Martin Luther Collection: Luther, Martin - Martin Luther's Large Catechism, translated by Bente and Dau: Martin Luther's Large Catechism
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Martin Luther Collection: Luther, Martin - Martin Luther's Large Catechism, translated by Bente and Dau: Martin Luther's Large Catechism
TOPIC: Luther, Martin - Martin Luther's Large Catechism, translated by Bente and Dau (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: Martin Luther's Large Catechism
Other Subjects in this Topic:
The Large Catechism by Dr. Martin Luther
Translated by F. Bente and W. H. T. Dau
Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Ev. Lutheran Church.
St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921), pp. 565-773
A Christian, Profitable, and Necessary Preface and Faithful, Earnest
Exhortation of Dr. Martin Luther to All Christians, but Especially to
All Pastors and Preachers, that They Should Daily Exercise Themselves
in the Catechism, which is a Short Summary and Epitome of the Entire
Holy Scriptures, and that they May Always Teach the Same.
We have no slight reasons for treating the Catechism so constantly [in
Sermons] and for both desiring and beseeching others to teach it, since
we see to our sorrow that many pastors and preachers are very negligent
in this, and slight both their office and this teaching; some from
great and high art [giving their mind, as they imagine, to much higher
matters], but others from sheer laziness and care for their paunches,
assuming no other relation to this business than if they were pastors
and preachers for their bellies' sake, and had nothing to do but to
[spend and] consume their emoluments as long as they live, as they have
been accustomed to do under the Papacy.
And although they have now everything that they are to preach and
teach placed before them so abundantly, clearly, and easily, in so many
[excellent and] helpful books, and the true Sermones per se loquentes,
Dormi secure, Paratos et Thesauros, as they were called in former
times; yet they are not so godly and honest as to buy these books, or
even when they have them, to look at them or read them. Alas! they are
altogether shameful gluttons and servants of their own bellies who
ought to be more properly swineherds and dog-tenders than care-takers
of souls and pastors.
And now that they are delivered from the unprofitable and burdensome
babbling of the Seven Canonical Hours, oh, that, instead thereof, they
would only, morning, noon, and evening, read a page or two in the
Catechism, the Prayer-book, the New Testament, or elsewhere in the
Bible, and pray the Lord's Prayer for themselves and their
parishioners, so that they might render, in return, honor and thanks to
the Gospel, by which they have been delivered from burdens and troubles
so manifold, and might feel a little shame because like pigs and dogs
they retain no more of the Gospel than such a lazy, pernicious,
shameful, carnal liberty! For, alas! as it is, the common people regard
the Gospel altogether too lightly, and we accomplish nothing
extraordinary even though we use all diligence. What, then, will be
achieved if we shall be negligent and lazy as we were under the Papacy?
To this there is added the shameful vice and secret infection of
security and satiety, that is, that many regard the Catechism as a
poor, mean teaching, which they can read through at one time, and then
immediately know it, throw the book into a corner, and be ashamed, as
it were, to read in it again.
Yea, even among the nobility there may be found some louts and
scrimps, who declare that there is no longer any need either of
pastors or preachers; that we have everything in books, and every one
can easily learn it by himself; and so they are content to let the
parishes decay and become desolate, and pastors and preachers to suffer
distress and hunger a plenty, just as it becomes crazy Germans to do.
For we Germans have such disgraceful people, and must endure them.
But for myself I say this: I am also a doctor and preacher, yea, as
learned and experienced as all those may be who have such presumption
and security; yet I do as a child who is being taught the Catechism,
and every morning, and whenever I have time, I read and say, word for
word, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Psalms,
etc. And I must still read and study daily, and yet I cannot master it
as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and am
glad so to remain. And yet these delicate, fastidious fellows would
with one reading promptly be doctors above all doctors, know everything
and be in need of nothing. Well, this, too, is indeed a sure sign that
they despise both their office and the souls of the people, yea, even
God and His Word. They do not have to fall, they are already fallen all
too horribly, they would need to become children, and begin to learn
their alphabet, which they imagine that they have long since outgrown.
Therefore I beg such lazy paunches or presumptuous saints to be
persuaded and believe for God's sake that they are verily, verily! not
so learned or such great doctors as they imagine; and never to presume
that they have finished learning this [the parts of the Catechism], or
know it well enough in all points, even though they think that they
know it ever so well. For though they should know and understand it
perfectly (which, however, is impossible in this life), yet there are
manifold benefits and fruits still to be obtained, if it be daily read
and practiced in thought and speech; namely, that the Holy Ghost is
present in such reading and repetition and meditation, and bestows ever
new and more light and devoutness, so that it is daily relished and
appreciated better, as Christ promises, Mat_18:1-35; Mat_20:1-34 : Where two or
three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of
Besides, it is an exceedingly effectual help against the devil, the
world, and the flesh and all evil thoughts to be occupied with the Word
of God, and to speak of it, and meditate upon it, so that the First
Psalm declares those blessed who meditate upon the law of God day and
night. Undoubtedly, you will not start a stronger incense or other
fumigation against the devil than by being engaged upon God's
commandments and words, and speaking, singing, or thinking of them. For
this is indeed the true holy water and holy sign from which he flees,
and by which he may be driven away.
Now, for this reason alone you ought gladly to read, speak, think and
treat of these things if you had no other profit and fruit from them
than that by doing so you can drive away the devil and evil thoughts.
For he cannot hear or endure God's Word; and God's Word is not like
some other silly prattle, as that about Dietrich of Berne, etc., but as
St. Paul says, Rom_1:1-32; Rom_16:1-27, the power of God. Yea, indeed, the power of
God which gives the devil burning pain, and strengthens, comforts, and
helps us beyond measure.
And what need is there of many words ? If I were to recount all the
profit and fruit which God's Word produces, whence would I get enough
paper and time? The devil is called the master of a thousand arts. But
what shall we call God's Word, which drives away and brings to naught
this master of a thousand arts with all his arts and power? It must
indeed be the master of more than a hundred thousand arts. And shall we
frivolously despise such power, profit, strength, and fruit -- we,
especially, who claim to be pastors and preachers? If so, we should not
only have nothing given us to eat, but be driven out, being baited with
dogs, and pelted with dung, because we not only need all this every day
as we need our daily bread but must also daily use it against the daily
and unabated attacks and lurking of the devil, the master of a thousand
And if this were not sufficient to admonish us to read the Catechism
daily, yet we should feel sufficiently constrained by the command of
God alone, who solemnly enjoins in Deu_6:1-25; Deu_6:1-25 ff. that we should always
meditate upon His precepts, sitting, walking, standing, Lying down, and
rising, and have them before our eyes and in our hands as a constant
mark and sign. Doubtless He did not so solemnly require and enjoin this
without a purpose; but because He knows our danger and need, as well as
the constant and furious assaults and temptations of devils, He wishes
to warn, equip, and preserve us against them, as with a good armor
against their fiery darts and with good medicine against their evil
infection and suggestion.
Oh, what mad, senseless fools are we that, while we must ever live and
dwell among such mighty enemies as the devils are, we nevertheless
despise our weapons and defense, and are too lazy to look at or think
of them! And what else are such supercilious, presumptuous saints, who
are unwilling to read and study the Catechism daily, doing than
esteeming themselves much more learned than God Himself with all His
saints, angels [patriarchs], prophets, apostles, and all Christians For
inasmuch as God Himself is not ashamed to teach these things daily, as
knowing nothing better to teach, and always keeps teaching the same
thing, and does not take up anything new or different, and all the
saints know nothing better or different to learn, and cannot finish
learning this, are we not the finest of all fellows to imagine, if we
have once read or heard it, that we know it all, and have no further
need to read and learn, but can finish learning in one hour what God
Himself cannot finish teaching, although He is engaged in teaching it
from the beginning to the end of the world, and all prophets, together
with all saints, have been occupied with learning it and have ever
remained pupils, and must continue to be such ?
For it needs must be that whoever knows the Ten Commandments perfectly
must know all the Scriptures, so that, in all affairs and cases, he can
advise, help, comfort, judge, and decide both spiritual and temporal
matters and is qualified to sit in judgment upon all doctrines,
estates, spirits, laws, and whatever else is in the world. And what,
indeed, is the entire Psalter but thoughts and exercises upon the First
Commandment? Now I know of a truth that such lazy paunches and
presumptuous spirits do not understand a single psalm, much less the
entire Holy Scriptures; and yet they pretend to know and despise the
Catechism, which is a compend and brief summary of all the Holy
Therefore I again implore all Christians, especially pastors and
preachers, not to be doctors too soon, and imagine that they know
everything (for imagination and cloth unshrunk [and false weights] fall
far short of the measure), but that they daily exercise themselves well
in these studies and constantly treat them; moreover, that they guard
with all care and diligence against the poisonous infection of such
security and vain imagination, but steadily keep on reading, teaching,
learning, pondering, and meditating, and do not cease until they have
made a test and are sure that they have taught the devil to death and
have become more learned than God Himself and all His saints.
If they manifest such diligence, then I will promise them, and they
shall also perceive, what fruit they will obtain, and what excellent
men God will make of them, so that in due time they themselves will
acknowledge that the longer and the more they study the Catechism, the
less they know of it, and the more they find yet to learn; and then
only, as hungry and thirsty ones, will they truly relish that which now
they cannot endure because of great abundance and satiety. To this end
may God grant His grace! Amen.
SHORT PREFACE OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER.
This sermon is designed and undertaken that it might be an instruction
for children and the simple-minded. Hence of old it was called in Greek
catechism, i.e., instruction for children, what every Christian must
needs know, so that he who does not know this could not be numbered
with the Christians nor be admitted to any Sacrament, just as a
mechanic who does not understand the rules and customs of his trade is
expelled and considered incapable. Therefore we must have the young
learn the parts which belong to the Catechism or instruction for
children well and fluently and diligently exercise themselves in them
and keep them occupied with them.
Therefore it is the duty of every father of a family to question and
examine his children and servants at least once a week and to
ascertain what they know of it, or are learning and, if they do not
know it, to keep them faithfully at it. For I well remember the time,
indeed, even now it is a daily occurrence that one finds rude, old
persons who knew nothing and still know nothing of these things, and
who, nevertheless, go to Baptism and the Lord's Supper, and use
everything belonging to Christians, notwithstanding that those who come
to the Lord's Supper ought to know more and have a fuller understanding
of all Christian doctrine than children and new scholars. However, for
the common people we are satisfied with the three parts, which have
remained in Christendom from of old, though little of it has been
taught and treated correctly until both young and old who are called
and wish to be Christians, are well trained in them and familiar with
them. These are the following:
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF GOD.
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain [for the
Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain].
3. Thou shalt sanctify the holy-day. [Remember the Sabbath-day to keep
4. Thou shalt honor thy father and mother [that thou mayest live long
upon the earth].
5. Thou shalt not kill.
6. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
7. Thou shalt not steal.
8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his man-servant, nor
his maidservant, nor his cattle [ox, nor his ass], nor anything that is
THE CHIEF ARTICLES OF OUR FAITH.
1. I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
2. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by
the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell; the third day
He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on
the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to
judge the quick and the dead.
3. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy Christian Church, the
communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the
body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
THE PRAYER, OR "OUR FATHER," WHICH CHRIST TAUGHT
Our Father who art in heaven.
1. Hallowed be Thy name.
2. Thy kingdom come.
3. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
4. Give us this day our daily bread.
5. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass
6. And lead us not into temptation.
7. But deliver us from evil. [For Thine is the kingdom and the power
and the glory, forever and ever.] Amen.
These are the most necessary parts which one should first learn to
repeat word for word and which our children should be accustomed to
recite daily when they arise in the morning when they sit down to their
meals, and when they retire at night; and until they repeat them, they
should be given neither food nor drink. Likewise every head of a
household is obliged to do the same with respect to his domestics,
ma-servants and maid-servants and not to keep them in his house if they
do not know these things and are unwilling to learn them. For a person
who is so rude and unruly as to be unwilling to learn these things is
not to be tolerated, for in these three parts everything that we have
in the Scriptures is comprehended in short, pain, and simple terms. For
the holy Fathers or apostles (whoever they were) have thus embraced in
a summary the doctrine, life, wisdom, and art of Christians, of which
they speak and treat, and with which they are occupied. Now, when these
three arts are apprehended, it behooves a person also to know what to
say concerning our Sacraments, which Christ Himself instituted, Baptism
and the holy body and blood of Christ, namely, the text which Matthew
[28, 19 ff.] and Mark [16, 15 f.] record at the close of their Gospels
when Christ said farewell to His disciples and sent them forth.
Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. He that believeth and is
baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. So
much is sufficient for a simple person to know from the Scriptures
concerning Baptism. In like manner, also, concerning the other
Sacrament in short, simple words, namely the text of St. Paul [1 Corinthians 11, 23 f.].
OF THE SACRAMENT
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took
bread; and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and gave it to His
disciples and said, Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you:
this do in remembrance of Me.
After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, gave
thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; this cup is
the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the remission
of sins: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.
Thus, ye would have, in all, five parts of the entire Christian
doctrine which should be constantly treated and required [of children]
and heard recited word for word. For you must not rely upon it that the
young people will learn and retain these things from the sermon alone.
When these parts have been well learned, you may, as a supplement and
to fortify them. lay before them also some psalms or hymns, which have
been composed on these parts, and thus lead the young into the
Scriptures, and make daily progress therein.
However, it is not enough for them to comprehend and recite these
parts according to the words only, but the young people should also be
made to attend the preaching, especially during the time which is
devoted to the Catechism, that they may hear it explained and may learn
to understand what every part contains, so as to be able to recite it
as they have heard it, and, when asked, may give a correct answer, so
that the preaching may not be without profit and fruit. For the reason
why we exercise such diligence in preaching the Catechism so often is
that it may be inculcated on our youth, not in a high and subtle
manner, but briefly and with the greatest simplicity, so as to enter
the mind readily and be fixed in the memory. Therefore we shall now
take up the above mentioned articles one by one and in the plainest
manner possible say about them as much as is necessary.
Part First. The Ten Commandments.
The First Commandment.
Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
That is: Thou shalt have [and worship] Me alone as thy God. What is the
force of this, and how is it to be understood? What does it mean to
have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are
to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress,
so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him
from the [whole] heart; as I have often said that the confidence and
faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and
trust be right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if
your trust be false and wrong, then you have not the true God; for
these two belong together faith and God. That now, I say, upon which
you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.
Therefore it is the intent of this commandment to require true faith
and trust of the heart which settles upon the only true God and clings
to Him alone. That is as much as to say: "See to it that you let Me
alone be your God, and never seek another," i.e.: Whatever you lack of
good things, expect it of Me, and look to Me for it, and whenever you
suffer misfortune and distress, creep and cling to Me. I, yes, I, will
give you enough and help you out of every need; only let not your heart
cleave to or rest in any other.
This I must unfold somewhat more plainly, that it may be understood and
perceived by ordinary examples of the contrary. Many a one thinks that
he has God and everything in abundance when he has money and
possessions; he trusts in them and boasts of them with such firmness
and assurance as to care for no one. Lo, such a man also has a god,
Mammon by name, i.e., money and possessions, on which he sets all his
heart, and which is also the most common idol on earth. He who has
money and possessions feels secure, and is joyful and undismayed as
though he were sitting in the midst of Paradise. On the other hand, he
who has none doubts and is despondent, as though he knew of no God. For
very few are to be found who are of good cheer, and who neither mourn
nor complain if they have not Mammon. This [care and desire for money]
sticks and clings to our nature, even to the grave.
So, too, whoever trusts and boasts that he possesses great skill,
prudence, power, favor friendship, and honor has also a god, but not
this true and only God. This appears again when you notice how
presumptuous, secure, and proud people are because of such
possessions, and how despondent when they no longer exist or are
withdrawn. Therefore I repeat that the chief explanation of this point
is that to have a god is to have something in which the heart entirely
Besides, consider what in our blindness, we have hitherto been
practicing and doing under the Papacy. If any one had toothache, he
fasted and honored St. Apollonia [lacerated his flesh by voluntary
fasting to the honor of St. Apollonia]; if he was afraid of fire, he
chose St. Lawrence as his helper in need; if he dreaded pestilence, he
made a vow to St. Sebastian or Rochio, and a countless number of such
abominations, where every one selected his own saint, worshiped him,
and called for help to him in distress. Here belong those also, as,
e.g., sorcerers and magicians, whose idolatry is most gross, and who
make a covenant with the devil, in order that he may give them plenty
of money or help them in love-affairs, preserve their cattle, restore
to them lost possessions, etc. For all these place their heart and
trust elsewhere than in the true God, look for nothing good to Him nor
seek it from Him.
Thus you can easily understand what and how much this commandment
requires, namely, that man's entire heart and all his confidence be
placed in God alone, and in no one else. For to have God, you can
easily perceive, is not to lay hold of Him with our hands or to put Him
in a bag [as money], or to lock Him in a chest [as silver vessels]. But
to apprehend Him means when the heart lays hold of Him and clings to
Him. But to cling to Him with the heart is nothing else than to trust
in Him entirely. For this reason He wishes to turn us away from
everything else that exists outside of Him, and to draw us to Himself,
namely, because He is the only eternal good. As though He would say:
Whatever you have heretofore sought of the saints, or for whatever
[things] you have trusted in Mammon or anything else, expect it all of
Me, and regard Me as the one who will help you and pour out upon you
richly all good things.
Lo, here you have the meaning of the true honor and worship of God,
which pleases God, and which He commands under penalty of eternal
wrath, namely, that the heart know no other comfort or confidence than
in Him, and do not suffer itself to be torn from Him, but, for Him,
risk and disregard everything upon earth. On the other hand, you can
easily see and judge how the world practices only false worship and
idolatry. For no people has ever been so reprobate as not to institute
and observe some divine worship; every one has set up as his special
god whatever he looked to for blessings, help, and comfort.
Thus, for example, the heathen who put their trust in power and
dominion elevated Jupiter as the supreme god; the others, who were bent
upon riches, happiness, or pleasure, and a life of ease, Hercules,
Mercury, Venus or others; women with child, Diana or Lucina, and so on;
thus every one made that his god to which his heart was inclined, so
that even in the mind of the heathen to have a god means to trust and
believe. But their error is this that their trust is false and wrong
for it is not placed in the only God, besides whom there is truly no
God in heaven or upon earth. Therefore the heathen really make their
self-invented notions and dreams of God an idol, and put their trust in
that which is altogether nothing. Thus it is with all idolatry; for it
consists not merely in erecting an image and worshiping it, but rather
in the heart, which stands gaping at something else, and seeks help and
consolation from creatures saints, or devils, and neither cares for
God, nor looks to Him for so much good as to believe that He is willing
to help, neither believes that whatever good it experiences comes from
Besides, there is also a false worship and extreme idolatry, which we
have hitherto practiced, and is still prevalent in the world, upon
which also all ecclesiastical orders are founded, and which concerns
the conscience alone that seeks in its own works help, consolation, and
salvation, presumes to wrest heaven from God, and reckons how many
bequests it has made, how often it has fasted, celebrated Mass, etc.
Upon such things it depends, and of them boasts, as though unwilling to
receive anything from God as a gift, but desires itself to earn or
merit it superabundantly, just as though He must serve us and were our
debtor, and we His liege lords. What is this but reducing God to an
idol, yea, [a fig image or] an apple-god, and elevating and regarding
ourselves as God ? But this is slightly too subtle, and is not for
But let this be said to the simple, that they may well note and
remember the meaning of this commandment, namely, that we are to trust
in God alone, and look to Him and expect from Him naught but good, as
from one who gives us body, life, food, drink, nourishment, health,
protection, peace, and all necessaries of both temporal and eternal
things. He also preserves us from misfortune, and if any evil befall
us, delivers and rescues us, so that it is God alone (as has been
sufficiently said) from whom we receive all good, and by whom we are
delivered from all evil. Hence also, I think, we Germans from ancient
times call God (more elegantly and appropriately than any other
language) by that name from the word good as being an eternal fountain
which gushes forth abundantly nothing but what is good, and from which
flows forth all that is and is called good.
For even though otherwise we experience much good from men, still
whatever we receive by His command or arrangement is all received from
God. For our parents, and all rulers, and every one besides with
respect to his neighbor, have received from God the command that they
should do us all manner of good, so that we receive these blessings not
from them, but, through them, from God. For creatures are only the
hands, channels, and means whereby God gives all things, as He gives to
the mother breasts and milk to offer to her child, and corn and all
manner of produce from the earth for nourishment, none of which
blessings could be produced by any creature of itself.
Therefore no man should presume to take or give anything except as God
has commanded, in order that it may be acknowledged as God's gift, and
thanks may be rendered Him for it, as this commandment requires. On
this account also these means of receiving good gifts through creatures
are not to be rejected, neither should we in presumption seek other
ways and means than God has commanded. For that would not be receiving
from God, hut seeking of ourselves.
Let every one, then, see to it that he esteem this commandment great
and high above all things, and do not regard it as a joke. Ask and
examine your heart diligently, and you will find whether it cleaves to
God alone or not. If you have a heart that can expect of Him nothing
but what is good, especially in want and distress, and that, moreover
renounces and forsakes everything that is not God, then you have the
only true God. If on the contrary, it cleaves to anything else, of
which it expects more good and help than of God, and does not take
refuge in Him, but in adversity flees from Him, then you have an idol,
In order that it may be seen that God will not have this commandment
thrown to the winds, but will most strictly enforce it, He has attached
to it first a terrible threat, and then a beautiful, comforting promise
which is also to be urged and impressed upon young people, that they
may take it to heart and retain it:
[Exposition of the Appendix to the First Commandment.]
For I am the Lord, thy God, strong and jealous, visiting the iniquity
of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation
of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that
love Me and keep My commandments.
Although these words relate to all the commandments (as we shall
hereafter learn), yet they are joined to this chief commandment
because it is of first importance that men have a right head; for
where the head is right, the whole life must be right, and vice versa.
Learn, therefore, from these words how angry God is with those who
trust in anything but Him, and again, how good and gracious He is to
those who trust and believe in Him alone with the whole heart; so that
His anger does not cease until the fourth generation, while, on the
other hand, His blessing and goodness extend to many thousands lest you
live in such security and commit yourself to chance, as men of brutal
heart, who think that it makes no great difference [how they live]. He
is a God who will not leave it unavenged if men turn from Him, and will
not cease to be angry until the fourth generation, even until they are
utterly exterminated. Therefore He is to be feared, and not to be
He has also demonstrated this in all history, as the Scriptures
abundantly show and daily experience still teaches. For from the
beginning He has utterly extirpated all idolatry, and, on account of
it, both heathen and Jews; even as at the present day He overthrows all
false worship, so that all who remain therein must finally perish.
Therefore, although proud, powerful, and rich worldlings
[Sardanapaluses and Phalarides, who surpass even the Persians in
wealth] are now to be found, who boast defiantly of their Mammon, with
utter disregard whether God is angry at or smiles on them, and dare to
withstand His wrath, yet they shall not succeed, but before they are
aware, they shall be wrecked, with all in which they trusted; as all
others have perished who have thought themselves more secure or
powerful. And just because of such hardened heads who imagine because
God connives and allows them to rest in security, that He either is
entirely ignorant or cares nothing about such matters, He must deal a
smashing blow and punish them, so that He cannot forget it unto
children's children; so that every one may take note and see that this
is no joke to Him. For they are those whom He means when He says: Who
hate Me, i.e., those who persist in their defiance and pride; whatever
is preached or said to them, they will not listen; when they are
reproved, in order that they may learn to know themselves and amend
before the punishment begins, they become mad and foolish so as to
fairly merit wrath, as now we see daily in bishops and princes.
But terrible as are these threatenings, so much the more powerful is
the consolation in the promise, that those who cling to God alone
should be sure that He will show them mercy that is, show them pure
goodness and blessing not only for themselves, but also to their
children and children's children, even to the thousandth generation and
beyond that. This ought certainly to move and impel us to risk our
hearts in all confidence with God, if we wish all temporal and eternal
good, since the Supreme Majesty makes such sublime offers and presents
such cordial inducements and such rich promises.
Therefore let everyone seriously take this to heart, lest it be
regarded as though a man had spoken it. For to you it is a question
either of eternal blessing, happiness, and salvation, or of eternal
wrath, misery, and woe. What more would you have or desire than that He
so kindly promises to be yours with every blessing, and to protect and
help you in all need?
But, alas! here is the failure, that the world believes nothing of
this, nor regards it as God's Word, because it sees that those who
trust in God and not in Mammon suffer care and want, and the devil
opposes and resists them, that they have neither money, favor, nor
honor, and, besides, can scarcely support life; while, on the other
hand, those who serve Mammon have power, favor, honor, possessions, and
every comfort in the eyes of the world. For this reason, these words
must be grasped as being directed against such appearances; and we must
consider that they do not lie or deceive, but must come true.
Reflect for yourself or make inquiry and tell me: Those who have
employed all their care and diligence to accumulate great possessions
and wealth, what have they finally attained? You will find that they
have wasted their toil and labor, or even though they have amassed
great treasures, they have been dispersed and scattered, so that the
themselves have never found happiness in their wealth, and afterwards
never reached the third generation. Instances of this you will find a
plenty in all histories, also in the memory of aged and experienced
people. Only observe and ponder them.
Saul was a great king, chosen of God and a godly man; but when he was
established on his throne, and let his heart decline from God, and put
his trust in his crown and power, he had to perish with all that he
had, so that none even of his children remained. David, on the other
hand, was a poor, despised man, hunted down and chased, so that he
nowhere felt secure of his life; yet he had to remain in spite of Saul,
and become king. For these words had to abide and come true, since God
cannot lie or deceive. Only let not the devil and the world deceive you
with their show, which indeed remains for a time, but finally is
Let us, then, learn well the First Commandment, that we may see how God
will tolerate no presumption nor any trust in any other object, and how
He requires nothing higher of us than confidence from the heart for
everything good, so that we may proceed right and straightforward and
use all the blessings which God gives no farther than as a shoemaker
uses his needle, awl, and thread for work, and then lays them aside, or
as a traveler uses an inn, and food, and his bed only for temporal
necessity, each one in his station, according to God's order, and
without allowing any of these things to be our food or idol. Let this
suffice with respect to the First Commandment, which we have had to
explain at length, since it is of chief importance, because, as before
said, where the heart is rightly disposed toward God and this
commandment is observed, all the others follow.
The Second Commandment.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.
As the First Commandment has instructed the heart and taught [the
basis of] faith, so this commandment leads us forth and directs the
mouth and tongue to God. For the first objects that spring from the
heart and manifest themselves are words. Now, as I have taught above
how to answer the question, what it is to have a god, so you must learn
to comprehend simply the meaning of this and all the commandments, and
to apply it to yourself. If, then, it be asked: How do you understand
the Second Commandment, or what is meant by taking in vain, or misusing
God's name? answer briefly thus: It is misusing God's name when we call
upon the Lord God no matter in what way, for purposes of falsehood or
wrong of any kind. Therefore this commandment enjoins this much, that
God's name must not be appealed to falsely, or taken upon the lips
while the heart knows well enough, or should know, differently; as
among those who take oaths in court, where one side lies against the
other. For God's name cannot be misused worse than for the support of
falsehood and deceit. Let4this remain the exact German and simplest
meaning of this commandment.
From this every one can readily infer when and in how many ways God's
name is misused, although it is impossible to enumerate all its
misuses. Yet, to tell it in a few words, all misuse of the divine name
occurs, first, in worldly business and in matters which concern money,
possessions, honor, whether it be publicly in court, in the market, or
wherever else men make false oaths in God's name, or pledge their souls
in any matter. And this is especially prevalent in marriage affairs
where two go and secretly betroth themselves to one another, and
afterward abjure [their plighted troth].
But. the greatest abuse occurs in spiritual matters, which pertain to
the conscience, when false preachers rise up and offer their Lying
vanities as God's Word. Behold, all this is decking one's self out with
God's name, or making a pretty show, or claiming to be right, whether
it occur in gross, worldly business or in sublime, subtle matters of
faith and doctrine. And among liars belong also blasphemers, not alone
the very gross, well known to every one, who disgrace God's name
without fear (these are not for us, but for the hangman to discipline);
but also those who publicly traduce the truth and God's Word and
consign it to the devil. Of this there is no need now to speak further.
Here, then, let us learn and take to heart the great importance of this
commandment, that with all diligence we may guard against and dread
every misuse of the holy name, as the greatest sin that can be
outwardly committed. For to lie and deceive is in itself a great sin,
but is greatly aggravated when we attempt to justify it, and seek to
confirm it by invoking the name of God and using it as a cloak for
shame, so that from a single lie a double lie, nay, manifold lies,
For this reason, too, God has added a solemn threat to this
commandment, to wit: For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that
taketh His name in van. That is: It shall not be condoned to any one
nor pass unpunished. For as little as He will leave it unavenged if any
one turn his heart from Him, as little will He suffer His name to be
employed for dressing up a lie. Now alas! it is a common calamity in
all the word that there are as few who are not using the name of God
for purposes of Lying and all wickedness as there are those who with
their heart trust alone in God. For by nature we all have within us
this beautiful virtue, to wit, that whoever has committed a wrong would
like to cover up and adorn his disgrace, so that no one may see it or
know it; and no one is so bold as to boast to all the world of the
wickedness he has perpetrated, all wish to act by stealth and without
any one being aware of what thy do. Then, if any one be arraigned, the
name of God is dragged into the affair and must make the villainy look
like godliness, and the shame like honor. This is the common course of
the world, which, like a great deluge, has flooded all lands. Hence we
have also as our reward what we seek and deserve: pestilences wars,
famines, conflagrations, floods, wayward wives, children, servants, and
all sorts of defilement. Whence else should so much misery come? It is
still a great mercy that the earth bears and supports us.
Therefore, above all things, our young people should have this
commandment earnestly enforced upon them, and they should be trained to
hold this and the First Commandment in high regard; and whenever they
transgress, we must at once be after them with the rod and hold the
commandment before them, and constantly inculcate it, so as to bring
them up not only with punishment, but also in the reverence and fear of
Thus you now understand what. it is to take God's name in vain, that is
(to recapitulate briefly), either simply for purposes of falsehood, and
to allege God's name for something that is not so, or to curse, swear,
conjure, and, in short, to practice whatever wickedness one may.
Besides this you must also know how to use the name [of God] aright.
For when saying: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God, in
vain, He gives us to understand at the same time that it is to be used
properly. For it has been revealed and given to us for the very purpose
that it may be of constant use and profit. Hence it is a natural
inference, since using the holy name for falsehood or wickedness is
here forbidden, that we are, on the other hand, commanded to employ it
for truth and for all good, as when one swears truly where there is
need and it is demanded. So also when there is right teaching, and when
the name is invoked in trouble or praised and thanked in prosperity
etc.; all of which is comprehended summarily and commanded in the
passage Psa_50:1-23; Psa_15:1-5 : Call upon Me in the days of trouble; I will deliver
thee, and thou shalt glorify Me. For all this is bringing 't into the
service of truth, and using it in a blessed way, and thus His name is
hallowed, as we pray in the Lord's Prayer.
Thus you have the sum of the entire commandment explained. And with
this understanding the question with which many teachers have troubled
themselves has been easily solved, to wit, why swearing is prohibited
in the Gospel, and yet Christ, St. Paul, and other saints often swore.
The explanation is briefly this: We are not to swear in support of
evil, that is, of falsehood, and where there is no need or use; but for
the support of good and the advantage of our neighbor we should swear.
For it is a truly good work, by which God is praised, truth and right
are established, falsehood is refuted, peace is made among men,
obedience is rendered, and quarrels are settled. For in this way God
Himself interposes and separates between right and wrong, good and
evil. If one part swears falsely, he has his sentence that he shall not
escape punishment, ad though it be deferred a long time, he shall not
succeed; that all that he may gain thereby will slip out of his hands,
and he will never enjoy it; as I have seen in the case of many who
perjured themselves in their marriage-vows, that they have never had a
happy hour or a healthful day, and thus perished miserably in body,
soul, and possessions.
Therefore I advise and exhort as before that by means of warning and
threatening, restraint and punishment, the children be trained betimes
to shun falsehood, and especially to avoid the use of God's name in its
support. For where they are allowed to do as they please, no good will
result, as is even now evident that the world is worse than it has ever
been and that there is no government, no obedience, no fidelity, no
faith, but only daring, unbridled men, whom no teaching or reproof
helps; all of which is God's wrath and punishment for such wanton
contempt of this commandment.
On the other hand, they should be constantly urged and incited to
honor God's name, and to have it always upon their lips in everything
that may happen to them or come to their notice: For that is the true
honor of His Name, to look to it and implore it for all consolation, so
that (as we have heard above) first the heart by faith gives God the
honor due Him, and afterwards the lips by confession.
This is also a blessed and useful habit and very effectual against the
devil, who is ever about us, and lies in wait to bring us into sin and
shame, calamity and trouble, but who is very loath to hear God's name,
and cannot remain long where it is uttered and called upon from the
heart. And, indeed, many a terrible and shocking calamity would befall
us if, by our calling upon His name, God did not preserve us. I have
myself tried it, and learned by experience that often sudden great
calamity was immediately averted and removed during such invocation. To
vex the devil, I say, we should always have this holy name in our
mouth, so that he may not be able to injure us as he wishes.
For this end it is also of service that we form the habit of daily
commending ourselves to God, with soul and body, wife, children,
servants, and all that we have, against every need that may occur;
whence also the blessing and thanksgiving at meals, and other prayers,
morning and evening, have originated and remain in use. Likewise the
practices of children to cross themselves when anything monstrous or
terrible is seen or heard, and to exclaim: "Lord God, protect us!"
"Help, dear Lord Jesus!" etc. Thus, too, if any one meets with
unexpected good fortune, however trivial, that he say: "God be praised
and thanked; this God has bestowed on me!" etc., as formerly the
children were accustomed to fast and pray to St. Nicholas and other
saints. This would be more pleasing and acceptable to God than all
monasticism and Carthusian sanctity.
Behold, thus we might train our youth in a childlike way and playfully
in the fear and honor of God, so that the First and Second Commandments
might be well observed and in constant practice. Then some good might
take root, spring up and bear fruit, and men grow up whom an entire
land might relish and enjoy. Moreover, this would be the true way to
bring Up children well as long as they can become trained with kindness
and delight. For what must be enforced with rods and blows only will
not develop into a good breed and at best they will remain godly under
such treatment no longer than while the rod is upon their back.
But this [manner of training] so spreads its roots in the heart that
they fear God more than rods and clubs. This I say with such
simplicity for the sake of the young, that it may penetrate their
minds. For since we are preaching to children, we must also prattle
with them. Thus we have prevented the abuse and have taught the right
use of the divine name, which should consist not only in words, but
also in practices and life, so that we may know that God is well
pleased with this and will as richly reward it as He will terribly
punish the abuse.
The Third Commandment.
Thou shalt sanctify the holy day.
[Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.]
The word holy day (Feiertag) is rendered from the Hebrew word Sabbath
which properly signifies to rest, that is, to abstain from labor. Hence
we are accustomed to say, Feierbend machen [that is, to cease working],
or heiligen Abend geben [sanctify the Sabbath]. Now, in the Old
Testament, God separated the seventh day, and appointed it for rest,
and commanded that it should be regarded as holy above all others. As
regards this external observance, this commandment was given to the
Jews alone, that they should abstain from toilsome work, and rest, so
that both man and beast might recuperate, and not be weakened by
unremitting labor. Although they afterwards restricted this too
closely, and grossly abused it, so that they traduced and could not
endure in Christ those works which they themselves were accustomed to
do on that day, as we read in the Gospel just as though the commandment
were fulfilled by doing no external [manual] work whatever, which,
however, was not the meaning, but, as we shall hear, that they sanctify
the holy day or day of rest.
This commandment, therefore, according to its gross sense, does not
concern us Christians; for it is altogether an external matter, like
other ordinances of the Old Testament, which were attached to
particular customs, persons, times, and places, and now have been made
free through Christ. But to grasp a Christian meaning for the simple as
to what God requires in this commandment, note that we keep holy days
not for the sake of intelligent and learned Christians (for they have
no need of it [holy days]), but first of all for bodily causes and
necessities, which nature teaches and requires; for the common people,
man-servants and maid-servants, who have been attending to their work
and trade the whole week, that for a day they may retire in order to
rest and be refreshed.
Secondly, and most especially, that on such day of rest (since we can
get no other opportunity) freedom and time be taken to attend divine
service, so that we come together to hear and treat of God's and then
to praise God, to sing and pray.
However, this, I say, is not so restricted to any time, as with the
Jews, that it must be just on this or that day; for in itself no one
day is better than another; but this should indeed be done daily;
however, since the masses cannot give such attendance, there must be at
least one day in the week set apart. But since from of old Sunday [the
Lord's Day] has been appointed for this purpose, we also should
continue the same, in order that everything be done in harmonious
order, and no one create disorder by unnecessary innovation.
Therefore this is the simple meaning of the commandment: since
holidays are observed anyhow, such observance should be devoted to
hearing God's Word, so that the special function of this day should be
the ministry of the Word for the young and the mass of poor people, yet
that the resting be not so strictly interpreted as to forbid any other
incidental work that cannot be avoided.
Accordingly, when asked, What is meant by the commandment: Thou shalt
sanctify the holy day? answer: To sanctify the holy day is the same as
to keep it holy. But what is meant by keeping it holy? Nothing else
than to be occupied in holy words, works, and life. For the day needs
no sanctification for itself; for in itself it has been created holy
[from the beginning of the creation it was sanctified by its Creator].
But God desires it to be holy to you. Therefore it becomes holy or
unholy on your account, according as you are occupied on the same with
things that are holy or unholy.
How, then, does such sanctification take place? Not in this manner,
that [with folded hands] we sit behind the stove and do no rough
[external] work, or deck ourselves with a wreath and put on our best
clothes, but (as has been said) that we occupy ourselves with God's
Word, and exercise ourselves therein.
And, indeed, we Christians ought always to keep such a holy day, and be
occupied with nothing but holy things, i.e., daily be engaged upon
God's Word, and carry it in our hearts and upon our lips. But (as has
been said) since we do not at all times have leisure, we must devote
several hours a week for the sake of the young, or at least a day for
the sake of the entire multitude, to being concerned about this alone,
and especially urge the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's
Prayer, and thus direct our whole life and being according to God's
Word. At whatever time, then, this is being observed and practiced,
there a true holy day is being kept; otherwise it shall not be called a
Christians' holy day. For, indeed, non-Christians can also cease from
work and be idle, just as the entire swarm of our ecclesiastics, who
stand daily in the churches, singing, and ringing bells but keeping no
holy day holy, because they neither preach nor practices God's Word,
but teach and live contrary to it.
For the Word of God is the sanctuary above all sanctuaries, yea, the
only one which we Christians know and have. For though we had the bones
of all the saints or all holy and consecrated garments upon a heap,
still that would help us nothing; for all that is a dead thing which
can sanctify nobody. But God's Word is the treasure which sanctifies
everything, and by which even all the saints themselves were
sanctified. At whatever hour then, God's Word is taught, preached,
heard, read or meditated upon, there the person, day, and work are
sanctified thereby, not because of the external work, but because of
the Word which makes saints of us all. Therefore I constantly say that
all our life and work must be ordered according to God's Word, if it is
to be God-pleasing or holy. Where this is done, this commandment is in
force and being fulfilled.
On the contrary, any observance or work that is practiced without
God's Word is unholy before God, no matter how brilliantly it may
shine! even though it be covered with relics, such as the fictitious
spiritual orders which know nothing of God's Word and seek holiness in
their own works. Note, therefore, that the force and power of this
commandment lies not in the resting but in the sanctifying so that to
this day belongs a special holy exercise. For other works and
occupations are not properly called holy exercises, unless the man
himself be first holy. But here a work is to be done by which man is
himself made holy, which is done (as we have heard ) alone through
God's Word. For this, then, fixed places, times, persons, and the
entire external order of worship have been created and appointed, so
that it may be publicly in operation.
Since, therefore, so much depends upon God's Word that without it no
holy day can be sanctified, we must know that God insists upon a strict
observance of this commandment, and will punish all who despise His
Word and are not willing to hear and learn it, especially at the time
appointed for the purpose.
Therefore not only those sin against this commandment who grossly
misuse and desecrate the holy day, as those who on account of their
greed or frivolity neglect to hear God's Word or lie in taverns and are
dead drunk like swine; but also that other crowd, who listen to God's
Word as to any other trifle, and only from custom come to preaching,
and go away again, and at the end of the year know as little of it as
at the beginning. For hitherto the opinion prevailed that you had
properly hallowed Sunday when you had heard a mass or the Gospel read;
but no one cared for God's Word, as also no one taught it. Now, while
we have God's Word we nevertheless do not correct the abuse; we suffer
ourselves to be preached to and admonished, but we listen without
seriousness and care.
Know, therefore, that you must be concerned not only about hearing, but
also about learning and retaining it in memory, and do not think that
it is optional with you or of no great importance, but that it is God's
commandment, who will require of you how you have heard, learned, and
honored His Word.
Likewise those fastidious spirits are to be reproved who, when they
have heard a sermon or two, find it tedious and dull, thinking that
they know all that well enough, and need no more instruction. For just
that is the sin which has been hitherto reckoned among mortal sins, and
is called _achedia_, i.e., torpor or satiety, a malignant, dangerous
plague with which the devil bewitches and deceives the hearts of many,
that he may surprise us and secretly withdraw God's Word from us.
For let me tell you this, even though you know it perfectly and be
already master in all things, still you are daily in the dominion of
the devil, who ceases neither day nor night to steal unawares upon you,
to kindle in your heart unbelief and wicked thoughts against the
foregoing and all the commandments. Therefore you must always have
God's Word in your heart, upon your lips, and in your ears. But where
the heart is idle, and the Word does not sound, he breaks in and has
done the damage before we are aware. On the other hand, such is the
efficacy of the Word, whenever it is seriously contemplated heard, and
used, that it is bound never to be without fruit, but always awakens
new understanding, pleasure, and devoutness, and produces a pure heart
and pure thoughts. For these words are not inoperative or dead, but
creative, living words. And even though no other interest or necessity
impel us, yet this ought to urge every one thereunto, because thereby
the devil is put to flight and driven away, and, besides, this
commandment is fulfilled, and [this exercise in the Word] is more
pleasing to God than any work of hypocrisy, however brilliant.
The Fourth Commandment.
Thus far we have learned the first three commandments, which relate to
God. First that with our whole heart we trust in Him, and fear and love
Him throughout all our life. Secondly, that we do not misuse His holy
name in the support of falsehood or any bad work, but employ it to the
praise of God and the profit and salvation of our neighbor and
ourselves. Thirdly, that on holidays and when at rest we diligently
treat and urge God's Word, so that all our actions and our entire life
be ordered according to it. Now follow the other seven, which relate to
our neighbor among which the first and greatest is:
Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother.
To this estate of fatherhood and motherhood God has given the special
distinction above all estates that are beneath it that He not simply
commands us to love our pa