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Concerning Christian Liberty
Letters of Martin Luther to Pope Leo X

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.

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