Concerning Christian Liberty
AUTHOR: Luther, Martin
PUBLISHED ON: April 10, 2003

Project Gutenberg Etext Concerning Christian Liberty, by Luther
#6 in our series by Martin Luther

Copyright laws are changing all over the world, be sure to check
the copyright laws for your country before posting these files!!

Please take a look at the important information in this header.
We encourage you to keep this file on your own disk, keeping an
electronic path open for the next readers.  Do not remove this.

**Welcome To The World of Free Plain Vanilla Electronic Texts**

**Etexts Readable By Both Humans and By Computers, Since 1971**

*These Etexts Prepared By Hundreds of Volunteers and Donations*

Information on contacting Project Gutenberg to get Etexts, and
further information is included below.  We need your donations.

Concerning Christian Liberty

by Martin Luther

October, 1999  [Etext #1911]

Project Gutenberg Etext Concerning Christian Liberty, by Luther
*****This file should be named clbty10.txt or clbty10.zip******

Corrected EDITIONS of our etexts get a new NUMBER, clbty11.txt
VERSIONS based on separate sources get new LETTER, clbty10a.txt

Project Gutenberg Etexts are usually created from multiple editions,
all of which are in the Public Domain in the United States, unless a
copyright notice is included.  Therefore, we usually do NOT keep any
of these books in compliance with any particular paper edition.

We are now trying to release all our books one month in advance
of the official release dates, leaving time for better editing.

Please note:  neither this list nor its contents are final till
midnight of the last day of the month of any such announcement.
The official release date of all Project Gutenberg Etexts is at
Midnight, Central Time, of the last day of the stated month.  A
preliminary version may often be posted for suggestion, comment
and editing by those who wish to do so.  To be sure you have an
up to date first edition [xxxxx10x.xxx] please check file sizes
in the first week of the next month.  Since our ftp program has
a bug in it that scrambles the date [tried to fix and failed] a
look at the file size will have to do, but we will try to see a
new copy has at least one byte more or less.

Information about Project Gutenberg (one page)

We produce about two million dollars for each hour we work.  The
time it takes us, a rather conservative estimate, is fifty hours
to get any etext selected, entered, proofread, edited, copyright
searched and analyzed, the copyright letters written, etc.  This
projected audience is one hundred million readers.  If our value
per text is nominally estimated at one dollar then we produce $2
million dollars per hour this year as we release thirty-six text
files per month, or 432 more Etexts in 1999 for a total of 2000+
If these reach just 10% of the computerized population, then the
total should reach over 200 billion Etexts given away this year.

The Goal of Project Gutenberg is to Give Away One Trillion Etext
Files by December 31, 2001.  [10,000 x 100,000,000 = 1 Trillion]
This is ten thousand titles each to one hundred million readers,
which is only ~5% of the present number of computer users.

At our revised rates of production, we will reach only one-third
of that goal by the end of 2001, or about 3,333 Etexts unless we
manage to get some real funding; currently our funding is mostly
from Michael Hart’s salary at Carnegie-Mellon University, and an
assortment of sporadic gifts; this salary is only good for a few
more years, so we are looking for something to replace it, as we
don’t want Project Gutenberg to be so dependent on one person.

We need your donations more than ever!

All donations should be made to “Project Gutenberg/CMU”: and are
tax deductible to the extent allowable by law.  (CMU = Carnegie-
Mellon University).

For these and other matters, please mail to:

Project Gutenberg
P. O. Box  2782
Champaign, IL 61825

When all other email fails. . .try our Executive Director:
Michael S. Hart
hart@pobox.com forwards to hart@prairienet.org and archive.org
if your mail bounces from archive.org, I will still see it, if
it bounces from prairienet.org, better resend later on. . . .

We would prefer to send you this information by email.


To access Project Gutenberg etexts, use any Web browser
to view http://promo.net/pg.  This site lists Etexts by
author and by title, and includes information about how
to get involved with Project Gutenberg.  You could also
download our past Newsletters, or subscribe here.  This
is one of our major sites, please email hart@pobox.com,
for a more complete list of our various sites.

To go directly to the etext collections, use FTP or any
Web browser to visit a Project Gutenberg mirror (mirror
sites are available on 7 continents; mirrors are listed
at http://promo.net/pg).

Mac users, do NOT point and click, typing works better.

Example FTP session:

ftp sunsite.unc.edu
login: anonymous
password: your@login
cd pub/docs/books/gutenberg
cd etext90 through etext99
dir [to see files]
get or mget [to get files. . .set bin for zip files]
GET GUTINDEX.??  [to get a year’s listing of books, e.g., GUTINDEX.99]
GET GUTINDEX.ALL [to get a listing of ALL books]


**Information prepared by the Project Gutenberg legal advisor**

(Three Pages)

Why is this “Small Print!” statement here?  You know: lawyers.
They tell us you might sue us if there is something wrong with
your copy of this etext, even if you got it for free from
someone other than us, and even if what’s wrong is not our
fault.  So, among other things, this “Small Print!” statement
disclaims most of our liability to you.  It also tells you how
you can distribute copies of this etext if you want to.

By using or reading any part of this PROJECT GUTENBERG-tm
etext, you indicate that you understand, agree to and accept
this “Small Print!” statement.  If you do not, you can receive
a refund of the money (if any) you paid for this etext by
sending a request within 30 days of receiving it to the person
you got it from.  If you received this etext on a physical
medium (such as a disk), you must return it with your request.

tm etexts, is a “public domain” work distributed by Professor
Michael S. Hart through the Project Gutenberg Association at
Carnegie-Mellon University (the “Project”).  Among other
things, this means that no one owns a United States copyright
on or for this work, so the Project (and you!) can copy and
distribute it in the United States without permission and
without paying copyright royalties.  Special rules, set forth
below, apply if you wish to copy and distribute this etext
under the Project’s “PROJECT GUTENBERG” trademark.

To create these etexts, the Project expends considerable
efforts to identify, transcribe and proofread public domain
works.  Despite these efforts, the Project’s etexts and any
medium they may be on may contain “Defects”.  Among other
things, Defects may take the form of incomplete, inaccurate or
corrupt data, transcription errors, a copyright or other
intellectual property infringement, a defective or damaged
disk or other etext medium, a computer virus, or computer
codes that damage or cannot be read by your equipment.

But for the “Right of Replacement or Refund” described below,
[1] the Project (and any other party you may receive this
etext from as a PROJECT GUTENBERG-tm etext) disclaims all
liability to you for damages, costs and expenses, including

If you discover a Defect in this etext within 90 days of
receiving it, you can receive a refund of the money (if any)
you paid for it by sending an explanatory note within that
time to the person you received it from.  If you received it
on a physical medium, you must return it with your note, and
such person may choose to alternatively give you a replacement
copy.  If you received it electronically, such person may
choose to alternatively give you a second opportunity to
receive it electronically.


Some states do not allow disclaimers of implied warranties or
the exclusion or limitation of consequential damages, so the
above disclaimers and exclusions may not apply to you, and you
may have other legal rights.

You will indemnify and hold the Project, its directors,
officers, members and agents harmless from all liability, cost
and expense, including legal fees, that arise directly or
indirectly from any of the following that you do or cause:
[1] distribution of this etext, [2] alteration, modification,
or addition to the etext, or [3] any Defect.

You may distribute copies of this etext electronically, or by
disk, book or any other medium if you either delete this
“Small Print!” and all other references to Project Gutenberg,

[1]  Only give exact copies of it.  Among other things, this
    requires that you do not remove, alter or modify the
    etext or this “small print!” statement.  You may however,
    if you wish, distribute this etext in machine readable
    binary, compressed, mark-up, or proprietary form,
    including any form resulting from conversion by word pro-
    cessing or hypertext software, but only so long as

    [*]  The etext, when displayed, is clearly readable, and
          does *not* contain characters other than those
          intended by the author of the work, although tilde
          (~), asterisk (*) and underline (_) characters may
          be used to convey punctuation intended by the
          author, and additional characters may be used to
          indicate hypertext links; OR

    [*]  The etext may be readily converted by the reader at
          no expense into plain ASCII, EBCDIC or equivalent
          form by the program that displays the etext (as is
          the case, for instance, with most word processors);

    [*]  You provide, or agree to also provide on request at
          no additional cost, fee or expense, a copy of the
          etext in its original plain ASCII form (or in EBCDIC
          or other equivalent proprietary form).

[2]  Honor the etext refund and replacement provisions of this
    “Small Print!” statement.

[3]  Pay a trademark license fee to the Project of 20% of the
    net profits you derive calculated using the method you
    already use to calculate your applicable taxes.  If you
    don’t derive profits, no royalty is due.  Royalties are
    payable to “Project Gutenberg Association/Carnegie-Mellon
    University” within the 60 days following each
    date you prepare (or were legally required to prepare)
    your annual (or equivalent periodic) tax return.

The Project gratefully accepts contributions in money, time,
scanning machines, OCR software, public domain etexts, royalty
free copyright licenses, and every other sort of contribution
you can think of.  Money should be paid to “Project Gutenberg
Association / Carnegie-Mellon University”.


Concerning Christian Liberty

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 person.

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

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 one!

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. Amen.

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 one.

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 hypocrites.

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 faith.

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 salvation.

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

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
lovingkindness, 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 rest.

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 sinners.

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 so.

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

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 Christ.

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

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 Christians.

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

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

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. 51).

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

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 MDXX.

This text was converted to ascii format for Project Wittenberg by
Elizabeth T. Knuth and is in the public domain.  You may freely
distribute, copy or print this text.  Please direct any comments
or suggestions to: Rev. Robert E. Smith of the Walther Library at
Concordia Theological Seminary.

E-mail: cosmithb@ash.palni.edu
Surface Mail: 6600 N. Clinton St., Ft.  Wayne, IN 46825 USA
Phone: (219) 452-2123  Fax: (219) 452-2126

End of Project Gutenberg Etext Concerning Christian Liberty, by Luther

Doc Viewed 10109 times

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating / 5. Vote count:

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.