worshipping God, nor fulfilling the First
Commandment, since it is impossible to worship God without ascribing to
Him the glory of truth and of universal goodness, as it ought in truth
to be ascribed. Now this is not done by works, but only by faith of
heart. It is not by working, but by believing, that we glorify God, and
confess Him to be true. On this ground faith alone is the righteousness
of a Christian man, and the fulfilling of all the commandments. For to
him who fulfils the first the task of fulfilling all the rest is easy.

Works, since they are irrational things, cannot glorify God, although
they may be done to the glory of God, if faith be present. But at
present we are inquiring, not into the quality of the works done, but
into him who does them, who glorifies God, and brings forth good
works. This is faith of heart, the head and the substance of all our
righteousness. Hence that is a blind and perilous doctrine which teaches
that the commandments are fulfilled by works. The commandments must have
been fulfilled previous to any good works, and good works follow their
fulfillment, as we shall see.

But, that we may have a wider view of that grace which our inner man
has in Christ, we must know that in the Old Testament God sanctified to
Himself every first-born male. The birthright was of great value, giving
a superiority over the rest by the double honour of priesthood and
kingship. For the first-born brother was priest and lord of all the

Under this figure was foreshown Christ, the true and only First-born of
God the Father and of the Virgin Mary, and a true King and Priest, not
in a fleshly and earthly sense. For His kingdom is not of this world; it
is in heavenly and spiritual things that He reigns and acts as Priest;
and these are righteousness, truth, wisdom, peace, salvation, etc.
Not but that all things, even those of earth and hell, are subject to
Him--for otherwise how could He defend and save us from them?--but it is
not in these, nor by these, that His kingdom stands.

So, too, His priesthood does not consist in the outward display of
vestments and gestures, as did the human priesthood of Aaron and our
ecclesiastical priesthood at this day, but in spiritual things, wherein,
in His invisible office, He intercedes for us with God in heaven, and
there offers Himself, and performs all the duties of a priest, as Paul
describes Him to the Hebrews under the figure of Melchizedek. Nor does
He only pray and intercede for us; He also teaches us inwardly in the
spirit with the living teachings of His Spirit. Now these are the two
special offices of a priest, as is figured to us in the case of fleshly
priests by visible prayers and sermons.

As Christ by His birthright has obtained these two dignities, so He
imparts and communicates them to every believer in Him, under that law
of matrimony of which we have spoken above, by which all that is the
husband's is also the wife's. Hence all we who believe on Christ are
kings and priests in Christ, as it is said, "Ye are a chosen generation,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should
show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into
His marvellous light" (1 Peter ii. 9).

These two things stand thus. First, as regards kingship, every Christian
is by faith so exalted above all things that, in spiritual power, he is
completely lord of all things, so that nothing whatever can do him
any hurt; yea, all things are subject to him, and are compelled to be
subservient to his salvation. Thus Paul says, "All things work together
for good to them who are the called" (Rom. viii. 28), and also, "Whether
life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours; and
ye are Christ's" (1 Cor. iii. 22, 23).

Not that in the sense of corporeal power any one among Christians has
been appointed to possess and rule all things, according to the mad and
senseless idea of certain ecclesiastics. That is the office of kings,
princes, and men upon earth. In the experience of life we see that we
are subjected to all things, and suffer many things, even death.
Yea, the more of a Christian any man is, to so many the more evils,
sufferings, and deaths is he subject, as we see in the first place in
Christ the First-born, and in all His holy brethren.

This is a spiritual power, which rules in the midst of enemies, and is
powerful in the midst of distresses. And this is nothing else than that
strength is made perfect in my weakness, and that I can turn all things
to the profit of my salvation; so that even the cross and death are
compelled to serve me and to work together for my salvation. This is
a lofty and eminent dignity, a true and almighty dominion, a spiritual
empire, in which there is nothing so good, nothing so bad, as not to
work together for my good, if only I believe. And yet there is nothing
of which I have need--for faith alone suffices for my salvation--unless
that in it faith may exercise the power and empire of its liberty. This
is the inestimable power and liberty of Christians.

Nor are we only kings and the freest of all men, but also priests for
ever, a dignity far higher than kingship, because by that priesthood we
are worthy to appear before God, to pray for others, and to teach one
another mutually the things which are of God. For these are the duties
of priests, and they cannot possibly be permitted to any unbeliever.
Christ has obtained for us this favour, if we believe in Him: that just
as we are His brethren and co-heirs and fellow-kings with Him, so we
should be also fellow-priests with Him, and venture with confidence,
through the spirit of faith, to come into the presence of God, and cry,
"Abba, Father!" and to pray for one another, and to do all things
which we see done and figured in the visible and corporeal office of
priesthood. But to an unbelieving person nothing renders service or work
for good. He himself is in servitude to all things, and all things turn
out for evil to him, because he uses all things in an impious way for
his own advantage, and not for the glory of God. And thus he is not a
priest, but a profane person, whose prayers are turned into sin, nor
does he ever appear in the presence of God, because God does not hear

Who then can comprehend the loftiness of that Christian dignity which,
by its royal power, rules over all things, even over death, life, and
sin, and, by its priestly glory, is all-powerful with God, since God
does what He Himself seeks and wishes, as it is written, "He will fulfil
the desire of them that fear Him; He also will hear their cry, and will
save them"? (Psalm cxlv. 19). This glory certainly cannot be attained by
any works, but by faith only.

From these considerations any one may clearly see how a Christian
man is free from all things; so that he needs no works in order to be
justified and saved, but receives these gifts in abundance from faith
alone. Nay, were he so foolish as to pretend to be justified, set
free, saved, and made a Christian, by means of any good work, he would
immediately lose faith, with all its benefits. Such folly is prettily
represented in the fable where a dog, running along in the water
and carrying in his mouth a real piece of meat, is deceived by the
reflection of the meat in the water, and, in trying with open mouth to
seize it, loses the meat and its image at the same time.

Here you will ask, "If all who are in the Church are priests, by what
character are those whom we now call priests to be distinguished from
the laity?" I reply, By the use of these words, "priest," "clergy,"
"spiritual person," "ecclesiastic," an injustice has been done, since
they have been transferred from the remaining body of Christians to
those few who are now, by hurtful custom, called ecclesiastics. For Holy
Scripture makes no distinction between them, except that those who are
now boastfully called popes, bishops, and lords, it calls ministers,
servants, and stewards, who are to serve the rest in the ministry of the
word, for teaching the faith of Christ and the liberty of believers. For
though it is true that we are all equally priests, yet we cannot, nor,
if we could, ought we all to, minister and teach publicly. Thus Paul
says, "Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ and
stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. iv. 1).

This bad system has now issued in such a pompous display of power and
such a terrible tyranny that no earthly government can be compared to
it, as if the laity were something else than Christians. Through this
perversion of things it has happened that the knowledge of Christian
grace, of faith, of liberty, and altogether of Christ, has utterly
perished, and has been succeeded by an intolerable bondage to human
works and laws; and, according to the Lamentations of Jeremiah, we have
become the slaves of the vilest men on earth, who abuse our misery to
all the disgraceful and ignominious purposes of their own will.

Returning to the subject which we had begun, I think it is made clear by
these considerations that it is not sufficient, nor a Christian course,
to preach the works, life, and words of Christ in a historic manner, as
facts which it suffices to know as an example how to frame our life, as
do those who are now held the best preachers, and much less so to keep
silence altogether on these things and to teach in their stead the laws
of men and the decrees of the Fathers. There are now not a few persons
who preach and read about Christ with the object of moving the human
affections to sympathise with Christ, to indignation against the Jews,
and other childish and womanish absurdities of that kind.

Now preaching ought to have the object of promoting faith in Him, so
that He may not only be Christ, but a Christ for you and for me, and
that what is said of Him, and what He is called, may work in us. And
this faith is produced and is maintained by preaching why Christ came,
what He has brought us and given to us, and to what profit and advantage
He is to be received. This is done when the Christian liberty which we
have from Christ Himself is rightly taught, and we are shown in what
manner all we Christians are kings and priests, and how we are lords of
all things, and may be confident that whatever we do in the presence of
God is pleasing and acceptable to Him.

Whose heart would not rejoice in its inmost core at hearing these
things? Whose heart, on receiving so great a consolation, would not
become sweet with the love of Christ, a love to which it can never
attain by any laws or works? Who can injure such a heart, or make it
afraid? If the consciousness of sin or the horror of death rush in upon
it, it is prepared to hope in the Lord, and is fearless of such evils,
and undisturbed, until it shall look down upon its enemies. For it
believes that the righteousness of Christ is its own, and that its sin
is no longer its own, but that of Christ; but, on account of its faith
in Christ, all its sin must needs be swallowed up from before the face
of the righteousness of Christ, as I have said above. It learns, too,
with the Apostle, to scoff at death and sin, and to say, "O death, where
is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin,
and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth
us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. xv. 55-57). For
death is swallowed up in victory, not only the victory of Christ, but
ours also, since by faith it becomes ours, and in it we too conquer.

Let it suffice to say this concerning the inner man and its liberty, and
concerning that righteousness of faith which needs neither laws nor
good works; nay, they are even hurtful to it, if any one pretends to be
justified by them.

And now let us turn to the other part: to the outward man. Here we shall
give an answer to all those who, taking offence at the word of faith and
at what I have asserted, say, "If faith does everything, and by itself
suffices for justification, why then are good works commanded? Are we
then to take our ease and do no works, content with faith?" Not so,
impious men, I reply; not so. That would indeed really be the case, if
we were thoroughly and completely inner and spiritual persons; but that
will not happen until the last day, when the dead shall be raised. As
long as we live in the flesh, we are but beginning and making advances
in that which shall be completed in a future life. On this account the
Apostle calls that which we have in this life the firstfruits of the
Spirit (Rom. viii. 23). In future we shall have the tenths, and the
fullness of the Spirit. To this part belongs the fact I have stated
before: that the Christian is the servant of all and subject to all. For
in that part in which he is free he does no works, but in that in which
he is a servant he does all works. Let us see on what principle this is

Although, as I have said, inwardly, and according to the spirit, a man
is amply enough justified by faith, having all that he requires to have,
except that this very faith and abundance ought to increase from day
to day, even till the future life, still he remains in this mortal life
upon earth, in which it is necessary that he should rule his own body
and have intercourse with men. Here then works begin; here he must not
take his ease; here he must give heed to exercise his body by fastings,
watchings, labour, and other regular discipline, so that it may be
subdued to the spirit, and obey and conform itself to the inner man and
faith, and not rebel against them nor hinder them, as is its nature to
do if it is not kept under. For the inner man, being conformed to God
and created after the image of God through faith, rejoices and delights
itself in Christ, in whom such blessings have been conferred on it, and
hence has only this task before it: to serve God with joy and for nought
in free love.

But in doing this he comes into collision with that contrary will in
his own flesh, which is striving to serve the world and to seek its own
gratification. This the spirit of faith cannot and will not bear, but
applies itself with cheerfulness and zeal to keep it down and restrain
it, as Paul says, "I delight in the law of God after the inward man; but
I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and
bringing me into captivity to the law of sin" (Rom. vii. 22, 23), and
again, "I keep under my body, and bring it unto subjection, lest that
by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a
castaway" (1 Cor. ix. 27), and "They that are Christ's have crucified
the flesh, with the affections and lusts" (Gal. v. 24).

These works, however, must not be done with any notion that by them a
man can be justified before God--for faith, which alone is righteousness
before God, will not bear with this false notion--but solely with this
purpose: that the body may be brought into subjection, and be purified
from its evil lusts, so that our eyes may be turned only to purging away
those lusts. For when the soul has been cleansed by faith and made to
love God, it would have all things to be cleansed in like manner, and
especially its own body, so that all things might unite with it in the
love and praise of God. Thus it comes that, from the requirements of his
own body, a man cannot take his ease, but is compelled on its account
to do many good works, that he may bring it into subjection. Yet these
works are not the means of his justification before God; he does them
out of disinterested love to the service of God; looking to no other
end than to do what is well-pleasing to Him whom he desires to obey most
dutifully in all things.

On this principle every man may easily instruct himself in what measure,
and with what distinctions, he ought to chasten his own body. He will
fast, watch, and labour, just as much as he sees to suffice for keeping
down the wantonness and concupiscence of the body. But those who pretend
to be justified by works are looking, not to the mortification of their
lusts, but only to the works themselves; thinking that, if they can
accomplish as many works and as great ones as possible, all is well with
them, and they are justified. Sometimes they even injure their brain,
and extinguish nature, or at least make it useless. This is enormous
folly, and ignorance of Christian life and faith, when a man seeks,
without faith, to be justified and saved by works.

To make what we have said more easily understood, let us set it forth
under a figure. The works of a Christian man, who is justified and saved
by his faith out of the pure and unbought mercy of God, ought to be
regarded in the same light as would have been those of Adam and Eve in
paradise and of all their posterity if they had not sinned. Of them it
is said, "The Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden
to dress it and to keep it" (Gen. ii. 15). Now Adam had been created by
God just and righteous, so that he could not have needed to be justified
and made righteous by keeping the garden and working in it; but, that
he might not be unemployed, God gave him the business of keeping and
cultivating paradise. These would have indeed been works of perfect
freedom, being done for no object but that of pleasing God, and not in
order to obtain justification, which he already had to the full, and
which would have been innate in us all.

So it is with the works of a believer. Being by his faith replaced
afresh in paradise and created anew, he does not need works for his
justification, but that he may not be idle, but may exercise his own
body and preserve it. His works are to be done freely, with the sole
object of pleasing God. Only we are not yet fully created anew in
perfect faith and love; these require to be increased, not, however,
through works, but through themselves.

A bishop, when he consecrates a church, confirms children, or performs
any other duty of his office, is not consecrated as bishop by these
works; nay, unless he had been previously consecrated as bishop, not one
of those works would have any validity; they would be foolish, childish,
and ridiculous. Thus a Christian, being consecrated by his faith, does
good works; but he is not by these works made a more sacred person, or
more a Christian. That is the effect of faith alone; nay, unless he were
previously a believer and a Christian, none of his works would have any
value at all; they would really be impious and damnable sins.

True, then, are these two sayings: "Good works do not make a good man,
but a good man does good works"; "Bad works do not make a bad man, but a
bad man does bad works." Thus it is always necessary that the substance
or person should be good before any good works can be done, and that
good works should follow and proceed from a good person. As Christ says,
"A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree
bring forth good fruit" (Matt. vii. 18). Now it is clear that the fruit
does not bear the tree, nor does the tree grow on the fruit; but, on the
contrary, the trees bear the fruit, and the fruit grows on the trees.

As then trees must exist before their fruit, and as the fruit does not
make the tree either good or bad, but on the contrary, a tree of either
kind produces fruit of the same kind, so must first the person of the
man be good or bad before he can do either a good or a bad work; and his
works do not make him bad or good, but he himself makes his works either
bad or good.

We may see the same thing in all handicrafts. A bad or good house does
not make a bad or good builder, but a good or bad builder makes a good
or bad house. And in general no work makes the workman such as it is
itself; but the workman makes the work such as he is himself. Such
is the case, too, with the works of men. Such as the man himself is,
whether in faith or in unbelief, such is his work: good if it be done
in faith; bad if in unbelief. But the converse is not true that, such as
the work is, such the man becomes in faith or in unbelief. For as works
do not make a believing man, so neither do they make a justified man;
but faith, as it makes a man a believer and justified, so also it makes
his works good.

Since then works justify no man, but a man must be justified before he
can do any good work, it is most evident that it is faith alone which,
by the mere mercy of God through Christ, and by means of His word,
can worthily and sufficiently justify and save the person; and that a
Christian man needs no work, no law, for his salvation; for by faith he
is free from all law, and in perfect freedom does gratuitously all that
he does, seeking nothing either of profit or of salvation--since by
the grace of God he is already saved and rich in all things through his
faith--but solely that which is well-pleasing to God.

So, too, no good work can profit an unbeliever to justification and
salvation; and, on the other hand, no evil work makes him an evil and
condemned person, but that unbelief, which makes the person and the tree
bad, makes his works evil and condemned. Wherefore, when any man is made
good or bad, this does not arise from his works, but from his faith or
unbelief, as the wise man says, "The beginning of sin is to fall away
from God"; that is, not to believe. Paul says, "He that cometh to God
must believe" (Heb. xi. 6); and Christ says the same thing: "Either make
the tree good and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and
his fruit corrupt" (Matt. xii. 33),--as much as to say, He who wishes to
have good fruit will begin with the tree, and plant a good one; even
so he who wishes to do good works must begin, not by working, but by
believing, since it is this which makes the person good. For nothing
makes the person good but faith, nor bad but unbelief.

It is certainly true that, in the sight of men, a man becomes good or
evil by his works; but here "becoming" means that it is thus shown and
recognised who is good or evil, as Christ says, "By their fruits ye
shall know them" (Matt. vii. 20). But all this stops at appearances and
externals; and in this matter very many deceive themselves, when they
presume to write and teach that we are to be justified by good works,
and meanwhile make no mention even of faith, walking in their own ways,
ever deceived and deceiving, going from bad to worse, blind leaders of
the blind, wearying themselves with many works, and yet never attaining
to true righteousness, of whom Paul says, "Having a form of godliness,
but denying the power thereof, ever learning and never able to come to
the knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. iii. 5, 7).

He then who does not wish to go astray, with these blind ones, must look
further than to the works of the law or the doctrine of works; nay,
must turn away his sight from works, and look to the person, and to the
manner in which it may be justified. Now it is justified and saved, not
by works or laws, but by the word of God--that is, by the promise of His
grace--so that the glory may be to the Divine majesty, which has saved
us who believe, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but
according to His mercy, by the word of His grace.

From all this it is easy to perceive on what principle good works are
to be cast aside or embraced, and by what rule all teachings put forth
concerning works are to be understood. For if works are brought forward
as grounds of justification, and are done under the false persuasion
that we can pretend to be justified by them, they lay on us the yoke
of necessity, and extinguish liberty along with faith, and by this very
addition to their use they become no longer good, but really worthy of
condemnation. For such works are not free, but blaspheme the grace of
God, to which alone it belongs to justify and save through faith. Works
cannot accomplish this, and yet, with impious presumption, through
our folly, they take it on themselves to do so; and thus break in with
violence upon the office and glory of grace.

We do not then reject good works; nay, we embrace them and teach them in
the highest degree. It is not on their own account that we condemn them,
but on account of this impious addition to them and the perverse notion
of seeking justification by them. These things cause them to be only
good in outward show, but in reality not good, since by them men are
deceived and deceive others, like ravening wolves in sheep's clothing.

Now this leviathan, this perverted notion about works, is invincible
when sincere faith is wanting. For those sanctified doers of works
cannot but hold it till faith, which destroys it, comes and reigns in
the heart. Nature cannot expel it by her own power; nay, cannot even see
it for what it is, but considers it as a most holy will. And when
custom steps in besides, and strengthens this pravity of nature, as has
happened by means of impious teachers, then the evil is incurable, and
leads astray multitudes to irreparable ruin. Therefore, though it is
good to preach and write about penitence, confession, and satisfaction,
yet if we stop there, and do not go on to teach faith, such teaching
is without doubt deceitful and devilish. For Christ, speaking by His
servant John, not only said, "Repent ye," but added, "for the kingdom of
heaven is at hand" (Matt. iii. 2).

For not one word of God only, but both, should be preached; new and old
things should be brought out of the treasury, as well the voice of
the law as the word of grace. The voice of the law should be brought
forward, that men may be terrified and brought to a knowledge of their
sins, and thence be converted to penitence and to a better manner of
life. But we must not stop here; that would be to wound only and not to
bind up, to strike and not to heal, to kill and not to make alive, to
bring down to hell and not to bring back, to humble and not to exalt.
Therefore the word of grace and of the promised remission of sin must
also be preached, in order to teach and set up faith, since without
that word contrition, penitence, and all other duties, are performed and
taught in vain.

There still remain, it is true, preachers of repentance and grace, but
they do not explain the law and the promises of God to such an end, and
in such a spirit, that men may learn whence repentance and grace are to
come. For repentance comes from the law of God, but faith or grace
from the promises of God, as it is said, "Faith cometh by hearing, and
hearing by the word of God" (Rom. x. 17), whence it comes that a man,
when humbled and brought to the knowledge of himself by the threatenings
and terrors of the law, is consoled and raised up by faith in the Divine
promise. Thus "weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the
morning" (Psalm xxx. 5). Thus much we say concerning works in general,
and also concerning those which the Christian practises with regard to
his own body.

Lastly, we will speak also of those works which he performs towards his
neighbour. For man does not live for himself alone in this mortal body,
in order to work on its account, but also for all men on earth; nay, he
lives only for others, and not for himself. For it is to this end that
he brings his own body into subjection, that he may be able to serve
others more sincerely and more freely, as Paul says, "None of us liveth
to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live
unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord" (Rom. xiv. 7,
8). Thus it is impossible that he should take his ease in this life, and
not work for the good of his neighbours, since he must needs speak, act,
and converse among men, just as Christ was made in the likeness of men
and found in fashion as a man, and had His conversation among men.

Yet a Christian has need of none of these things for justification and
salvation, but in all his works he ought to entertain this view and look
only to this object--that he may serve and be useful to others in all
that he does; having nothing before his eyes but the necessities and the
advantage of his neighbour. Thus the Apostle commands us to work with
our own hands, that we may have to give to those that need. He might
have said, that we may support ourselves; but he tells us to give to
those that need. It is the part of a Christian to take care of his own
body for the very purpose that, by its soundness and well-being, he may
be enabled to labour, and to acquire and preserve property, for the aid
of those who are in want, that thus the stronger member may serve the
weaker member, and we may be children of God, thoughtful and busy one
for another, bearing one another's burdens, and so fulfilling the law of

Here is the truly Christian life, here is faith really working by love,
when a man applies himself with joy and love to the works of that freest
servitude in which he serves others voluntarily and for nought, himself
abundantly satisfied in the fulness and riches of his own faith.

Thus, when Paul had taught the Philippians how they had been made
rich by that faith in Christ in which they had obtained all things,
he teaches them further in these words: "If there be therefore any
consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of
the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be
like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let
nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind
let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his
own things, but every man also on the things of others" (Phil. ii. 1-4).

In this we see clearly that the Apostle lays down this rule for a
Christian life: that all our works should be directed to the advantage
of others, since every Christian has such abundance through his faith
that all his other works and his whole life remain over and above
wherewith to serve and benefit his neighbour of spontaneous goodwill.

To this end he brings forward Christ as an example, saying, "Let this
mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form
of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of
no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made
in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled
Himself, and became obedient unto death" (Phil. ii. 5-8). This most
wholesome saying of the Apostle has been darkened to us by men who,
totally misunderstanding the expressions "form of God," "form of a
servant," "fashion," "likeness of men," have transferred them to the
natures of Godhead and manhood. Paul's meaning is this: Christ, when He
was full of the form of God and abounded in all good things, so that He
had no need of works or sufferings to be just and saved--for all these
things He had from the very beginning--yet was not puffed up with these
things, and did not raise Himself above us and arrogate to Himself power
over us, though He might lawfully have done so, but, on the contrary,
so acted in labouring, working, suffering, and dying, as to be like the
rest of men, and no otherwise than a man in fashion and in conduct, as
if He were in want of all things and had nothing of the form of God; and
yet all this He did for our sakes, that He might serve us, and that all
the works He should do under that form of a servant might become ours.

Thus a Christian, like Christ his Head, being full and in abundance
through his faith, ought to be content with this form of God, obtained
by faith; except that, as I have said, he ought to increase this faith
till it be perfected. For this faith is his life, justification, and
salvation, preserving his person itself and making it pleasing to God,
and bestowing on him all that Christ has, as I have said above, and
as Paul affirms: "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the
faith of the Son of God" (Gal. ii. 20). Though he is thus free from all
works, yet he ought to empty himself of this liberty, take on him the
form of a servant, be made in the likeness of men, be found in fashion
as a man, serve, help, and in every way act towards his neighbour as he
sees that God through Christ has acted and is acting towards him.
All this he should do freely, and with regard to nothing but the good
pleasure of God, and he should reason thus:--

Lo! my God, without merit on my part, of His pure and free mercy, has
given to me, an unworthy, condemned, and contemptible creature all the
riches of justification and salvation in Christ, so that I no longer
am in want of anything, except of faith to believe that this is so.
For such a Father, then, who has overwhelmed me with these inestimable
riches of His, why should I not freely, cheerfully, and with my whole
heart, and from voluntary zeal, do all that I know will be pleasing to
Him and acceptable in His sight? I will therefore give myself as a sort
of Christ, to my neighbour, as Christ has given Himself to me; and will
do nothing in this life except what I see will be needful, advantageous,
and wholesome for my neighbour, since by faith I abound in all good
things in Christ.

Thus from faith flow forth love and joy in the Lord, and from love
a cheerful, willing, free spirit, disposed to serve our neighbour
voluntarily, without taking any account of gratitude or ingratitude,
praise or blame, gain or loss. Its object is not to lay men under
obligations, nor does it distinguish between friends and enemies, or
look to gratitude or ingratitude, but most freely and willingly spends
itself and its goods, whether it loses them through ingratitude, or
gains goodwill. For thus did its Father, distributing all things to all
men abundantly and freely, making His sun to rise upon the just and the
unjust. Thus, too, the child does and endures nothing except from the
free joy with which it delights through Christ in God, the Giver of such
great gifts.

You see, then, that, if we recognize those great and precious gifts, as
Peter says, which have been given to us, love is quickly diffused in
our hearts through the Spirit, and by love we are made free, joyful,
all-powerful, active workers, victors over all our tribulations,
servants to our neighbour, and nevertheless lords of all things. But,
for those who do not recognise the good things given to them through
Christ, Christ has been born in vain; such persons walk by works, and
will never attain the taste and feeling of these great things. Therefore
just as our neighbour is in want, and has need of our abundance, so we
too in the sight of God were in want, and had need of His mercy. And as
our heavenly Father has freely helped us in Christ, so ought we freely
to help our neighbour by our body and works, and each should become to
other a sort of Christ, so that we may be mutually Christs, and that
the same Christ may be in all of us; that is, that we may be truly

Who then can comprehend the riches and glory of the Christian life? It
can do all things, has all things, and is in want of nothing; is lord
over sin, death, and hell, and at the same time is the obedient and
useful servant of all. But alas! it is at this day unknown throughout
the world; it is neither preached nor sought after, so that we are quite
ignorant about our own name, why we are and are called Christians. We
are certainly called so from Christ, who is not absent, but dwells among
us--provided, that is, that we believe in Him and are reciprocally and
mutually one the Christ of the other, doing to our neighbour as Christ
does to us. But now, in the doctrine of men, we are taught only to seek
after merits, rewards, and things which are already ours, and we have
made of Christ a taskmaster far more severe than Moses.

The Blessed Virgin beyond all others, affords us an example of the same
faith, in that she was purified according to the law of Moses, and like
all other women, though she was bound by no such law and had no need
of purification. Still she submitted to the law voluntarily and of free
love, making herself like the rest of women, that she might not offend
or throw contempt on them. She was not justified by doing this; but,
being already justified, she did it freely and gratuitously. Thus ought
our works too to be done, and not in order to be justified by them; for,
being first justified by faith, we ought to do all our works freely and
cheerfully for the sake of others.

St. Paul circumcised his disciple Timothy, not because he needed
circumcision for his justification, but that he might not offend or
contemn those Jews, weak in the faith, who had not yet been able to
comprehend the liberty of faith. On the other hand, when they contemned
liberty and urged that circumcision was necessary for justification, he
resisted them, and would not allow Titus to be circumcised. For, as he
would not offend or contemn any one's weakness in faith, but yielded
for the time to their will, so, again, he would not have the liberty of
faith offended or contemned by hardened self-justifiers, but walked in
a middle path, sparing the weak for the time, and always resisting the
hardened, that he might convert all to the liberty of faith. On the same
principle we ought to act, receiving those that are weak in the faith,
but boldly resisting these hardened teachers of works, of whom we shall
hereafter speak at more length.

Christ also, when His disciples were asked for the tribute money, asked
of Peter whether the children of a king were not free from taxes. Peter
agreed to this; yet Jesus commanded him to go to the sea, saying, "Lest
we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast a hook, and take up
the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth thou
shalt find a piece of money; that take, and give unto them for Me and
thee" (Matt. xvii. 27).

This example is very much to our purpose; for here Christ calls Himself
and His disciples free men and children of a King, in want of nothing;
and yet He voluntarily submits and pays the tax. Just as far, then,
as this work was necessary or useful to Christ for justification or
salvation, so far do all His other works or those of His disciples avail
for justification. They are really free and subsequent to justification,
and only done to serve others and set them an example.

Such are the works which Paul inculcated, that Christians should be
subject to principalities and powers and ready to every good work (Titus
iii. 1), not that they may be justified by these things--for they are
already justified by faith--but that in liberty of spirit they may thus
be the servants of others and subject to powers, obeying their will out
of gratuitous love.

Such, too, ought to have been the works of all colleges, monasteries,
and priests; every one doing the works of his own profession and state
of life, not in order to be justified by them, but in order to bring his
own body into subjection, as an example to others, who themselves
also need to keep under their bodies, and also in order to accommodate
himself to the will of others, out of free love. But we must always
guard most carefully against any vain confidence or presumption of being
justified, gaining merit, or being saved by these works, this being the
part of faith alone, as I have so often said.

Any man possessing this knowledge may easily keep clear of danger among
those innumerable commands and precepts of the Pope, of bishops, of
monasteries, of churches, of princes, and of magistrates, which some
foolish pastors urge on us as being necessary for justification and
salvation, calling them precepts of the Church, when they are not so
at all. For the Christian freeman will speak thus: I will fast, I will
pray, I will do this or that which is commanded me by men, not as having
any need of these things for justification or salvation, but that I
may thus comply with the will of the Pope, of the bishop, of such a
community or such a magistrate, or of my neighbour as an example to him;
for this cause I will do and suffer all things, just as Christ did and
suffered much more for me, though He needed not at all to do so on His
own account, and made Himself for my sake under the law, when He was
not under the law. And although tyrants may do me violence or wrong in
requiring obedience to these things, yet it will not hurt me to do them,
so long as they are not done against God.

From all this every man will be able to attain a sure judgment and
faithful discrimination between all works and laws, and to know who
are blind and foolish pastors, and who are true and good ones. For
whatsoever work is not directed to the sole end either of keeping under
the body, or of doing service to our neighbour--provided he require
nothing contrary to the will of God--is no good or Christian work. Hence
I greatly fear that at this day few or no colleges, monasteries, altars,
or ecclesiastical functions are Christian ones; and the same may be said
of fasts and special prayers to certain saints. I fear that in all these
nothing is being sought but what is already ours; while we fancy that
by these things our sins are purged away and salvation is attained, and
thus utterly do away with Christian liberty. This comes from ignorance
of Christian faith and liberty.

This ignorance and this crushing of liberty are diligently promoted by
the teaching of very many blind pastors, who stir up and urge the people
to a zeal for these things, praising them and puffing them up with their
indulgences, but never teaching faith. Now I would advise you, if you
have any wish to pray, to fast, or to make foundations in churches, as
they call it, to take care not to do so with the object of gaining any
advantage, either temporal or eternal. You will thus wrong your faith,
which alone bestows all things on you, and the increase of which, either
by working or by suffering, is alone to be cared for. What you give,
give freely and without price, that others may prosper and have increase
from you and your goodness. Thus you will be a truly good man and a
Christian. For what to you are your goods and your works, which are done
over and above for the subjection of the body, since you have abundance
for yourself through your faith, in which God has given you all things?

We give this rule: the good things which we have from God ought to flow
from one to another and become common to all, so that every one of us
may, as it were, put on his neighbour, and so behave towards him as if
he were himself in his place. They flowed and do flow from Christ to us;
He put us on, and acted for us as if He Himself were what we are.
From us they flow to those who have need of them; so that my faith
and righteousness ought to be laid down before God as a covering and
intercession for the sins of my neighbour, which I am to take on myself,
and so labour and endure servitude in them, as if they were my own; for
thus has Christ done for us. This is true love and the genuine truth
of Christian life. But only there is it true and genuine where there
is true and genuine faith. Hence the Apostle attributes to charity this
quality: that she seeketh not her own.

We conclude therefore that a Christian man does not live in himself, but
in Christ and in his neighbour, or else is no Christian: in Christ by
faith; in his neighbour by love. By faith he is carried upwards
above himself to God, and by love he sinks back below himself to his
neighbour, still always-abiding in God and His love, as Christ says,
"Verily I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the
angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man" (John i.

Thus much concerning liberty, which, as you see, is a true and spiritual
liberty, making our hearts free from all sins, laws, and commandments,
as Paul says, "The law is not made for a righteous man" (1 Tim. i. 9),
and one which surpasses all other external liberties, as far as heaven
is above earth. May Christ make us to understand and preserve this
liberty. Amen.

Finally, for the sake of those to whom nothing can be stated so well but
that they misunderstand and distort it, we must add a word, in case they
can understand even that. There are very many persons who, when they
hear of this liberty of faith, straightway turn it into an occasion of
licence. They think that everything is now lawful for them, and do not
choose to show themselves free men and Christians in any other way than
by their contempt and reprehension of ceremonies, of traditions, of
human laws; as if they were Christians merely because they refuse
to fast on stated days, or eat flesh when others fast, or omit the
customary prayers; scoffing at the precepts of men, but utterly passing
over all the rest that belongs to the Christian religion. On the other
hand, they are most pertinaciously resisted by those who strive after
salvation solely by their observance of and reverence for ceremonies,
as if they would be saved merely because they fast on stated days,
or abstain from flesh, or make formal prayers; talking loudly of the
precepts of the Church and of the Fathers, and not caring a straw about
those things which belong to our genuine faith. Both these parties
are plainly culpable, in that, while they neglect matters which are of
weight and necessary for salvation, they contend noisily about such as
are without weight and not necessary.

How much more rightly does the Apostle Paul teach us to walk in the
middle path, condemning either extreme and saying, "Let not him that
eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not
judge him that eateth" (Rom. xiv. 3)! You see here how the Apostle
blames those who, not from religious feeling, but in mere contempt,
neglect and rail at ceremonial observances, and teaches them not to
despise, since this "knowledge puffeth up." Again, he teaches the
pertinacious upholders of these things not to judge their opponents. For
neither party observes towards the other that charity which edifieth. In
this matter we must listen to Scripture, which teaches us to turn aside
neither to the right hand nor to the left, but to follow those right
precepts of the Lord which rejoice the heart. For just as a man is
not righteous merely because he serves and is devoted to works and
ceremonial rites, so neither will he be accounted righteous merely
because he neglects and despises them.

It is not from works that we are set free by the faith of Christ, but
from the belief in works, that is from foolishly presuming to seek
justification through works. Faith redeems our consciences, makes them
upright, and preserves them, since by it we recognise the truth that
justification does not depend on our works, although good works neither
can nor ought to be absent, just as we cannot exist without food and
drink and all the functions of this mortal body. Still it is not on them
that our justification is based, but on faith; and yet they ought not
on that account to be despised or neglected. Thus in this world we
are compelled by the needs of this bodily life; but we are not hereby
justified. "My kingdom is not hence, nor of this world," says Christ;
but He does not say, "My kingdom is not here, nor in this world." Paul,
too, says, "Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh"
(2 Cor. x. 3), and "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by
the faith of the Son of God" (Gal. ii. 20). Thus our doings, life, and
being, in works and ceremonies, are done from the necessities of this
life, and with the motive of governing our bodies; but yet we are not
justified by these things, but by the faith of the Son of God.

The Christian must therefore walk in the middle path, and set these two
classes of men before his eyes. He may meet with hardened and obstinate
ceremonialists, who, like deaf adders, refuse to listen to the truth of
liberty, and cry up, enjoin, and urge on us their ceremonies, as if they
could justify us without faith. Such were the Jews of old, who would not
understand, that they might act well. These men we must resist, do just
the contrary to what they do, and be bold to give them offence, lest
by this impious notion of theirs they should deceive many along with
themselves. Before the eyes of these men it is expedient to eat flesh,
to break fasts, and to do in behalf of the liberty of faith things which
they hold to be the greatest sins. We must say of them, "Let them alone;
they be blind leaders of the blind" (Matt. xv. 14). In this way Paul
also would not have Titus circumcised, though these men urged it;
and Christ defended the Apostles, who had plucked ears of corn on the
Sabbath day; and many like instances.

Or else we may meet with simple-minded and ignorant persons, weak in
the faith, as the Apostle calls them, who are as yet unable to apprehend
that liberty of faith, even if willing to do so. These we must spare,
lest they should be offended. We must bear with their infirmity, till
they shall be more fully instructed. For since these men do not act thus
from hardened malice, but only from weakness of faith, therefore, in
order to avoid giving them offence, we must keep fasts and do other
things which they consider necessary. This is required of us by charity,
which injures no one, but serves all men. It is not the fault of these
persons that they are weak, but that of their pastors, who by the snares
and weapons of their own traditions have brought them into bondage and
wounded their souls when they ought to have been set free and healed by
the teaching of faith and liberty. Thus the Apostle says, "If meat make
my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth" (1
Cor. viii. 13); and again, "I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus,
that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him that esteemeth
anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. It is evil for that man
who eateth with offence" (Rom. xiv. 14, 20).

Thus, though we ought boldly to resist those teachers of tradition, and
though the laws of the pontiffs, by which they make aggressions on the
people of God, deserve sharp reproof, yet we must spare the timid crowd,
who are held captive by the laws of those impious tyrants, till they
are set free. Fight vigorously against the wolves, but on behalf of the
sheep, not against the sheep. And this you may do by inveighing against
the laws and lawgivers, and yet at the same time observing these laws
with the weak, lest they be offended, until they shall themselves
recognise the tyranny, and understand their own liberty. If you wish to
use your liberty, do it secretly, as Paul says, "Hast thou faith? have
it to thyself before God" (Rom. xiv. 22). But take care not to use it in
the presence of the weak. On the other hand, in the presence of tyrants
and obstinate opposers, use your liberty in their despite, and with the
utmost pertinacity, that they too may understand that they are tyrants,
and their laws useless for justification, nay that they had no right to
establish such laws.

Since then we cannot live in this world without ceremonies and works,
since the hot and inexperienced period of youth has need of being
restrained and protected by such bonds, and since every one is bound
to keep under his own body by attention to these things, therefore
the minister of Christ must be prudent and faithful in so ruling and
teaching the people of Christ, in all these matters, that no root of
bitterness may spring up among them, and so many be defiled, as Paul
warned the Hebrews; that is, that they may not lose the faith, and begin
to be defiled by a belief in works as the means of justification. This
is a thing which easily happens, and defiles very many, unless faith be
constantly inculcated along with works. It is impossible to avoid this
evil, when faith is passed over in silence, and only the ordinances of
men are taught, as has been done hitherto by the pestilent, impious,
and soul-destroying traditions of our pontiffs and opinions of our
theologians. An infinite number of souls have been drawn down to hell by
these snares, so that you may recognise the work of antichrist.

In brief, as poverty is imperilled amid riches, honesty amid business,
humility amid honours, abstinence amid feasting, purity amid pleasures,
so is justification by faith imperilled among ceremonies. Solomon says,
"Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?"
(Prov. vi. 27). And yet as we must live among riches, business, honours,
pleasures, feastings, so must we among ceremonies, that is among perils.
Just as infant boys have the greatest need of being cherished in the
bosoms and by the care of girls, that they may not die, and yet, when
they are grown, there is peril to their salvation in living among
girls, so inexperienced and fervid young men require to be kept in and
restrained by the barriers of ceremonies, even were they of iron, lest
their weak minds should rush headlong into vice. And yet it would be
death to them to persevere in believing that they can be justified
by these things. They must rather be taught that they have been thus
imprisoned, not with the purpose of their being justified or gaining
merit in this way, but in order that they might avoid wrong-doing, and
be more easily instructed in that righteousness which is by faith, a
thing which the headlong character of youth would not bear unless it
were put under restraint.

Hence in the Christian life ceremonies are to be no otherwise looked
upon than as builders and workmen look upon those preparations for
building or working which are not made with any view of being permanent
or anything in themselves, but only because without them there could be
no building and no work. When the structure is completed, they are laid
aside. Here you see that we do not contemn these preparations, but set
the highest value on them; a belief in them we do contemn, because no
one thinks that they constitute a real and permanent structure. If any
one were so manifestly out of his senses as to have no other object
in life but that of setting up these preparations with all possible
expense, diligence, and perseverance, while he never thought of the
structure itself, but pleased himself and made his boast of these
useless preparations and props, should we not all pity his madness and
think that, at the cost thus thrown away, some great building might have
been raised?

Thus, too, we do not contemn works and ceremonies--nay, we set the
highest value on them; but we contemn the belief in works, which no one
should consider to constitute true righteousness, as do those hypocrites
who employ and throw away their whole life in the pursuit of works, and
yet never attain to that for the sake of which the works are done. As
the Apostle says, they are "ever learning and never able to come to the
knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. iii. 7). They appear to wish to build,
they make preparations, and yet they never do build; and thus they
continue in a show of godliness, but never attain to its power.

Meanwhile they please themselves with this zealous pursuit, and even
dare to judge all others, whom they do not see adorned with such a
glittering display of works; while, if they had been imbued with faith,
they might have done great things for their own and others' salvation,
at the same cost which they now waste in abuse of the gifts of God. But
since human nature and natural reason, as they call it, are naturally
superstitious, and quick to believe that justification can be attained
by any laws or works proposed to them, and since nature is also
exercised and confirmed in the same view by the practice of all earthly
lawgivers, she can never of her own power free herself from this bondage
to works, and come to a recognition of the liberty of faith.

We have therefore need to pray that God will lead us and make us taught
of God, that is, ready to learn from God; and will Himself, as He has
promised, write His law in our hearts; otherwise there is no hope for
us. For unless He himself teach us inwardly this wisdom hidden in a
mystery, nature cannot but condemn it and judge it to be heretical. She
takes offence at it, and it seems folly to her, just as we see that it
happened of old in the case of the prophets and Apostles, and just as
blind and impious pontiffs, with their flatterers, do now in my case and
that of those who are like me, upon whom, together with ourselves, may
God at length have mercy, and lift up the light of His countenance upon
them, that we may know His way upon earth and His saving health among
all nations, who is blessed for evermore. Amen. In the year of the Lord

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