Martin Luther Collection: Luther, Martin - A Treatise on Good Works: 06 Starts discussion of Fourth Commandment

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Martin Luther Collection: Luther, Martin - A Treatise on Good Works: 06 Starts discussion of Fourth Commandment

TOPIC: Luther, Martin - A Treatise on Good Works (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 06 Starts discussion of Fourth Commandment

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_A treatise on Good Works

together with the

Letter of Dedication_

by Dr. Martin Luther, 1520

Published in:

_Works of Martin Luther_

Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., Trans. & Eds.

(Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915), Vol. 1, pp. 173-285.

The Second Table follows.

"Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother."

From this Commandment we learn that after the excellent

works of the first three Commandments there are no

better works than to obey and serve all those who are

set over us as superiors. For this reason also

disobedience is a greater sin than murder, unchastity,

theft and dishonesty, and all that these may include.

For we can in no better way learn how to distinguish

between greater and lesser sins than by noting the

order of the Commandments of God, although there are

distinctions also within the works of each Commandment.

For who does not know that to curse is a greater sin

than to be angry, to strike than to curse, to strike

father and mother more than to strike any one else?

Thus these seven Commandments teach us how we are to

exercise ourselves in good works toward men, and first

of all toward our superiors.

The first work is that we honor our own father and

mother. And this honor consists not only in respectful

demeanor, but in this: that we obey them, look up to,

esteem and heed their words and example, accept what

they say, keep silent and endure their treatment of us,

so long as it is not contrary to the first three

Commandments; in addition, when they need it, that we

provide them with food, clothing and shelter. For not

for nothing has He said: "Thou shalt honor them"; He

does not say: "Thou shalt love them," although this

also must be done. But honor is higher than mere love

and includes a certain fear, which unites with love,

and causes a man to fear offending them more than he

fears the punishment. Just as there is fear in the

honor we pay a sanctuary, and yet we do not flee from

it as from a punishment, but draw near to it all the

more. Such a fear mingled with love is the true honor;

the other fear without any love is that which we have

toward things which we despise or flee from, as we fear

the hangman or punishment. There is no honor in that,

for it is a fear without all love, nay, fear that has

with it hatred and enmity. Of this we have a proverb of

St. Jerome: What we fear, that we also hate. With such

a fear God does not wish to be feared or honored, nor

to have us honor our parents; but with the first, which

is mingled with love and confidence.

II. This work appears easy, but few regard it aright.

For where the parents are truly pious and love their

children not according to the flesh, but (as they

ought) instruct and direct them by words and works to

serve God according to the first three Commandments,

there the child's own will is constantly broken, and it

must do, leave undone, and suffer what its nature would

most gladly do otherwise; and thereby it finds occasion

to despise its parents, to murmur against them, or to

do worse things. There love and fear depart, unless

they have God's grace. In like manner, when they punish

and chastise, as they ought (at times even unjustly,

which, however, does not harm the soul's salvation),

our evil nature resents the correction. Beside all

this, there are some so wicked that they are ashamed of

their parents because of poverty, lowly birth,

deformity or dishonor, and allow these things to

influence them more than the high Commandment of God,

Who is above all things, and has with benevolent intent

given them such parents, to exercise and try them in

His Commandment. But the matter becomes still worse

when the child has children of its own; then love

descends to them, and detracts very much from the love

and honor toward the parents.

But what is said and commanded of parents must also be

understood of those who, when the parents are dead or

absent, take their place, such as relatives,

god-parents, sponsors, temporal lords and spiritual

fathers. For every one must be ruled and be subject to

other men. Wherefore we here see again how many good

works are taught in this Commandment, since in it all

our life is made subject to other men. Hence it comes

that obedience is so highly praised and all virtue and

good works are included in it.

III. There is another dishonoring of parents, much more

dangerous and subtile than this first, which adorns

itself and passes for a real honor; that is, when a

child has its own way, and the parents through natural

love allow it. Here there is indeed mutual honor, here

there is mutual love, and on all sides it is a precious

thing, parents and child take mutual pleasure in one


This plague is so common that instances of the first

form of dishonoring are very seldom seen. This is due

to the fact that the parents are blinded, and neither

know nor honor God according to the first three

Commandments; hence also they cannot see what the

children lack, and how they ought to teach and train

them. For this reason they train them for worldly

honors, pleasure and possessions, that they may by all

means please men and reach high positions: this the

children like, and they obey very gladly without


Thus God's Commandment secretly comes to naught while

all seems good, and that is fulfilled which is written

in the Prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, that the children

are destroyed by their own parents, and they do like

the king Manasseh, who sacrificed his own son to the

idol Moloch and burned him, II. Kings xxi. What else is

it but to sacrifice one's own child to the idol and to

burn it, when parents train their children more in the

way of the world than in the way of God? let them go

their way, and be burned up in worldly pleasure, love,

enjoyment, possessions and honor, but let God's love

and honor and the desire of eternal blessings be

quenched in them?

O how perilous it is to be a father or a mother, where

flesh and blood are supreme! For, truly, the knowledge

and fulfilment of the first three and the last six

Commandments depends altogether upon this Commandment;

since parents are commanded to teach them to their

children, as Psalm lxxviii. says, "How strictly has He

commanded our fathers, that they should make known

God's Commandments to their children, that the

generation to come might know them and declare them to

their children's children." This also is the reason why

God bids us honor our parents, that is, to love them

with fear; for that other love is without fear,

therefore it is more dishonor than honor.

Now see whether every one does not have good works

enough to do, whether he be father or child. But we

blind men leave this untouched, and seek all sorts of

other works which are not commanded.

IV. Now where parents are foolish and train their

children after the fashion of the world, the children

are in no way to obey them; for God, according to the

first three Commandments, is to be more highly regarded

than the parents. But training after the fashion of the

world I call it, when they teach them to seek no more

than pleasure, honor and possessions of this world or

its power.

To wear decent clothes and to seek an honest living is

a necessity, and not sin. Yet the heart of a child must

be taught to be sorry that this miserable earthly life

cannot well be lived, or even begun, without the

striving after more adornment and more possessions than

are necessary for the protection of the body against

cold and for nourishment. Thus the child must be taught

to grieve that, without its own will, it must do the

world's will and play the fool with the rest of men,

and endure such evil for the sake of something better

and to avoid something worse. So Queen Esther wore her

royal crown, and yet said to God, Esther xiv, "Thou

knowest, that the sign of my high estate, which is upon

my head, has never yet delighted me, and I abhor it as

a menstruous rag, and never wear it when I am by

myself, but when I must do it and go before the

people." The heart that is so minded wears adornment

without peril; for it wears and does not wear, dances

and does not dance, lives well and does not live well.

And these are the secret souls, hidden brides of

Christ, but they are rare; for it is hard not to

delight in great adornment and parade. Thus St. Cecilia

wore golden clothes at the command of her parents, but

within against her body she wore a garment of hair.

Here some men say: "How then could I bring my children

into society, and marry them honorably? I must make

some display." Tell me, are not these the words of a

heart which despairs of God, and trusts more on its own

providing than on God's care? Whereas St. Peter teaches

and says, I. Peter v, "Cast all your care upon Him, and

be certain that He cares for you." It is a sign that

they have never yet thanked God for their children,

have never yet rightly prayed for them, have never yet

commended them to Him; otherwise they would know and

have experienced that they ought to ask God also for

the marriage dower of their children, and await it from

Him. Therefore also He permits them to go their way,

with cares and worries, and yet succeed poorly.

V. Thus it is true, as men say, that parents, although

they had nothing else to do, could attain salvation by

training their own children; if they rightly train them

to God's service, they will indeed have both hands full

of good works to do. For what else are here the hungry,

thirsty, naked, imprisoned, sick, strangers, than the

souls of your own children? with whom God makes of your

house a hospital, and sets you over them as chief

nurse, to wait on them, to give them good words and

works as meat and drink, that they may learn to trust,

believe and fear God, and to place their hope on Him,

to honor His Name, not to swear nor curse, to mortify

themselves by praying, fasting, watching, working, to

attend worship and to hear God's Word, and to keep the

Sabbath, that they may learn to despise temporal

things, to bear misfortune calmly, and not to fear

death nor to love this life.

See, what great lessons are these, how many good works

you have before you in your home, with your child, that

needs all these things like a hungry, thirsty, naked,

poor, imprisoned, sick soul. O what a blessed marriage

and home were that where such parents were to be found!

Truly it would be a real Church, a chosen cloister,

yea, a paradise. Of such says Psalm cxxviii: "Blessed

are they that fear God, and walk in His Commandments;

thou shalt eat of the labor of thine hands; therefore

thou shalt be happy, and it shall be well with thee.

Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine in thine house,

and thy children shall be as the young scions of laden

olive trees about thy table. Behold, thus shall the man

be blessed, that feareth the Lord," etc. Where are such

parents? Where are they that ask after good works? Here

none wishes to come. Why? God has commanded it; the

devil, flesh and blood pull away from it; it makes no

show, therefore it counts for nothing. Here this

husband runs to St. James, that wife vows a pilgrimage

to Our Lady; no one vows that he will properly govern

and teach himself and his child to the honor of God; he

leaves behind those whom God has commanded him to keep

in body and soul, and would serve God in some other

place, which has not been commanded him. Such

perversity no bishop forbids, no preacher corrects;

nay, for covetousness' sake they confirm it and daily

only invent more pilgrimages, elevations of saints,

indulgence-fairs. God have pity on such blindness.

VI. On the other hand, parents cannot earn eternal

punishment in any way more easily than by neglecting

their own children in their own home, and not teaching

them the things which have been spoken of above. Of

what help is it, that they kill themselves with

fasting, praying, making pilgrimages, and do all manner

of good works? God will, after all, not ask them about

these things at their death and in the day of judgment,

but will require of them the children whom He entrusted

to them. This is shown by that word of Christ, Luke

xxiii, "Ye daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but

for yourselves and for your children. The days are

coming, in which they shall say: Blessed are the wombs

that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck."

Why shall they lament, except because all their

condemnation comes from their own children? If they had

not had children, perhaps they might have been saved.

Truly, these words ought to open the eyes of parents,

that they may have regard to the souls of their

children, so that the poor children be not deceived by

their false, fleshly love, as if they had rightly

honored their parents when they are not angry with

them, or are obedient in worldly matters, by which

their self-will is strengthened; although the

Commandment places the parents in honor for the very

purpose that the self-will of the children may be

broken, and that the children may become humble and


Just as it has been said of the other Commandments,

that they are to be fulfilled in the chief work, so

here too let no one suppose that the training and

teaching of his children is sufficient of itself,

except it be done in confidence of divine favor, so

that a man doubt not that he is wellpleasing to God in

his works, and that he let such works be nothing else

than an exhortation and exercise of his faith, that he

trust God and look to Him for blessings and a gracious

will; without which faith no work lives, or is good and

acceptable; for many heathen have trained their

children beautifully, but it is all lost, because of

their unbelief.

VII. The second work of this Commandment is to honor

and obey the spiritual mother, the holy Christian

Church, the spiritual power, so that we conform to what

she commands, forbids, appoints, orders, binds and

looses, and honor, fear and love the spiritual

authority as we honor, love and fear our natural

parents, and yield to it in all things which are not

contrary to the first three Commandments.

Now with regard to this work, things are almost worse

than with regard to the first. The spiritual authority

should punish sin with the ban and with laws, and

constrain its spiritual children to be good, in order

that they might have reason to do this work and to

exercise themselves in obeying and honoring it. Such

zeal one does not see now; they act toward their

subjects like the mothers who forsake their children

and run after their lovers, as Hosea ii. says; they do

not preach, they do not teach, they do not hinder, they

do not punish, and there is no spiritual government at

all left in Christendom.

What can I say of this work? A few fast-days and

feast-days are left, and these had better be done away

with. But no one gives this a thought, and there is

nothing left except the ban for debt, and this should

not be. But spiritual authority should look to it, that

adultery, unchastity, usury, gluttony, worldly show,

excessive adornment, and such like open sin and shame

might be most severely punished and corrected; and they

should properly manage the endowments, monastic houses,

parishes and schools, and earnestly maintain worship in

them, provide for the young people, boys and girls, in

schools and cloisters, with learned, pious men as

teachers, that they might all be well trained, and so

the older people give a good example and Christendom be

filled and adorned with fine young people. So St. Paul

teaches his disciple Titus, that he should rightly

instruct and govern all classes, young and old, men and

women. But now he goes to school who wishes; he is

taught who governs and teaches himself; nay, it has,

alas! come to such a pass that the places where good

should be taught have become schools of knavery, and no

one at all takes thought for the wild youth.

VIII. If the above order prevailed, one could say how

honor and obedience should be given to the spiritual

authority. But now the case is like that of the natural

parents who let their children do as they please; at

present the spiritual authority threatens, dispenses,

takes money, and pardons more than it has power to

pardon. I will here refrain from saying more; we see

more of it than is good; greed holds the reins, and

just what should be forbidden is taught; and it is

clearly seen that the spiritual estate is in all things

more worldly than the worldly estate itself. Meanwhile

Christendom must be ruined, and this Commandment


If there were a bishop who would zealously provide for

all these classes, supervise, make visitations and be

faithful as he ought, truly, one city would be too much

for him. For in the time of the Apostles, when

Christendom was at its best estate, each city had a

bishop, although the smallest part of the inhabitants

were Christians. How may things go when one bishop

wants to have so much, another so much, this one the

whole world, that one the fourth of it.

It is time that we pray God for mercy. Of spiritual

power we have much; but of spiritual government nothing

or little. Meanwhile may he help who can, that

endowments, monastic houses, parishes and schools be

well established and managed; and it would also be one

of the works of the spiritual authority that it lessen

the number of endowments, monastic houses and schools,

where they cannot be cared for. It is much better that

there be no monastic house or endowment than that there

be evil government in them, whereby God is the more

provoked to anger.

IX. Since, then, the authorities so entirely neglect

their work, and are perverted, it must assuredly follow

that they misuse their power, and undertake other and

evil works, just as parents do when they give some

command contrary to God. Here we must be wise; for the

Apostle has said, that those times shall be perilous in

which such authorities shall rule. For it seems as if

we resisted their power if we do not do and leave

undone all that they prescribe. Therefore we must take

hold of the first three Commandments and the First

Table, and be certain that no man, neither bishop, nor

pope, nor angel, may command or determine anything that

is contrary to or hinders these three Commandments, or

does not help them; and if they attempt such things, it

is not valid and amounts to nothing; and we also sin if

we follow and obey, or even tolerate such acts.

From this it is easy to understand that the commands of

fasting do not include the sick, the pregnant women, or

those who for other reasons cannot fast without injury.

And, to rise higher, in our time nothing comes from

Rome but a fair of spiritual wares, which are openly

and shamelessly bought and sold, indulgences, parishes,

monastic houses, bishoprics, provostships, benefices,

and every thing that has ever been founded to God's

service far and wide; whereby not only is all money and

wealth of the world drawn and driven to Rome (for this

would be the smallest harm), but the parishes,

bishoprics and prelacies are torn to pieces, deserted,

laid waste, and so the people are neglected, God's Word

and God's Name and honor come to naught, and faith is

destroyed, so that at last such institutions and

offices fall into the hands not only of unlearned and

unfit men, but the greater part into the hands of the

Romans, the greatest villains in the world. Thus what

has been founded for God's service, for the

instruction, government and improvement of the people,

must now serve the stable-boys, mule-drivers, yea, not

to use plainer language, Roman whores and knaves; yet

we have no more thanks than that they mock us for it as


X. If then such unbearable abuses are all carried on in

the Name of God and St. Peter, just as if God's Name

and the spiritual power were instituted to blaspheme

God's honor, to destroy Christendom, body and soul: we

are indeed in duty bound to resist in a proper way as

much as we can. And here we must do like pious children

whose parents have become insane, and first see by what

right that which has been founded for God's service in

our lands, or has been ordained to provide for our

children, must be allowed to do its work in Rome, and

to lapse here, where it ought to serve. How can we be

so foolish?

Since then bishops and spiritual prelates stand idle in

this matter, offer no opposition or are afraid, and

thus allow Christendom to perish, it is our duty first

of all humbly to call upon God for help to prevent this

thing, then to put our hand to work to the same end,

send the courtesans and those who bear letters from

Rome about their business, in a reasonable, gentle way

inform them that, if they wish to care for their

parishes properly, they shall live in them and improve

the people by preaching or by good example; or if not,

and they do live in Rome or elsewhere, lay waste and

debauch the churches, then let the pope feed them, whom

they serve. It is not fitting that we support the

pope's servants, his people, yes, his knaves and

whores, to the destruction and injury of our souls.

Lo! these are the true Turks, whom the kings, princes

and the nobility ought to attack first: not seeking

thereby their own benefit, but only the improvement of

Christendom, and the prevention of the blasphemy and

disgracing of the divine Name; and so to deal with the

clergy as with a father who has lost his sense and

wits; who, if one did not restrain him and resist him

(although with all humility and honor), might destroy

child, heir and everybody. Thus we are to honor Roman

authority as our highest father; and yet, since they

have gone mad and lost their senses, not allow them to

do what they attempt, lest Christendom be destroyed


XI. Some think, this should be referred to a General

Council. To this I say: No! For we have had many

councils in which this has been proposed, namely, at

Constance, Basel and the last Roman Council; but

nothing has been accomplished, and things have grown

ever worse, Moreover, such councils are entirely

useless, since Roman wisdom has contrived the device

that the kings and princes must beforehand take an oath

to let the Romans remain what they are and keep what

they have, and so has put up a bar to ward off all

reformation, to retain protection and liberty for all

their knavery, although this oath is demanded, forced

and taken contrary to God and the law, and by it the

doors are locked against the Holy Spirit, Who should

rule the councils. But this would be the best, and also

the only remedy remaining, if kings, princes, nobility,

cities and communities themselves began and opened a

way for reformation, so that the bishops and clergy,

who now are afraid, would have reason to follow. For

here nothing else shall and must be considered except

God's first three Commandments, against which neither

Rome, nor heaven nor earth can command or forbid

anything. And the ban or threatening with which they

think they can prevent this, amounts to nothing; just

as it amounts to nothing if an insane father severely

threatens the son who restrains him or locks him up.

XII. The third work of this Commandment is to obey the

temporal authority, as Paul teaches, Romans xiii, and

Titus iii, and St. Peter, I. Peter ii: "Submit

yourselves to the king as supreme, and to the princes

as his ambassadors, and to all the ordinances of the

worldly power." But it is the work of the temporal

power to protect its subjects, and to punish thievery,

robbery, and adultery, as St. Paul says, Romans xiii:

"It beareth not the sword in vain; it serves God with

it, to the terror of evil doers, and to the protection

of the good."

Here men sin in two ways. First, if they lie to the

government, deceive it, and are disloyal, neither obey

nor do as it has ordered and commanded, whether with

their bodies or their possessions. For even if the

government does injustice, as the King of Babylon did

to the people of Israel, yet God would have it obeyed,

without treachery and deception. Secondly, when men

speak evil of the government and curse it, and when a

man cannot revenge himself and abuses the government

with grumbling and evil words, publicly or secretly.

In all this we are to regard that which St. Peter bids

us regard, namely, that its power, whether it do right

or wrong, cannot harm the soul, but only the body and

property; unless indeed it should try openly to compel

us to do wrong against God or men; as in former days

when the magistrates were not yet Christians, and as

the Turk is now said to do. For to suffer wrong

destroys no one's soul, nay, it improves the soul,

although it inflicts loss upon the body and property;

but to do wrong, that destroys the soul, although it

should gain all the world's wealth.

XIII. This also is the reason why there is not such

great danger in the temporal power as in the spiritual,

when it does wrong. For the temporal power can do no

harm, I since it has nothing to do with preaching and

faith and the first three Commandments. But the

spiritual power does harm not only when it does wrong,

but also when it neglects its duty and busies itself

with other things, even if they were better than the

very best works of the temporal power. Therefore, we

must resist it when it does not do right, and not

resist the temporal power although it does wrong. For

the poor people believe and do as they see the

spiritual power believing and doing; if they are not

set an example and are not taught, then they also

believe nothing and do nothing; since this power is

instituted for no other reason than to lead the people

in faith to God. All this is not found in the temporal

power; for it may do and leave undone what it will, my

faith to God still goes its way and works its works,

because I need not believe what it believes.

Therefore, also, the temporal power is a very small

thing in God's sight, and far too slightly regarded by

Him, that for its sake, whether it do right or wrong,

we should resist, become disobedient and quarrel. On

the other hand, the spiritual power is an exceeding

great blessing, and far too precious in His eyes, that

the very least of Christians should endure and keep

silent, if it departs a hair's breadth from its own

duty, not to say when it does the very opposite of its

duty, as we now see it do every day.

XIV. In this power also there is much abuse. First,

when it follows the flatterers, which is a common and

especially harmful plague of this power, against which

no one can sufficiently guard and protect himself. Here

it is led by the nose, and oppresses the common people,

becomes a government of the like of which a heathen

says: "The spider-webs catch the small flies, but the

mill-stones roll through." So the laws, ordinances and

government of one and the same authority hold the small

men, and the great are free; and where the prince is

not himself so wise that he needs nobody's advice, or

has such a standing that they fear him, there will and

must be (unless God should do a special wonder) a

childish government.

For this reason God has considered evil, unfit rulers

the greatest of plagues, as He threatens, Isaiah iii,

"I will take away from them every man of valor, and

will give children to be their princes and babes to

rule over them." Four plagues God has named in

Scripture, Ezekiel xiv. The first and slightest, which

also David chose, is pestilence, the second is famine,

the third is war, the fourth is all manner of evil

beasts, such as lions, wolves, serpents, dragons; these

are the wicked rulers. For where these are, the land is

destroyed, not only in body and property, as in the

others, but also in honor, discipline, virtue and the

soul's salvation. For pestilence and famine make people

good and rich; but war and wicked rulers bring to

naught everything that has to do with temporal and

eternal possessions.

XV. A prince must also be very wise and not at all

times undertake to enforce his own will, although he

may have the authority and the very best cause. For it

is a far nobler virtue to endure wrong to one's

authority than to risk property and person, if it is

advantageous to the subjects; since worldly rights

attach only to temporal goods.

Hence, it is a very foolish saying: I have a right to

it, therefore I will take it by storm and keep it,

although all sorts of misfortune may come to others

thereby. So we read of the Emperor Octavianus, that he

did not wish to make war, however just his cause might

be, unless there were sure indications of greater

benefit than harm, or at least that the harm would not

be intolerable, and said: " War is like fishing with a

golden net; the loss risked is always greater than the

catch can be." For he who guides a wagon must walk far

otherwise than if he were walking alone; when alone he

may walk, jump, and do as he will; but when he drives,

he must so guide and adapt himself that the wagon and

horses can follow him, and regard that more than his

own will. So also a prince leads a multitude with him

and must not walk and act as he wills, but as the

multitude can, considering their need and advantage

more than his will and pleasure. For when a prince

rules after his own mad will and follows his own

opinion, he is like a mad driver, who rushes straight

ahead with horse and wagon, through bushes, thorns,

ditches, water, up hill and down dale, regardless of

roads and bridges; he will not drive long, all will go

to smash.

Therefore it would be most profitable for rulers, that

they read, or have read to them, from youth on, the

histories, both in sacred and in profane books, in

which they would find more examples and skill in ruling

than in all the books of law; as we read that the kings

of Persia did, Esther vi. For examples and histories

benefit and teach more than the laws and statutes:

there actual experience teaches, here untried and

uncertain words.

XVI. Three special, distinct works all rulers might do

in our times, particularly in our lands. First, to make

an end of the horrible gluttony and drunkenness, not

only because of the excess, but also because of its

expense. For through seasonings and spices and the

like, without which men could well live, no little loss

of temporal wealth has come and daily is coming upon

our lands. To prevent these two great evils would truly

give the temporal power enough to do, for the inroads

they have made are wide and deep. And how could those

in power serve God better and thereby also improve

their own land?

Secondly, to forbid the excessive cost of clothing,

whereby so much wealth is wasted, and yet only the

world and the flesh are served; it is fearful to think

that such abuse is to be found among the people who

have been pledged, baptised and consecrated to Christ,

the Crucified, and who should bear the Cross after Him

and prepare for the life to come by dying daily. If

some men erred through ignorance, it might be borne;

but that it is practised so freely, without punishment,

without shame, without hindrance, nay, that praise and

fame are sought thereby, this is indeed an unchristian

thing. Thirdly, to drive out the usurious buying of

rent-charges, which in the whole world ruins, consumes

and troubles all lands, peoples and cities through its

cunning form, by which it appears not to be usury,

while in truth it is worse than usury, because men are

not on their guard against it as against open usury.

See, these are the three Jews, as men say, who suck the

whole world dry. Here princes ought not to sleep, nor

be lazy, if they would give a good account of their

office to God.

XVII. Here too ought to be mentioned the knavery which

is practised by officiales and other episcopal and

spiritual officers, who ban, load, hunt and drive the

poor people with great burdens, as long as a penny

remains. This ought to be prevented by the temporal

sword, since there is no other help or remedy.

O, would God in heaven, that some time a government

might be established that would do away with the public

bawdy-houses, as was done among the people of Israel!

It is indeed an unchristian sight, that public houses

of sin are maintained among Christians, a thing

formerly altogether unheard of. It should be a rule

that boys and girls should be married early and such

vice be prevented. Such a rule and custom ought to be

sought for by both the spiritual and the temporal

power. If it was possible among the Jews, why should it

not also be possible among Christians? Nay, if it is

possible in villages, towns and some cities, as we all

see, why should it not be possible everywhere?

But the trouble is, there is no real government in the

world. No one wants to work, therefore the mechanics

must give their workmen holiday: then they are free and

no one can tame them. But if there were a rule that

they must do as they are bid, and no one would give

them work in other places, this evil would to a large

extent be mended. God help us! I fear that here the

wish is far greater than the hope; but this does not

excuse us.

Now see, here only a few works of magistrates are

indicated, but they are so good and so many, that they

have superabundant good works to do every hour and

could constantly serve God. But these works, like the

others, should also be done in faith, yea, be an

exercise of faith, so that no one expect to please God

by the works, but by confident trust in His favor do

such works only to the honor and praise of his gracious

God, thereby to serve and benefit his neighbor.

XVIII. The fourth work of this Commandment is obedience

of servants and workmen toward their lords and ladies,

masters and mistresses. Of this St. Paul says, Titus

ii: "Thou shalt exhort servants that they highly honor

their masters, be obedient, do what pleases them, not

cheating them nor opposing them"; for this reason also:

because they thereby bring the doctrine of Christ and

our faith into good repute, that the heathen cannot

complain of us and be offended. St. Peter also says:

"Servants, be subject to your masters, for the fear of

God, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the

froward and harsh. For this is acceptable with God, if

a man suffers harshness, being innocent."

Now there is the greatest complaint in the world about

servants and working men, that they are disobedient,

unfaithful, unmannerly, and over-reaching; this is a

plague sent of God. And truly, this is the one work of

servants whereby they may be saved; truly they need not

make pilgrimages or do this thing or the other; they

have enough to do if their heart is only set on this,

that they gladly do and leave undone what they know

pleases their masters and mistresses, and all this in a

simple faith; not that they would by their works gain

much merit, but that they do it all in the confidence

of divine favor (in which all merits are to be found),

purely for nothing, out of the love and good-will

toward God which grows out of such confidence. And all

such works they should think of as an exercise and

exhortation ever to strengthen their faith and

confidence more and more. For, as has now been

frequently said, this faith makes all works good, yea,

it must do them and be the master-workman.

XIX. On the other hand, the masters and mistresses

should not rule their servants, maids and workingmen

roughly, not look to all things too closely,

occasionally overlook something, and for peace' sake

make allowances. For it is not possible that everything

be done perfectly at all times among any class of men,

as long as we live on earth in imperfection. Of this

St. Paul says, Colossians iv, "Masters, do unto your

servants that which is just and equal, knowing that ye

also have a Master in heaven." Therefore as the masters

do not wish God to deal too sharply with them, but that

many things be overlooked through grace, they also

should be so much the more gentle toward their

servants, and overlook some things, and yet have a care

that the servants do right and learn to fear God.

But see now, what good works a householder and a

mistress can do, how finely God offers us all good

works so near at hand, so manifold, so continuously,

that we have no need of asking after good works, and

might well forget the other showy, far-off, invented

works of men, such as making pilgrimages, building

churches, seeking indulgence, and the like.

Here I ought naturally also to say how a wife ought to

be obedient, subject to her husband as to her superior,

give way to him, keep silent and give up to him, where

it is a matter not contrary to God's commands. On the

other hand, the husband should love his wife, overlook

a little, and not deal strictly with her, of which

matter St. Peter and St. Paul have said much. But this

has its place in the further explanation of the Ten

Commandments, and is easily inferred from these


XX. But all that has been said of these works is

included in these two, obedience and considerateness.

Obedience is the duty of subjects, considerateness that

of masters, that they take care to rule their subjects

well, deal kindly with them, and do everything whereby

they may benefit and help them. That is their way to

heaven, and these are the best works they can do on

earth; with these they are more acceptable to God than

if without these they did nothing but miracles. So says

St. Paul, Romans xii: "He that ruleth, let him do it

with diligence"; as who should say: "Let him not allow

himself to be led astray by what other people or

classes of people do; let him not look to this work or

to that, whether it be splendid or obscure; but let him

look to his own position, and think only how he may

benefit those who are subject to him; by this let him

stand, nor let himself be torn from it, although heaven

stood open before him, nor be driven from it, although

hell were chasing him. This is the right road that

leads him to heaven."

Oh, if a man were so to regard himself and his

position, and attended to its duties alone, how rich in

good works would he be in a short time, so quietly and

secretly that no one would notice it except God alone!

But now we let all this go, and one runs to the

Carthusians, another to this place, a third to that,

just as if good works and God's Commandments had been

thrown into corners and hidden; although it is written

in Proverbs i, that divine wisdom crieth out her

commandments publicly in the streets, in the midst of

the people and in the gates of the cities; which means

that they are present in profusion in all places, in

all stations of life and at all times, and we do not

see them, but in our blindness look for them elsewhere.

This Christ declared, Matthew xxiv: "If they shall say

unto you: Lo, here is Christ, or there, believe it not.

If they shall say: Behold, He is in the desert, go not

forth; behold, He is in the secret chambers, believe it

not; they are false prophets and false Christs."

XXI. Again, obedience is the duty of subjects, that

they direct all their diligence and effort to do and to

leave undone what their over-lords desire of them, that

they do not allow themselves to be torn or driven from

this, whatever another do. Let no man think that he

lives well or does good works, whether it be prayer or

fasting, or by whatever name it may be called, if he

does not earnestly and diligently exercise himself in


But if it should happen, as it often does, that the

temporal power and authorities, as they are called,

should urge a subject to do contrary to the

Commandments of God, or hinder him from doing them,

there obedience ends, and that duty is annulled. Here a

man must say as St. Peter says to the rulers of the

Jews: "We ought to obey God rather than men." He did

not say: "We must not obey men"; for that would be

wrong; but he said: "God rather than men." Thus, if a

prince desired to go to war, and his cause was

manifestly unrighteous, we should not follow nor help

him at all; since God has commanded that we shall not

kill our neighbor, nor do him injustice. Likewise, if

he bade us bear false witness, steal, lie or deceive

and the like. Here we ought rather give up goods,

honor, body, and life, that God's Commandments may


The four preceding Commandments have their works in the

understanding, that is, they take a man captive, rule

him and make him subject, so that he rule not himself,

approve not himself, think not highly of himself; but

in humility know himself and allow himself to be led,

that pride be prevented. The following Commandments

deal with the passions and lust of men, that these also

be killed.


This text was converted to ascii format for Project Wittenberg by

Allen Mulvey and is in the public domain. You may freely

distribute, copy or print this text. Please direct any comments

or suggestions to: Rev. Robert E. Smith of the Walther Library at

Concordia Theological Seminary.


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